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Originally written for The Riff Repository (http://riffrepository.awardspace.com/)
As of late, Lamb of God have been receiving lots of accolades and have become one of the darling children of the modern extreme metal scene. At first, I thought it was a lot of hype. I didn't particularly care for the raw production and banshee-like screams of Randy Blythe on my casual listens to the New American Gospel. As the Palaces Burn was a slightly better experience, with improved vocal work.
And then I listened to Ashes of the Wake.
Although they have been dubbed part of the "New Wave of American Heavy Metal", which seems to have exclusively metalcore connotations to it, Lamb of God pick up where Pantera left off with a very groove-heavy take on thrash. While many people will claim that Ashes of the Wake offers little from it's predecessor and in fact claim that LoG are showing signs of losing what makes them original, I beg to differ. Metal elitists need to get off of their high horses and admit that just because music becomes more palatable to the ear does not necessarily mean a loss of heaviness or indicate signs of sell-outage. Quite the contrary.
The first two things that stood out at me about this album from it's predecessors made it single-handedly my favorite Lamb of God album and the album that got me into the band: top-notch production and a considerably more refined vocal style. Unlike on the previous albums, which features a somewhat muddied, soft, and "tinny" production, this album is possibly one of the best-produced metal albums this side of prog. metal. Everything is mixed extremely well with the dry, crunchy guitars being hammered in place by the distinctive ride cymbal bell and snare and bass drums. As well, on this record, Randy Blythe really shows evolution as an actual singer. Rather than using an exclusively unintelligible banshee squeal as on the prior works, Bltyhe opts for a more discernable, raspy singing approach. Some of the old shrieks, growls, and screams make cameos, but they now act more effectively as accents.
And the music? Fuck, this album never lets up with the infectious, dry, palm-muted riffs of guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton. There's little else that can be said other than the riffage on this record never lets up. You can't help but bang your head to the "chunk-chunk-chunk" on basically every track. However, while the riffing makes every song extremely solid and consistent, it also does little to distinguish one song from the other. Added to the fact that conventional leads and guitar solos are few and far between, this proves to be Ashes's weakness as well as its strength. Sure, their are standout tracks like "Laid to Rest", "Omerta" (both of which have spoken-verse intros), and "The Faded Line", it sometimes becomes difficult to really remember certain songs. Don't get me wrong; the guitarists of Lamb of God are extremely talented and, like the rest of the band, extremely tight. However, this album would've received an 100% on musicianship if their was a bit more lead-work.
Most of the time, I find metal drummers to be more or less the same. They're all pretty much "competent" musicians, but few stand out from the pack to me to the point where I really appreciate their work (Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater comes to mind). Chris Adler is one of those drummers I was talking about - much more than just "competent" and actually creative. His work on Ashes (and previous albums) is superb. Yes, the man uses and incredible amount of double bass, but to good effect. Instead of doing the traditional death/thrash patterns or hardcore breakdowns, Adler goes out of his way to mix up the bass drum patterns, adding syncopation and weaving in and around the guitars. At no point is the drumming overbearing - blast beats being an extremely rare occurrence. Chris' playing is incredibly smooth and tight; almost machine-like. If the riffs are like a sheet of metal, Chris' drumming is the nails that hammer it down.
Is this album innovative? No, not particularly. Is this album enjoyable and heavy-as-fuck? Oh yes. The band is extremely tight and remains an extreme metal band, but have taken huge strides in making their music both heavy and catchy at the same time. There are few albums that I can listen to over and over again from start to finish without skipping a track. Can I remember many of the tracks from the rest? No, not especially. Is every track consistent and solid? Most definitely. Ashes of the Wake is an incredibly catchy hybrid of groove and thrashyness. Highly recommended.