Review: The Tenth Anniversary Edition of Lamb of God’s As the Palaces Burn is a Slam Dunk

  • Axl Rosenberg

Each album, Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe says on the documentary which accompanies the newly remixed and remastered tenth anniversary edition of As the Palaces Burn, “is a picture of a moment in time.” It’s a sentiment with which many metal fans no doubt agree — an album’s flaws can sometimes be a part of its beauty. And that goes double for a record as seminal as Palaces, which was a turning point for both LoG (even Rolling Stone reviewed the album, which seemed even more unlikely then than it does now; a year later, the band was on a major label and overshadowing a good portion of the second stage acts at Ozzfest) and The New Wave of American Heavy Metal. So you couldn’t blame fans for feeling skeptical about a remixed and remastered version of Palaces. I know I was.

Well, you can put that skepticism aside: the tenth anniversary edition of As the Palaces Burn is great. In fact, the only argument for the superiority of what shall heretofore be known as Palaces ’03 is the sentimental one. Working again with Josh Wilbur (who also produced the band’s last two albums, Wrath and Resolution), what Lamb of God have done, essentially, is to take a horrifying monster covered in mud and hose it down to reveal that, sans schmutz, the creature’s teeth and claws are even bigger than you thought.

Everything is now clearer, crisper, and warmer. That might sound like code for “neutered,” but nothing could be further from the truth; on the contrary, the album sounds far more natural now, which gives it that much more bite. Chris Adler’s drums are even more bowel-rattling and intimidating than they were before, and it’s suddenly clear just how much bassist John Campbell (Lamb of God’s unsung hero) contributes to the band’s power. Meanwhile, Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s guitars sound distinct from one another and far less muffled than they did on the original mix. And vast amounts of reverb have been removed from Randy Blythe’s vocals; now it sounds as though the vocalist were standing right beside you, screaming directly into your ear.

All of these improvements will make the listener listen to the album afresh; it’s a whole different experience from Palaces ’03. Songs like  “In Defense of Our Good Name” and “Boot Scraper” no longer sounds like they were recorded in a Porta-Potty, which allows one to focus on the true viciousness and groove of the band’s attack. It no longer feels as though ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland threw his amp down to the bottom of the ocean before performing his fuzzed-out guest solo on “Purified,” and the AWESOME machine gun fire riffage the band is playing behind it now sounds MASSIVE, resulting in the most cathartic, exhilarating twenty seconds of music on the record. “Vigil” — still probably my personal favorite song on Palaces — now emits a vibe even scarier and more melancholy than it did on Palaces ’03. An especially melodious guitar part which used to be in the far background of the mix has been brought way up; the result is like a mix of high Greek tragedy and the synth score for an ’80s slasher flick. You are very likely to achieve orgasm by the time the fast part of the song kicks in.

Of course, it’s the music that matters most, but the aforementioned seventy-minute-long retrospective documentary is one helluva bonus. Directed by longtime collaborator Doug Spangenberg (and not to be confused with the other Lamb of God-centric documentary entitled As the Palaces Burn), the doc is separated into chapters relating to each song on the album; as a result, it feels episodic and somewhat lacks an overreaching narrative arc. But it’s so informative and entertaining that it doesn’t matter. Ten years is enough time for everyone involved in Palaces to be honest, resulting in some fairly incredible admissions (neither Blythe nor Chris Adler liked Mark Morton’s lyrics for the title track initially; producer Devin Townsend didn’t listen to New American Gospel before accepting the job on Palaces, and when he saw the band live for the first time, opening for Mushroomhead, he walked away unconvinced that they were any good). There’s a fair amount of archival footage and photographs, and Wilbur provides a detailed explanation of how the remix came to be, what specifically he did and how he did it, and how supremely aware he was that this whole endeavor could be a terrible mistake. (Hopefully by now he realizes he hit the ball out of the park.)  A portrait of an incredibly stressful learning experience for a young band and a relatively inexperienced and ill-equipped producer, this is the kind of documentary that makes you wanna crank the album the second the closing credits roll.

Preferably you’ll do so with a good pair of headphones. The tenth anniversary edition of this landmark album is both an augmentation of the original release and a great excuse to revisit a modern classic. The Palaces have never burned brighter or hotter.

The tenth anniversary edition of Lamb of God’s As the Palaces Burn comes out November 11 on Prosthetic/Razor & Tie. Watch the video for the remixed version of “Vigil” here and a trailer for the full album here. Pre-order it here.

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