WASHINGTON – Attend an As I Lay Dying concert and one will likely find two things: heavy metal and prayer.
It's a combination most metalheads or Christians wouldn't count on, but it's easy invoking divine intervention when confronted with the "Wall of Death." Hundreds of participants line up on opposing sides of a mosh pit as the band plays, the tension mounts until it snaps and both sides charge at each other in a deluge of whirling bodies. As concert-goers slam in violent communion, it's easy to see why As I Lay Dying defies categorization; it has taken them ten years, but they've conquered the secular heavy metal world while remaining openly Christian.
The group is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary with its "Decade of Destruction" tour crisscrossing America. Josh Gilbert, the band's bassist, said the trek's goal is to thank As I Lay Dying's fans for years of devotion. Such support has gained the San Diego metal act Grammy award nominations and a Billboard Top 10 placement for their last album, 2010's The Powerless Rise.
"Our fans are really important to all that we do," Gilbert said. "Especially with the music industry in the dumps, it's important to cherish them. It's great being able to still tour comfortably and stay relevant in the metal scene after all these years."
The musician said during a pre-concert chat at D.C.'s 930 Club last night that As I Lay Dying's success stems from mixing powerful music with positivity. Though the group primarily writes heavy metal for heavy metal's sake, Gilbert said its members' Christian background gives them a rare perspective for reaching people.
"I definitely think the metal scene at times lacks positivity," Gilbert said. "We don't always write positive songs, but we offer a positive alternative."
A glance at Gilbert reveals that he literally wrestles with faith on his sleeves. One arm is tattooed with a leering devil with an angel holding a rifle at the devil’s head. The other features a boat amid stormy seas, sailing towards Christ nailed to the cross. Despite such displays of religious imagery, he said his band's lyrics only offer a dive into Christianity for those looking to plunge.
"The point of our band isn't to go out and win souls for the Lord," Gilbert said. "Our goal is to be a good metal band. Any human being can relate to our lyrics. If someone is touched spiritually by what we do, though, that's just as important to us."
In a genre like extreme music, Gilbert said, keeping an equal balance between heaven and earth is important. What separates his heavy metal band from others, he argued, is how after helping all hell break loose, As I Lay Dying still leaves listeners with hints of heaven too.
"Our last record is about how people just can't be happy with what they have," Gilbert said. "They have a void they can't fill and our songs are trying to offer a solution to it if they want to look into it that much."