Earlier this year, Lamb Of God guitarist Mark Morton gave Metal Hammer a motherfucking invitation to the studio to talk about ninth album Omens, and he made a big deal about how eclectic it was going to be. “I think every song on the record has its own unique personality,” he said. “They all do very different things.” He’s got a point. Sort of.
Of course, these groove metal heavyweights have never been the most genre-smashing force in the world. Nor have they ever needed to be. Ever since they rebranded from Burn The Priest, their USPs have been the same: scream-along choruses; Mark and Willie Adler laying down intricate licks over slamming snares; and Randy Blythe’s poetically pissed-off lyricism.
But who’s bitching? Lamb Of God’s formula has rocketed them to the farthest heights of the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal. They’ve been Grammy-nominated five times, they’ve supported Slayer all over the globe and they’ve sold more t-shirts than H&M. Probably.
At its outset, though, Omens lives up to Mark’s vows of uniqueness. Lead single Nevermore opens with jagged guitar strums, each one trapped between the chug of fingers crawling at the far end of a fretboard. It’s all a bit Gojira, or perhaps even Imperial Triumphant. Randy also sneaks in the album’s only passage of clean singing: a gravelly blues rock croon that – still, after 22 years – remains criminally underused.
Other tracks have that evolutionary verve as well. Unmask Denial Mechanism and you’ll find a Bad Brains number in metal cosplay. The chords and scurrying drums are as basement hardcore as it gets, all wrapped up so concisely that it must have been inspired by Burn The Priest’s 2018 punk covers album. September Song is a hemisphere away. It spans six minutes with dollops of NOLA-style sludge and, by the end, has flourished to a symphonic post-metal behemoth. It’s easily Omen’s apex.
The seven songs left are territory that’s as familiar to the band as your dog’s shit is to the back garden. That said, they’re nine albums in; Lamb Of God are pretty good at being Lamb Of God by now. Ditch is a smoke-spewing groove machine, while the title track and Vanishing juxtapose one-word refrains with Randy’s reliably astute lyrics. ‘All this rising apathy, it’s growing everyday / I can’t pretend to care about how this will end,’ he roars, lamenting humanity’s indifference towards the climate crisis. Sadly, Ill Designs and Grayscale can’t kick ass anywhere near as hard, charging across the line from familiar to featureless.
So, is Omens the idiosyncratic masterstroke that Mark Morton promised? Almost. It’s a halfway house between what works and some new sparks of experimentation. Its successes make the odd misstep all the more pronounced, but if this is the gateway to new sonic pastures for Lamb Of God, how can you not get excited?