LAMB OF GOD’S WRATH COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER
Wrath, Lamb of God’s highly anticipated new album, opens with a track entitled “The Passing,” which has to be one of the best soft intros ever not written by Metallica in the 80s, before exploding with a typically rockin’ riff on the first real song, “In Your Words.” It’s a rousing start, and one which might lead the listener to think that Wrath is gonna be another winner from one of the American New Wave’s most popular and widely adored bands.
And then something strange happens: you wait for a chorus that never really arrives.
In point of fact, “In Your Words” has a chorus – sort of – but it’s not really memorable. And while there’s certainly no rule that says all music must have a chorus, let’s be real – LoG aren’t some experimental metal band. There’s no indication that Wrath intends to be experimental; this is a band that is beholden to the verse-chorus-verse structure of pop songwriting, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except that song after song – “In Your Words,” “Grace,” “Fake Messiah,” etc. – all have weak or practically non-existent choruses. It makes the songs feel like a series of plateaus, a string of riffs and breakdowns in search of structure. Even songs that have bigger, more obvious choruses, like “Broken Hands,” just aren’t quite as infectious as the anthems of LoG’s past.
The bizarre approach to the songwriting on Wrath isn’t the only odd thing about this record. Sacrament announced lead guitarist Mark Morton as one of the premiere guitar heroes of his generation; the solos on that album were bluesy, soulful, and still somehow metal as fuck, as though Morton were channeling No More Tears-era Zakk Wylde – but there are very few solos on this album (and the ones that are there are pretty bare bones and not all that spectacular). What the fuck kind of decision was that? It’s like letting the world know that Kirk Hammet is an awesome guitar player, and then releasing a Metallica album with no guitar solos (oh wait).
I don’t mean to piss on LoG’s parade; I’m making it sound as though Wrath is some kind of calamity, which it’s not. For one thing, the band hasn’t lost their talent for writing monstrous riffs, which they provide here again and again, and drummer Chris Adler is still pretty much the shit. Bassist John Campbell seems to be way higher in the mix than he has in the past, too, and that’s a good thing; his parts add a lot of flavor to the proceedings. Sonically, new producer Josh Wilbur is mostly following the game plan of immediate predecessor Machine on Sacrament, although this album is marginally less slick; and while Randy Blythe’s lyrics are, at this point, both pretty much predictable and cliché, his delivery is powerful enough to make it all work. The lines “Black liquid assets/Fuck the mujahideen/Paint their picket fences red/With the American dream” may be kinda silly, but Blythe’s natural cadences – the way the words roll of his tongue – have an awful lot of oomph behind them. There’s also at least one song – seven minute album closer “Reclamation” – that does truly, absolutely kick ass, and stands up with the band’s best work (Meanwhile, two b-sides, “We Die Alone” and “Shoulder of Your God,” are actually superior to several of the songs that made the final cut. Why these tracks didn’t make it onto the album proper is yet another of Wrath‘s many head scratchers.)
What the listener is left with, then, is an album that rocks and is certainly enjoyable, but isn’t especially memorable. That might not seem like such a big deal coming from a lesser band, but this Lamb of Fucking God, fer Chrissakes; they’re supposed to be the premiere American metal band of the 21st century. Wrath isn’t a blight on their discography by any means, but it is their weakest album to date – a record that’s good when it could have been great.
(3 ½ out of 5 horns)