Review Summary: " I was born in a cemetery, learned to walk on skulls and bones"
There's a point in everyone's life where we either change and adapt, fall behind or fall apart. The 20 something year old who parties his parent's money away frivolously can't maintain that lifestyle into his later years-- sooner or later he's going to have to put a tie on, polish his shoes, and force change. Change is scary, no one is arguing that. However sometimes, it's increasingly necessary to become better or even more simply, survive. Music is not much different, in a scene of constantly evolving and changing sounds and trends, it's important to be flexible and change when needed. Despite this, many bands anchor down, stay the course, and for better or worse, never change. Lamb of God is absolutely one of those bands, with nearly 30 year history, there has been little change in the past half of that existence, and the signs of fatigue are becoming more and more evident.
In 2019, founding drummer Chris Adler left the band, citing a motorcycle accident the year before. During this time, new drummer Art Cruz joined on, and the band began work on their 8th studio album, conspicuously the s/t "Lamb of God". For a band 26 years into existence, eight albums in, and having recently fired their drummer, the naming of the album as self-titled is curious to say the least. Many speculate that Adler was forced out of the group for different reasons than given, and recent barbs in the metal blogisphere has added support to the idea the split was anywhere near as acrimonious as they wanted it to seem. Despite the drama, in 2019, they went off to the studio with Josh "Pro-Toolin' Foolin" Wilbur (real actual given nickname), who had previously produced their 2015 effort "VII: Strum und Drang". Did they use their drummer change to freshen their sound? Did they go experimental jazz? Did they....Alright I'll save you the time, the answer is no, no they didn't.
Opening track "Memento Mori", for whatever reason, opens with sampling of lyrics from "Marian" , from U.K. goth rock legends The Sisters of Mercy
. It was a promising sign in all frankness -- they were sampling lyrics from a gothic rock band, this wasn't exactly the Lamb of God I was expecting in the first 20 seconds. Despite this, this passage lends into what I will say is the most "old-school" Lamb of God stylings we've heard since maybe 2004 - with a more modern sounding "New American Gospel" or "Sacrament" - esque feel I could only hope would last this entire album. A very positive track to open on, with the slicing Mark Morton trademark riffs and Art Cruz’s renewed youthful drumming (which, fun fact he is almost 20 years younger than the rest of the members).
Despite this promising introduction, the next track, “Checkmate”, which was the single, is just very uninspired sounding, as are the next two tracks, “Gears” and “Reality Bath”. “Checkmate” is very Resolution-era sounding, almost sounding like a leftover from their 2012 snoozefest. “Gears” however opens uniquely, with an almost post-hardcore tinged opening section that reminded me of Every Time I Die
or other modern-ish borderline post-hardcore bands of the past 15 years. “Reality Bath” is lyrically relevant to current events, and once again they have an interesting opening that just leads into the same riff you could imagine someone singing to you if you asked them “What does a standard Lamb of God song sound like?”. The opening is like Vein
, and a sliver of Marilyn Manson
all smushed together before eventually leading into what I could only describe as a B-rate Testament
cover band that Randy Blythe just happened to guest with. These three songs deflate any of the momentum the opening track had, what with the uninspired nature of it all and just a lack of execution so many ideas.
Following is the track “New Colossal Hate”, which for a song vaguely titled like a Meshuggah
track is once again a mixed bag of ideas that just never seem to come together officially. Quite possibly most confusingly there is a record-scratch in a breakdown, with news clip sampling, that is just as out of place as it is ham-handed. We understand you are trying to be current, hip, political, but news clips are just a lazy way to make it seem so. At least on “Ashes of the Wake” it felt inspired, like you had something to say, but here it’s just anything but that. There is no feeling or excitement to this at all.
However, there is a few shining moments on this album, and “Ressurection Man” is easily the brightest. The dissonant riff adds a moody element to the chugging Sabbath influenced riffs, and Randy Blythe brings his A+ game lyrically to this track to boot. If this album consisted of only “Memento Mori” and this particular track, this album would be a monumental step forward for the band. But the disparity of quality between good, bad, and just plain average on here is what holds it back. This track shows that while the overall product may not be amazing or even good, Lamb of God are band capable of producing some fantastic heavy metal music if they actually tried or cared anymore. “I’m the shadow on your brightest dream”, Randy Blythe howls with intention and emotion that is otherwise lost on this entire album. Almost bittersweet in hearing a good track among a collection of utter mediocrity. It would be easier to swallow this pill if they all were equally forgettable.
With that little burst of encouragement, the following four tracks that close out the album have two that feature guest vocalists, namely Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed
and Chuck Billy of Testament
; and all are uninspired samness. All are as lacking in interesting sections as 80 percent of this album and it is just infuriating at this point in the album. While “Routes” has a “Mamma mia that’s a spicy drummer” type blaze-em intro from Mr. Cruz, it falters, and is just mixed ideas in a bag, left to rot in the summer heat with the rest of the leftovers of this album. The breakdown which Jasta sings on during “Poison Dreams” is so generic I was surprised Lamb of God even used it, and his vocals just strike me as sonically off to the rest of the album’s mixing. Altogether, the album fades out with a whimper, on the coattails of the albums finer rare moments, and leaving little to no impression at all.
“Lamb of God” was supposed to be a rebirthing album for the veteran metal band, yet it is as mired in mediocrity as their modern releases have been. However, the worst offense is the wasted ideas and potential that could have made it better if they had expanded on them, and stepped outside their comfort zone a little even a little. The moments that make this album worth it are far and few between, and what’s in between them is the same thing, same sound, same sameness of a band that seems to be out of gas and uninspired. Change may be hard, and it may be a risk, but when it comes to output like this -- it is the only possible way to redeem what was once a better reputation.