In its first few years of life, As I Lay Dying did a couple of runs on the Vans Warped Tour as a monstrous presence amid all the pop-punk and emo bands, but this summer the San Diego metalcore band is firmly entrenched on the full-metal Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival tour.
"With Mayhem," says bassist/singer Josh Gilbert, "it's all metal fans, and there are people who aren't familiar with our band, but they're into metal, so they're actually drawn to what we play and we can win over new fans. If we play Warped Tour and we're after Matisyahu or something, it might be kind of tougher to get those fans who haven't heard us before."
As I Lay Dying, which formed in 2000 and got its break on the second stage of Ozzfest in 2005, has been rotating on this tour between the rugged second stage in the parking lot and the main stage, which is headlined by legends Slipknot, Slayer and Motorhead.
"I really try to just see Slayer and Motorhead play every single day," Mr. Gilbert says. "It's cool to see that there are so many metal fans out there and they come out in droves to see bands that have been playing for 30 years. And I hope that 10 years down the road, we'll be able to do the same thing."
Playing a more extreme brand of metal than either Slayer or Motorhead, As I Lay Dying, which takes its name from a Faulkner novel, has an even tougher road to mainstream acceptance than either of those bands. However, the group has been nominated for a best metal performance Grammy (for the song "Nothing Left") and its last two albums debuted in the Top 10. The band, which is known for incorporating Christian themes, combines clean and the monster growl vocals, which haven't been embraced by all metal fans, including some of those old school bands on Mayhem.
"For Slayer's time, what they did was pretty extreme," says Mr. Gilbert, who does the clean vocals. "They weren't melodic, just really aggressive vocals, and I'm sure that some of their peers at that time probably felt similar about it. So I can definitely see how people from a different approach to vocals might be a little bit turned off by the growlier style of screaming, but we've made pretty good friends with those guys in Slayer and some of the guys in Motorhead and they're all really nice, and they seem to be really supportive of our band. I think the more they've been exposed to it, the more they get it."
The Mayhem tour advances As I Lay Dying's sixth album, "Awakened," likely to be a slight departure from the last two albums, which were produced by Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage. Taking the controls this time was Bill Stevenson, the former Descendents/Black Flag drummer who has worked with more punk rockers like NOFX and Rise Against and promised to be more "outside the box" in terms of genre.
"When we found out we couldn't get Adam for this record, due to his obligations with Killswitch, we started thinking of new ideas for producers of the record and Bill's name came up, and once we got a conference call with him, he was the most thorough and detailed with his critiques and suggestions based on our records -- what he'd like to hear more of. We talked it over with the label and they were into the idea of Bill, and it was really cool to have that less metal perspective and more overall songwriting perspective."
In terms of theme on "Awakened," he says, "a lot of the songs are just talking about how you go through your life and have these principles that are taught to you, and you reach the point where you finally wake up and ask the questions that you should have been asking from the beginning, but didn't know to ask."
As I Lay Dying frontman Tim Lambesis has a unique talent for compressing long verses of metaphysical lyrics into his guttural roars -- they can be hard to pick up on record and even harder in the heat of the live setting.
"In general, people aren't going to see your band for the first time and be like, 'I wanna hear what this guy has to say.' They're there to listen to metal and not there to have this profound message -- that's why we include the lyrics, so if they're interested they can read up on their own. Typically, regarding metal, I would just be more concerned with how tight the band comes across and how talented the musicians are."
The second stage crowd is also concerned with how intensely a band can drive the mosh pit.
"I would say it's energetic," Mr. Gilbert says of the second stage. "When we play the main stage, there's a pit area where there's no seats but those cost about $120, so you're not really going to have the younger fans of the band up front -- you're going to have the Slayer fans, the Slipknot fans, maybe they're a little bit older and can afford those tickets. So a lot of times on the main stage, more energy is coming from the lawn, so we started catering our main stage set more toward the lawn."
At the same time, he says, "it's really cool to see those older Slayer fans up front kind of just sitting there -- not really bummed out but not knowing much about us -- and as the show goes on be throwing the horns at us. It's the best feeling."
Scott Mervis; firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter; @scottmervis_pg. First Published July 26, 2012 4:00 AM