March 19, 2009

CD Review: Lamb of God - Wrath

The latest release from Lamb of God is a brutal slab of pure American metal, a logical next step from Sacrament and an impressive new musical statement. Wrath delivers on the promise that has been building over their past few releases and on what I saw in the Walk with Me in Hell documentary. It is the creation of a band that is allowing their songwriting to mature and grow without costing them their metal street cred. It is all that has come before and a bit more. There is a hint of increased melody adding a little more substance to their early-era Metallica thrash crossed with the Southern insanity of Pantera. It is too soon to tell where this will fall in their canon, but these early listens are impressive and prove that Lamb of God is more than a pretty face.

Lamb of God is a band I discovered by accident. Seriously. They are not a band I discovered live, nor did I stumble across a song online, nor did a friend turn me on to them. I "discovered" them by accidentally buying As the Palace Burns. It was at a concert and the merch guy was hawking a number of disks, I bought it assuming it was one of the bands playing that night. It wasn't until the next day when I looked at the disk and began to listen to it that I came to learn I had never heard of them before. Still, the disk was impressive, heavy, and infectious. I promptly forgot about them. Then Sacrament came along, which took me awhile to get around to checking out, but once I did, I began to recognize just how good these guys were.

There are a couple of other elements that have fed into my Lamb of God fandom and also reveal themselves on this disk. The first is the Walk with Me in Hell documentary, revealing this band to be dedicated to the music, the collaborative aspect, and desire to turn out the best tunes they can. The songs on Wrath show the band on top of their game, trying new things, expanding their repertoire and the result of music that sticks with you. The other is the DVD released by Modern Drummer on Chris Adler. The man is a beast behind the kit who puts a lot of thought into what he is doing and helped my respect for drummers go. Listening to him here is further proof of his skills and he should not be overlooked; where other drummers may take the easy route, Adler steps up his game making his work imaginative and allowing it to stand out.

logWrath opens with "The Passing," a brief instrumental that starts with soft acoustic guitars before breaking into an easy melodic passage. It is unlike any other Lamb of God I have heard and was simultaneously frightening, as in "Have they gone soft?", and welcoming, in the "Nice, they are trying something out of character" vein. Any thoughts of fear were proved to be unfounded.

"The Passing" gives way to "In Your Words," letting loose the full force of the band. Led by a guitar riff that is insistent in dragging you along for the ride, frontman Randy Blythe brings his charismatic vocals to the fore, this demonstrating a newly expanded range, while the band falls into immediate synch behind him. Not nearly the best song on the album, but one that serves the all important purpose of bringing you into their circle, getting in your head, and ensuring that will not be going anywhere for awhile.

As if that was not throat grabbing enough, the opening of "Set to Fail" damn near throttles you with its intensity. It is a step up from "In Your Words" and has moments highly reminiscent of Pantera and Black Label Society.

It is not until track four that I feel Wrath truly begins to take shape. Yes, the first few songs are quality, but it is "Contractor" that the album begins to feel strong. It kicks off with Randy growling like we all know he can while Chris Adler is delivering some punishing jackhammer double bass and the guitar duo of Mark Morton and Willie Adler deliver some thrashing riffs. Tempos change, vocal pitch changes, yet the track never gives up its intensity.

The guys keep it going through "Fake Messiah," "Grace," Dead Seeds," and "Everything to Nothing" as they build to the seven-minute excursion called "Reclamation."

Opening with acoustic guitars and building into an epic sounding guitar riff, "Reclamation" has a much more epic feel than anything else on the disk. Where most of the album it felt as if the quintet was intent on delivering metal the best way they know how, this comes across as the grand experiment. It still has that distinctive Lamb of God sound, but there is something else at work here, as if to say "we may be a straight up raw metal band, but we have further ambitions that can transcend the genre."

Yes, I know that does not really sound like anything a real person would say, but listen to the song. It is different, there is an aura about it that steps away from expectation, allowing them to stretch a little more. The result is a song that shows another dimension of the band and makes me wonder what an entire album of this sort of material would sound like.

As it stands, the band is in fine form. Randy Blythe is as charismatic as ever, I can almost hear the veins bulging from his neck. I have to wonder if the producer made him run around the building again (like they did while recording "Walk with Me in Hell," seen in the documentary). He is has an improved range and seems to be singing more through his trademark growls. He gets better with each album. Mark Morton and Willie Adler shred their way through the album with some heavy, in your face riffs, and a few face melters. John Campbell's bass is there, providing a solid low end. Then there is Chris Adler, an amazing drummer who pounds them like few can. His work here is stellar, always doing something interesting, an extra beat here, a quick fill there, definitely in fine form.

Bottomline. This album has been worth the wait and completely cements me as a fan (so long as they do not betray me). Wrath is an album worthy of your attention. If you like metal, if you like an album that is solid straight through and stands out from the crowd, Lamb of God delivers.



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