The 100 greatest albums of the 21st century: 5-2

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5) LAMB OF GOD - ASHES OF THE WAKE (2004)

Lamb Of God’s major label debut signalled the dawn of a new era in American metal – and the confirmation of the heirs to Pantera’s throne

‘If there was a single day I could live. A single breath I could take. I’d trade all the others away.’

When Lamb Of God signed to Epic for their third studio album (and no, we’re not counting Burn The Priest’s one-off as a Lamb of God album in this context), many wondered if the Virginians’ savage riffs, ground-shaking grooves and status as the People’s Metal Band would be diluted by the allure of major label cash and that ever-risky Holy Grail of a mainstream-denting hit single. No such bad luck: Ashes Of The Wake landed with all the grace and subtlety of Godzilla on a three-day stag do. Producer Machine gave an extra layer of weight and grit to Messrs Morton and Adler’s battering riffs and Randy Blythe’s snarling, razor-throated vocals, while standout ‘singles’ like Now You’ve Got Something To Die For hung around hooks so visceral they were less likely to be featured on Top Of The Pops than used to drive viking gods out of the very skies themselves. It would launch the band onto an international stage and accelerate their ascent into metal’s upper ranks – though Randy believes it was all part of the grand plan.

“In our career, everything feels like a very slow, very organic climb,” he argues today. “We don’t really see any one moment where things ‘changed’, but Ashes Of The Wake was our first album on a major label and our first with Machine producing, and it was a snapshot of where we were at.”

As Randy explains, having a Big Name metal producer stepping into the ring with a vocalist who was a tad, to say the least, volatile at times, produced a dynamic that he wasn’t entirely ready for – and it pushed him to give one of the performances of his career.

“It was the first time I had had anyone produce my vocals, and it startled me at first,” he admits. “Before, normally it was just someone pressing record, because we’d be on a tight budget or time constraint, but on Ashes…, Machine was very, like, [waves his arms around], ‘Arghhhh!’”

Machine’s Hype Man antics took Randy by surprise initially, but once the two clicked, things started rolling along nicely.

“The first time I recorded vocals with him, I remember he jumped up after I got two lines in and kicked the chair over,” he continues with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What the fuck are you doing, man?!’ He was like fucking [Public Enemy’s] Flavor Flav or something. He’d get really pumped up and throw things and scream at me, and we’d keep getting vocal takes, but then it started really working.”

‘Working’ is an understatement. Ashes Of The Wake went on to become Lamb Of God’s most commercially successful album, putting them on stages around the world and solidifying them as modern metal’s most vital band. And to this day, it still fucking slams.

What we said: “LOG guitarist Mark Morton says, ‘Armageddon needs a heavy metal soundtrack’ and Ashes Of The Wake is a fine album.”

4) SYSTEM OF A DOWN - TOXICITY (2001)

BAND PICK: “The Toxicity album came out when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and I’m getting chills just talking about it now, because I remember hearing and seeing the singles on MTV, and being dumbstruck that heavy, mainstream music could sound like that. It just removed all the borders of music and came in this package of zany, weird-ass, folky metal that I still have trouble accurately describing to people this very day. I just know that it changed people’s view of heavy music, it changed my view of heavy music on television, and it changed my view of all music on television. Everything in that band was groundbreaking.” - MARK HEYLMUN, SUICIDE SILENCE

What we said: “It’s been a long time coming, but this second album is worth the wait. Its contents may sound as mad as a mongoose, but they’re totally moshable.”

3) BRING ME THE HORIZON - SEMPITERNAL (2013)

It was time for everyone to stop laughing. While Suicide Season and There Is A Hell… had taken great strides in winning over their doubters, BMTH took drastic measures for their next step, replacing guitarist Jona Weinhofen with synth wizard Jordan Fish and jumping into the studio with legendary Pantera producer Terry Date. The results were stunning. From the keys-powered opening notes of Can You Feel My Heart, to the final, thunderous crescendo of Hospital For Souls, Sempiternal merged Slipknot-heavy riffs with swathes of atmospheric electronics and unstoppable choruses, as the band finally earned themselves a seat at the heavyweights table.
What we said: “This isn’t simply the best album of BMTH’s career, it’s one of the bets albums of recent times – metal or otherwise.”

2) MACHINE HEAD - THE BLACKENING (2007)

Riding on a wave of confidence inspired, in part, by the success of 2003’s Through The Ashes Of Empires, Machine Head arrived at their sixth studio album as men on a mission to push modern metal as hard as possible. The Blackening stunned everyone. The songs were darker, heavier and, in several cases, much longer. From the snarling sprawl of Clenching The Fists Of Dissent to the cataclysmic melancholy of closer A Farewell To Arms, it was such a brave statement that even the band themselves seemed surprised at its impact. And then there’s Halo: what a song. So fucking heavy.

What we said: “Not only is this the finest album of Machine Head’s career, it is their victory address. We never doubted them, they never doubted us.”

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