Within modern metal, the band that Lamb Of God have the most in common with is probably Mastodon. Sonically, the two couldn’t be further apart, but in consistent streams of great, critically-lauded albums that, to many, are among some of the defining releases of their particular subgenres’ modern incarnations, the two have been duking it out for years now about who really is modern metal’s most consistent band. But that comparison does only last to extent, namely up to when Mastodon released The Hunter in 2011 and began embracing tighter, more focused hard rock elements into their compositions that, since then, has fuelled a rather considerable second wave for them in terms of how successful their output has been. With Lamb Of God, no such shift has been, and although none of their most recent work has been bad, it’s not like 2015’s VII: Sturm Und Drang didn’t feel like a band attempting to do little more than bore deeper into a well they’ve already dominated at this stage, and that did get noticed. That’s perhaps the most interesting thing about where Lamb Of God are heading; they’ve got a lot of good will from reliability, and that does loosen the reins in terms of what quality they have to hit on future efforts. It’s not the same as laziness or complacency, but the necessity to continuously prove themselves among metal’s elite isn’t as vital anymore.
That’s not something you’d really pick up on this self-titled album though, given that this is Lamb Of God’s attempt to become arguably more of a relevant force than ever before. Perhaps that’s not in the sonic sense given that anyone with a past affinity for Lamb Of God or just metal in general will find a lot to like here as usual, but the staunchly political and literate standpoint that’s been taken has the exact sort of bite that’s more necessary than ever, both for music created in the middle of modern chaos, and for Lamb Of God looking to stand strong within it. And this is definitely a strong album; it’s not quite great, but it’s certainly noteworthy, and that in itself counts for a lot for a band who’ve been around as long and achieved as much as Lamb Of God have.
It’s honestly to the extent where the lyrics do that much heavy lifting that the focus on the music itself doesn’t need to be quite as scrutinous, especially when there’s more of a focus on creating the fiery, furious sound to provide a suitable backdrop. And that’s primarily where Lamb Of God stumble on this album, in that these aren’t their best compositions, and in comparing the more straightforward, meat-and-potatoes riffage of songs like Checkmate or Resurrection Man to previous instances where they’ve been more experimental of progressive, there’s definitely a gulf in overall impact. That’s not to say what this album has is bad though, but it can be difficult at times to escape the fact that certain pieces work better than others and the whole that it all coalesces is looking to be more robust than do anything too adventurous. The guitars do have presence and the phenomenal heaviness that’s just a given at this stage, but the standout solos are quite as thick and fast here, and while Mark Morton is still a terrific guitarist, gravitating towards his contributions happens less often than would be liked. On the other hand though, Randy Blythe’s manic roar of a vocal is only getting better with age, and Art Cruz makes one hell of a debut as their new drummer in the ferocity and detail he can bring that almost crosses into death metal at spots. This is still Lamb Of God as a well-oiled machine of a band, even if some of the bells and whistles have been eased back, and they’re still capable of a thunderous performance at any given moment.
When taking into account the bigger picture as a whole though, the decision to operate on that more primal level can be seen as a conscious one, if only to magnify what’s actually being said and how Blythe is breaking through the tumult to say it. And unlike so many other bands, there’s a lot of layers and consideration with how Lamb Of God approach these particular subjects, taking precise instead of broad aim and giving that care to a surprisingly wide variety of topics. It’s the usage of guest stars that takes this all up a notch, bringing in what feels at points like an extended metal family to have their say about issues affecting them personally, like Jamey Jasta’s takedown of pollution and hazardous materials in the water near his home on Poison Dream, and especially Testament’s Chuck Billy on Routes, a song standing against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and its impact on native land, something which Billy as an Indigenous person himself lends a lot of weight to. It’s definitely not all totally stellar (there are certainly salient points made about how views of political parties have devolved into black-and-white binary on Checkmate but it can feel undercut by a bit of unfortunate ‘both sides are as bad as each other’ phrasing), but more often than not, this really does click, and Lamb Of God explore the sundered aftermath of contemporary political corruption with a great amount of grace. What’s more, the anger feels genuine, and that can be a rarity with a lot of metal bands; you can really tell how formative of lot of classic punk and hardcore was to Lamb Of God from the noticeable vitriol that’s on display here.
It’s exactly how modern metal should be, in spirit if not entirely in execution. While Lamb Of God could’ve pushed the boat out a bit further, it doesn’t negate how good this self-titled album is by much, especially when they’re still bringing a fury and a righteousness to the table that hasn’t dulled and is still pretty much at the top of its game. Perhaps this album won’t be a classic, but in their recent string of releases, it’s certainly one of the more ear-catching ones, if only to see just how far this band can still go with the material the world keeps doling out for them. And they can still go pretty far indeed, where their seat at the top table that they’ve held on to for years isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
For fans of: Machine Head, Trivium, Hatebreed
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Lamb Of God’ by Lamb Of God is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.