Time has a funny way of playing tricks on us. Something we see so clearly in the present subtly shifts and warps and changes hues over time until, years later, we see that very thing in a wholly different context. In 2015, when Lamb Of God released their magnificent seventh album, VII: Sturm Und Drang, it was heralded as both a comeback and a show of strength. And yet today, in the shadow of their eponymously titled new album, VII… appears somewhat different – as a meticulously chiselled headstone marking the final days of an era. And the new record? Call it a rebirth, a coronation or just a fantastic goddamned album, but it’s clear that with Lamb Of God, the American legends have just notched an exhilarating new high point.
On their eighth studio campaign, all of those groove/death/thrash underpinnings of the classic LOG sound abound, presented in a thrilling new way that still recalls the chest-pounding brutality of 2006’s Sacrament. Opener Memento Mori is a wickedly energising track that begins with Mark Morton’s brooding, echo-drenched guitar line, floating like smoke around Randy Blythe’s portentous vocals; think Mark Lanegan at his bleakest. Then, with his vitriolic roar of ‘Wake uuuuuup!’ – it all kicks off in a firestorm of sharp, staccato riffs and the thundering chug of the band’s devastating low end.
From there, Lamb Of God only gathers steam. Checkmate delivers a payload of taut, revved-up tempos, courtesy of one of the tightest rhythm sections in metal history: guitarist Willie Adler, bassist John Campbell and drummer Art Cruz, who joined the band full-time after the departure of Chris Adler. Cruz proves more than equal to the task; on Gears and New Colossal Hate, he negotiates frenetic tempo shifts with dizzying cascades of sweeping, double-kicked polyrhythms.
Released in the wake of Randy’s arrest, trial and acquittal over manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic, VII… showcased a searching, introspective lyricism. Here he’s fully enraged, casting his lacerating attentions upon the splintered political landscape and all of its inherent hypocrisies. In fact, he’s said that “this whole record is political. There’s not a single song about an individual”, but Randy’s increasingly broad range of styles still invest tracks like Bloodshot Eyes with an arresting emotional depth. Lyrically he builds on his keen ability to convert his poignant, razorwire commentary into scorching, arena-sized choruses, as on Resurrection Man and closer On The Hook.
A pair of cameos from Testament frontman Chuck Billy (Routes) and Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta (Poison Dream) dovetail perfectly into the surrounding tracks, rounding out an album that’s entirely devoid of filler.
Timeless metal albums are defined by neither their extremity nor their speed; like all great music, music that spans decades is anchored in great songwriting, stupidly addictive hooks and lyrics that resonate on a cellular level. These elements permeate virtually every track here. With Sacrament, the band first hinted at their potential to sit amongst the most important names on the metal pantheon. With Lamb Of God, that promise is fulfilled.