As the world shuffles from day-to-day in a pandemic-fuelled malaise, it is expected to yearn for any remaining ounce of normality, familiarity or anything that feels safe. Appropriately, it is an apocalyptic world that ushers new Lamb of God material back into the ether, and it is as reassuring as the feel of an old set of pyjamas that the five year gap from 2015’s Sturm Und Drang features no reduction in bile, brutality and sheer brilliance from the pseudo-legendary Virginia metal band.
This iteration of the American five-piece features a notable line-up change and sets the stage for an important crossroads ahead of the band. The absence of drummer, spokesperson and percussive wizard Chris Adler is no small alteration (especially when it is considered that Chris’s brother Willie still remains in the group), and also happens at a time where many expect Lamb of God to transcend and slip into the rather colossal shoes left behind by the now-retired Slayer atop of the metal Mount Rushmore – a monolith built in the image of Metallica, Iron Maiden and the (somehow immortal but soon to be strapped to a hospital bed in a vain attempt to stop him from booking another ‘comeback tour’ he will inevitably cancel) Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath pairing.
Fortunately for all involved (particularly new drummer Art Cruz of Winds Of Plague and Prong), Lamb of God’s self-titled release is a celebration of all the things that are almost microscopically unique to Lamb of God; the blistering riffs, (a southern cocktail of Memphis blues and thrash metal intricacy), the slaloming shifts in tempo (where the band seems to skip from breakneck speed to half-time stomps with the ease and charisma of a champion boxer hopping from foot to foot) and the balance of tribal and precise drumming, flashing between guitar lines like static electricity. Are Lamb of God back? Fuck yeah, they’re back.
Opener 'Memento Mori' shifts from an open, atmospheric clean introduction before Randy Blythe screams out any remaining cobwebs following the bands’ hiatus. The band quickly settle into the LoG ‘staple’ blueprint; a collection of fast paced, breathless riffs juxtaposed at sudden junctures by dissonant breakdowns and sparks of lead guitar.
Lead single 'Checkmate' follows, sending the listener to a (presumably) hypothetical smoke-filled bar in Virgina, guitar lines murmuring amidst muffled discussion before the incredible rotations between staccato verses and open, expansive choruses follow in a style that could have been constructed by this band.
'Gears', 'Reality Bath' and 'New Colossal Hate' bring up a mid-section of the album that contains some small hints at the band’s progression and growth; the Tool-esque, snaked intro in 'Reality Bath' coupled with the slower, mood-laden sections while 'New Colossal Hate' pairs a soaring chorus with new drummer Art Cruz’s impressive skills, abandoning the vice-grip tight backdrop for an improvisational and pretty incredible plethora of drum fills.
The only criticism, if one needed to be found, is that this self-titled release lacks an iconic song in the mould of 'Black Label', 'Ruin', 'Laid to Rest' or festival favourite 'Redneck'. That said, however, rather than a one-off track that is outstanding from the album as a complete composition, Lamb of God have featured several iconic moments that jut out, sharp rocks among the torrents of American metal.
Several of those moments are found in the final third of the album, from Randy Blythe’s toxic "Blegh" at the outset of 'Resurrection Man' and the Faded Line-esque riff in the bridge to the incredible guitar work that is the foundation of album highlight 'Poison Dream', where slithered notes flock among hammer blows of heavy. The cameo of Jamey Jasta on the aforementioned track is also a delight, the band switching seamlessly to a hardcore section befitting of a band such as Power Trip or Malevolence.
The album concludes with 'On The Hook', a pummelling thrash number that culminates with Randy’s purest, most hedonistic message ‘Kill Them All’. A simplistic policy, but one worth considering in these, most troubling of times. Although, at least we have Lamb of God. Reassembled, but reassuring.
Lamb of God is released June 19th via Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-Order the album here.