|Lamb of God - Ashes of the Wake|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Charles Andrews|
|Tuesday, 31 August 2004|
What a great rock ‘n’ roll story. Band out of not-exactly-a-music-hotbed (they would disagree) Richmond, Virginia labors nearly a decade-and-a-half, releasing only a handful of discs but touring endlessly and, by their own description (I would disagree), “never stopped pushing the boundaries of what a metal band is supposed to sound like.”
“We play music that straddles the line between prog and traditional rock,” says bass player John Campbell. “I think we make prog-rock more listenable without cheapening the progressiveness of it. The complexity of our music appeals to people who like technical playing, but the arrangements are not so extreme that they fly over the average listener's head.” Say what? I think for a band that admits what brought and kept them together was a shared passion for consuming vast quantities of alcohol, they’ve got a fuzzy notion of just what it is they’re cranking out. Unremittingly extreme death metal played at earbleed volume, yes, but “prog-rock”? They ain’t Yes, or even Big Elf.
Lamb of God’s star has really risen with the new millennium: they tore it up headlining the second stage on the Ozzfest ’04 tour (making even the promoters litigiously nervous about their mosh pit insanity), were just featured on MTV2’s Headbanger’s Ball and included on Vols. 1, then 2, of that show’s compilation CDs and had their video named one of the Top 20 of the 21st Century, were the first extreme metal band to get the cover of Revolver magazine and had an interview in Hustler. They recently made news by being banned by the Faithful Central Bible Church, which worships in and owns the Forum (former home of the Lakers), where the band was set to appear with Grammy nominees Slipknot as part of the Subliminal Verses Tour. Seems the church elders took exception when they found out Lamb of God performed until 1999 under the name of Burn the Priest.
LoG drummer Chris Adler called the church's decision "a bit ridiculous." He told the Associated Press, "If they had taken the time to look into what we do and who we are as a band, I don't think they would have made the same decision." Further irony: the band dumped the earlier name because it "put us into a corner we didn't want to be in," Adler said. "So we went with something just as strange but, I guess, in the other way. So to have this kind of backlash is weird."
Now if that sounds like the defensive response you might expect from a band in this situation, and if you saw the CD art and listened to a little of Ashes of the Wake, you’d think, “Right – I gotta go with the elders on this one.” But if you did, you’d be guilty of the same conclusion-jumping typical of the uninformed nonfan/nonbeliever (necessary disclosure: that would be me).
Lamb of God is extreme metal. Thrash. As loud as they can get. Grinding. Dark. Pitch black. And with the exception of a few spoken voiceovers, vocalist Randy Blythe screams every note on Ashes through some distortion device that makes him sound like an agonizingly tortured, furious soul screeching from the deepest burning pit of Hell. Musically, I don’t hear the next Metallica or Megadeth. I hear a band the fans love because … well, for all the reasons listed at the beginning of this paragraph. Lamb of God executes this brand of metal extremely well, but please: the occasional moments of any variation or experimentation or, God forbid, moments of melody on this album are so brief, blink and you’ve missed them.
But as a nonbeliever, you have to wonder, am I missing something the metallistas hear? Within their genre, are these guys perhaps what they think and say they are – ahead of the pack, cutting edge, pushing the envelope?
Nahhh. But here’s what gives you pause: when the presentation is so extreme, it’s difficult to separate it from the content. It turns out I agree with Adler in his condemnation of the church elders for not doing their homework. He’s right in that, in principle, if they had taken the time to look into what Lamb does and who they are as a band, they would come away with a different impression. But you know what? They would’ve made the same decision to ban, because Lamb of God still looks like Satan’s acolytes, the “singer” sounds like he’s screaming the text of “Mein Kampf” and truly wants to kill and eat you, and the instruments crush you with their awesome power. Dude.
The thank yous on the CD insert are extensive, and some of the comments further the impression that Lamb of God are self-deluded and in their own reality: “for continued commitment, persistence and devotion to our collective dream … it’s an incredible honor to make this music and share this unbelievable experience,” “tireless commitment and dedication to the cause,” “for your insight and teachings,” “my brothers in the mighty Halo of Locusts,” “our friends and fans who have helped, believed in and cared enough,” “for believing in this as much as we do,” “for each of our amazing fans, who’ve enabled us to realize this dream.”
What are we talkin’ here? Despite the group’s name, this is not a Christian band. Not folk singers. Song titles: “Blood of the Scribe,” “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For,” “Break You,” “Remorse is for the Dead” and of course the title ballad. It all seems typical of the immature, self-absorbed fantasy world of metal. They make a cause, nay, a religion out of nihilism and the celebration of death and destruction. Listen to Ashes of the Wake (and I did -- two complete times!!) and when your brain hasn’t switched off from the sonic assault, you’ll hear Blythe screaming about “blood” and “never-ending winter” and “vampires” and “filthy domain.” Of course, this stuff causes Columbines …
But if you have the patience and really good reading glasses to work through all the printed lyrics and other really tiny notes, you’ll discover …oh, my gosh … this is an anti-war album. Of sorts. This is a musical treatise on personal and collective responsibility. Who knew!? And the artwork, of cities in ruin and cannons blazing and drones slogging through the mud and skeletal banshee goldleaf hawks carrying bombs down into the fire … Wow. Hey – sorry, guys. My bad. Guess I should’ve listened a little more closely to your previous release, As the Palaces Burn. But by the time I read through your anti-military warning from President Eisenhower, a call to revolution by Thomas Jefferson that seems written for today, and these words from Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” I was humbled.
But then I realized only one out of about 100,000 Lamb of God fans will ever read that stuff or hear it from the stage as they’re banging themselves senseless, so … good intentions, little effect. These are not the guys who will lead the revolution. Years later, they’ll sit around and say, “We told you so,” and their fans will go, “Huh?”
Two other things you should know: Megadeath’s Chris Poland and Testament’s Alex Skolnick guest on the instrumental title cut, and it was a big deal in metal-land when Epic Records signed this band. Cries of “Major label! Sell-outs!!!” haven’t happened. But the success of this CD could mean all the majors will go scrambling for the next Lamb. Metal Never Dies.