Live: Lamb Of God Build Their Wall Of Death At Irving Plaza
Better than: Pretty much everyone on Ozzfest 2003.
Rap metal entered its death throes in the early 2000s, allowing harder bands that had actually competent musicians and aggression directed at someone other than their parents to come back into vogue. Headbanger's Ball returned; the then-annual Ozzfest was so successful that the market had room for clones; and major labels wanted in on the action. Warner Bros. picked up Atlanta's sludgy but catchy Mastodon and reached across the country to grab Avenged Sevenfold, a group of Orange County kids who started off looking like the Misfits but eventually took style cues from Guns N' Roses; Epic Records took on Lamb of God, five gnarly-looking dudes from Richmond, Virginia, who created the most mangled racket of the three.
Other metal acts came and went from major label rosters (Shadows Fall, Hatebreed, veterans like Marilyn Manson and Korn), but those three stuck around. Mastodon became critical darlings; Avenged Sevenfold found jeans that fit and piercings that worked. Lamb of God has remained the scrappiest of the bunch, deviating only slightly from its trademark rhythmic assault by adding in guitar solos and a few vocal touches that can only generously be described as singing. ("Borderline melodic bellowing" is probably more appropriate.) 2009's Wrath took the band to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and unless Seal's recent wave of divorce-related publicity translates into album sales, Lamb of God's new record, Resolution, just might top that chart next week. It would be the heaviest album to do so since Pantera's Far Beyond Driven did so in 1994.
The band celebrated the album's release last night with a show at Irving Plaza, Lamb of God's first New York City appearance since a pair of gigs opening for Metallica at Madison Square Garden in 2009. At those shows, they were forced to use Metallica's "in the round/make more money" arena staging; the setup required every member to face a different direction, which proved to be awkward for a band that thrives on being clustered together and needs to provide a focal point of energy for its audience. Within the tight confines of the Irving Plaza stage, they had no such problems.
For 90 minutes, they displayed the driving lockstep style of playing and visceral ugliness that has lasted across seven albums. The visual aesthetic of the performance matched the tone of the music, with the members decked out in baggy t-shirts, jeans, or shorts with huge holes in them, an M.O. that roughly translates to "if the music is going to be this raw, then we might as well look like five dudes who have been going at it this hard for a long time."
Frontman Randy Blythenow sporting mini-dreads (of the matted, messy variety, not the Korn kind; one of his favorite bands is Bad Brains so he gets a pass)has established himself as one of metal's most charismatic frontmen, and whether on the mile-a-minute barking of "Contractor" or the eerie, lurching "Walk With Me in Hell," he proved that he can almost singlehandedly keep up the energy of a show through sheer exuberance.
The new songs came and went with the appropriate fanfare and drew attention to the band's somewhat recent emphasis on guitar solos, but some of the night's most effective moments were older cuts like "Ruin," which is so direct and unadorned that it's essentially a rhythmic exercise, and an exhilarating one. The band closed with its trademark song "Black Label," a final atonal celebration of momentum and force that's punctuated with the "wall of death," an audience move in which the crowd splits down the middle, thenonce the riff kicks incharges at each other in tremendously violent fashion. Lamb of God popularized the move early in its career, and it's become so automatic that they don't (or legally shouldn't) tell the crowd how to do it anymore; Blythe made sure to give credit to New York's Sick of It All for pioneering the spectacle. The participants went at it with their last fumes of energy, and had nothing left in the tank to give after the false stop at the song's end.
Critical bias: Blythe still owes me $2 for a cup of coffee I bought him in Dallas in 2004. When confronted about it in Cleveland in 2005, he said, "I owe everybody a piece of my soul," and threw up.
Overheard: Nothing. It was a metal show.
Random notebook dump: The security guy at the front of the stage knew all the words to "Now You've Got Something to Die For."
Set list: Desolation Ghost Walking Walk With Me in Hell Set to Fail Now You've Got Something to Die For Ruin Hourglass The Undertow Descending Contractor The Number Six Laid to Rest -- In Your Words Redneck Black Label
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.