Review Summary: Lamb of God's second major label album showcases little evolution from Virginia's primary purveyours of metal.
Lamb of God haven’t changed much in their six years as their current lineup, but really, who could blame them? Since emerging from Richmond, Virginia in 2000 with their Prosthetic Records debut New American Gospel, the band has been at the forefront of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM) movement. Two albums into the career they were signed to Sony/Epic and released their first truly groundbreaking album, Ashes of the Wake in 2004. Ashes was the first of a veritable plethora of albums put out by newly discovered bands on major labels, and the trend has become even more popular two years down the line. 2006 has been (and will be) a year of follow up records from bands just becoming incorporated into the major label fold (Mastodon’s Blood Mountain), as well as bands hoping to follow up an album of near magnum opus qualities (Tool’s 10,000 Days following the genius Lateralus). So in a year of so many high profile album releases, we come to the successor to the album that topped practically every publication’s year end list in 2004. Another year, another hostile and competitive environment in the metal community.
So why, then, is Sacrament so unoriginal? All of the ingredients are there for Lamb of God to make another innovative work of brutality: the major label, the pressure of following up a future metal classic, and the technical mastery and ability of these five great musicians should be enough to craft a truly heavy masterpiece. Unfortunately though, for every excellent, catchy track, there is a bland, unoriginal breakdown-athon with reused Pantera riffs and raspy screaming. Speaking of Pantera, Lamb of God should be paying Abott and company royalties for the third track and first single “Redneck.” While it may seem like I’m criticizing them for pulling some influence from Pantera, “Redneck” is actually one of the better tracks on Sacrament, and it only looks better being followed by the bland, almost self-descriptive “Pathetic.”
The album does, however, start out strong with “Walk with Me in Hell,” an orchestral, melodic song that breaks away from the usual thrash and repeat formula the band has used for their previous albums. Unfortunately, the song serves as false advertisement for most of what is to come. “Again we Rise” has a nice shout along section, but offers nothing new. The three tracks after “Redneck” all seem to blend together, and it isn’t until the seventh track, “Blacken the Cursed Sun” that they start to change their sound just a small amount. The intro is excellent, with an ascending chord progression and a killer rhythm played out on top of the crash cymbal. Though drummer Chris Adler has mostly stuck with his disciplined machine gun double bass and cymbal style, he does use some original beat patterns on occasion, and even fills nicely around some of his quick but simple drumming.
The later part of the album starts out promisingly with “Forgotten (Lost Angels)” which reminded me why I still like Lamb of God despite the overwhelming majority of sameness heard on this record. “Forgotten” begins with an awesome, thrashy drum intro and kicks into Chris’s aforementioned bell/snare/double bass combination, while the guitars shred and squeal away. Guitarists Willie Adler (brother of Chris) and Mark Morton continue their tradition of having some of the most tightly played harmonies in the NWOAHM scene. Sacrament even features more of the solos that made Ashes of the Wake such a breath of fresh air.
In retrospect, I guess Sacrament isn’t all that bad. Though it largely keeps with the established formula, tracks like “Walk with Me in Hell,” “Redneck,” and “Forgotten (Lost Angels)” serve to freshen things up when things get a little repetitive. I can’t blame Lamb of God. After signing to Sony/Epic and releasing a masterpiece of a major label debut, why would they want to completely change their sound? Besides, Sacrament is definitely not going to be the worst metal release of the year, and it is still absolutely headbangable, so I shouldn’t complain. Lamb of God set out to do what they needed to do: deliver some good ol’ American heavy metal to the masses. If New American Gospel was Lamb of God’s first step to success, As the Palaces Burn was their ascent, and if they reached the summit with Ashes of the Wake, Sacrament can be seen as their plateau. If I want straight ahead head banging without much thought involved, I’ll reach for Sacrament, but if I want to dissect and analyze the music, I think I’ll still go with their back catalogue. Solid but flawed, Sacrament still comes recommended for the metal fan just looking to kill some brain cells.