Lamb of God
Burn the Priest (as Burn the Priest)(Legion - 1999)
Lamb of God is a band that has perhaps confused the most amount of people in terms of genre, and their extreme popularity in 'metalcore' circles isn't helping their case at all. They are most often and imprecisely classified as both metalcore and groove metal, but the truth is that not only are they a fusion band with very prominent thrash and death metal approach, with some individual songs that are easily classified as 100% thrash/death, they have also evolved and changed over time, adding to the confusion. Add to this confusion the fact that the term 'metalcore' itself has evolved over time until it has become the meaningless term that it is today. So what is metalcore once upon a time, no longer sounds like today's metalcore. Case in point: This first release under their first band name 'Burn the Priest' which was their name before they "matured", except it's not just the name that changed. This is actually grindcore mixed with a bit of Pantera groove and unusual higher-pitched vocals. Another way to put this is: 'grindcore for a more modern audience'. Seeing as their background and one of their favorite genres is hardcore punk, this is not surprising. What this means is that this is a 'core' album according to its original meaning. When I hear the word 'core' I expect an abrasive punk attitude in the music, monotonous harsh yelling vocals, grinding, rough, raw and edgy riffing, and perhaps occasional breakdowns for violent mosh pits. No melody or boy-band vocals, no melodic At The Gates guitars, no bouncy breakdowns, no emo vocalists, no djent, no infusions of commercial sounds. Once you understand the true and simple meaning and sound of 'core' metal genres (anyone remember thrashcore?), much of the confusion out there should go away. Given this understanding, it should not be confusing if I called Slayer pioneers in the 'core' genres. All that said, let's proceed with this album: This is a mix of both grinding fast and sludge punk metal with a dominant death-metal sound (think Napalm Death), no solos, short songs, and some infusions of Pantera groove. Truthfully, even the groove is difficult to peg as Pantera-esque. Think of Napalm Death slow groovier grinding songs and that would be closer. The sound is primitive and abrasive, the transitions between riffs and segments are not as musical or smooth as I would have liked, and the riffs aren't very memorable. It's musically dynamic, but it doesn't develop or build, which makes it uninteresting. I am not a fan of this genre, unless the song structure has something else of interest besides just a slapped-together collection of grinding riffs. Even Napalm Death at their most primitive had more musicality than many of these tracks, something to grind and sink into rather than just be pummeled by generic riffing that suddenly shifts here or there randomly. But it's the vocals that are the biggest hurdle, even for fans of the genre. The varied vocals range from a pretty good guttural growl (rarely used), to a harsher monotonous shriek, to an intolerable inhale shriek which I find annoying. It sounds like a little pig being throttled while it is trying to intake air. In summary, below-average grindcore with good technical playing and a bit of modern fusion, but with annoying vocals.
New American Gospel(Prosthetic - 2000)
Despite the name change, this second release is much closer to 'Burn the Priest' than forthcoming releases, so see my earlier review. In the first track, they seem to have musically improved ever so slightly. There is a feel of a song this time rather than just a collection of slapped-together grinding riffs. Unfortunately, not only do they not keep this up in subsequent tracks which employ the same old slapped-together-random-collection-of-grinding-riffs approach, the music has slowed down partially (overall), using less of the deathgrind pace and sound, and more grinding groove and sludge with death-metal elements. Even more unfortunately, the vocals are the same as before, only they make use of the annoying inhale shriek (that sounds like a mechanical piglet) even more this time, as well as other weak or annoying yells with different timbres. The vocals single-handedly make this album intolerable. Genre-wise, thanks to the slower pace, this is more hardcore punk sounding than the previous grindcore album, complete with some grinding breakdowns, thus fitting in partially with the second wave of metalcore bands, despite Lamb's different sound compared to other bands of the time. As before, there is groove, a little more this time around, but don't assume this means they sound like Pantera. This album also is more 'technical', more dynamic shifting of riffs and time-signatures, and good instrumental chops. But this only means they have skill and aggression, not musicality. On top of it all, the mixing of the drumming, especially the harsh tinking hi-hats, is badly done. A very tedious album.
As The Palaces Burn(Prosthetic - 2003)
It is interesting that Lamb of God has released three albums with three variations on the 'core' fusion genres: First grindcore, then hardcore metal, and now something closer to the more modern misnamed 'metalcore' which is more melodic. Except that this is not really core, similar to modern 'metalcore' that obviously has nothing to do with hardcore punk anymore. Breakdowns and yelling vocals do not a hardcore song make, and Gothenberg metal definitely has nothing to do with it either. Breakdowns are used in many genres (and in better ways), and yelling/growling is more metal than punk by now. Hardcore punk has a certain sound and attitude, and this simply doesn't have it. Their earlier albums could be called core-fusion, but not this. What it does have is Slayer-influenced thrash with heavy use of At The Gates death metal and a speck of groove. I.e. the riffing is a little melodic but highly aggressive, most of the riffs derivative of either Slayer or ATG, and with extra groove or rhythmic breakdowns and instrumental sections rather than solos. There are a couple of guitar solos, but these are short and rare. Which means that even classifying this as thrashcore is problematic. Lamb of God are simply a band that fuses genres with a firm base sound in extreme metal, causing much confusion. That said, this is the album which achieved the first big fanbase. Frankly, despite the step down in aggression, this album is a huge musical improvement for Lamb of God. Best of all, Blythe finally learned how to scream properly, employing a pretty good mid-level guttural growl/scream that works very nicely with the music. Unfortunately, despite all this improvement, there are about four pretty good tracks here and the rest are average at best, repetitive and mechanical at worst, and the annoying breakdowns tend to... well... break up the music even when its gets good. 'For Your Malice', and 'Ruin' are good and a whole album of similar quality could have been great. '11th Hour', and 'A Devil In Gods Country' which ends with a Meshuggah-esque outro are also pretty good. 'Boot Scraper' has lots of good stuff but is too often interrupted and ruined by inappropriate wailing groove and another bad breakdown. 'Purified' is more traditional Slayer death-thrash complete with solo, but is an average example of the genre. 'Vigil' is a different standout with its different pacing. Even when the album gets good, the mechanical sound, similarity between songs, and monotonous vocals all mean that this album is only good for 2-4 tracks before it starts getting tired. The breakdowns really annoy me though. If you have proper musical skills, you can write a good breakdown that flows with the song, but almost all the breakdowns here just kill all the momentum and development, and are (ab)used too often, and the lack of guitar solos hurt the music as well if you ask me. It reminded me of way back when Meshuggah stopped with their jazz guitar solos, the music suffering as a result. In summary, some good tracks, but, as a whole, average at best. It made me want to go listen to undiluted Gothenberg death-metal.
Ashes Of The Wake(Epic - 2004)
Lamb of God continue to evolve with every album, trying different sounds, though this is closer to the previous release and not as radical a departure as before. This time there is much more Slayer, more groove, and the ATG influence is almost gone. This is a bit more 'core'-sounding than 'As The Palaces Burn' given its Slayer sound, and I have already argued earlier that Slayer is core-metal-fusion, but, as always, Lamb of God is still a band that fuses several styles. Unfortunately, they don't have Slayer's soul and musical sense, writing and playing more mechanical-sounding, rhythm-oriented compositions, the groove dilutes the sharp power of their playing, there is a lack of solos that always added a lot to Slayer's music, the anti-musical breakdowns annoy me to no end every time the song gets going, and the growling vocals are more monotonous than Slayer. All these factors are what make it fail to captivate musically as compared to Slayer. Sometimes, precision detracts from the music if the musicians focus more on sharp edges rather than the phrasing, soul and buildup of the song. Both the instruments and vocals don't bring the songs to life if you ask me. Also, while each riff on its own can be pretty good on some of these songs, when the segments of the song are placed together they don't cohere, flow and build, and those breakdowns kill the song completely. So, once again, I find some aspects of Lamb of God not bad, but they are also too derivative, diluted, and mechanical and I enjoyed this even less, much less, than 'As The Palaces Burn'. Perhaps, though, they could serve as a hybrid gateway for 'metalcore' kids to explore better metal.
Killadelphia (live)(Epic - 2005)
Perhaps a live setting would add an element that was missing for me in their studio music? The set-list is mostly from their recent album, many tracks from 'As The Palaces Burn', three from 'New American Gospel', and one surprising one from the debut. The sound is appropriately booming, the drums a bit loud, the bass and vocals a tiny bit too low. Both the energy and the precision are great from everyone involved, and Blythe is surprisingly consistent and strong in his vocal quality and energy. Unfortunately, it didn't add anything to the studio versions except a little bit of energy. So it's a pretty good studio album for fans I suppose, but given my opinion on their music so far, it's not for me.
Sacrament(Epic - 2006)
It's back to melody, part Gothenberg style, part blackened with even a bit of raspy screaming, and it is surprisingly atmospheric, strongly musical, and successfully written compared to previous releases. At least for the first two tracks, and then suddenly we switch to very Pantera-esque groove. But even this is pretty well done if you like this sort of thing, albeit its a jarring switch in styles. After these four tracks comes good post-thrash metal fused with all of the above. Blythe is altering his vocals more often here and investing more into it, fixing another problem with previous releases to do with monotonous vocals. Even the breakdowns are kept short and are much better written as bridges so that they don't badly break up the song, and there are more guitar solos. The many styles and genres add variety to the album, fixing yet another problem from the past. This keeps getting better and better and may be the first LoG album I can fully enjoy! Perhaps the best thing about this album is that they have greatly improved in terms of composition and delivery, also thanks to the above improvements, resulting in cohesive, flowing, strong and developing songs rather than just delivering a collection of brutal and changing riffs. Now I know this album was accused of being more commercial and has made the band super popular, but it's the music I am judging, not the genre, and, by these standards, it is LoG's first good album. Plus, the accusations are par for the course for any band that becomes popular, whether the music is commercial or not. The fact is that this is fusion of a few genres and has a firm base sound of extreme metal, just like their previous releases. Finally, I have never mentioned the drumming in Lamb of God before and this deserves special mention for its very precise, energetic, dynamic, and creative delivery, adding so much more to the music than just a driving beat. A good one!
Wrath(Epic - 2009)
The first song after the intro is as similarly good as the more melodic material in Sacrament, only in a longer version and with new types of (not-so-enjoyable) vocals. But then it's mostly mindless groove-thrash and almost purely rhythm-oriented groove-thrash-death metal from there on. Some isn't bad but, as with previous albums by LoG, there is a 'sameness' problem, mostly I think because the parade of pounding rhythms aren't broken up by enough memorable solos, interludes, instrumentals, slower songs, different styles/genres, memorable melodies, etc. There is plenty of grooving brutality and aggression and dynamic changes and riffing, so it's not that every song is the same, but there's a lack of music. I understand evolution and not wanting to repeat, but what happened to the song-writing skills and variety that we saw in Sacrament? Thankfully, the bad breakdowns didn't come back for the most part although there are a couple I could have done without, and although Lamb of God haven't been in the 'core' genres for the past two or three albums, some of the simpler and rawer tracks like 'Contractor' are as close to hardcore as they ever were. But most of the music just keeps grinding, grooving, using guitar bends, and chugging, while the vocals roar and yell, and it gets tiresome after three or so tracks. Blythe introduces a new vocal to his expanding repertoire: A Devin Townsend-esque, very raspy, harsh, mostly-monotone yell, but it doesn't have the same quality as Townsend and can get somewhat annoying when overused. Now I like middle-era Pantera groove (not the later albums) as well as middle-era Testament, and the first album by Machine Head, so I am not against groove-metal, except when it is used wrongly, and this type of grinding, grooving, wailing and chugging simply isn't musical enough to maintain interest for long. Many generic but basically good Slayer riffs on this album disappointingly switch to unrelated repetitive grinding grooves instead of developing into something bigger. Some songs are better than others such as the aforementioned first track, and parts of 'Fake Messiah', 'Broken Hands', 'Everything to Nothing', and 'Reclamation' (barring the stupid breakdown), but even some of these pretty good tracks repeat where they should develop and soar. So although half of the songs here are pretty good, they are not great, and the rest are not good. Overall, this is a step back for Lamb of God and reminded me of 'Ashes Of The Wake' even though this is a better album overall and the style is different with more groove and types of vocals.
Resolution(Roadrunner - 2012)
The surprising opener is a nod to sludge/doom metal, but then it's back to groove-thrash, the same as Wrath only more energetic and with even less melody. So, to my ears, this is the first time that their music hasn't evolved significantly or changed styles/genres between albums. This is purely rhythm and groove, half Slayer half Pantera, but without the good bits of either of those bands if you ask me. Turns out that the albums 'As The Palaces Burn' and 'Sacrament' were outliers. As with 'Ashes Of The Wake' and 'Wrath', they sure know how to write and drive an aggressive riff backed by powerful vocals; what they don't seem to know how to do here is develop a song. There are almost no memorable riffs, no buildup, no thematic development, no exciting instrumentals, just flat rhythmic brutality and groove with one riff and rhythm morphing into the next, and one song after the next. There's almost no musical inspiration here, just a mechanical, albeit energetic, sound, and a factory approach to constructing a song. Most tracks don't leave behind anything memorable, just an impact, like a motor suddenly revving up loudly. Some songs start nicely and powerfully thrashy, but then make use of a groove for its chorus, ruining the momentum, or worse, they use a bad breakdown. Some exceptions with somewhat memorable music are: 'The Number Six', 'Terminally Unique', 'Visitation' and perhaps 'Guilty' and parts of 'Insurrection'. As with the opener, the closing track 'King Me' is an outlier as well, this time with a slow atmosphere build, a dark symphonic feel and great spooky female vocals, but they misguidedly fused even this one with groove. However, it exemplifies the difference between generic, forgettable music and a song with some inspiration and interesting, risk-taking experimentation. The annoying harsh yelling vocals from Wrath have been either shelved or improved on, but I think I enjoyed this one even less than Wrath.
VII: Sturm und Drang(Nuclear Blast - 2015)
I don't know what hidden song-writing muscles or techniques these people dig into and unearth every few albums, but, evidently, Lamb of God can write music when they really want to. All other reviewers that think this is more of the same are simply lacking a musical ear. I think it simply happens when the band stops listening to Pantera, puts aside the obsession with groove, and stops trying to write bad-ass riffs and simply writes music instead. Of course, there is the infamous fact that Randy Blythe accidentally killed a fan during a concert and served time in a Czech jail in a dignified manner before they made this album. But I don't think that's the X factor. This is definitely their best album since Sacrament, and it belongs in that category, demonstrating LoG's more musical side. There are a couple of surprises here as with Resolution, including a couple of songs with clean vocals and grunge music, and the singer from Deftones adds an extra layer in the end of 'Embers', but these are well integrated this time, and add color to a colorful album. Otherwise, this is more post-thrash with varying speed, and a welcome extra layer of memorable riffs and tunes and barely any groove or bad breakdowns. Rhythms and riffs and even breakdowns are incorporated into the composition, themes and momentum this time, again, making me wonder why this approach only appears once in a while. Blythe is back to great growling vocals with some variation like raspy screams for added color. Although Lamb of God isn't going to be amongst my favorite bands, this is definitely another solidly good enjoyable album, making two albums that I liked from LoG.
Legion: XX (as Burn the Priest)(Epic - 2018)
Well what do you know; actual metalcore! It's ironic that all the 'metalcore' kids wrongfully classifying Lamb of God all these years will be confronted with this album. Released under their ex-name of Burn the Priest, this is an album of covers of mostly hardcore-punk songs; ten songs, ten bands. This includes the Melvins, Agnostic Front, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, and even one from the industrial band Ministry (with previously unnoticed traces of punk). Unfortunately, I am not a fan of hardcore punk so this is not for me, neither do I know the originals to be able to compare and tell how much has been changed, but Lamb of God is paying tribute to their roots and influences, and I find it interesting to compare this sound to LoG's repertoire and other fake 'core' bands. I also know what punk and core genres are supposed to sound like, and this is definitely it. Some instrumentals feel 'metallized' to me, as do the vocals, but the core sound has been retained, making this proper metalcore. Some are amazingly proto-Slayer, but this should come as no surprise given both Slayer's roots and Lamb of God's heavy Slayer-influenced sound. Some tracks are more interesting and energetic than others, but as I said, this is not my genre. An interesting experiment.
Lamb of God(Nuclear Blast - 2020)
It's been five years since their last studio release and Lamb of God have been quite inconsistent (on purpose) between albums, keeping one guessing. In addition, their much-loved, long-time, very capable drummer left before this album. Right away, this album strikes me as a back-to-the-basics release, perhaps inspired by the previous album of punk covers, which is perhaps why they used an eponymous title. Unfortunately, their basics are very basic. This is slow thrash with some groove, slower than I remember, and almost without any Gothenberg melody. Vocals are also slightly stripped down from the many colors of recent albums and are more yelly or old-school death-thrash growls, but there are still several types. The drumming is good, but perhaps relatively not as creative and rich as before. The groove is not as prominent as in Wrath (and that's a good thing), but there are a couple of bad mechanical breakdowns again. The biggest problem is that this is so generic and derivative of earlier works (theirs and others), that it feels a very uninspired and uninspiring affair. It does its thing for ten tracks, delivering the LoG basic sound and aggression based on derivative Slayer, and leaves. Only its with a slower pace in general. A LoG machine-learning algorithm could have come up with it. I find it difficult to say anything interesting about it except that 'New Colossal Hate' is perhaps the only semi-decent track, and Chuck Billy guest growls on 'Routes' sounding great on probably the most energetic and properly thrashy song of the album. Forgettable.
Live in Richmond, VA(Nuclear Blast - 2021)
A very strange 'live' album which has also been released as a bonus CD with the previous eponymous studio release. It consists of the album 'Lamb of God' performed live in its entirety, only four additional live tracks from various other albums, and two bonus studio tracks with a similar sound and approach. Except that there is no real audience, since the performance was streamed live over the internet and performed in a tiny venue. So we get a rougher rawer recording, with perhaps a bit more energy, but nothing like the feel of a large venue, no crowd, no feedback, interaction and infectious energy, and no eclectic set-list. Covid strikes again.