As the chaotic decade of the aughts was closing down, metal’s upper echelon of bands was never in better hands. Few bands embodied the changing of the guard like Richmond Virginia’s Lamb of God who ushered in the decade with New American Gospel (Prosthetic) after famously changing their name from Burn The Priest and really reset the bar of possibility for modern, popular metal bands. The upper tier of genre greats were struggling to find themselves, so along with other leaders of the era such as Mastodon, Gojira, Amon Amarth, and Machine Head, LoG spearheaded a new generation. The five albums (and one live album/DVD) the band put down in ten years really each marked their own distinct high point for the band. Wrath (Epic/Roadrunner) arrived with fanfare and expectations higher than ever. Three years after the slickly produced Sacrament, the band was craving the rawer, more direct approach of their earlier albums and went with producer Josh Wilbur at the helm. Of course, their musicianship was never higher and lyrically the album would touch on timeless themes of American politics, religion, fear-mongering, desperation, anger at systematic injustice, addiction, and self-analysis.
Opening with the dramatic instrumental ‘The Passing’, it definitely set an ominous tone for what was to come. ‘In Your Words’ is a worthy first full track and is a brutal slice of classic groove metal. The next two tracks ‘Set To Fail’ and ‘Contractor’ were heavy, emotional blasts full of riffs and bile. They were the two singles off of this album and still make their way into set lists to this day. In a time when a band like Pantera was gone and most of the chief architects of mainstream heavy metal were mostly navel-gazing, it was great to have this band around to remind us about some righteous rage that didn’t devolve into bro-rock or some of the tropes metalcore was suffering from.
‘Fake Messiah’ continues the long tradition of songs the band has attacking religion. The song has a fast thrash tempo and searing guitar work, ‘Grace’ has similar themes, but a bit more musical. The lovely opening instrumentation of picked guitars is the Mark Morton/Willie Adler trademark, before giving way to the punishing licks and beats.
Mid-album track ‘Broken Hands’ is a gem of a deep cut. A bit of a throwback to the bands’ earlier style mixing picked melodic guitars with chopping riffs. The tempo shifts are dizzying and almost the level of good technical death metal. ‘Dead Seeds’ is another nihilist anthem the band has been known for.
‘Everything To Nothing’ is urgent and almost feels very punk for a crusty metal track. Like hardcore on steroids.’Choke Sermon’ is a very busy sounding track with a brief, but tasty solo. The final epic closer ‘Reclamation’ is one of the longs tracks the band has done. Swampy southern rock and blues shifts into brooding chunky chords that dot the track. The grinding beat and the chopping cadence of the closing couplets are an out and out banger, almost a progressive metal track with hints of dissonant black metal in the guitars. A really underrated song in their repertoire. Other versions of the album had bonus tracks such as ‘We Die Alone’, ‘Shoulder of Your God’ are at least worth seeking out for a listen.
The musicianship on Wrath showed a band very confident, but also never overplaying their hand. Early in their career, they were definitely intent on showing the world all their chops and perhaps that was also indicative of their peer group. This record is marked by well-crafted songs, playing for the part and not the flashiest drum fill or solo every time. There is a lot of sweet, sweet guitar licks, meaty bass-tones and tight drumming here from Chris Adler who spent the decade as one of the top metal drummers in the world. As for D. Randall Blythe, it’s one of his best vocal performances, adding slight melodic shades to his gutturals to help enforce themes. Lyrically, he has rarely been better or more focused in his ire. Go back and explore those lyrics to songs like ‘In Your Words’, ‘Fake Messiah’, ‘Dead Seeds’, and the apocalyptic ‘Reclamation’. Genius stuff.
Wrath is not always the top of mind album when discussing Lamb of God’s career, but it was certainly the exclamation point on the decade they owned through and through, cementing their legacy.