2008 was meant to be the year Virginia metal band Lamb of God learned the importance of being idle. After pumping out four studio albums since 2000 and filling the gaps with seemingly endless touring, the members wanted nothing more than to take the whole year to do absolutely nothing. By April, they were jamming and writing new material. The result is Wrath, Lamb of God's most frenzied album in over half a decade. Its predecessor, Sacrament, debuted at Number Eight in 2006, but what made that record succeed isn't a formula drummer Chris Adler is keen on repeating.
"We were learning more about what we would do differently next time than about what we could do with that record," Adler said. "The goal for me this time was to make a straight-up, heavy metal, thrash record that doesn't rely on any studio magic."
And after a moody opening instrumental, Wrath delivers just that. "In Your Words" jump starts the album, as Randy Blythe bellows — trying out a new, borderline melodic voice — about "A sacred cash cow with sickly tits," a line the rest of the band didn't want on the album and which serves as a veiled commentary on the music industry.
After the reflective Sacrament, a deeply personal album that found Blythe exorcising his personal demons, Wrath turns its lyrical focus outward, and returns to more of the breakneck riffing that characterized the band's early material. For Adler, a change in producers (from the single-monikered Machine to Josh Wilbur) was the kick in the pants that his band needed to recapture its more visceral side.
"I think in many ways we caged the animal that we were for Machine," Adler said. "We were limiting ourselves in what we were really best at doing, which is writing fast thrash metal songs. Working with Josh helped us remember those things about our own band that had been kind of pushed aside on the last two records."
The best example of Lamb of God unchained is "Contractor," a full-on rager that blows down the door and only gets faster. The lyrics are a mile-a-minute stream of invective directed at murder-for-hire groups like Blackwater, with Blythe squeezing in lines like, "Yeah, motherfucker, lets take a ride/We're rolling Route Irish, someone has got to die/Trick or treat, it's IEDs," between jackhammer riffs.
"Mark [Morton, guitarist] and I have always wanted to write a punk rock song, and that song, to me, sounds like Discharge," Blythe said. "It was really cool to step back and do something with a visceral, immediate impact."
"Reclamation," the album's closing track and the longest in the band's career, gets progressive and downright apocalyptic. The song, which Blythe cites as his favorite on the album, was originally slated to be an instrumental. In his best vocal performance to date, Blythe wails, "And everything becomes irrelevant as the sky tears open/Fire rains down, the fourth world comes to an end," and as the claustrophobic guitars grow more and more asphyxiating, it's not difficult to see the band's image of watching the world burn.
"It's about how we're destroying ourselves and the world around us, and that sooner or later, the tipping point will be reached," Adler said. "The message in that song is just so great that it was really important to have that on the record." Wrath will be released February 24th on Epic Records, and the band hits the road in North America with As I Lay Dying, God Forbid and Children of Bodom in April.