Review Summary: Wake up, wake up. Wake up!
Once, Lamb Of God were heralded as the new faces of heavy metal and the group’s earlier releases garnered both a loyal fan base and larger critical appraisal. In particular, the band’s combination of breakneck grooves, harsh vocals and noodling riff lines oversaw a wave of brutality, thrash and groove presented to the same fanbases waiting for a “new Pantera” (or any other musical stop-gap) and largely took over the awaiting fanbases need
for something heavier in a world of mainstream hooks, clown masks and nu-metal supremacy. Twenty years from Lamb Of God’s debut, New American Gospel
(not including their Burn The Priest material) and Richmond’s metal export finally unveils what would define the band under a self-titled album.
It’s here I’d like to pause. A “self-titled”, eponymous record should mean something to a band, not unlike a defining moment of sorts… Lamb Of God
does this in spades, but the group’s eighth studio full-length identifies with a band that’s burnt out, middling and ultimately going through the motions while watering down the formula that’s got them this far.
Back to it then.
Prior to this years’ release, the band announced a split with the group’s founding drummer, Chris Adler, (while citing a motorbike accident and little else) and recruited Art Cruz who despite having a chance to provide the band’s sound with new, fresher influences added nothing
past a solid performance—merely existing to fill a void in the lineup. Still, “Memento Mori” opened the band’s self-titled record with gusto. Ominous spoken word weaves into minor melodies and eerie atmospheres. All in all, it’s a positive, less “balls out” approach than what normally introduces a past Lamb Of God album. Even as the track kicks into gear, it’s clear that Lamb Of God are going to lean heavily into their past nuances, and fairly, why shouldn’t they? For nine other albums it’s more-or less worked for them. Whether it’s the unbridled rage of As The Palaces Burn
the sensational hooks of Sacrament
or Blythe’s experiences in a Czech prison a la VII: Sturm und Drang
, Lamb Of God has always had a translatable, relevant experience to present to their fans. Still, Lamb Of God
sounds flat, mixed in quality and overly underwhelming when compared to the group’s past triumphs.
Where “Memento Mori” outlined a solid start to the new record, Lamb Of God
quickly loses steam. “Checkmate” trades the band’s typical tight musicianship and endearing moments for questionable lyrical phrases and run of the mill musicianship for quick grabs at memorability. Blythe happily screams “make America hate again” and finishes a few stanzas with “the American scream” which makes a mockery of whatever socio-political standpoint the band stands behind. The biggest issue Lamb Of God’s self-titled efforts has is that the sum of its parts are supposed to define the very essence of the group. Lamb Of God
isn’t blatantly offensive, in fact it’s clear that the group’s eighth record is
listenable - but it’s also hard to dismiss the outward mediocrity that does cause listening offense. As such, the album bogs down in its belly. Tracks like “Gears”, “Reality Bath” and “Resurrection Man” don’t add anything of value to a group trying to define itself; the riffs are too simple, lyrical lines cringe (“born in a cemetery/walk on skulls and bones) and the atmosphere flattens to a point of forgetfulness. Lamb Of God
is detached from the energies that propelled Ashes Of The Wake
or As The Palaces Burn
, reducing the band’s song-writing to their blandest form to date.
In the hopes of adding some diversity to the record, the album’s later half is littered by two prominent figures in mainstream metal. However, the Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) featured “Poison Dream” fails to punch through the record’s flatter tones. Jasta’s usual shouts don’t detach enough from the normal Blythe furor, somehow allowing only a Mark Morton guitar solo to bound out of the mix. “Routes” is also similarly consistent in quality. Despite featuring Chuck Billy (of Testament fame) the track remains in the same level of sameness that plagues the rest of the album. Harsh? Not really. Lamb Of God’s musical palette used to stand diverse enough without the inclusion of cheap featurettes, assuming that the band has brought these names in to expand on their soundscape only hints at other creative issues.
Since their ascension to metal’s highest level (including some prominent festival appearances and numerous accolades), Lamb Of God has always maintained a certain level of quality, even while exploring variations of their sound. In dropping Chris Adler and
releasing a self-titled album the band has certainly induced some head-scratching moments, but none so more than any number of the tracks found here. Lamb Of God
isn’t a defining moment in a successful career, rather it’s a definitive slump that will only see a handful of repeats amongst devoted fans.