LAMB OF GOD – Lamb of God

LAMB OF GOD – Lamb of God

My theory, which I realize is hardly original, is that most bands have only a few great records in them. They usually start out promising if not already great, release 2 or 3 equally engaging records and then they start emulating them as they evolve. This is true of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament or Machine Head, although not as much of Pantera whose last 5 albums you can have once you pry it out of my cold dead fingers. But it is true of the Virginian thrash groove metalcore outfit Lamb Of God, who took from and after all of the above. Their 2nd and 3rd album, "As The Palaces Burn" and "Ashes Of The Wake", can be compared to Metallica’s "Ride The Lightening" and "Master Of Puppets" in terms of power, innovation and songwriting, and, perhaps the former’s still excellent "Sacrament" to "…And Justice For All", respectively, and we can even compare the patchy "Wrath" to Metallica’s eponymous in order to find where the machine had begun to stall. Subsequent "Resolution" and "VII: Sturm And Drang", although they had their moments, didn’t quite grab me or most other critics as their first 4 albums and Lamb Of God found themselves on the crossroads every band eventually finds themselves on.

Lamb Of God started under a very commercially suicidal moniker Burn The Priest, as David Randall Blythe (vocals), Mark Duane Morton (guitars), William M. Adler (guitars), John Campbell (bass) and Christopher James Adler (drums), William’s brother, persisting for one, the eponymous album (1994) (with the original cover depicting a flock of rabid nuns at burning a priest on a stake) then changing it to, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant band names ever, wisely also choosing to lower case the logo for greater impact and controversy regarding frontman’s Blythe’s spiritual orientation, his lyrics replete with Biblical references such as "our Father they will be done", "smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered" (Vigil), "this what has been wrought for 30 pieces of silver/the tongues of men and angels bought by a beloved betrayer" (Omerta) making a point to an emphatic counterpoint "hell no!" regarding such questions as "can we still be saved?/does your god hold a place for us?/is there time to repent/will we rise from the dead?/can these sins even be forgiven?/is there still hope for us?" (Blacken The Cursed Sun) that latter declaration seemingly definitely settling the inquiry ignited by the naming of the debut album "New American Gospel" (2000) in the first place, but perhaps "this god that I worship (a faded reflection)/this demon I blame (a flickering flame)/conspire as one, exactly the same" makes a better closure? And, in any case, isn’t this ambiguity, as opposed to such ubiquitous ambivalence in metal, that makes Blythe as insightful lyricist as Lawrence Matthew Cardine known as Robert Conrad "Robb" Flynn (Machine Head)?

Yet it is not so much for the lyrics but for the music that Lamb Of God are loved for on the excellent "As The Palaces Burn" or "Ashes Of The Wake" widely regarded as the two pillars on which their stylings, which have already been emulated since by many, have been built. Whereas "Ashes…" was a perfect blend of Megadeth’s "Rust In Peace", Slayer’s "South Of Heaven" and Pantera’s "Far Beyond Driven", like these 3 classics exceedingly powerful memorable and consistent, the brilliant and innovative "Sacrament" (as in the fantastic "Again We Rise") was a successful attempt at creating their very own style which the patchy productions in the years 2009-2015 largely failed to reinforce. As for Blythe, his arrest and incarceration in the Czech Republic to where he admirably voluntarily returned when he had had the chance to escape, that ordeal had a tremendous influence on his writing for Lamb Of God as well as the development of clean vocals as showcased on this, the eponymous’ predecessor, and to which eponymous we now turn.

"Putting our name on it is a statement. This is Lamb Of God here and now", declares Blythe from the Nuclear Blast commercial on our webpage and, having now listened to it a few times, I concur – this is a Lamb Of God record through and through worthy of the self-titled honor. But it is also a record which is catchier and more consistent than anything since at least "Sacrament" to which record it bears the most resemblance as evident on the excellent "Reality Bath" with an impressive structure, excellent riffs and catchy chorus and the anti-xenophobic anthem "New Colossal Hate", my favorite on the record due to a very memorable chorus Killswitch Engage would gladly trade for any highlight on the dreadful "Killswitch Engage II". Hook-laden anthems such as "Checkmate" or "Bloodshot Eyes" are neither "…Palaces" nor "Ashes" but, they prove that this album has hands down the best production this band has ever had, Josh Wilbur having outdone himself behind the console, the guitars and section positively thunderous. More importantly, Blythe dispenses with artsy and a little annoying cleans of the predecessor but opts for a decent Sister Of Mercy-ish crooning on just two tracks, the hard rocking "Bloodshot Eyes" and the opener "Memento Mori" (Latin: remember you must die) recalling the eponymous Sevendust debut, from which we get an early signal that, like anything post-2009, this album will be dominated by metalcore as it certainly is. Thus Blythe’s statement could more clearly be interpreted as "Lamb Of God is not going back to its roots but rather evolves to blend with its surrounding environment". Or could it?

What about the fiercely death metallic "Resurrection Man" highly reminiscent of Bloodbath’s "Eaten" or the pure thrash metal of "Routes" with backing vocals courtesy of Testament’s Charles "Chuck" Billy, the song sounding like something straight off of "Titans Of Creation"? And let’s not forget melody, this is the most melodic record since, again, "Sacrament". The material is actually instantly memorable even if not as wonderfully complex as the 2nd and 3rd album. And yeah, let’s not forget that LOG had lost their longtime signature drummer Chris Adler in 2019, who, after his brief if memorable time in Megadeth and on "Dystopia" (2016) (interestingly also produced by Wilbur), decided to leave LOG permanently forcing them to appoint a replacement in Arturo "Art" Cruz who did not jump ship called Winds Of Plague but now straddles both assignments. While he does a good job on "Lamb Of God" Adler is sorely missing from the composite, the signature sound noticeably altered. Remember "Laid To Rest" or "Blacken The Cursed Son"? Yeah, nothing like that is to be found here, just solid drumwork throughout, especially on arguably the most ambitious track, the closer "On The Hook" with an unusual structure but also the most fresh sounding song.

The major praiseworthy factor are Blythe’s lyrics seemingly straight from Megadeth’s frontman’s David Scott Mustaine’s school of political indictment although he would never agree since they are wonderfully unapologetically against the U.S. precedent Donald John Trump Jr. (recently impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress) and his Nazional policies. Blythe calls them "the new abnormal" as "the melting pot is melting down" (Checkmate) and sarcastically stakes the lines of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem "The New Colossus" engraved on the pedestal of the Statue Of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore/send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” against the present reality "Lash the tired and kill the poor/the huddled masses ram the door" (The New Colossal Hate) even as he lampoons DJ Trump’s rally cry "Make America Great Again" (which the former had shamesly stolen from The 40th U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan in the first place) into "Make America HATE again and bleed the sheep to sleep" (Checkmate). "I won’t accept this!" exclaims Blythe in a Philip Hansen Anselmo (Pantera) meets Jamie Stewart (The Absence) growl (Reality Bath) and you believe him, especially since the album ends with him chanting "Kill Them All!" as if to point back to what started it all, that is, Metallica’s debut.

While the eponymous is Lamb Of God’s most consistent effort in 14 years in and of itself it’s, well, a little inconsistent. "Checkmate" and "Gears" coming back to back right after the excellent opener "Memento Mori" feel a little too light despite solid riffing, due to very radio friendly and simple choruses, and "Bloodshot Eyes" is a straight hard rock song dressed in groovy clothing even if it does have the album’s most powerful riff. "Poison Dream" has potential but the song falls apart at the point of the ill-fitted Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) whose shouts are almost rap-like. Even the Billy-aided thrasher "Routes", even with its commendable anti-xenophobic message and solid marching riffing reminiscent of the fantastic "Again We Rise" (Sacrament) is a little disappointing for both Lamb Of God and Testament.

Lamb Of God did well naming this record after themselves and it stands well against the backdrop of their history as the best thing since "Sacrament". There’s nothing here as fantastic as the aforementioned "Again We Rise", "Laid To Rest" or my all time favorite Lamb Of God song, "11th Hour" but the songwriting is mostly very good. I am a little worried about the Machine Head-ian nu-metallic "The Burning Red" stylings in "Reality Bath" or the radio friendliness of "Checkmate", "Gears" and especially "Bloodshot Eyes" as well as the fact that the radio friendly to thrashgroove pendulum swings decidedly to the left, toward the former. But, as Blythe said it, this is Lamb Of God right here, right now. Deal with it and crank it up as you will.