Looking back, I’d say 2007 was a big year in the metal scene. It was the last year before unoriginality and mediocrity became the norm. There were no explosions of your run-of-the-mill Attack Attack!’s or Asking Alexandria’s yet; many of them came the year after. Instead, you had bands crafting something that would take root in dynamic energy. Parkway Drive’s Horizons, Between The Buried and Me’s Colors, August Burns Red’s Messengers, and of course As I Lay Dying’s An Ocean Between Us. As I Lay Dying’s previous records had shown so much to look forward to: relentless riffing, dominating drumming, and vicious vocals. Having three albums to sift through their sound, 2007’s An Ocean Between Us can in retrospect be seen as their first cohesive presentation of all the elements you wanted to hear in an As I Lay Dying album.
Opening with the deceptively calm “Separation,” the album sweeps slowly with guitar lines that transform from a clean, luscious tone to the crunchy, hi-gain tone that we’ve grown to love. “Nothing Left” bursts forward from the intro and sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come. Tim Lambesis presents a more forward and direct vocal delivery, Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa switch flawlessly from pulsating riffs to a well-placed, furious solo and Jordan Mancino upholds the consistently fast double bass. If that isn’t enough, the title track – perhaps one of As I Lay Dying’s most popular songs – wastes no time in picking up where “Nothing Left” ended. “An Ocean Between Us” makes the best of its absolutely chaotic verses, which highlight sporadic guitar lines that feed off convulsing drum riffs, transitioning into an anthemic chorus that maintains momentum.
By now you have a general feel for what the album will sound like, but you have to disregard that quickly. An Ocean Between Us contains similar, repeated structures and rhythms but the band made an effort to diversify the style of metal that a song incorporates. For example, “Within Destruction,” “Comfort Betrays,” “Bury Us All,” and “Wrath Upon Ourselves” are amalgams of thrash and classic metal rhythms with faster tempos and syncopated riffing. All three tracks feature some of Lambesis’ lowest screams and Hipa’s most complex solos which contribute to the frantic element. “I Never Wanted” stands out greatly due to its restrained, ballad-like tempo, though it is not soft or gentle in the slightest. Other songs are marked with a modern metal sound, having pummeling blast beats overlaid by harmonizing fret work and tremolo picking such as on “Forsaken” and “The Sound of Truth.”
The only breather this album provides comes in the form of the instrumental track “Departed” which features an interesting finger-tapping melody that fills space all on its own. This blend of style and delivery diversifies the record and breaks monotony to the listener’s benefit, especially since this release marked a departure from the abundance of breakdown and repealed the scarcity of clean vocals and soloing. It’s something new for the band, and they made sure to get that point across.
The final song “This Is Who We Are” is the culmination of everything An Ocean Between Us has presented thus far. Unfortunately though, that does not mean that the album automatically closes on the strongest note. In fact, it closes on the weakest. The track does have great instrumental work but the chorus weighs it down due to a loss of momentum and, honestly, boring and awkward clean vocals that reek of over-polished processing. The last minute or so is very soothing and effective but it does not leave a definitive end for an album that contains so much power.
Their strongest album at the time, An Ocean Between Us proved to be a pivotal moment in the band’s history. It most certainly is not the same blatantly aggressive band that created Frail Words Collapse and Shadows Are Security. They’ve matured and taken risks and for the most part, it worked. In the end, An Ocean Between Us became a big name in 2007’s notable metal releases and a platform for what we’ve seen As I Lay Dying become today.