Album Review: LAMB OF GOD - Lamb Of God
Artist: Lamb Of God
Album: Self Titled
Genre: Heavy Metal
Review by Brady Irwin
Ah. Lamb of God. Melding the brute-force ethos of hardcore to the wails and histrionics of classic metal, this 'New Wave of American Heavy Metal' leviathan have always bestowed a decidedly American, home-grown, triple-proof blend of groove metal onto the masses. Carving their own niche in a scene at one time swamped by Gothenburg-worshipping ‘core bands, there’s something innately recognisable, unique and fun about Lamb of God, if not a tad predictable. The latest self-titled album promises more of both worlds, but is an album made to be swallowed whole.
Ardent fans most likely don’t even need a rundown of single ‘Memento Mori’, surely to have flogged it beyond recognition by now already. For the rest of you, things begin in an interesting fashion with an arpeggiated refrain that harkens as much to a 90s alt-rock feel than stomping metal. The addition of Randy Blythe opening with a deep croon is also an eyebrow-raiser, but it feels right. You just know things are going to explode at some point and, after about another minute-half of a child whispering to ‘wake up’ (edgy, right?), our frontman follows suit with the same proclamation.
Belting into the not-quite-djent-but-still-offbeat staccato they’ve always employed, the impeccably precise triad of Willie Adler on rhythm guitar, John Campbell on bass and new addition Art Cruz (also of Winds of Plague/Prong affiliation) rounding out a solid thunder atop which lead guitarist Mark Morton trades off very Scandinavian lead work. This is nothing you haven’t come to expect from Lamb of God by now, but it’s full of life and flavour and gets the head nodding. And of course, a breakdown you can cut in thick slices with your swivelling neck, returning back to the fret-bouncing riff work.
Bridging the gap between having my face obliterated in the pit to tracks peeled from As The Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake as a blood-hungry mosh fiend in my teens and early 20s, in preparing to listen to another Lamb of God album I was curious if my reaction and energy remained the same.
Luckily, I’m always pleasantly surprised by how easily the pit friend is dragged straight out from some abyssal plain, the moment I throw this band on. With some background studio laughter and a very Southern-fried lead opening, sounding like a Pantera jam recording b-side, ‘Checkmate’ (a solidly LoG title, as usual) reminds me how well this band can combine serpentine and technical riffwork with solid, p-h-phat groove. I don’t think I’ll be disclosing anything that will be news to you here, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. After such a long time together, this many albums and years, the band are still experts of weaving expertly-crafted fun. Kind of like funk or disco - have it at a loud enough volume, your motor neurons are no longer your own. Head swivelling to the tight rasps and staggered riffing to the repose of ‘the American scream!’, I’m suddenly saddened by the confines of COVID. I feel the stage-ready, all-inclusive pull of this anthemic, built-for-moshpit groove factory. There’s a fervour for both groove and riff so palpable, you can visualise it happening on a stage right in front of you.
Again, we aren’t breaking into wholly uncharted prog territory on skull-crushers like ‘Gears’, but boy are we enjoying the turns taken. Employing the usual trade off between salvos of single-string, fret-bouncing and giant chords, not a beat is missed with the new skinsman as the band propels along in their trademark bent. With clear disdain expressed to hegemonic influence of industrialisation and capitalism, the anti-authoritarian punk rock streak in Randy’s lyrics is palpable, and those spitting vocals ring bars especially true to our present situation.
‘Reality Bath’ changes the script somewhat, with an intro that legitimately had this writer concerned they’d accidentally switched over to Truckfighters or Fu Manchu somehow. A sun-drenched, fuzz-distorted twanging intro gives way to a very industrial salvo of riffs, picking up pace with momentum to a groove-and-thrash pace. A truly epic chorus nudges up against a more subdued verse that, once again, rolls up the pace and reverts back to square one. With some gang shouts in the backdrop, the song repeats its’ main theme a tad. It’s one I found passable at first but easily returned to on repeat listens.
‘New Colossal Hate’, in contrast, has an acerbic sharpness and caustic bite that really is reminiscent of Palaces. More urgent and frenetic in its pace, the kicks tumble along below a much more schizophrenic arrangement of frantic, slightly dissonant chord progressions. Sitting up more alert and with interest now, there’s an increase in upper and lower register savagery in the vocals that adds a much more organic feel. Again, the use of samples and staccato over a devastating breakdown conjures up a classic Fear Factory feel, thrashing all the way out as it exits on a high.
The reference alluded to in the last sentence rings true in a titular and literal sense with ‘Resurrection Man’. Creepy chimes twinkle for a few brief moments before we cop a surprise ‘BLEGH!’ (can’t ever be unhappy with one of those) and a more measured, sombre, chug and power-chord-heavy drawl. Breaking into steady tremolo and chugs towards the middle as the chords finally ring out, you just know what comes next was intended to cause full malice. Over a ringing lead and snare rolls there is a build towards a massive breakdown riff. A duelling guitar riff clashes with almost painful arpeggios and sickly, off-beat chugs and high shrieks in what is sonically a truly brutal moment. Where was this earlier?!
Look, I’m not besmirching the first half of the album, which was fun, but it’s definitely in the latter half where things get really top notch. ‘Poison Dream’ is further testament to this, pushing and pulling between restraint and the usual groove-metal tempo. There’s an almost sickly motion to the song as it swaps out all manner of tempos with reckless abandon, without sacrificing a feeling of steady backbeat. It takes real familiarity and skill with one’s instrument and bandmates to be able to move fluidly back and forth in the washing machine of riffage employed here. Before they’re done though, there is an absolutely stoic hardcore tough-guy wall of dense riffs that batter the listener down in a much more primal resolution by song’s end. Yeah, nice.
A homage to protests against destruction of Indigenous land at the behest of profit, ‘Routes’ switches the dial right back from New York into the Bay Area, employing a classic-thrash stomp that perfectly sets the stage for vocal belter Chuck Billy, of Testament legend. Like every track on this album, the passionately charged fervour is palpable in both lyrics and vocal delivery, and the two trade offs so seamlessly you’d swear Chuck was a longstanding member. Throwing down between a bludgeoning wall of classic thrash riffs, a subterranean breakdown and requisite widdly soloing by Morton, the tribal percussion call and response at the end just culminates the epic feel of this track tenfold. The track does more in 3 minutes than most bands do across an EP, heck, a full-length. More of this, please.
Settling back into their well-worn, comfortable and competent groove-shoes, ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ sits so far back on the distorted bass and harmonics that the chair creaks back to late-90s nu metal aesthetics. It works. Really well. The sharp barks melt away into measured croons and measured quiet, ripping back upwards into the bands’ trademark rumble. Randy’s vocal range is truly on display here, as is the ability for his bandmates to move between any number of subgenres dwelling in the metal basement with effortless transition. Another fantastic track that transposes differing styles, and one which will pull a wide grin on loyal listeners’ faces.
At this stage, I’m almost throwing my hands up in the air. ‘On the Hook’ is last? This is an absolute bludgeoner, a barrelling intro moving into an incredible chord progression in the chorus and ridiculous riff-play and – blast-beats?! The pace keeps up from there, moving between straight-up thrash, home-brewed groove metal and a very proggy chorus. An even more dynamic and interesting affair than the preceding couple of tracks, and testament to the experiment I wish the band employed through more of the album. A sultry, almost sitar-like arpeggio over a very unsettling whisper-heavy breakdown rounds the track out towards an epic crescendo, and now it’s clear why this one was the final opus.
I’ve said a lot of words here. And in honesty, whilst I feel like the first half of this album is just straight up, pit-ready fun, the second half of this self-titled is where the band shows off their impressive ability to use a matured, dynamic and agile range in their riff arsenal. Worth a listen, but be sure to stick around for the entire show.
Lamb Of God's self titled release will be available June 19th via Nuclear Blast.
Pre-orders are available at: https://nblast.de/LoGAU