As a cornerstone of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal that dominated the beginning of the millennium, Lamb of God have grown their congregation with monster riffing and potshots at the status quo. The Richmond, VA-based quintet have never had an out and out bad album, and have aged through their two-decade-plus existence like fine wine. Breaking the dry spell on their studio albums, which did see a fun EP in The Duke, between VII: Sturm und Drang and now, is their self-titled eighth album, with Art Cruz stepping behind the drum kit following Chris Adler’s departure.
Even with this changing of the guard, the core sound of Lamb of God hasn’t changed for the worse at all, with some tracks benefitting from tweaks and punch-ups, and darker new sounds in a couple of cases. With the changes in the band and in the world at large, this album could be classified as a calculated risk, but should be considered as one that pays off in spades.
“Memento Mori” starts off in such a way that some may have to double-check and see if they’re actually listening to a Lamb of God record. The first minute and a half or so of the track, and therefore the album, are so different from the band’s typical fare. Before long, the low tones of Randy Blythe give way to his signature mid-scream, and the restrained clean guitars give way to full-blown metal mayhem. “Checkmate” feels like a proper Lamb of God tune from the jump, as a bit of noodling around with bluesy riffing and leads starts off this battering ram of a track. “Gears” feels like newer Lamb of God in its execution, with some meticulous double kick patterns from the new skinsman Cruz.
“Reality Bath” is another track that feels very different from what the band is used to offering. With sections of talk-singing and a healthy dose of open-note chugging, it is structurally radical, with its message of “this is the new abnormal” equally so. It goes after gun culture, the uptick in school shootings, and the saying “thoughts and prayers” in regards to both. By changing up the delivery just enough, this song delivers in ways Lamb of God has never seen before.
“New Colossal Hate” brings monster riffing, almost reminiscent of Ashes of the Wake-era LOG. Just when we think we have the answers, the band changes the questions on “Resurrection Man,” which left me asking where in the fuck that intro came from. It’s low and slow, a different breed of heavy from the NWOAHM cornerstone. As much of a mark as I am for the band’s earlier work, this may have become my new favorite track.
“Poison Dream” sees Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta team up with Blythe for another mid-tempo riff monster. As partial as I am to Hatebreed, Jasta’s section doesn’t add that much to the song, but it doesn’t take away from it either. The next guest spot, Testament’s Chuck Billy on the track “Routes,” feels like a song Billy should appear on, with a crossover thrash urgency to it. The gravelly tones of Billy complement the lower growls of Blythe and add to the overall product, a breakneck pace that will bring many a shoulder check in the pit, when the time comes.
“Bloodshot Eyes” feels like it may have been the better option for Jamey Jasta to appear on, but even still, it’s got a brooding, seething feel to it. I’m sure a few purists and old-schoolers will raise an eyebrow to the clean singing in this song, but if you ask me, it adds to the song, setting it apart from the rest of the pack. Blast beats and a classic thrash pacing set forth the album’s closer “On the Hook,” bowling the listener over just as they might have picked themselves up from the oncoming onslaught.
This self-titled offering is Lamb of God firing on all cylinders, as if they have any other mode of operation. Expanding on some of the risks they took on their previous VII: Sturm und Drang, the band delivers one hell of an album, asserting their place in the metal hierarchy for those that thought anything of the time away. In a deep, saturated genre, Lamb of God still manage to set themselves apart from the rest, even two full decades after their first LP.