Ever since Wovenwar arose from the ashes of As I Lay Dying - the metalcore group that went on hiatus in 2013 when frontman Tim Lambesis was arrested as part of a murder-for-hire plot - the band has tried to move forward in a positive direction.
The group, including guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer Jordan Mancino, started anew as a quartet by cutting ties with Lambesis, and reforming as Wovenwar, an act that exchanged the screams and double-bass-propelled rhythms of metalcore for a more accessible hard-rock style. It wrote its 2014 self-titled album, recruited Oh, Sleeper's Shane Blay as a singer-guitarist, and released Wovenwar to a warm reception. (Sgrosso has since left the band.) The group's determination to recover from the debacle resulted in an uplifting album full of powerful, compelling guitar work that focused on lyrical themes like denial, self-forgiveness and redemption. In concert in 2015, it was clear no member was taking their second chance at a career for granted, and the band's passionate set underlined why live shows had driven much of As I Lay Dying's success.
Through it all, Wovenwar has tried to focus only on what it can control, which is its own reaction to the situation. But dealing with the fallout of Lambesis' actions has been a difficult journey that, according to Hipa, has been exacerbated by media coverage and fan commentary. Prior to his arrest, Lambesis' mental state was so dark that he thought killing his estranged wife, Meggan, would solve his problems -- a mind-set he partially attributed to illegal steroid use.
Fans pledged support for Wovenwar and Meggan, but others think Lambesis' former bandmates betrayed him in a time of need. The concept of honor - when to stand by someone when the chips are down, and when integrity can only be upheld by walking away - was debated in the ensuing online bickering. It's not the reason why Wovenwar's new album is named Honor Is Dead (due Oct. 21 on Metal Blade), but the title "does capture a little more of the darker subject matter in things we were doing on this record," says Hipa.
"I think honor is sort of circumstantial," he observes. "When you're young, you're taught, 'You do this because it's right, and it's right by other people, and you don't do this because it's wrong.' As we've transitioned into deep adulthood, it seems like that's the way things should be … but sometimes people knowingly don't do the honorable thing."
Honor is tied up in the concept of nationalism, a topic Wovenwar found itself contemplating in the face of the country's social and political climate. The pounding "Lines in the Sand" examines the idea of "inheriting your view of the world based on where you were born, and you inherit your allies and your enemies based on what line in the sand you found yourself being born in," explains Hipa. "We normally try not to be too political or current-event of a band. Not because we're not interested in it, but it's so easy with music to have your stance misinterpreted. Previously we avoided that, but this song I think is applicable to what's going on in the world."
He notes, "Respect for one another and common sense and reason fair outweighs an allegiance to a flag that you're born under. I think that's how we view everything - politics, religion - down to basic principles of respecting human life, and trying to understand one another and living peacefully."
Billboard has the premiere of the lyric video for "Lines in the Sand." Watch it below:
Wovenwar was hardly timid, but Honor Is Dead is far more assertive, as heard in the seething wallop of songs like "Censorship," "Bloodletter" and "130." Hipa now realizes that with Wovenwar, "We never actually gave ourselves a second to be pissed off. We never gave ourselves much time to be sad" about the Lambesis situation. "It does seem totally backwards, even sonically. This record is more the transition than the first one. It's funny how that worked out, but a lot of it is because we wrote the first record during that whole year that everything was purgatory. We didn't know what was going on and we were still reeling from everything, so we were just trying to be positive and focused."
The Korn-esque "Stones Thrown" is one place where Wovenwar gives in to venting. It concentrates on "the intent of the information that we are presented with [in the media]," explains Hipa. "There's a lot of times these stories we are reading or these things we hear about were crafted and curated that way for a specific reason. That is our song about that, and being leery of what it is you are told, and trying to get to the truth of what is there."
For Hipa, an example of this was when Alternative Press published an exclusive interview with Lambesis in May 2014, just minutes after Lambesis received a six-year sentence. Hipa understands that it was a major news story, but he was angered that Lambesis was given a platform to defend his actions. "The day he had to account for what he had done, all this comes out. And then the response to that was a lot of people supported him. A lot of people said negative things about Meggan and her family, and it was very hurtful to them," recalls Hipa. "They felt like [as] the victims of the situation [they] never had a voice, never stood a chance."
Hipa notes that the AP article "set the tone for so much of what we would encounter for the next year-and-a-half. You get things like that that would come out, and people would chime in on it. It would shape the way that people viewed us and what we were doing. People would go out of their way to personally tell me how terrible a dude I was, how much they hoped awful things would happen to me and my family." He atrributes such behavior to people being "overly opinionated and underinformed," but it hasn't made it easier for him to hear brutal opinions from fans who "bought that lie [that Meggan] probably deserved it."
"None of them know those kids or that woman like we do. They don't understand what he put them through to get her to a place to be like, 'You know what? I have to protect these children from you,'" explains Hipa. "If anyone can look at the situation objectively, they can even see this guy tried to have someone murdered, and his reasoning was that he was on steroids so he was unable to think rationally, and he lost his religion, so he wasn't able to make any moral decisions. This is who he says he was at the time, and that's why he tried to kill her. If that's the type of person you're admitting to being, what sort of good mother do you think would let their kids hang around with that [kind of] personality?"
Further proving that the saga won't die: Metal blogs were once again set atwitter when the news broke in September that Lambesis had filed a $35.5 million lawsuit against two California detention facilities, claiming that he was denied medication to counteract the side effects of his steroid use and, as a result, his breasts became abnormally enlarged.
"It's sad to see somebody that we spent so much of our lives with end up in such a place," says Hipa of the recent development. "He could have made such a great impact on this world, but he just gave in to the worst parts of himself. Even more discouraging for me is the fact that he's trying to file a lawsuit for that amount. It says to me he's still the same sort of personality at his core; nothing has changed. He thinks of himself a certain way, and he thinks of himself in a situation he created as a victim."
Honor Is Dead is not completely dark, though. Hipa is enthused about the full addition of Blay's talents, calling them a reason why the new set "is more of what this band is." With the first album, Blay recorded vocals for tracks that were written before he joined Wovenwar; for this one, he assisted in laying the music's foundation. "It helped steer the course and vibe of this record overall. That's something even as basic as writing a song in a tuning [that ends up] hitting a sweet spot in his voice," says Hipa. "It was a huge asset for us to be able to use Shane's talents as more than a vocalist."
The album is therefore lyrically more personal: Opening track "Confession" features Blay making just that, as he discloses his struggles with alcohol, shouting, "I think it's killing me." Then there's "Silhouette," a song that longtime friends Blay and Hipa co-wrote a few years ago when they were working together on material with "a cinematic vibe, but dark and moody." As they reviewed demos for Honor Is Dead, they felt more of an emotional balance was needed, so Blay rearranged "Silhouette." The vulnerable composition, which speaks of daring to love again, is hooky enough to gain mainstream radio play. "He wrote it for his fiancee," says Hipa. "I was like, 'Dude, I get it man, that's cool.' I loved it."
Overall, Hipa feels Wovenwar needed to record Honor Is Dead to regain equilibrium as people and as a band. "I think the records work great toward one another. I don't think the one after this is going to be left or right - I don't think either one of them is left or right - but I think it's going to be more the middle of them both, because [now] we've gotten out both sides of what we've dealt with the past two or three years."