I have been following the career of Lamb of God since they released NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL back in 2000. In that time, the band has released three very different CDs. NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL was raw hardcore/metal, while 2003’s AS THE PALACES BURN was helmed by Devin Townsend and is heavy as a ten ton hammer but drifted more towards metalcore with hints of melody here and there. Since that release, Lamb of God has signed with the major label, Epic Records, and unleashed ASHES OF THE WAKE, a more refined, though still ferocious, offering than the previous two. Call it evolution, maturity…whatever, but this new CD does not have the same rawness that the other two do. Even Townsend’s notoriously persnickety ear allowed some of the “dirt” to remain in Lamb of God’s sound, but Machine’s co-production (the band shares credit) on ASHES OF THE WAKE is just a little too slick. Does it sound good? Hell yes, but for those hoping for NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL PART 2 can keep on hoping. The band is still heavy, but melody is beginning to trickle in more and more. It was first explored on “11th Hour” from AS THE PALACES BURN, and tracks like “Laid To Rest” and “You’ve Got Something To Die For” are ripe and ready for the video channels. Melodies, riffs and hooks are everywhere here. More mid-paced tracks with stronger songwriting give the listener a little room to breathe after the concrete wrecking ball of sound presented on AS THE PALACES BURN.
Chris Adler’s drums on this record sound clearer and thicker than they ever have before. The rhythm section of Adler and John Campbell are tight and lay a solid backbone for every track. The guitar tandem of Willie Adler and Mark Morton shred like no tomorrow and the riffs have certainly progressed, as well. Randall Blythe’s husky roar has evolved and he certainly seems to have found his niche here. “Laid To Rest” and “Hourglass” are prime examples of this. In “Ashes of The Wake,” Blythe goes from spoken word to a guttural bark to a searing scream in the chorus. Even the whispered lyrics at the conclusion of “Hourglass” are testament to how much Blythe has improved over the course of three albums.
“Laid To Rest” features some stunning guitar work and Blythe’s vocals make it a standout cut. The fury and anger in the lyrics of “Hourglass” combined with Blythe’s delivery is quite powerful. The breakdown at the end of the track is just the icing on the cake. “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For” is heavy but melodic, much the same as “Laid To Rest.” The buzzing guitar, cymbal work and thrashy verses simply kill. The band further dabbles in modern thrash with “What I’ve Become,” whose intro echoes the forefathers of mid-80s Bay Area. “One Gun” features a shredding solo, but the real focus for Lamb of God’s guitarwork should be on the title track. Chris Poland (Megadeth) and Alex Skolnick (Testament) make guest appearances trading off nearly three minutes of solos with Adler and Morton in what can only be described as a six-stringer’s wet dream.
The only real negative that can be drawn from ASHES OF THE WAKE is that the band seems to be softening their sound. Gone is the street level primitiveness of NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL and in its place is a Pro-Tooled, polished album that borders on over-production. I suppose Epic Records threw scads of cash at them for a recording budget and the band used all the latest modern technology available. The end result is just a little too glossy.
Lamb of God has been poised for greatness since they first burst on the scene. The jump to a major label will have critics and naysayers crying foul, but good on them for landing a lucrative deal that will allow them to take things to the next level. ASHES OF THE WAKE is a brilliant release and clearly the best of the band’s short career.
KILLER KUTS: “Laid To Rest,” “Hourglass,” “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For,” “What I’ve Become”
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