As I Lay Dying - This Is Who We Are (Metal Blade/Riot)

I must admit that prior to watching the documentary about As I Lay Dying included in this pack, I couldn't have given two shits about this band. It's a credit to both the band members themselves, and to the filmmaker Denise Korycki, that by the end of it I did give a fuck - enough to sit through the following two discs.

 

Don't be fooled by anyone who might tell you otherwise: this is an enormous package. It is not only three DVDs - a documentary that runs for an enormous length of time; a live DVD, which is comprised of a progression through a rediscovery of shows of their roots, as in, playing old-school venues; and a third DVD filled with music videos and bonus features. I figure that because it's such a big package, I may as well split this review down the same way. This is a long review - you have been warned!

This is who we are... From the Beginning - Documentary. Disc one. Duration: Just over two hours.

This documentary traces the history of As I Lay Dying from its roots, when it was just a little metalcore band playing crappy little shows in their local church, through the passion that underpins the band that has carried it to where it is today. The band itself has had lineup changes innumerable until it reached its current, stable, lineup. These guys toiled like worker ants under the most fascist ant regime, to get their sound out there and to get as many live experiences as they could. They toured in crap little mini-buses, they played shows with hardly any money, and did it hard, and all of that hard work has paid off.

This documentary looks at each of the band members individually, as well as at the band as a whole. It takes you on a journey through the development of the band members past and present, through successes past and present. Strikingly, As I Lay Dying have had few 'failures', and I would attribute this to their total drive, motivation, and commitment to doing what they do day in and day out. As Brian Slagle, head of Metal Blade Records tells us during the course of this documentary, As I Lay Dying are the only band he has ever had to pull off the road because of how long and intensely these guys tend to tour for.

The documentary gives you a real insight into the personalities that comprise As I Lay Dying. It also gives you a real grassroots view into the workings of the band at rest and (mostly) on tour. You get a real sense of who each of these dudes are, and how their music has evolved as the band members have evolved. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this DVD is its demonstration of evolution. You see, and hear, As I Lay Dying evolve from a metalcore band, to a deathcore band, and into a much more edge-of-the-death-metal band that you hear today.

Part of the reason why I suggest that even the most apathetic viewer will give a shit about this band by the end of the documentary is down to the filmmaker, acclaimed metal documentary maker Denise Korycki. You hear bands talk about it all the time, but it's really true: Denise really knows how to get the best out of her subjects. Somehow, she manages to coax the natural 'person' out of everyone she films, to get them to be comfortable, to open up in front of the camera and show who they really are. Now, that might sound incredibly sappy, but what it does is make for a really satisfying documentary experience.

Additionally, the documentary had a very tightly storyboarded feel to it, like it had been husbanded along very carefully through the process. Whether or not this is the case, it maintained a tight sense of story. The way it was edited together suggested a very strong focus on story and storytelling. In a historical piece, that is incredibly important: it removes the players from the role of mere character and turns them back into people; it gives the film a real timeline, as opposed to an imposed timeline; it gives it a goal and a purpose. If the story hadn't been so well crafted in the making of this documentary, then the film wouldn't have been even half the beast that it is.

Of course, it also helps that the production is absolutely first-rate. The camera work, even at low light and in mobile situations is of a high level. And the juxtaposition of live elements and first-hand accounts and reminiscence - of band members, family members, friends and crew - is well thought out and carefully balanced.

This is who we are... Now. Live progression. Disc two. Duration: About 1.5 hours.

The second disc is mostly live material. It presents the band's desire to 'recreate' the experience of their early shows: the first at Seacoast Community Church, where these guys used to practice about six years ago; the second at The Jumping Turtle, also in their home town; and the third in Anaheim. The three shows are all pretty different. The first is in a really small venue, where they played to maybe three hundred absolute maximum. On that show they played Shows Are Security in its entirety. The second is equally small - maybe smaller - where they played Frail Words Collapse in its entirety; and the third show was more of a mixed set. Where the first two shows are literally local places in the band's home town, the Anaheim locality was chosen as the third because of its contingent of long-standing, die-hard fans; but it is, however, more like an arena show - where they had something like a 17000 capacity venue, which was show sold out.

The great thing about each of these live experiences is that they are preceded by snippets of commentary from the band members, explaining each of the shows, and demonstrating their nerves, fears, worries, and ecstatic joys. While the Anaheim show allows far greater scope for a variety of camera angles, and the lighting provided gives a cleaner image, it's not to say that the others weren't filmed just as well. In fact, the 'roadie cam' notion - where each member of the crew was provided with a handycam at one of the smaller shows - was used to great effect. It enabled the crew to get in amongst the crowd, to get camera angles - such as through the guitarists' legs - that you just can't get at bigger shows. In a sense, this method brings the intimacy of those shows right back to the viewer; while the arena-style show really gives you a sense of just how big it is.

And then you see As I Lay Dying as some of the world's major summer festivals - perhaps the biggest of which was Wacken 2008.

As an objective viewer, the juxtaposition of the smaller shows and the larger shows really demonstrate As I Lay Dying's comfort levels. While at their present stage they loved playing the intimate shows, this band comes into its own on a big stage, with hundreds upon hundreds of punters in the crowd. But perhaps the best thing about disc two is, besides the pseudo-experience of As I Lay Dying live, the knowledge you gain of just how far this band has come. Watching the early performances compared with the later performances, you can see that their stagecraft has evolved by light-years in what is a relatively short period of time: they work crowds effortlessly and enthusiastically, and you get a sense that the crowd and the band are working just as hard as each other, regardless of whether they play to 300 or 70,000.

This is who we are... Disc three. Duration: a bit over an hour

This final disc is like the 'add-on' disc for everything that fit into any of the other categories. You have official music videos for the tracks Nothing Left, Sound of Truth, Within Destruction, Confined, Through Struggle, The Darkest Nights, Forever, and 94 Hours. You have a stack of bonus features, categorised into Band, Meaning, Moves, Fans, Crew, Entertainment, Pacific Adventures. And it also contains two extra live performances, one from each of the smaller shows highlighted on disc two.

This disc interesting, but probably more interesting for the die-hard As I Lay Dying fan. In the bonus features you get interesting snippets about band members (including right down to who has the most offensive flatulence); what sense of meaning is imbued into the songs and what the band's experiences of 'meaning' are; stuff about fans, the moves the guys do on stage, profiles of the road crew, and some rather inane material about how they keep themselves entertained while on the road for extended periods of time. Aussie fans will really dig the last bit though, because it's where the band talks about their tours to Japan, Australia and Hawaii. Evidently these localities sit in a special place outside of the 'usual', and therefore deserve a mini-feature all to themselves.

Overall

This is a huge package, and I shudder to think just how many years of footage it took, and how long it took to compile. I thin it's a great introduction to As I Lay Dying - as I mentioned earlier, the documentary alone is enough to make you give a shit about this band. But I think that it would have far more for the person who's already a fan, because of the sheer depth and breadth of it.

Now, if you calculated the running time of this package, you would have noticed that it goes for over four hours. I really don't recommend watching it all in one sitting as I did because, while it's well produced and mostly worth the time, it's a fucking marathon. I'm not really a fan and it wasn't very punishing - in fact, I rather enjoyed myself, which is enormously telling - but I think that you can overdose on some of it quite easily. Thank god these guys are nice dudes because if they weren't, you'd be playing frisbee with these discs after four hours.

But seriously, out of all of this material, the documentary is gold. Discs two and three will be brilliant additions to any As I Lay Dying fan; but for anybody else, if you can get away with just watching the doco, you may find it gives you a greater understanding and appreciation for a band that you may otherwise have dismissed.

As I Lay Dying's This Is Who We Are is out now on Metal Blade/Riot.