Lamb Of God - Wrath
Since 2003's As The Palaces Burn; Richmond, Virginia's Lamb Of God have not only been the class of the `New Wave Of American Heavy Metal'. A phenomenon that so thankfully put a bullet through the backward red Yankee cap of the `detuned 7-string playing-knuckle dragging-Adidas track pant wearing doldrums' known as `Nu Metal'; they've also apparently taken to heart the words of Floyd Mayweather Jr. to heart when he said "Step ya game up!" (Then again, if you've seen their Walk With Me In Hell DVD you would know that they could almost cop to my personal favorite quote from the 39-0 welterweight; the ever so eloquent "You know I keeps a private jet!"). From 2004's Ashes Of The Wake to 2006's Sacrament; they've managed to bring something new to the table with each release. Be it the shred-fest instrumental title track from Ashes, complete with a scathing critique of the Iraq War...compliments of an interview with a U.S Marine stationed in the region, the slow burning almost arty `Descending' off of Sacrament, or the bouncy sing-along chorus of `Redneck' (also off of Sacrament). Wrath will instantly catch you off guard as soon as the rubber hits the road. A long standing LoG tradition is to have a crushing opener, whereas `The Passing' introduces acoustic guitar into the mix with a momentum building finger picked passage (no pun intended) that leads you directly into the oncoming 18-wheeler that is `In Your Words'. Vocalist D. Randall Blythe turns in yet another solid performance. He'll never be mentioned in the same sentence with Luciano Pavarotti; he's a screamer and a yeller. But with each album he expands his range and avoids the stereotypical `Cookie Monster/Gorilla on a treadmill' sound that renders so many other vocalists of that technique virtually unlistenable. Not to mention the fact that you can understand every word he says; a rarity to say the least.
With Wrath we find Josh Wilbur taking on the production duties after two consecutive releases produced by Machine. There is considerably less studio shine this time around. Guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler have scaled back the overdrive on their respective instruments, and appear to have cut down on the amount of recorded tracks. This is a decided risk that can make your guitar sound thin and twangy. If you play country; that can be a good thing...if you play metal; that could be disastrous. Fortunately, the engineers behind the soundboards managed to get a lean, mean, and ridiculously clear attack out of said gamble. The unprecedented room in the mix is nicely filled with John Campbell's bass being more prominent in the mix than ever before, and drummer Chris Adler's amazing work (which has suffered some egregious production blunders in the past (most notably the `coffee can' sound of 2000's New American Gospel) has space to breathe. The result is a stripped down and raw sound that proves less is more when it comes to recording a band long known for their dynamics and vacuum tight arrangements.
From a career standpoint; Palaces was their blueprint, Ashes was their mission statement, and Sacrament saw them come into their own as songwriters. The band has realized that they need not rely on sheer aggression to get their point across on Wrath. The age old trick that Metallica pioneered in metal so many years ago; is to set the listener up for the kill. This is by far the most melodic Lamb Of God you have ever heard. The breaks may be short; but they're just enough to give you a reprieve before diving head first back into the fray. `Grace' would be the most poignant example of this. A slow and harmonized intro with a clean toned pentatonic run.....and `BOOM!'...on with the show. The most stunning track may very well be the album's closer `Reclamation' which begins with the ambient sound of waves hitting the shore, which gives way to a twangy (in a good way) nylon string acoustic riff that lulls you into a false sense of serenity before the card carrying `scorched earth policy' enforcer of the main riff kicks in. At 7:05 this is the longest track the band has ever recorded. As per usual; no filler found here.
The lyrical themes center on politics and personal issues. A long outspoken opponent of the Bush Administration; Randy Blythe fires a thermite hot parting shot `ol Dubya's way on `Contractor' delivering "Chopping lines in international sand to feed the blood junkie habits of the Elephant Man/Quench his thirst when the Blackwater rises/Executive outcomes on a burning horizon" at breakneck speed. Always a prolific user of simile and metaphor...Blythe delivers the goods once again. You'll be hard pressed to find a throwaway song let alone a throwaway verse, chorus, or even riff on this record.
In the past half decade; the genre has seen a huge resurgence. An always unwelcome but not unexpected byproduct of such an occurrence is the boatload of pretenders that either pop out of the woodwork, or suddenly shift their musical direction to ride on the coattails of a scene to cash in on its popularity. Fortunately, this band is not in that lot. The charge of being `metal for the mere sake of being metal' would never stick to these guys.