LAMB OF GOD
Lamb Of God
Losing a key member decades into your careers and subsequently releasing a distinctly average self-titled album must be becoming something of a cliché in the metal world, yet some bands weather the process far better than others. And although you could argue that neither Metallica nor Queensrÿche, for example, were average albums, it's rarely a positive omen. Lamb of God have endured plenty of woe in their time, from drunken internal fights to Randy Blythe's manslaughter trial, yet this inner and outer conflict never seemed to have much impact on their increasingly pedestrian music as of late. And Chris Adler departing the band with barbed shots about not being given a choice, rather mow the grass than phone it in, and being "unwilling to paint by numbers" certainly suggested that Lamb of God would continue to operate at a lesser standard than their earlier peak...
Well, yes and no. There's nothing here to suggest that As the Palaces Burn or Ashes of the Wake have their positions threatened, but Lamb of God is certainly better than Wrath and Resolution, about equivalent with Sturm und Drang. Some of said sturm and drang seems to have intensified even more on this album, which repeats the guest vocalist spots to add pep but doesn't use them near as well. Two pop up and they're a very mixed bag; the fairly typical Poison Dream is rather spoilt by a brief burst of Jamey Jasta yelling, turning it into a lesser Slipknot track rather than enhancing it even with a rather good guitar solo right after (listen to the most recent Benighted album to see how a Jasta guest spot can be an enhancement!). And while Chuck Billy's appearance on the thrashy Routes is downright confusing - it could well be a recent Testament track with Randy guesting! - it's decent enough song to be a standout above some of the plainer fare here regardless. Placing them together towards the end of the album is an odd choice, too, as if they're there for added variety; which may have worked if they were better songs...!
In fairness, the core band are solid enough to give much admittedly near-pedestrian material an extra shot of power and intensity, not least thanks to new drummer Arturo Cruz (ex-Prong, Winds of Plague) who slots in perfectly in Adler's place to the point where it's hard to miss him, particularly on the violent finale On the Hook. Opener Memento Mori begins slowly, some strums and distorted oceanic sounds a melancholic backing to Randy's almost gothic clean singing, a whispering child adding to the creepy vibes and all paying off when Randy screams "wake up!" and the band kick in with their usual thrashy groove. Although it's a very familiar sound by now, Lamb of God do seem to at least be making an effort to break tracks up and make them distinct - the studio chatter and count-in to Checkmate, for example, or the mix of clean and harsh vocals on Bloodshot Eyes - and the base level of songwriting is good enough to make beefy cuts like Gears suitable headbanging fare.
Yet there's not anything that really stands out despite that, even with attempts like how Reality Bath throws in some spoken word sections and uses them well between the usual groovy aggression, along with granting John Campbell's bass a little more attention in the intro section. All in all, this is very much business as usual but there is enough meat on the bone for this to be worth a listen for Lamb of God fans. It's still quite generic, though, and close to painting by numbers, particularly when you remind yourself of how great the songwriting was on past albums; Chris Adler's feelings are entirely understandable!
Goat quoted 72 / 100
→ More cd reviews at www.metalreviews.com