[20 September 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
In the last five years, no American band has cornered the blue collar metal market anywhere near as well as Lamb of God has. In the wake of Pantera’s ugly implosion, subsequent feuds among the band members, and the horrible murder of Dimebag Darrell, Lamb of God has boldly claimed Pantera’s torch as their own, and to their credit, they’ve done everything right, churning out consistently good music and taking it to the people, touring incessantly. 2004’s Ashes of the Wake was the Richmond, Virginia band’s well-earned commercial breakthrough, making them one of the most popular bands in the genre, but with the rewards for all the hard work come higher expectations, and just how Lamb of God would build on their potent blend of Pantera’s Southern-tinged muscle with Megadeth’s technical proficiency was a big question leading into 2006. With Sacrament, the band’s fourth album (sixth, if you include the two CDs released under the name Burn the Priest), the dominant theme is steady as she goes, the band sticking to its strengths, that being nimble riffs and mosh pit pleasin’ breakdowns, only this time, armed with a stronger sense of melody, and one mother of a lead-off single.
If you thought Lamb of God’s Pantera worship was obvious before, “Redneck” takes the devotion to another level entirely, but brilliantly so. Constructed around a lithe boogie riff by guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, and anchored by an absolutely piledriving bottom end courtesy bassist John Campbell and double-kicking drummer Chris Adler, the song is the perfect platform for vocalist Randy Blythe, who launches into the kind of profanity-laced tirade that all 14 year-old boys love (not to mention we oldsters who refuse to grow up), punctuated by the confrontational, “This is a motherfucking invitation / The only one you’ll ever need…You try me.” Aggressive, infectious as hell, and highlighted by a monstrous breakdown, it’s one of the finest metal singles in years, the one populist anthem this band needs to elevate its popularity more, a song that’s bound to be a live staple for years.
Although no other song on Sacrament comes close to the fist-pumping, body-flinging power of “Redneck”, the rest of the album holds up well, presented in a crisp mix by Ashes collaborator Machine. “Walk With Me in Hell” is dominated by a grandiose guitar melody during a chorus that borders on symphonic metal, while “Pathetic” features a memorable, slithering primary riff, as Blythe, ever the misanthrope, leads a chanted refrain of, “Pathetic! Wasted! Soulless!” Morton and Adler team up on impressive stomper “Blacken the Cursed Sun”, their dual harmonies propelled by Chris Adler’s galloping beats, and conversely, “Beating on Death’s Door” goes for pure speed, highlighted by Chris Adler’s commanding performance, his taut drumming style equaling the similarly punishing-yet-intricate sound of Pantera’s Vinnie Paul.
Blythe remains the band’s most crucial member, and his importance to the Lamb of God sound cannot be understated. As cantankerous a frontman as you’ll ever see, he prowls the stage like a lunatic preoccupied with his own dark worldview, and his venom-laced notes in the CD booklet are particularly entertaining, but for all the vitriol, that voice of his has become one of the most distinct in metal today. Easily capable of the same kind of barrel-chested bark as Pantera’s Phil Anselmo (and nearly guilty of overdoing it on “Redneck”), Blythe brings considerably more range, shifting into guttural growls and piercing screams, but all the while, he consistently displays a remarkable ability to enunciate while screaming, a key reason why Lamb of God’s extreme music has become so accessible. Consequently, instead of wondering what the hell the singer is hollering about, we can clearly hear Blythe launch into tirades about the collective mentality of his home state (“Foot to the Throat”), blunt references to the President (“Lies are told in a Southern drawl”), addressing friends with substance abuse problems (“Beating on Death’s Dorr”), and delving into his deep, and do I mean deep, hatred of Los Angeles (“Forgotten (Lost Angels)”).
At one point, Blythe coldly sneers, “The only hook I’ve got / Is the one in my bleeding gut.” Clearly, Lamb of God has no intention of toning down their sound to appease both the mass audience and their major label, and the tactic has worked, as growing numbers of fans have gravitated toward the music instead of the other way around. While the band might not take metal into bold new territory as bands like Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, and the Red Chord have, their success is still well-deserved. They’ve perfected workmanlike metal to a science, and Sacrament will only make this band even bigger.