LAMB OF GOD leads the pack in what some are already calling "the New Wave of American Heavy Metal." While we're not quick to start categorizing things again — after all, look what happened to the so-called "nu metal" movement — it seems clear that there's some sort of underground uprising that's been occurring, and this decade-old Virginia quintet may be its more solid and powerful proponent.
"Ashes of the Wake" represents a jump to the major label level for LAMB OF GOD after three indie releases (one under the name BURN THE PRIEST), and it's obvious on first listen that no promotion people were whispering in their ears, asking them if they could possibly squeeze out just one little radio-friendly track. This is an intense, heavy, often brutal album from start to finish, with the only pause for breath literally coming at the end, as the soft opening to "Remorse Is For The Dead" creates a profound silence that is jarring after the 40 minutes or so of controlled chaos that precedes it. It's also evident that LAMB OF GOD is a band that represents a generational change: they're among the first metal musicians seemingly influenced solely by bands of the Eighties and early Nineties, with few reference points before that.
That is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because LAMB OF GOD have learned their lessons well, ramping up the intensity in their sound and delivering one dazzling, atmospheric, doom-laden riff after another, changing speeds effortlessly, and fashioning complete epics within a four or five-minute framework. But it's a curse because many of the riffs do sound like recycled PANTERA and SLAYER, luckily played with a vitality and fierceness that has not been heard in a long time. And it's great to hear complex, twisting, precision riffing again on a major label release, after the big, chunky chords that were the dominant style of most nu-metal.
The other aspect of LAMB OF GOD that potentially holds them back is that their music is based solely in anger. Randy Blythe's vocals — which draw squarely upon death metal influences — are ultimately one-dimensional, as good as he is. Not that there is or ever has been room on a metal album for positivity and good times — at least not in the metal I enjoy — but some variation can go a long way.
Despite their flaws, however, LAMB OF GOD is still a massive and muscular act. The band is tight, their performances lethally precise, and the number of killer riffs on tap here is just staggering. The band initiates and sustains a dark, dread-inducing mood throughout the entire album — which feels like a whole album, unlike most major label product released today. Opener "Laid To Rest" sets a mid-tempo pace that is quickly smashed wide open by the dizzying "Hourglass", while "Now You've Got Something To Die For" is a crushing political manifesto that really feels its own rage. This is a band that's outraged at the liars, murderers and thieves that have hijacked our country's government, and they're not afraid to show it.
Other highlights include "The Faded Line", the thrash fireworks of "What I've Become" and the title instrumental, which features guest lead work from Alex Skolnick (ex-TESTAMENT, SAVATAGE) and Chris Poland (ex-MEGADETH). The aforementioned "Remorse…" ends the album where it began, on a controlled, uptempo note that threatens to spiral into something more deadly.
LAMB OF GOD may grow into something infinitely more deadly themselves. The approach, the attitude, and the sound are there. If more of the band's own unique personality breaks out, and if they add some range without losing the brutality that they've already made their name on, we could be looking at one of the great metal bands of this decade. Not "new," not part of a "wave," not "American" — just pure metal.