Lamb of God
Wrath

The haters can hate all they want, but I stand by my conviction that As the Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake are two of the most satisfying metal albums of the past decade. Lamb of God‘s (official) debut New American Gospel was impressive just for its caustic, spastic fury, but Palaces took that rage and channeled it into something much more focused and dangerous – the difference between a glancing blow from a pinwheeling ‘core kid versus one single, powerful, directed punch. The band managed to sound tense and coiled even while lashing out – not just on the album, but in their amazing live shows as well.

Ashes took that precision to the next level, layering ornate, memorable riffs and machine-gun rhythms to create a sound that was at once complex and to-the-point. Songs like “Hourglass,” “The Faded Line” and “Laid to Rest” are just as invigorating and badass now as they were the first time I heard them (and then used them as the soundtrack for high-velocity vehicular destruction in Burnout 3 – seriously, the developers should have just shipped Ashes of the Wake as that game’s soundtrack). Sacrament – and the popularity of “Redneck” in particular – seemed to change all that, though. The fragmented Slayer riffs of the previous two albums were traded in for a more shitkickin’ Pantera-style groove – perhaps in response to the band’s ballooning popularity, and maybe also to fill the very specific cultural hole that Pantera left behind them. It seemed to be a shift from Don’t Fuck with Me to I’m Gonna Fuck You Up, which was troubling because the band always seemed to be above such posturing in its earlier days.

And that shift is why the opening tracks of Wrath are so unexpected. After the glorious, escalating intro (shades of classic Metallica), Lamb of God pull out one of their most epic songs to date with “In Your Words.” Sure, the churning opening minutes may sound familiar enough, but wait until the second half, when huge, melodic riffs start flashing out of the thunder. They roil and coalesce into one huge crescendo, and damn if it doesn’t remind me of how Opeth builds up their awe-inspiring moods and momentum. That song, combined with the biblical ten-plagues theme of the production art, made me think that Wrath was going to be the mesmerizing experience that I was hoping for.

Instead, the next few songs drop back down into a simpler, more straightforward attack, working in sledgehammer Southern groove (“Set to Fail”), meth-speed thrash (“Contractor”) and some surprisingly melodic soloing (“Grace”). They’re all solid songs, but rather unspectacular on the whole, especially when compared to past highlights. The riffs are less memorable, and there are less of them in each song. There’s also very little of the tight layering and the almost progressive flow from some of their best material. So yeah, Ashes of the Wake it is not, but it still sounds great, with a huge, pummelling sound and tight, relentless musicianship. Randy sounds especially on-point, having dropped some of the hardcore-style bravado that popped up on Sacrament.

My favorite moments on Wrath come at the end. “Everything to Nothing” cranks up the pace again with some good old-fashioned thrash, and then “Choke Sermon” blows past it with a barrage of kickass riffs – most notably, a monstrous homage to the opening of Megadeth‘s “Set the World Afire” – one of the great unsung thrash riffs of the 80s. “Choke Sermon” is my favorite song on Wrath, as it sounds like it could’ve come right off Ashes – in fact, it’s better than some of the lesser tracks on that album. Finally, “Reclamation” closes the album much like “In Your Words” opened it – with a genuine sense of menace and grandeur, and with a much more ambitious structure than the tracks in the middle of the album.

All in all, I think this is a better, more balanced experience than Sacrament, although not a huge leap forward. In a lot of ways, it’s a very similar album – some strong tracks and new evolutions, a few throwbacks to things I’ve loved in the past, but a bunch of things I’ve heard before and not enough of the layered complexity from my favorite Lamb of God songs. On the positive side, some of the cartoonish hardcore stylings from Sacrament seem to have been kicked to the curb. I’ll still go on hoping for Ashes Part II one day, but in the meantime, Wrath is still a very solid album, and one I’ll be picking up right away.

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Written by Jordan Itkowitz
February 20th, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: Reignman35

    Killer album… will be buying this on tuesday.


  2. Commented by: Rev

    “…It seemed to be a shift from Don’t Fuck with Me to I’m Gonna Fuck You Up…”

    ^Great line. Nice review, man.


  3. Commented by: Kyle

    I just want to know why Randy decided to sound like a bad copy of Devin Townshend on this album.


  4. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Devin influences every band he produces. Just ask Speed Strid. Without knowing it, you gave me a reason to give this album a chance, Kyle. Maybe they’ll finally click with me, we’ll see…

    Great review, Jordan. Couldn’t resist sneaking a videogame bit in there, huh? :p


  5. Commented by: Mahgeetah

    For some reason this album does click with me. I’ve never been more than a casual listener to their past work; mostly good for driving music but not much else to keep my interest. I’ve been giving this one quite a few spins lately, at work or at home, and it grows on me every time. Maybe I’ve never paid enough attention before, or maybe Devin really did bring out something unique this time.

    It’s hard to beat The Passing and In Your Words for a solid album intro, probably the most memorable part of the album for me. The next two tracks are pretty solid, thrashy material to keep things moving, and I really dig Fake Messiah even though a lot of people hate on it; to these ears it shows a lot of Gojira influence, particularly in the string bends, and was the first song to really grab my attention. If I had to pick the weak point of the album, it would be the next three tracks, which I pretty much drift through, or skip over entirely. They just seem like basic, uninspired gothen-metal-core filler (Pantera filler in the case of Dead Seeds). Everything to Nothing picks up the pace again and kicks off a 2 song stretch of some nice thrash groove with melody. Reclamation makes for a good closer; not the most epic song ever, but a good end to satisfying record.

    My main disappointment is that they didn’t want to drift too far from what’s worked for them in the past. I would have liked to hear more of the experimentation and progression they show in In Your Words, Fake Messiah, and Reclamation, but have to settle for more of the same shit for the rest of the album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Basically Wrath is meaty and tasty on the edges, soft and mushy in the middle, with plenty of flavor to make up for what it lacks. Definitely worth picking this one up.

    Not to steal your thunder Jordan; just felt the need to ramble. Good review.


  6. Commented by: gabaghoul

    always good to hear a second opinion – sounds like we are of the same mind on this one.


  7. Commented by: Belgarath

    Great review man. I’ve been sitting on the fence with these guys since they surfaced, but I think this one might bring me around.


  8. Commented by: RectalSquid

    I personally like this album a bit more than Sacrament. I find it to be on par with Ashes. The guitar solo in the song “Grace” is fucking epic. If you get the special edition you get two bonus songs, the first one “We Die Alone” reminds me of old Burn The Priest days. It’s sort of a mix between Pariah and Vigil, kind of strange really. But the other song “Shoulder of Your God” starts out with a really nice flanged out cheesy speaker sound. Then when Randy kicks in his usually building scream the song breaks out into good ol’ shredding like the beginning of Sacraments “Descending”. All in all I find this album to be of good use when experimenting road rage and flipping people off the whole way home.


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