Lamb Of God's Resolution Previewed: Best Metal Of 2012?
, November 21st, 2011 07:52
Toby Cook sets fire to his best of 2011 list and looks forward to 2012 and the release of Lamb Of God's new LP, Resolution
Y'know what? I'm just going to come straight out and say it: 2011 was a piss-poor year for music. Not just metal, but music in general. Yes there were some stunning releases by Mastodon, Machine Head, Megadeth etc., but where were the surprises? The returns to form from previously stuttering masters? The lumbering masses of darkness that as soon as the needle dropped made you feel as if your whole world was contracting into a bolus of anguish? Or the albums so feral they threatened to rip off your limbs and beat you to death with the soggy ends?
Lamb Of God are one of those bands you can almost always rely on to batter you out of any musical funk; one of those rarest of groups whose MO rarely changes, yet their song writing and execution seems to improve with every LP. With a release date set for late January 2012, it might be a bit late to save this year, but baring a monumental, Loutallica-esque error in judgement and delivery it'd take a brave man to bet against Resolution, the Richmond, Virginia based quintet's seventh studio LP, appearing on most discerning metal-head's end of year lists come this time next year.
'Straight For The Sun'
A short intake of breath and then a scream that sounds like a hurricane of fire and sulphur accompanies a descending almost sludge riff that lurches unwillingly forward, driven on by the whip-lash of symbols and brutally metronomic drum work; If there's a better way to kick off a metal album, I haven't heard it. As the verse arrives, the muted power chords appear and as Randy Blythe growls “set me straight for the sun”, you can't help but sense he's being dragged up a pyramid for sacrifice rather than boarding some trans-astral space craft. Then, as the slow reverberation of the final chord dies, it's a splashy, tribal drum fill that leads seamlessly into…
More instantly recognisable Lamb Of God fare, reminiscent of Wrath's 'In your Words' – a jagged, stop-start power chord sequence thunders over a thrash tainted riff before, once again, Blythe's guttural roar reigns the group into an impenetrable ball of barely contained chaos, largely held together by the incessant kick-drum work of Chris Adler. Lamb Of God aren't known as one's for unnecessarily fucking around with their formula, yet the brief and remarkably subtle, Van Halen-ish solo after the first chorus – however low in the mix it may be – maybe hints at a flirting expansion of their sound?
Is that an acoustic guitar? Yes, yes it is – and it's hammering out an intro so blues-y you can almost smell the rye whisky and barbecued meat seeping out of the stereo before the same riff is continued they way it should be (through a Marshall stack!) accompanied by more of Adler's signature complex-yet-direct drumming. It's not until around the three minute mark that Mark Morton get's his first solo, but is a killer: 30 seconds of sweet-picking, classic rock tinged fret wankery, right to the point that Blythe's spleen collapses while yelling “there's no one left to save”.
Fuck intros; exploding like a pipe bomb it's straight in with the blast-beats, frantic death metal riffing and bellowed vocals. This is what the phrase 'constant battery' was invented for: three and a half minutes of high-tempo metal made for nothing other than headbanging. Lamb Of God had stated in interviews prior to completion of Resolution that they felt the album's overall sound harked back to earlier efforts such as As The Palaces Burn, and 'Guilty' is the most obvious example of that so far.
Lamb Of God have never made any secret the level of influence on them of seminal Swedish death metal progenitors At The Gates, but it's been a while since they've come out with a track that so obviously displays this influence – once you hear that lead guitar line you'll know what I'm talking about. That said, this is no mere homage and is as driving and anguished as you'd expect, and much in the vein of their most well known track 'Redneck'. As the track progresses to Morton's near-epic solo – complete with suitably excessive tremolo-arm abuse, sweet-picking and pinched harmonics all the way up your ass – it appears to fade out before coming back even heavier, and even sees Blythe performing some vocal porridging.
'The Number Six'
Still as heavy and as pleasant as getting a nail bomb enema from a homeless clown, the deceptively cleverly titled 'The Number Six' (sixth track, numerous references to grave digging; 6,6,6, yeah!? Or perhaps I'm over thinking it?), marks the first elements of melody to appear in the contrasting guitar lines during the chorus. Just over two minutes in, however, things break down into a minimal guitar and drum break that lurks somewhere in the no man's land between Pantera and Meshuggah when exploring similar areas, with Blythe's hushed, spoken vocals eerily reminiscent of Phil Anselmo's during tracks like 'Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills' – after which things build to an epic creschedo.
A brooding, repeated acoustic riff, backed by the squeals of feedback-drenched harmonics and the occasional, pitch-bent note signals a brief respite from the proceeding 25minutes of brutality. Given it's obvious Pantera-esque leanings the temptation is to dismiss it as mere filler, but it isn't, it's totally necessary, and provides an emotional weight not always apparent – it's a tool all too many a metal band ignore: Contrast, much like Iommi's interludes during Master Of Reality.
The familiar squeal of feed back once again launches us into the track proper; benefiting from the relaxed atmospherics of the previous track the groove heavy main riff might just be the heaviest so far and once again showcases LOG's supreme ability to perfectly straddle the groove/death divide. Although far from the most complex track the comparative simplicity – couple with a frankly insane, fret burning solo – actually make it an album highlight.
With its immediate, counted in start and d-beat leaning drum pattern the fist and overriding thought is that this is what Pantera would sound like covering Skitsystem – which is in no way a bad thing. At just over two and a half minutes is the shortest 'proper' track on the LP, but it's shit-kicking throughout. However, it never really goes anywhere and alarmingly it feels a little bit like filler, despite the fact that Blythe once again shows just how versatile a vocalist he is – when it come to roaring like Predator trapped down a well that is.
A stirring, emotive harmonic guitar riff again shows the variety the band are capable of – whilst sticking within the death/groove formula of course. Underneath the intense, oppressive rhythm section, very low in the mix, lurks a slow, plucked chord progression and comparatively softly sung/spoken lyrics, whilst the track gradually builds like coming up on whatever it is that metal-heads take instead of Ecstasy – Krokodil or something – climaxing in a return to the epic harmonic progression that brought us in, only louder. Lamb Of God have approached political issues in the past – notably on 2004's Ashes Of The Wake and given the tracks title this feels like another veiled expression of their politics, especially given the vaguely Eastern feel to the harmonic riff. And not to mention the albums cover art that calls to mind the news images of burning oil fields that have become so representative of the first Gulf War.
Starting in a similar vein earlier track 'Desolation', with its stuttering rhythm section laying over, in this case, an almost (say it very, very quietly) metalcore lead guitar line. It doesn't stay that way for long though; as the middle section arrives, pulling in a piece of pretty much every musical area explored by the band, despite its continued heaviness, it again feels ill thought out; you wonder if the track title is perhaps an in-joke, and it all becomes a little, well bland – even the breakdown, as Neolithic in its brutality as it is, comes across as mainly being an excuse for Adler to show just how good a drummer he is. In fairness though, he is really fucking good, and really fucking fast.
'To The End'
Much more like it: back to the grooves, back to the excessive use of pinched harmonics. In fact, crazy as it seems, the immediate thought here is that this is what Guns 'N' Roses could have sounded like if they became a metal band, rather than an ego maniac's cock rock vanity project – huge blues riffs abound, the type that pretty much command you to headband and barbecue the shit out of some meat. Again though, despite yet another killer solo from Morton, the track descends in to rather standard LOG fare and, it truth, could probably have served better purpose as one of those 'added incentive bonus tracks'. Shame.
And insanely fast, palm muted, almost thrash riff rips open the track before more contrasting, melodic guitar lines add a sense of unease during the chorus with Blythe now going for a harsher, more hardcore 'yelp' approach with his vocal delivery. One the more emotionally charged tracks so far, this hasn't stopped Morton coming up with one of his best solos on the album – y'know the type, where all it makes you do is want to grab a broom and throw some serious air-guitar poses in front of your mirror; yeah, one of those.
Clean, brooding guitars lead us into Resolution's final track. Low in the mix there's and almost choir-like vocal line, as Blythe once again delivers his line in a hushed spoken tone that again recalls Pantera until… Wait, is that… It is! That's and orchestra! And it works, it really, really works! The track erupts into an epic four chord refrain backed by what certainly sounds like a full orchestra before – after a brief return to the brooding intro – it violently spasms into the sort of deranged riffing that could almost be compared to Destroy, Erase, Improve era Meshuggah, before which seamlessly moving back into orchestral epicness once more. LOG have a history of using the last track of an album to experiment and confound a portion of their listeners but the addition of an orchestra, on paper, seems like a huge gamble and it's testament to a band that have reached a level of proficiency and status that not only have they attempted it, but that it's paid off big time, saving as it does a rather patchy last third of the album.
It's perhaps not quite the magnum opus that the first portion of the record promised, but the scope of tracks like 'King Me', and the brutalism of the likes of 'Straight For The Sun' and 'Guilty' mean that, honestly, it's hard to see many metal records bettering Resolution next year.