Photo by Ty Watkins
The San Diego melodic metal group gets political on their second album following the shocking dissolution of their former band.
San Diego melodic metallers Wovenwar (vocalist Shane Blay, drummer Jordan Mancino, guitarist Nick Hipa, and bassist Josh Gilbert) have recently released their second album Honor Is Dead on Metal Blade Records. It’s far more aggressive than their first self-titled release, which arrived not too long after the end of their time as the high-profile metalcore act As I Lay Dying. The now well-documented story is that their ex-vocalist Tim Lambesis was sent to prison for attempting to hire an undercover FBI agent to murder his wife. So it was hardly surprising that their first album as Wovenwar, and the first featuring Blay on vocals, would come across as self-referential. On a recent tour stop in Toronto I spoke with Gilbert about how they dealt with such a sharp transition.
“I think on the first record we had been hit with a curveball in life, to put it lightly” he says with a laugh.
“We had just got Shane and we were writing lyrics together. We sort of wrote a really optimistic record. We were looking, however we could, to stay positive and maybe cope with the events surrounding whatever had just happened to us. But on this record I think it’s a lot more honest in the fact that we were looking outward. We were being influenced by outside events, happenings around the time of the writing of the record. Sometimes it comes across as political, sometimes it comes across as just personal. We weren’t censoring the lyrics we wrote. On the first record I would say that the lyrics were cathartic for us in the situation. We kinda moved passed that.”
The political aspects of Honor Is Dead don’t exactly seem subtle upon listening to the album, and although Gilbert is more diplomatic about it in person, he doesn’t hide the band’s disdain for the United States’ current direction.
“‘Pissed off’ is a great adjective to describe it” he says while nodding emphatically.
“Not only for us but I think a lot of our friends and family were coping with the realities of what’s going on in the world around us. On this record we expressed the concerns and thoughts we had on those happenings... I’m trying to be as middle of the road as possible here (laughs). We’re not exactly satisfied with the events politically going on where we’re from and I think that comes across in the lyrics. We tried to write it in a way that was tasteful and artistic, but also trying to demonstrate how we felt about what was going on.”
This brings up further questions about Wovenwar’s audience. They have an unique position among contemporary metal bands in that they have both strong secular and Christian followings. As I Lay Dying was arguably the most successful band from the Christian metal scene to cross over to secular music. I was interested to know how they felt about how these two groups of fans would react to their political lyrics.
“I think the lyrics of the song ‘Lines In the Sand’ illustrate our opinion pretty clear on the matter” says Gilbert, referring to a track on the new album that expresses disdain over deep social divides.
“It’s hard to estimate how either side is going to view the lyrics that you write. It’s art to us, it’s expression to us. When we’re writing it’s just an expression of that moment. We’re not trying to make a political statement, necessarily. It’s just what we feel at the time. You can take it for what you will. Some people might take it the exact opposite way (of what) we intended. That’s the beauty of art and lyrics, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Most people who are coming to the show, they’re sensitive to music, they’re sensitive to art. You expect that people are open-minded and that’s all we really ask of our audience. It’s weird to know that someone who values our art and values what we do as band, feels so differently, ethically than we do. But that’s also the beauty of just, freedom. Being able to feel how you want.”
In addition to more outspoken lyrics, Honor Is Dead also boasts heavier guitars and extreme vocals. The music takes on an almost progressive quality because of the band’s penchant for layered melodies. “At the very base of this band, we’re looking for the best melodies, the best rhythms” says Gilbert.
“The best melodies on top of the guitar melodies. But we consider vocals the entire time, and they kind of interweave with each other. Shane’s contribution musically changed a whole lot because he was there. With the first record probably half, or three-quarters was written before Shane was even involved. On this record, Shane’s voice, his range, his abilities (were) considered the whole time.”
The band’s collaborative writing style is evident on both albums. After his arrest Lambesis claimed that he was the primary songwriter of As I Lay Dying. It’s a claim that seems difficult to back up based on how the members of Wovenwar work together.
“It’s easy to just say ‘Ah this guy was the mastermind,’ because that’s what that guy would say” remarks Gilbert bluntly.
“But for us it’s always been collaborative. Everybody’s always contributed to the writing process and with Wovenwar it’s the same way. Everyone in this band contributed to this last record. For us, that’s testament enough to the myth that maybe there’s one guy, that was (laughs), was the mastermind of every piece of music that came out from that band.”
The legacy of their former band, does at times, loom large over Wovenwar’s existence. It’s recently come to light that Lambesis has been released from prison early, is getting re-married, and may have a record deal. There were more than a few fans wearing As I Lay Dying shirts at the Toronto show. It’s a situation that most would probably feel awkward about.
“We’re all comfortable with that. It’s completely acceptable. We more than anyone understand, there are these fans of our last band that are diehard,” says Gilbert earnestly.
“The still support us, they still wear the shirt. They still love the music, we still love the music! Sadly we can’t play the music and feel OK about it at this point. But we still love the music, and the fact that they’re here shows that they support what we’re doing now. It’s easy to just, as a fan of As I Lay Dying, look at what we’re doing now as ‘these guys are spitting in the face of what As I Lay Dying did.’ For us, we appreciate anyone who’s here, even if they’re wearing an As I Lay Dying shirt. That shows that they’re supporting us as musicians which is, amazing to us. We definitely don’t discriminate based on the shirts that the fans in the audience are wearing (laughs). It makes sense, As I Lay Dying was a band for a decade, Wovenwar’s been around for two-and-a-half years. We get that people are still coming around to us and we’re still earning fans. That’s what we want to do. We want to earn fans, we want to go on tour, play in front of them, blow them away, have them buy a Wovenwar shirt, and wear it the next time we come.”
Wovenwar’s second album Honor Is Dead is available now, and you can stream it in full below.