Released: 2006, Epic Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The evolution of Lamb of God has been substantial over their last three albums. 2000’s landmark NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL turned the metal world on its head with its raw, ugly aggression and mix of hardcore, thrash riffs and melodic guitar runs. Under the direction of Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), 2003’s AS THE PALACES BURN was like a new band and 2004’s ASHES OF THE WAKE was an even bigger progression in terms of sound, production and musical prowess. That album brought with it a jump to a major label—Sony—and suddenly Lamb of God found themselves one of the biggest buzz bands in the American modern metal scene, headlining Sounds of The Underground and touring with Slayer on this past summer’s Unholy Alliance juggernaut.
Which takes us up to the present day and one of the most eagerly-anticipated—and highly-scrutinized—releases of the year, SACRAMENT. For all their popularity, Lamb of God has just as many detractors and critics but no one can deny the fact that SACRAMENT is studiously-constructed and a new benchmark on which to judge the band. Randy Blythe’s vocals are clear and have finally moved out of the dank, murky cellar. His enraged bellow is instantly recognizable but without venturing too far away from his comfort zone (don’t worry…no clean vocals), Blythe shows a marked improvement over previous albums. The guitars of Mark Morton and Willie Adler crackle with poisonous riffs, bassist John Campbell contributes a thick rumble and Chris Adler’s climb to drum god status is nearly complete (even an untrained ear is left breathless). The whole package is once again complemented by the stellar production job of Machine (who also handled ASHES OF THE WAKE) that is completely devoid of any flaws, each instrument righted with almost scientific precision. To say this is one of those “reference” CDs that a metalhead’s kick-ass stereo system can use to show off is an understatement.
The first four tracks of SACRAMENT should be essential listening to any metal fan. The sweet guitar melodies of “Walk With Me In Hell” are offset by a vicious breakdown at the 2:30 mark that rumbles and chugs its way along in a moshpit-swirling frenzy. Behind the biting lyrical content, Chris Adler’s performance on “Again We Rise” has to be heard to be believed—a true exercise in musical excellence. In what has to be one of the catchiest metal songs of the year, “Redneck,” with its eerie similarities to classic Pantera, thunders along with a chorus that is ingrained in the subconscious instantly and is certainly SACRAMENT’s answer to “Laid To Rest.” The neo-thrash riffing and off-timed chorus of “Pathetic” ends nearly twenty minutes of heavy metal mastery…and then things suddenly take a significant downturn in quality. For all the brutality, melody and musical prowess that make the first four tracks sizzle, the middle third of SACRAMENT gets bogged down by a wholly unexciting and bland collection of songs. Granted, “Foot To The Throat” and “Descending” are heavy but they are also lacking any discernible qualities to rise above mediocrity. “Blacken The Cursed Sun” is solid entry with a melodic chorus and layered vocals (catch the “Reverend Randy” spoken word bit at the end) but when followed by “Forgotten (Lost Angels)” and the truly bland “Requiem,” any momentum is quickly lost. A bit of saving grace is found in the NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL-like “More Time To Kill” and the speedy pacing of “Beating On Death’s Door” but the weakness of that middle third keeps SACRAMENT from being a truly great album.
Much hoopla was made not only by the band but by the press as well about how meticulous the songwriting, playing and production of SACRAMENT is and one would be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding metal album released in 2006. This thing is so cleverly pieced together, it is nothing short of perfect in that regard. What does SACRAMENT in is the obvious pressure Lamb of God faced in not only surpassing ASHES OF THE WAKE but also keeping that ugly drone of “sell out” under control. Incessant touring and a mighty big responsibility to carry the weight of being Sony’s only metal band is reflected in a real lack of songwriting through the bulk of the album. The first four tracks are genuinely amazing, crucial slabs of modern American metal and maybe that is why the rest pales in comparison but the same problem was found on ASHES OF THE WAKE—a strong start out of the gate but missing any stamina to cross the finish line. SACRAMENT will undoubtedly bring in a thick horde to hear Lamb of God’s gospel but with a religion full of this many holes, the flock may thin out faster than the band hoped.
KILLER KUTS: “Walk With Me In Hell,” “Again We Rise,” “Redneck,” “Pathetic,” “Blacken The Cursed Sun”