As They Sleep couldn’t be more different from their namesake. Anything but a languid trip through tranquil dreams, the band’s new album “Dynasty” is a nightmare landscape of all-out sonic assault.
Looking closer into this group from the Motor City, we see a band that is clearly fed up with a lot of people. Even just looking at the song titles, it’s easy to decipher the political or social parallels that each track intends. In instances where the vocals are too garbled or too roared to be interpreted, the music still communicates the kind of virulent disdain that the band holds for avarice, hate and fear.
In an effort combine tenets of death metal, thrash and melodic metal, “Dynasty” ends up sounding something like Arch Enemy crossed with fellow Midwesterners Lazarus AD. The former because As They Sleep can throw notes at the wall at a blistering pace, alternating between precision and percussion. The latter because they also are possessed of the secret for bring it all together into an edgy, American throwdown.
“Bedlam at the Nile” features both of those characteristics at their most prominent, and is the album’s signature single. While the song thunders and rages along for about a minute and a half, it then makes a startling transition into a lone guitar setting up a hook riff that would lead the masses into a headbanging frenzy if played live. The song’s third and final section brings back the clear lead riff from the beginning over the top of the mayhem and strings the entire song together, giving it a recognizable cadence. Masterful stuff.
It is As They Sleep’s ability to layer a sharp, almost delicate tenor guitar above the din that separates them from so many other nameless death metal bands. Best of all, that guitar centerpiece can accomplish its mission of adding delectable flair to a song without being played at breakneck speed. Taking a page from the old school of David Gilmour, it’s much more about placement and timing that sheer dynamics. “The Darkest Ages” would have been a mess if that lead guitar hadn’t pulled it out of the muck. As is, it ends up being one of the album’s more memorable tracks.
As They Sleep possesses a thrasher’s mentality that is absolutely essential to the album’s character. Without the talent for suddenly making the listener snap back to attention by throwing in a riff-driven breakdown, the album would have wallowed in the monotonous wall of noise that plagues so many death metal bands. The songs’ sudden shifts in momentum are so noticeable that it makes the listener think they are experiencing an entirely different piece. “The Third Reich” might as well be two completely songs, but similar to oil and good balsamic, it can hold together in solution just long enough for you to get what you need out of it.
It sounds like As They Sleep should be ready to join the up and coming elite in metal’s new generation, but they’re not quite ready for that leap yet. While it’s true that “Dynasty” has a thrasher’s mentality, it lacks a thrasher’s eloquence. The attention to detail and construction is wonderful when employed, but isn’t cast on the entire album. While “The Unseen” is a wonderful, almost hopeful piece of exquisite composition, “God of War” fails to truly materialize, while “Attila” has crisp guitar work but doesn’t tie up nicely.
“Dynasty” is a nice coming out party for As They Sleep, warts and all. The guitar work is excellent both in power and grace and while the band has room to grow, they’ve done an excellent job of combining elements of American thrash and European death metal. “Bedlam at the Nile” makes it worth the price of admission and there’s a lot more good than bad apart from that. If you can accept its few faults, “Dynasty” is a metal fan’s metal album.