Lamb of God might go down as one of the most important metal groups of all time. Which other band delivered the death blow to the disaster of nu metal in the early 2000s and paved the way for the rebirth of thrash metal? They filled the void left by Pantera in 2004 with the release of their seminal Ashes of the Wake album and brought the chunky alt-picking riffs back into the mainstream consciousness once again. You can hear their influence on contemporary bands such as Jinjer, Bleed from Within and Whitechapel, and you’ll always see a wave of Lamb of God t-shirts at every metal festival. In frontman, Randy Blythe, they have one of the most imitated vocalists of the last two decades, with just about every metalcore band formed in 2005 indebted to his powerful roar. So why does album number nine feel like a walk in the park rather than a smash over the head?
Omens is the record that would have appeared in 2024 if Covid-19 had not scuppered Lamb of God’s plans to tour their 2020 self-titled LP. Faced with quarantine, they took one look at the inertia of the global economy and the ruination of their industry and decided to focus their energy on writing a new record. The fanbase will feel their eyes glisten at the crispy metallic offering of opener, ‘Nevermore’, and those aware of only a handful of the group’s more famous singles will see no reason to disagree with them. This is vintage Lamb of God – titanium riffs, thundering bass, mechanistic double-kick drums grooves, animated vocals. The lyrics read like a bleak future imagined by Cormac McCarthy. “The ghosts that built this city scream/ Of commerce and inhumanity/ Cancer rides the freeway’s edge/ Falling statues and cigarettes.” They played it at this year’s Bloodstock festival, and it’s already an instant classic.
The main problem with Omens is its predictability. ‘Vanishing’ blurs the line between thrash and groove metal but sounds like an innocuous song from any of their previous albums. You’ll struggle to see the title track and ‘Ill Designs’ as anything other than a Pantera tribute. We’ve heard the extravagant pentatonic tags at the end of each riff a million times before. There’s nothing wrong with the full package on ‘To the Grave’, but there’s nothing exhilarating either. Would we be happy if the new Machine Head album settled into such a comfortable formula? The answer is no. “There’s a war going on inside my head,” roars Randy on ‘Grayscale’. Cue the southern fried guitar patterns and crunchy palm-muting – all invigorating in 2004, but this is 2022, and this music comes easy to the band – perhaps too easy.
Despite the misgivings, it’s hard to dislike this record. Lamb of God do the sensible thing and give the fans what they want. And who doesn’t like this form of aggressive groove metal wrapped in the colossal rasp of their iconic frontman? ‘Ditch’ and ‘Gomorrah’ will be welcome additions to their live set. Indeed, the latter’s inventive use of Phrygian scale passages and syncopated chugs reminds you that their two guitarists can mix it with the best when it comes to creativity. In ‘Denial Mechanism’, the deliver a genuine hardcore knockout, and you can tell Randy enjoys this more than any other song. A few more surprises like this would enhance this record and give it a higher standing in the band’s discography.
We’ll always be grateful for the role Lamb of God played in making mainstream metal heavy once again, but Omens is the sound of a band using the same formula from the early 2000s in an era that demands change.
Release Date: 07/10/2022
Record Label: Epic Records / Nuclear Blast
Standout tracks: Nevermore, Gomorrah, Denial Mechanism
Suggested Further Listening: Prong – Carved into Stone (2012), Jinjer – Macro (2019), Pantera – Far Beyond Driven (1994)