Lamb of God

Ashes of the Wake

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Come now, let us all genuflect before Lamb of God, for to them we owe our metal souls. In the fat rat-infested, decrepit tenement called Heavy Rock Manor, the Virginia-based shock unit is one of the few groups striving to keep the power on and the hallways clear of gluttonous rap-rock/post-grunge False Marias. Yes, yes, Ashes of the Wake arrives via Epic Records, but this only will inflame the ire of the ignorant. For the rest of us, Lamb's ascendance to the majors melts a little more of the crap rock golden calf. Where previous efforts were fully automatic hot LZs, they were also slightly muddled for the very same reason. They fired in all directions. With Ashes, producer Machine has sharpened the corner of every riff and tightened the turns on classicist metal gallops. Best of all, Randy Blythe's furious yawp is more focused. Rather than simply being another scary voice shouter, Blythe becomes Lamb of God's threshold of pain conduit. "Laid to Rest" begins with his measured statements -- "If there was a single day I could live...I'd trade all the others away" -- flanked by the at-odds guitars of Willie Adler and Mark Morton. But then Blythe unleashes his demonic throat, and the guitars leap over and across one another like basilisks on a prowl for ibex kids. "Hourglass" offers more, its interlocking rhythms and breakdowns harking to the dark lands of Scandinavia. But it doesn't go all the way there. This is American metal, after all, meaning that, in the tradition of Pantera and Poison the Well, large-form grandiosity is sacrificed in favor of a muscularity derived from hardcore and hard living. The aptly named "Omerta" begins with that code's reading. "Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward." It proceeds to stalk slowly into gear, the sound of a wounded man coming after his would-be murderers. "Blood of the Scribe" refits death metal's cadence for a leaner, meaner era; the less than subtle "Now You've Got Something to Die For" offers the kids a new unifying chant, not to mention some spectacularly martial instrumental breaks. Drummer Chris Adler really shines here, with Machine ensuring his snare is a steely bullet fired by viscous double bass gunpowder. Instrumental freaks will swallow the title track whole. Guest soloists Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Chris Poland (Megadeth) each get a taste, alongside Morton and Adler -- their insane fretting sounds like a city exploding. That's what Lamb of God does for us, what it does for metal in the 21st century. With the genre getting clogged by PVC goofs and Alice in Chains impersonators, Lamb of God balances the equation of power, rage, tradition, and craft. It kills the filler.

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