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For those about to riff... - 78%

gasmask_colostomy, May 14th, 2015

Ah, Lamb of God. Has anyone ever approached Lamb of God with anything resembling calmness? Fanboys and haters everywhere: surely a band who polarise opinion in such a way should be very special indeed? A band who have an utterly unique and innovative style? Well, those bands tend to be ignored by most people. Lamb of God are no such thing, neither truly unique or innovative, but perhaps, just perhaps, 'Ashes of the Wake' was an important contribution to the heavy metal encyclopaedia, and perhaps there is a reason why this band's entry is so well thumbed.

The first LoG album was shit and had awful production, while the second was a vast improvement and had a medium-good production. This album finally gives the band a sound that plays to their strengths and doesn't leave the guitars feeling lifeless and over-polished, like on the following 'Sacrament'. They sound heavier and more in-your-face here than anywhere else and they do have some decent songs to back them up. There are some bad and uninspired riffs (I'm currently listening to 'Now You've Got Something to Die For' and the first good riff is 2 minutes in) which don't help things very much, since I'm not a big fan of breakdowns or plain, "listen to the heaviness" riffs, but the sound helps those poor moments more than on any other LoG album and lets every band member shine through.

However, there are a fair number of riffs on the album and some of them are pretty good. My tolerance for chug and fill riffs is high and LoG really do excel at this sort of thing, with at least one decent example in each song. The guitarists palm-mute a lot, so they sound quite groovy, yet the fluidity of the fills (tone aside) is reminiscent of a more interesting classic/modern synthesis that should appeal to many different metalheads. There aren't many straight-ahead lead moments on 'Ashes of the Wake', with just a few songs containing solos, including the largely instrumental title track which includes Chris Poland's (ex-Megadeth) contribution. The leads are played well and with some technical skill: I like them a lot, though that might be due to their rarity and the relief they bring from what is otherwise a barrage of slightly samey riffs. The atmospheric leads on 'The Faded Line' are actually the most unusual thing here, especially the flattened tone of that weird melody that crops up. It sounds almost like a wind instrument (I'm thinking didgeridoo) or a drone aircraft or very persistent flatulence - whatever it is, it's a little creepy and cool, although that part never comes to much.

I spent so long talking about the guitarists because they do dominate the album, regardless of Chris Adler's presence on drums. He is, and has been recognised as, a very skilled drummer, yet he doesn't make such a big impact on 'Ashes of the Wake' because the rhythms are actually laid down by the guitars and he can't alter those repetitive patterns with too much of his own creativity. I mean, his fills and beats and general assault are great, but he just doesn't have the flexibility to stand out for long - LoG don't provide those kind of opportunities. The bass also isn't allowed many of its own manoeuvres, since it takes a lot of effort just to keep the guitars in check; however, John Campbell isn't as pointless a presence as he would later become. I leave Randy Blythe for last because I don't know about him. He's got a fairly brutal voice that always sounds somewhat overdriven and in fact does the album both a big favour and a minor disservice by singing with the rhythms and not grabbing all the attention. On that first head, his style is too uniform to warrant being at the forefront of the songs, especially since he has a lot of lyrics for each song; on the second point, because he doesn't create any new patterns, and certainly no new melodies, the music can become rather plain at times if the riffs fail to deliver.

The songs don't leave a lot to choose between them, except for the title track, which is more lead-oriented and unfocused than the others, and 'Now You've Got Something to Die For', which is shitter than the others. I'm a fan of those curious moments on 'The Faded Line' and the dynamics of 'Break You', while the two opening tracks are also worth your time. Perhaps 'Omerta' is too sluggish and chuggy, with a lot of time spent on breakdowns, plus the closer disappoints on the riff front, despite some nice clean moments.

Lamb of God have never done anything hugely revolutionary for metal, though 'Ashes of the Wake' (and arguably the preceding 'As the Palaces Burn') are two solid groove metal albums that pack in the riffs and maintain a high intensity without pandering overtly to the mainstream. Maybe this isn't the most exciting or interesting album to listen to, but it is very satisfying and deserves repeated listens. Sometimes, you know, I'm just hungry for meat and potatoes.