At this stage in their career, Lamb of God can pretty much do what they want, when they want. And the Virginianatives have found a winning formula with their sound, which has been honed over nearly thirty years since they began life as Burn The Priest. Since the name change at the beginning of the millennium, Lamb of Godhave proven themselves as one of the premier contemporary metal bands, progressing from their earlier more death metal style, into the kings of modern groove metal, which has seen multiple Grammy nominations and some almighty tours including this year’s monster outing with Megadeth, Trivium and In Flames, which they are about to follow up with the likes of Killswitch Engage, Baroness, Spiritboxand Suicide Silence in support. (Read our reviews here and here).
At the start of 2003 there was a rumbling in the underground that would reshape the musical landscape for the next generation. Lamb of God was coming off of their brutal New American Gospel (Prosthetic) album after transition from their debut album as Burn The Priest. Ears were not prepared for As The Palaces Burn (also Prosthetic), which smashed expectations and brought the band an army of fans that that are still passionate about them today.
About halfway through Lamb of God’s magnificent new album, Sturm Und Drang (Epic/Nuclear Blast) vocalist Randy Blythe screams into the microphone: “How the FUCK did you think this would end?!” It’s both a question and a statement of defiance, summing up five years that have been nothing less than challenging for this band.
You’ve all read about Mr Blythe’s trials and tribulations; I won’t waste space going into them yet again but surely there must have been points when the band must have wondered how it all might end – fearing that they might never make any record ever again. That they have returned and delivered an album this ferocious, this energised, this brilliant, is utterly remarkable and testimony to a sense of collective tenacity and drive that can only be admired.
Suffice to say, there is an air of valediction surrounding Sturm Und Drang. They are right to feel valediction too: this is a quite brilliant record, their most ferocious since As The Palaces Burn (Prosthetic/Epic) and, in all probability, the best thing they have ever done. Scratch that: there’s no “probability” at all – it’s their best record. Period.
There are so many things to get excited about: the song-writing has never been stronger and the musicianship a veritable showcase of individual and collective talent. Whether you opt for Chris Adler’s drumming, Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s astonishing gifts for killer riffs, John Campbell’s hypnotic, rumbling basslines or Blythe’s vocals (is there anyone who sounds more metal than him? That’s correct, there isn’t) it scarcely matters: on this record, the band haven’t just upped their game, they have decided to change it altogether.
From the scabrous and infectious opening of ‘Still Echoes’ which erupts like a line of aural hand grenades in your head, it is clear that Lamb of God aren’t content with throwing down the gauntlet, they are throwing down every gauntlet ever made. It is an instant classic, a song to cheer to the rafters and to howl along with in the circle pits. It is breathless and brilliant.
Lamb of God, photo credit – Travis Shinn
And so it continues: ‘Erase This’ pummels you into submission, a neck cracking riff allied to a chant along chorus line are terrific ingredients to blend together and the sonic cocktail they have conjured here is deeply intoxicating. It’s hardly a surprise that Blythe references the challenging times he has been through. On the blistering and belligerent ‘512’ (the cell number that Blythe occupied during his incarceration in the Czech Republic) we are treated to a deeply personal insight into the vocalist’s sense of outrage at the injustice he suffered; you get the sense that Blythe is straining every sinew as he spits out the lyrics with venomous bile. It’s an extraordinary display backed by a relentless band performance.
Lamb of God are not a band you’d readily associate with ballads but on ‘Overlord’, a song that has echoes of Alice in Chains, we see Blythe turn in a clean, nuanced and, ultimately, powerfully affecting performance. The song’s ambition is more than matched by the band’s ability to execute and it positively radiates.
It’s not just the massive riffs or the killer tunes that you warm to on Sturm Und Drang, although they are here in abundance: ‘Anthropoid’ and ‘Footprints’ are two further effortless examples in how to write killer heavy metal songs. What equally impresses on this record is the creativity and detail that has been taken. For example, when Deftones’Chino Moreno makes a startling and very welcome appearance on the exquisite ‘Embers’ it sounds so right, so appropriate that you wonder why they hadn’t tried it before; similarly, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato adds scope, nuance and texture to the album closer, ‘Torches’.
Sturm Und Drang takes all the emotions, frustrations and challenges of the band’s last five years and distills them into an album of relentless, authentic brilliance. It is everything you hoped this band could produce and more. Sturm Und Drang is the most exciting heavy metal album of the year by a country mile.
Virginia’s own Lamb Of God have released their documentary DVD As The Palaces Burn. The two disc set was recorded on the bands Resolution (Reprise) world tour and features interviews with fans, live performances and band interviews. Most of all the DVD features in-depth coverage and fly on the wall footage of Randy Blythe’s manslaughter trial in the Czech Republic which is a must see for any fan of the band.
Press release: LAMB OF GOD’s As The Palaces Burn 2-Disc DVD is Out Today via Epic Records Includes Bonus DVD with Two Hours of Unreleased Making Of Footage & Scenes That Didn’t Make the Film
Get Your Copy Here: www.myplaydirect.com/lamb-of-god
Today marks the release of LAMB OF GOD’s feature-length documentary, As The Palaces Burn, on DVD! The DVD is available today via Epic Records – order your copy here: www.myplaydirect.com/lamb-of-god
A two disc set, the first disc includes the widely praised film, which the New York Daily News calls, “a riveting documentary” and the Huffington Post calls, “fascinating viewing”. The second disc features over two hours of additional, unreleased content – “making of” as well as footage not included in the final cut, plus exclusive material from the original plan for the film, which was to be about LAMB OF GOD’s music’s effect on fans in other cultures.
As the Palaces Burn was released theatrically on February 27, 2014. Originally intending to follow the heavy metal band LAMB OF GOD throughout the world to demonstrate music’s potential to tie culturally diverse fans together, filming for As the Palaces Burn abruptly took a dramatic turn when lead singer Randy Blythe was arrested on charges of manslaughter, and blamed for the death of one of their young fans in the Czech Republic.” What followed was a heart-wrenching courtroom drama that left fans, friends, and curious onlookers around the world on the edge of their seats.
“Music is the only reason why I’m not prison (laughs) or dead, you know? I’m a dude who came from a little redneck town, and I didn’t fit in. It was horrible. Music definitely got me through it.” ~ D. Randall Blythe
In the opening minutes the documentary film As The Palaces Burn, Randy Blythe’s harmless musing about the course of his life was strangely prophetic. The music that got Randy through the toughest part of his young life and certainly brought him fame and glory as an adult, almost certainly cost him his freedom. Originally intended to be a look at Lamb of God fans around the world and their connection to the music, the band was turned upside-down by Randy’s June 2012 arrest and imprisonment in the Czech Republic, for the death of a fan in 2010 that the band was unaware of. As unlikely as this turn of events was for one of the biggest bands in metal, the film is an eye-opening account into the events that unfolded from the case, Randy’s personal struggles, the effect this had on the band both from the trial, and beyond.
Directed by Don Argott (Last Days Here) and produced by his 9.14 Pictures, the film first sees the band at the start of the Resolution (Epic) album cycle a touched on the last few years of the band, and the changes brought about by Randy’s (at the time) new-found sobriety. Although certainly not alone in the partying mode, Randy’s antics when drunk, seen many times in the past in the bands DVD’s, was singled out as a derisive force. On the flip side since undergoing a change in life due to sobriety, everyone one around the band marveled at the shift in his personality. Randy himself gave a confessional account of nearly having a nervous breakdown and not knowing how to deal with a sober life, until overtime he learned to cope and live his life freely. If the film stopped right there, it would still be a surprising, candid film, that few bands, metal or not, have ever made.
Early in the film the the focus was on Oscar from Columbia and Pratika from India, and the ways they connected to he bands music and a little look into the life of each fan at a LoG concert. Then the film shifts radically from Randy’s arrest at the airport in Prague, and his following imprisonment and eventual release. Band members like Mark Morton. Willie Adler, and Chris Adler talk at length about growing together, but often being at odds despite the common goals they share. Still, nothing will prepare you for seeing the band greet Randy at the the airport in Richmond, Virginia following his release from prison. It is a tear-inducing moment of anxiety and relief seen on screen by the band, and for the viewer. At the same time, some of the grief they share only intensifies throughout Randy’s voluntary return to Prague to stand trial for manslaughter. Through it all Randy was humble, and deeply stricken by the pain of the death of a fan of his, for the victim’s family, as well as himself, even though he was innocent. He still carries a heavy burden that has changed his life, even with the positive outcome of the trial.
The film’s access inside the proceedings and preparations with Blythe’s team of lawyers and the courtroom is a revealing look at legal systems abroad, and for those who deride the American system of justice, I’d say we have it pretty good here. Although Randy was exonerated of all the charges, the fact remains that Daniel Nosek, a 19-year-old fan of the band died following a Lamb of God show, and his family must cope with the loss somehow for the rest of their life. No matter how much you support the band, the film goes to great length to express the sorrow at the loss of life by this young man, and their hope is that Daniel is not forgotten through all of this.
Fans will come away from watching this film with a lot of mixed emotions about the band. To a man, the entire organization around LoG were all very supportive of their front man through his ordeal. However, the band is clearly far from close friends anymore. Certainly each member, and Randy, had to reconcile the possible loss of their careers and livelihood from the case had Randy been convicted and served any length of prison sentence. It is of note that while the film is clearly sympathetic to the plight of the singer and his band, it pulls no punches of the realty of a group of guys who have always have an uneasy alliance as friends, sober or not. Like most bands of their stature, there is a lot less of a brotherhood than the fans may want to believe. As LoG approaches middle age and veteran act status, they have grown up, and also grown apart with expanding families and other interests in their life trumping the chaos and mayhem of the killing road of metal music.
As The Palaces Burn is a film unlike any other, about a unique band who went through an experience that hopefully, never happens again. It’s a great film with some amazing cinematography and editing. Argott proves again to be a masterful story teller and the many emotional moments in the film are augmented by Mark Morton’s sparse score, full of his interesting guitar work. Those seeing the theatrical version will see a special Q & A the band did with Eddie Trunk about the film.
My love of Lamb of God comes with one gripe – the production jobs on their first two records. I spent a lot of time adjusting equalizer settings trying to round out the tinny guitar tones from Mark Morton and Willie Adler, find John Campbell‘s bass while not upping the ante with Chris Adler‘s thumping kick drums, and accepting the fact that Randy Blythe‘s vocals were tucked a little too far back into the mix. I was excited in 2003 when As the Palaces Burn (Razor & Tie/Prosthetic) came out as the production was handled by Devin Townsend, who I greatly admire as a writer, musician and producer. Unfortunately, yet again, the production was a disappointment. It sounded as though it was recorded under a blanket, with the drums too far upfront, the guitars sounding more colicky baby than crunching, vocals struggling to get on top, and the bass – yet again – getting the Jason Newsted circa …And Justice for All treatment. Bummer.
Thankfully, LoG has released a reissue of As the Palaces Burn (Prosthetic/Razor & Tie) in November, 2013, and it is definitely an improvement. The tracks were remixed and remastered, resulting in a big, crisp overall sound. The blanket has come off, so it sounds punchier and louder with a more balanced mix. It does not appear that the band members’ individual sounds have been tampered with very much. However, the shrillness on the top end has been dialed back with a tad more mids, and volume-wise they appear to have been kicked up in the mix. Blythe’s vocal placement in the mix is more forward as well. It is still a bit tucked, but definitely more upfront. The biggest change is in the rhythm section. Bassist Campbell is easier to pick out than in the original recording, but he is still blotted out by the suns that are Chris Adler’s kick drums. I have always felt that the key to a great LoG production job was to find a tone and a frequency Campbell could exist in that would not clash with Adler’s bass drums, and they have seemed to have worked that out on later recordings. For this reissue, though, it is as good as its going to get for Campbell sonically. Helping him be more of a presence is the scaling back of the drums in general, which are placed much better in the mix and sound tighter overall. I would say my only gripe with the remix is Adler’s snare sound, as it seems to be the one thing that was not improved with everything else. To this listener, it begs to be louder and with more snap, but at least the record sounds more like a band than a drum clinic with sidemen. I have to note that I was fortunate enough to go to a Chris Adler drum clinic a few years back, and he admitted that during the band’s early recording days a combination of insecurity and ego got in the way and perhaps the production may have suffered. As a fan who sees Chris as the leader of LoG, hearing him say that made sense of some of the mixing decisions made, and may well have impacted Devin Townsend’s production job on the original ATPB recording.
Besides the remixing and the remastering there are three unreleased demo versions of ‘Ruin’, ‘As the Palaces Burn’ and ‘Blood Junkie’. Other than sounding like, well, demos, they really aren’t bringing much to the party, and none of them vary from the originals as far as arrangement. Maybe the band felt they had to put other things on the release to make it special, but I would have been fine without them.
If you are a LoG fan that loves seeing their older releases get the remix and remaster treatment then you will enjoy this very much. It was great to listen to that album from front to back with a more sonically powerful mix and master, but with just enough polish to present the songs – and the band – as the top notch metal machine they are.