As I Lay Dying have had their share of ups and downs, to say the least, but they’re about to embark on a new tour, hot on the heels of their “comeback” album, Shaped by Fire, released in September via Nuclear Blast Records. Given the recent history of the band, this has, unsurprisingly, garnered mixed impressions from their fans, contemporaries and the media alike. As a self-styled music journalist, my niche may not be the more mainstream spectrum of the metal landscape, but these events and their knock-on effects have given me the impetus to explore the matter further.
In short, if your natural habitat is under a rock, As I Lay Dying’s frontman, Tim Lambesis, returned to society after a shorter than expected (sentenced to six years, paroled after two and a half) stint in prison for pleading guilty to soliciting, who he believed to be, a hitman to murder his then-wife in 2013. Since his parole in late 2016, he mended relationships with friends and, of course, his fellow bandmembers in As I Lay Dying, even going so far as to record a new single, “My Own Grave,” and, shortly thereafter, the previously mentioned new album, the band’s seventh.
The no-frills, simple approach to the “My Own Grave” music video speaks more of a band overcoming their differences than a narrative, big-budget production would.
The reaction since then has been mixed. Long-time fans have withdrawn support for the band and various media outlets have lambasted Lambesis and his cohorts for turning tragedy into publicity. And in some ways, they may be right: following Lambesis’ sentencing, even his bandmates turned their backs on him and publicly denounced his behaviour yet all seems forgiven and forgotten, immediately bringing the cynics out of hiding to voice their opinions on the capitalist urge being the driving factor in the public reunification. Never mind the fact that said bandmates practically refused contact with Lambesis until his public apology in December 2017 on the band’s Facebook page, where he stated that:
“Words cannot begin to express how deeply sorry I am for the hurt that I have caused. There is no defense for what I did, and I look back on the person I became with as much disdain as many of you likely do.”
Ah, say the angry mob, why did he wait so long? The simple answer is that he waited until his parole was completed so as not to appear to be currying favour with the courts, but it may also be a more human reason. Anyone who has made such a huge mistake will attest to the fact that apologizing is difficult... and the more you’ve messed up, the harder it gets.
Filmed last year, this is an intimate discussion among the members of As I Lay Dying, talking about their emotions and feelings regarding Lambesis’ situation:
But opinions are, as they say, like assholes: everyone has one and journalists should be willing to see beyond opinion, or at least examine more than one prevailing individual, sorry, voice, before drawing their own conclusions. A roundtable discussion the band held in 2018 showed As I Lay Dying at their most candid, emotional and unscripted. All these negative associations between the creative and business sides of music are examined and laid bare, and the dominant message is one of remorse and forgiveness. In some cases, this meant a polar shift in attitudes on behalf of band members (especially guitarist Nick Hipa) who underwent a transition, over time, from outright hatred to grudging acceptance to authentic reprieve.
Fast forward a year, and the band went even further, preparing a new video where the same arguments and emotions are exposed for public scrutiny, but this time in support of the HeartSupport Foundation, an online community for those facing life’s toughest challenges, from addiction to depression and domestic violence, among others. As I Lay Dying’s support of this organization is not novel within the metal community either, as both Jesse Leach from Killswith Engage and Ricky Olson from Motionless In White have voiced their public support. In the video, no excuses are made, but one comment by Lambesis does highlight one salient problem within the media today, that “we live in a climate that perpetually highlights stories of disgrace, misery or failure” rather than celebrating acts of kindness, achievement or remorse.
Produced earlier this year by HeartSupport, watch a short feature documentary on the story surrounding Tim Lambesis and the pain it caused for his bandmates:
One of the top five comments on the HeartSupport video? “This is the heaviest breakdown I ever heard.” The human ability to find humour in inappropriately emotional moments will never cease to surprise or delight me.
And then there’s the musical result of this emotional upheaval, the catharsis overlaid on some of the tightest, heaviest riffage As I Lay Dying have produced. Just as the band makes their feelings plain in the above HeartSupport video, they do the same in the vehicle they’re most comfortable with on their seventh full-length album, Shaped By Fire. Just as the very name suggests either a trial or a forging, both processes tempering, strengthening and improving on what was already there, the thematic content is as transparent and genuine as the video “confessions” below. Whether it’s Lambesis growling, “so now I know there is no one else to blame” on the first single, “My Own Grave,” the implied rift between band members addressed on “Torn Between” or the admission of culpability on album closer, “The Toll It Takes,” it is painfully obvious that the events of the past few years have been anything but easy for As I Lay Dying. I’m taking it as a sign of character and strength that they have overcome these obstacles and are positively channelling their energies into their shared passions at a time when it would be all too easy to retreat.
Hopefully, through continuing to make music and supporting worthy causes like HeartSupport, As I Lay Dying can move towards finding forgiveness for Lambesis and, by extension, for their contemporaries to find the same forgiveness for the group as a whole. Cult of Luna frontman Johannes Persson recently poured his scorn on them in an interview, naming them “those coward fucking band members who threw shit on him one second and then when their other band didn’t work well (they welcomed him back) – money talks.” Sure, Persson has every right to be angry and to not believe Lambesis’ apology to be sincere, but that kind of comment can only have a polarizing effect; no good thing in a world where everyone needs more acceptance and less intolerance.
Shaped By Fire was released on September 20th, 2019, via Nuclear Blast Records:
This may be a strange thing for me to say, coming from a black metal background, a genre notorious for intolerant and extreme views. In fact, I’ve often justified and rationalized this by saying that extreme music is going to breed extreme viewpoints and that it’s my own personal choice to separate art from artist wherever possible. I like to think I’m secure enough in my own personality and moral standing to not let it be influenced by another’s views, but I’m also secure enough to be willing to listen to those views first.
Lately, media coverage of the black metal scene has tended towards the same trend as shown in the treatment of Tim Lambesis: an anachronistic shoot first, ask questions later attitude that has no place in journalism that has had several unpleasant side effects. Behemoth frontman Nergal recently drew a (fresh) slew of criticisms when he wore a ’Black Metal Against Antifa’ t-shirt, immediately branding him a Fascist and a Nazi sympathizer in the eyes of the great unwashed. His rationalization, written under the image on his Instagram feed, stated that “when I post someone wearing an anti-Antifa shirt, it doesn’t make me a Nazi supporter. I’m concerned about damage they make to the scene. The ideals are ok, but the execution of them is utterly incompetent.”
And Nergal and Lambesis are not the only people in the music industry to suffer from similar cases of one-sided reporting. Earlier this year British singer Morrissey was also branded a racist for supporting right-wing political party For Britain, to the point where he was being encouraged to seek legal action against The Guardian for defamation. Morrissey’s response to the allegations was defeatist, but one that rings true, not just in Britain, “If you call someone racist in modern Britain you are telling them that you have run out of words. You are shutting the debate down and running off. The word is meaningless now.” Racism has become the crime you cannot defend, the slur you cannot clean. Even hiring a hitman to murder your wife is seen as a minor infringement when measured against this often unquantifiable allegation.
The message in the song “Redefined” is just as relevant as any of the band’s other new tracks:
While Morrissey may languish in the political and media doldrums, he is not without support, for his art, though, not for himself, an important distinction to make. Nick Cave, widely considered one of the greatest contemporary lyricists, wrote on his personal blog that “views and behaviour are separate issues – Morrissey’s political opinion becomes irrelevant. Whatever inanities he may postulate, we cannot overlook the fact that he has written a vast and extraordinary catalogue, which has enhanced the lives of his many fans beyond recognition. This is no small thing. He has created original and distinctive works of unparalleled beauty, that will long outlast his offending political alliances.”
In a separate but related post, Cave aligns his disgust with contemporary ’woke’ movements to that of Nergal (whose side project, Me And That Man, owes much of its existence to Cave’s influence) when he says that “this is the reason I tend to become uncomfortable around all ideologies that brand themselves as ‘the truth’ or ‘the way.’ This not only includes most religions but also atheism, radical bi-partisan politics or any system of thought, including ‘woke’ culture, that finds its energy in self-righteous belief and the suppression of contrary systems of thought. Regardless of the virtuous intentions of many woke issues, it is its lack of humility and the paternalistic and doctrinal sureness of its claims that repel me. Antifa and the Far Right, for example, with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each other’s belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness.”
It’s possible that sometimes soemthing true and good is “Shaped By Fire”:
Cave goes on to say that in no way does he feel that people should be afraid to express their convictions, especially when it concerns the deplorable state of the world, but that they should not be surprised when artists to do the same. Art should, as we have been told so often, comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable; it is a spiritual discourse that shouldn’t be governed by ideologies. Separating art from artist should be standard practice. By not supporting artists because we don’t agree with something they have done or said, we are only denying ourselves the chance to bask in future works of creative beauty they may bless us with.
Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” will never stop being one of the greatest, catchiest riffs in rock because guitarist Jimmy Page had a several year-long relationship with a young teen girl when he was in his 20s. The Executioner’s Song remains one of the best true crime novels of the late 20th century even if its author, Norman Mailer, was an alcoholic, a brawler and even stabbed his wife on occasion. The coloratura aria, “Der Hölle Rache” from The Magic Flute will always be an awe-inspiring operatic performance despite Mozart’s predilection for rimjobs. The Mona Lisa’s eyes aren’t going to stop following you around a room because Leonardo Da Vinci allegedly did unspeakable things with underage boys. The list goes on and on.
All this brings me back to Tim Lambesis and As I Lay Dying. Should we forget that he paid someone to kill his wife? Absolutely not. He’s definitely made it clear that he isn’t going to forget it himself and it’s an action with consequences that will haunt him for the rest of his days. But can we forgive him? And, in doing so, can we allow him to continue to create music that touches so many people emotionally without harassing him for doing so? I certainly hope so. Amidst this climate of tabloid sensationalism and hatemongering, I have to believe we have the capacity to forgive those who genuinely acknowledge their own failures, mistakes, and shortcomings and ask for that forgiveness.
Yet another of the band’s recent videos, this is the song “Blinded”:
As I Lay Dying’s Upcoming Tour Dates:
11/15 - Las Vegas, Nev. @ House of Blues
11/16 - Phoenix, Ariz. @ The Van Buren
11/18 - Dallas, Texas @ House of Blues
11/19 - Houston, Texas @ House of Blues
11/21 - New Orleans, La. @ House of Blues
11/22 - Atlanta, Ga. @ Buckhead Theatre
11/23 - Charlotte, N.C. @ The Fillmore Charlotte
11/24 - Wantagh, NY @ Mulcahy's Pub and Concert Hall
11/25 - Boston, Mass. @ House of Blues
11/26 - Philadelphia, Pa. @ Theatre of Living Arts
11/27 - Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Roxian Theatre
11/29 - Silver Spring, Md. @ The Fillmore Silver Spring
11/30 - Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom
12/01 - Reading, Pa. @ Reverb
12/02 - Cleveland, Ohio @ House of Blues
12/03 - Chicago, Ill. @ House of Blues
12/04 - Minneapolis, Minn. @ Varsity Theater
12/06 - Denver, Colo. @ Summit
12/07 - Salt Lake City, Utah @ The Complex
12/09 - Seattle, Wash @ El Corazón
12/10 - Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
12/11 - Sacramento, Calif. @ Ace of Spades
12/12 - Ventura, Calif. @ Ventura Theater
12/13 - Los Angeles, Calif. @ The Regent Theater
12/14 - San Diego, Calif. @ SOMA
12/15 - Los Angeles, Calif. @ Regent Theater