For Fans Of
In just four simple words, I can tell you all need to know about Lamb of God’s newly released, strikingly political self-titled record: “it’s Lamb of God.” That’s by no means a controversial or out-there statement to make. As the Richmond, Virginia five-piece have basically written the same album since ‘As The Palaces Burn‘ (2003) and ‘Ashes Of The Wake‘ (2004). Sure, things may have gotten a bit moodier, heavier or bluesier here and there over the last 16+ years that they’ve carved out a name as one modern metal’s best acts. Yet the core essence of their sound has remained pretty much exact same. They’re undying in their one-track mind; they’re consistently consistent.
So like all of Lamb of God’s albums that Josh Wilbur has produced from ‘Wrath‘ (2009) onward, this self-titled effort sounds like Lamb of God, through and through. All the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed. The surgical and groovy percussion; drop D riffs with all of the harmonic minor and Phyrgian dominant guitar work; ferocious vocals that mix vehement squeals, hearty growls and eerie singing and spoken word parts; squeaky clean mixing and production standards; lyrics about the American political propaganda machine and the social rot that decays the current age. (Though there’s maybe a little less blues to be found in this particular Lamb of God LP.) Really, what else can I say except for that this is just more Lamb of God to hurl onto the cleric-incinerating pyre?
Admittedly, there’s still fun to be had with that rigid sound, but there’s also some heavy diminishing returns felt on their tenth record. (Eighth if you don’t count the hardcore-thrash crossover origins of their Burn The Priest debut and it’s cool 2018 redux, ‘Legion: XX.’) Even with this being the longest gap between records – ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang‘ came out in 2015, a fine enough LoG album – nothing of great significant has changed. Lamb of God are, if anything, consistently unchanging in their sound. For some, that means everything to them. As that’s what they love about this NWOAHM band; what makes them one of their favourite artists. For others, like me however, that’s what makes the group’s newer releases that much more stale and mild. Because Lamb of God self-labelling an album now is redundant. As they may have well titled their last three or so records as eponymous and it would’ve felt just as apt.
The detuned and murky guitars that announce ‘Memento Mori‘ over David Randall Blythe’s eerily soft vocals and these creepy children whispers is a dark tone setter that feels like a continuation of similar sounds explored on ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang.’ Yet it’s a big opening statement that marks one of the record’s genuinely great moments. As once this neck-snapping song kicks in heavily and fiercely with Randy’s feral scream of “wake up!“, it feels like one giant race against the ticking clock to the finish line; a brutal and impressive, if familiar piece for the band. As for some other songs that come out well, ‘Gears‘ and ‘Checkmate‘ (whose intro sounds like a close peer of ‘Ghostwalking‘) are classic Lamb of God tracks by their very design yet they stick out from the rest due to their aggression, out-outspokenness, and high energy levels. While they don’t top out my personal favourite Lamb of God song list alongside that of ‘Again (We Rise),’ ‘Laid To Rest,’ or ‘Contractor,’ one cannot deny that they’re solid examples of there still being some gas in this songwriting tank to siphon out.
As many know, Hatebreed and Lamb of God have been friends for ages and finally Jamey Jasta features on a LoG track. On ‘Poison Dream,’ written about the use of deadly chemical warfare by callous governments and uncaring leaders, Jamey lends his hardcore shout to the fray, revealing just how wide the gap between the pair’s vocals is. Jamey and Randy front two bands that perform different styles of heavy music, but there’s quite the crossover of ideas and Jamey’s yells don’t quite live up to the track that’s presented. ‘Poison Dream‘ definitely isn’t worse off for featuring the Hatebreed singer, but it isn’t any better with his inclusion. Earlier in the record, the end of ‘New Colossal Hate‘ sounds like a sister to ‘Ruin,’ with these booming chugs and over-saturated, triplet guitar riffs smashing down over a simple but tight and punishing 4/4 drum groove. Again, it’s a breakdown-centric metalcore moment that could’ve been heard on ‘As The Palaces Burn.’ (Yes, Lamb of God were and are metalcore.) While a decent finale for ‘New Colossal Hate,’ it make me want to listen to that particular 2003 record instead.
‘Lamb of God‘ marks the first Lamb of God record without powerhouse and longtime drumming legend, Chris Adler. In his stead, Art Cruz (formerly the drummer for Winds Of Plague) fills the intimidating size 12 shoes of Chris quite well. Art, of course, isn’t Chris in terms of drumming: he’s his own man and he’s his own drummer. As such, he brings a different feel of groove to Lamb of God in their current 2020 iteration. Whilst still towing the band’s “company line” of rapid cymbal strikes, short bursts of 16th or 32nd double-kick shuffles, and quick little tom and snare fills that slot nicely into these arrangements, as safe as they are for the band overall. He locks in with bassist John Campbell nicely enough – easily the most reserved, low key member of the band – and he paves the guitar-ready road well enough for Mark Morton and Willie Adler to duel out their crunchy tones and squealing harmonics. As individual players, LoG are an incredibly proficient performers. It just doesn’t always extend to the songwriting.
Now, I don’t find Randy to be one of modern metal’s most distinguished vocalists; I find the guy to be one of the greatest frontmen in the entire history of heavy metal! He’s an interesting, captivating, and well-spoken vocalist. The way he transitions from hair-raising screams, sinister squeals, burly mids and low growls, to soft cleans and skin-crawling talkative parts is stellar. That first growl he dishes out with sheer venom during the intro of ‘Gears‘ is, for lack of a better description, fucking sick. And songs like ‘Memento Mori‘ and ‘Checkmate‘ prove that he’s been a master of his vocal craft for many years now. This isn’t to say that it’s always a flawless performance – there’s an unintentionally laughable attempt at a “bleugh” at the start of ‘Resurrection Man‘ following the nursery sample intro – but his inclusiveness and extremely topical lyrical content does make up for any of his seldom cringe vocal lines.
The words that 49-year-old frontman spits on ‘Lamb of God‘ are perhaps his most relevant and biting in some time. In fact, the lyrics and messages behind these ten new tracks is one aspect that I cannot praise enough about this record. Take ‘Routes.’ It’s thrash-metal song about the NO DAPL movement – the No Dakota Access Pipeline Movement – and how the U.S. and Canadian governments are still enforcing Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, breaking the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, with the band doing well to also include an Indigenous voice on the matter: Chuck Billy from Testament during the choruses. In the songs refrain, Randy bellows “I stand with you” and later in the outro, both frontmen belt out solidarity for the Sioux and their good fight. To march, to beat their drums, to use their voices, and to continue to protest. Supporting local movements in their stand against corporate-licking governments and big businesses? That’s metal as fuck!
It’s no coincidence that ‘Memento Mori‘ (meaning “be mindful of death” or “remember you are mortal”) starts an album whose very cover is that of a time-piece striking midnight. It’s an urgent message to not waste your life and to signal that we may very well have moved past that dire 11th hour. ‘Checkmate,’ about the twisted daily life of the new horror show that is America, is a fine example of why Lamb of God’s lyrics cut so deep. Think back to Thy Art Is Murder in 2019 and their song, ‘Make America Hate Again,’ which was a fairly lazy political comment by spinning off the current Trumpian buzzword, saying that both political parties are as bad as each other. Something that said song doesn’t offer any further evidence towards, coming off as too-little too-late. Yet ‘Checkmate,’ which also uses a “Make America Hate Again” slogan in its second verse, goes further about that culture, better articulating a similar sense of moral option paralysis, voter choke-hold and deep influence money has in politics.
On ‘Gears,’ it’s pretty cut and dry: it’s all about the evil of greed and manufactured envy and commercialism keeping us in line. Look, we’re all human, we all want certain things and luxuries. That’s normal, and it’s not wrong to do so, yet ‘Gears‘ is a reminder that you can’t take anything with you once you’re in your coffin underground or are mere ashes resting in an urn on a mantelpiece or shelf. Far more gritty and impactful, however, is ‘Reality Bath,’ which is all about rejecting the “new abnormal.” In this case, it’s the band and Randy’s plea for us all to not grow indifferent to frequent news of school shootings, massacres, natural disasters, and more that portray only death toll numbers on screens. With dissonant guitar lines that mimic the sheer dissonance of such grim events.
‘New Colossal Hate‘ – a name inspired by The New Colossus, an 1883 sonnet by Emma Lazarus that is adorned in Bronze inside the Statue of Liberty – deals with the U.S.’s tougher immigration laws amidst refugee crisis’s, with Randy twisting the original poet’s words into a grim and dire situation of a wealthy nation refusing aid to those literally begging for their lives, for safety from persecution and violence that they have just said. It’s a savage heavy metal song about the dirty mirror that reflects the hatred burning within America and other first world nations for the humanity they ignore.
The blast-beaty and breakdowning ‘On The Hook‘ discusses drug addiction and the Appalachian mountain area of the U.S., a hot zone for the country’s widespread opioid epidemic. What with this closing track likening the imagery of destructive strip-mining methods in that region to that of the corrosive, draining effect that these drugs take upon a person. Going so far as to reference the crack epidemic of the 1980’s that struck African-American communities hard (“We’ve seen this all before. In a different shade“), and how both timelines of these opioid issues can destroy anyone’s life.
However, ‘Bloodshot Eyes,’ one of the record’s stronger cuts, seems to be about a sole individual, with Randy targeting these people or singular person by stating in the chorus: “Bloodshot eyes and wasted time. You’re everything I left behind I won’t reconcile, you’ve lost your mind. I’m leaving you behind.” And it does feel a little out of place given the heavy, worldly context of the other tracks on offer. Though the blatant dissonant metalcore track of ‘Resurrection Man‘ comes off as super cheesy, to the point of it giving you a pulmonary embolism. Randy starts the song by croaking “I was born in a cemetery” – a possible reference to Mercyful Fate’s ‘Evil‘ – and with some quite generalised talk about bottom-lines, materialism, racial strife and rising debts, among a reference to Haitian Vodou with a Baron Samedi mention, it feels scattered. Coming off nowhere near as honed or as thought-provoking as other in-depth sentiments expressed on this very same LP.
I have followed Lamb Of God for over 12 years now, and I will never turn my nose up at listening to new Lamb Of God. However, that doesn’t suddenly equal blind-loyalty nor that I’ll love every single new record that they put out. For every time that I sat down with Lamb Of God’s self-titled LP, ‘On The Hook’ would end and I’d instantly think: “Yep, cool, that was a Lamb Of God album.” It’s just very expected and very mild for this famed American metal act. And that’s coming from someone who lists ‘Sacrament‘ (2006) as one of his all-time favourite metal albums. Everything you could expect and love about Lamb Of God is present and accounted for here. Randy’s roaring vocal range and menacing squeals; lyricism touching upon important social issues with heavy political commentary; precise and piston-like drumming, as well as Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s drop D chugging, pinch harmonics and the pair’s harmonic minor and Phyrgian scale fingering shenanigans. It’s unchanging Lamb Of God; it’s as Lamb Of God as you can get. And that’s fine. Except for outside of a few songs – ‘Memento Mori,’ ‘Gears,’ ‘Bloodshot Eyes,’ and ‘New Colossal Hate’ – I’ll probably never come back to this eponymous record ever again.
1. Memento Mori
4. Reality Bath
5. New Colossal Hate
6. Resurrection Man
7. Poison Dream (feat. Jamey Jasta)
8. Routes (feat. Chuck Billy)
9. Bloodshot Eyes
10. On the Hook
Lamb Of God’s ‘Lamb Of God’ is out now: