Shadows Fall aside, Lamb of God had to be the most popular band in 2003 that was not signed to a major label. Both Shadows Fall and Lamb of God developed a large underground fan base, but, in 2004, Lamb of God were the only band to jump to the major leagues.
When some bands get signed to a major label, they are forced to add more melody to their music or make radio-friendly songs to help boost album sales (some would argue this happened to AFI). Some bands (i.e. Pantera–who ditched hair metal) end up changing their sound entirely. Still more bands take advantage of the label’s big budget and production, thus making the new C.D. very polished and expensive (like Korn’s “Untouchables.”) When Lamb of God inked a major record deal, they definitely did NOT do either of the first two things (add melody to their music or completely change their sound), and they only partially did the third (take advantage of the label’s production).
I believe Sony’s mixing and production have made appearances on 2004’s “Ashes of the Wake.” The result is an improved quality of vocals. On “As the Palaces Burn,” the guitars and drums were louder than the vocals, thus pushing frontman Randy Blythe to the back or the middle of the wall of sound. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that album (I thought it was one of the best of 2003,) but on these songs, Blythe’s vocals are level with the guitars and drums. Plus (I don’t know if I should credit the production with this or not, but) Blythe’s vocals are more interesting and diverse on this album. He still sounds like Cookie Monster most of the time, but here his voice fluctuates and has more than one tone. In addition to some ascending and descending yells, he shrieks, growls, and even calmly mutters an occasional spoken word.
It’s a good thing that the vocals are more clear, because these lyrics are meaningful and somewhat intelligent. Randy bashes the President (even though he never name drops George Bush), war, government lies and hypocrisy, and corporations.
“As the Palaces Burn” may have been just a bit more raw sounding than this album, but this does not sound over polished by any means (something overproduction often does). Also, “Ashes of the Wake” doesn’t forfeit any of the brutality that Lamb of God have made a name for themselves with. This C.D. is nothing short of 43 minutes of non-stop, intense, barely controlled and often brutal chaos. This quintet are the five most pissed off musicians to ever come from Virginia…and they’re not afraid to show it. Guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton rip through each song with one fiery and crunchy guitar riff after another, and Randy belts out some ferocious death metal vocals. Meanwhile, drummer Chris Adler, who is at the root of the attack, goes from killer machine gun blasts to slow chugs (and often he does that in the same song). But this album isn’t all brawn and no brains; most of these songs are full of several different rhythms and tempo/beat changes.
“Laid to Rest,” is the opening track and the first single. Very fast, chugging riffs-which echo Pantera and Testament-run throughout this whole song, and, after the beginning spoken words, the vocals change to patented Randy Blythe vocals. The bridge near the end is a good tempo change, with bobbing riffs.
“Hourglass” has more fiery riffs, thumping snare drums, and a double bass which almost sounds like shots from a distant cannon. About twenty seconds in, the catchy beat pauses briefly, and Randy barks “Privilege the chosen view” a capella. This song continues to plow along, but it has subtle speed changes and, around the three minutes in, it becomes a stop-start rhythm.
“Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” is a lot speedier than tracks one and two. The beginning is a speedy groove with churning riffs, until the 50 second mark when a speed change kicks in and slows things down. The mid-section is a pounding rhythm with an ascending bellow, and the following verse has more fast chugging riffs. This song (particularly the chorus) is so catchy, it rings in your ears and rattles around your head forever.
“The Faded Line” begins by playing slower, rhythmic riffs over double kick drums. There’s a creepy sounding guitar solo in this song, as well as a stop-start beat; but this song is a highlight because of the great, polyrhythmic drumming and ending shriek that Blythe lets out. (It sounds like he burned himself on a tea kettle.)
“Omerta” means “honor” in Italian. This song (track five) begins with a spoken word about “the rule of honor” (which I believe means, essentially, “kill or be killed.”) It turns to a chugging beat with rhythmic riffs. Then, around the middle of the song, only one guitarist is playing (and is only audible in one headphone), but the drums and the other guitar kick in, and the song builds and gains density. Meanwhile, Randy is spouting lines like “A slip of the tongue, a slit of the throat…”
“Blood of the Scribe” is probably the song on this record with the most and the best tempo changes.
“One Gun” has another shriek, a running beat with pounding drums, and two mini guitar solos.
“Break You” has some more steam-rolling riffs, but this song is a highlight because part of it has high pitched shrieks which remind me of “New American Gospel.” A nice breakdown near the end, too, with bobbing riffs.
“What I’ve Become” opens with another running beat, with fast, interlocking riffs. About two and a half minutes in, the riffs become bobbing, then they seem to almost trade off riffs (take turns). And, around 2:55, Randy lets out a high, long yell, which lasts nearly ten seconds.
“Ashes of the Wake” is a personal favorite. The beginning and end of this song features a voice from what sounds like a CNN report, but this track is mostly an instrumental. It features some more complex, multi-limbed drumming, but the real highlight is the guest guitar work by ex-Megadeth axeman Chris Poland and Testament’s Alex Skolnick. They lay down a combined total of five short but sweet guitar solos. (The fourth solo, which winds and bends, is probably my favorite of the bunch.)
The only relief comes with the ending track, “Remorse is for the Dead.” This song’s light intro, which is soft, dwindling guitar chords, is so surprising, it’s almost shocking. Don’t fear, however, this song abruptly changes gears and goes full blast with the typical knock-out assault and staccato, stop-start riffing.
Some say that the whole album plows along at one speed, but I disagree. I can see how the first time listener would think this, but Chris Adler’s aforementioned ability to switch from machine gun attacks to slow chugs makes this album full of beat and tempo changes. Plus, such songs as “Laid to Rest” are mid-tempo compared to other numbers, like “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For.” And even if these songs were all one speed, this album wouldn’t be the first to be like that. That’s the way thrash-metal is! If you don’t believe me, you haven’t heard Megadeth’s classic “Rust in Peace.”
It may also appear to the first time listener that this C.D. is monotonous. But if you listen to their C.D.’s more than once, I guarantee it will grow on you and become very addicting. I used to think their music needed some texture and maybe even a little melody. Well, for this album, Lamb of God added texture by making the vocals more diverse. And melody? If they added melody to their songs (i.e. make the verses heavy and the choruses melodic, or vise versa), they would be just like any other popular metal band right now. The constant heaviness, plus the persistent double bass drumming and Cookie Monster vocals, make this band stand out from other New Wave of American Heavy Metal bands.
The only flaw I can find in this album is that Randy Blythe’s vocals are very one-dimensional. He is constantly angry (that’s the only emotion he uses). Other than that, this C.D. is perfect, from front to back. This is essential listening for fans of thrash, metalcore, New Wave of American Heavy Metal, death metal, and/or fans who are new to those genres. Actually, it’s essential listening for any metalhead! If enjoy any kind of heavy music (except rap-core), you should find “Ashes of the Wake” to your liking.
In conclusion, this is a great album, easily one of the best of 2004, and Lamb of God are one of the few bands who jumped to a major label without selling out. “Ashes of the Wake” proves they are still as catchy, contagious, addictive, brutal, and all around great as they ever were. This is about as good as metal gets.