Though vocalist Randy Blythe hesitated to roll with the description during our recent interview, calling Lamb of God the new Slayer isn’t that crazy. Since forming as Burn The Priest in 1994, the Virginia export’s early to mid-2000s output made them a bastion of The New Wave of American Metal. Like Slayer, Lamb of God’s more recent albums have coasted on the strength of early material with varying degrees of success. The band bounced back from Blythe’s arrest, trial, and acquittal of manslaughter charges with the familiar, but solid VII: Sturm und Drang (2015). A five-year gap between releases saw the exit of legendary drummer Chris Adler, replaced by Art Cruz (Winds of Plague, Prong). This foundational lineup change puts more weight on Lamb of God’s 11th album rising to the occasion.
Lead single “Checkmate” leans into the stereotype of self-titled albums being a return to form. If nothing else, it proves Lamb of God can still lock into fist-pumping grooves with Cruz behind the drum kit. The riffs from Mark Morton and Willie Adler hit hard, and Blythe’s hyper-enunciated rasps and political cynicism are still intact.
Even so, albums like Ashes of the Wake and New American Gospel have already shown what Lamb of God is capable of. The album can’t afford to tread water—enter opening cut “Memento Mori.” Blythe breaks new ground with a dreary baritone singing to the extended atmospheric intro, which perfectly sets up the song’s explosion. In its heavier sections, Lamb of God focuses on bash rather than flash, milking bone-crunching beats and addictive guitar work of all their emotion.
From Blythe’s screams to John Campbell’s growling bass, Lamb of God sounds as energetic as ever. “New Colossal Hate” juggles a Pantera-ish swagger and melodic death metal riffage, as Blythe bemoans senseless violence of arrogant hatred. The songwriting remains within the band's wheelhouse, but it's hardly stale. The trashy barn-burner “Routes” practically begs for Chuck Billy’s voice. The Testament-style aggression rears its head, showcasing the album’s raw, yet clear production. For a band known for its brain-bashing mosh parts, it’s encouraging to hear the track come through with a battle-cry hook and a compelling guitar solo.
Blythe imbues his impressive vocal range to the metalcore rager “Poison Dream." Complete with the unmistakable barks of Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, this absolute beatdown of a song appeals to the reptilian brain of the mosh-pit warrior. It’s a worthy cause for a band who helped define popularize the "wall of death." “Gears” aims a similar attack at apathetic consumerism, as Blythe sings, “So you can’t take it with you but you don’t use it now/A shallow life to crush you/ Drive you into the ground.”
Conscious lyrics have always set Lamb of God apart from its contemporaries, and Blythe clearly hasn’t given up on fiery wordplay. Themes of blind apathy weave into “Reality Bath:” “Slip so easily into dull indifference/ When horror has been normalized/ A cynical defense.” It’s an apt callout for the “silent majority” in this time of protest (inb4 the “keep politics out of music” crowd). The track tastefully rises from Campbell’s lone bass line to a militant mid-tempo stomp and some moody, spoken-word-driven buildups.
Lamb of God deeply understands the appeal of its sound, as exemplified by a surprisingly nuanced arrangement of tracks like “Resurrection Man.” Centered on the memoirs of an undead interloper, the song’s eerie chimes jump to dissonant chords and pummeling double bass syncopation with a hearty “blegh.” Lamb of God wisely sticks to iron-clad riffs instead of recycling leads in these deeper cuts. Even with a new drummer, the band’s chemistry remains easy to enjoy. This accessibility runs deep than Blythe's use of clean vocals. In fact, his singing deepens the eeriness of “Bloodshot Eyes" and elevates the more redundant instrumentation.
Small curveballs like that help the album’s flow. This is reflected in the hefty modulations and atmospheric leads found within the blast beats and mosh parts of closer “On The Hook." The album might end with a classic Lamb of God breakdown, but the band finds vitality within its self-imposed parameters.
Listening to Lamb of God’s self-titled album brings to mind the Rob Zombie quote: “Every cool riff has already been written by Black Sabbath.” Taking that to heart, there’s respect to be found in these guys choosing to do what they do best instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. The band has been vocal about the good place it's in right now, and it shows in these songs. It’d be awesome to see Lamb of God do more to break the mold, but much of this 11th album slaps like it’s 2004.