We’ve bounced around between genres a lot here on this blog, and I must say I have no intention of stopping that anytime soon. This week’s album, Lamb of God’s 2004 release Ashes of the Wake ranges from groove and thrash to straight up death metal. And let me preface this review by saying: I’m no metal head.
That isn’t to say I dislike metal as a genre, in fact the opposite is true. There’s a load of metal acts I love, some of which I’ll probably end up comparing Lamb of God to. What I mean when I say I’m not a metal head is that I’m not purest of the genre, nor am I a person familiar with or fanatical about all of its sub-genres. I consider Slipknot a metal band, which I think is grounds for high treason in some circles. I say all this as a bit of a defense, as what I may like and dislike here might not fall in line with some metal head readers. So ya’know, reader be warned.
I’ll start by saying that I have a few problems with Ashes of the Wake as a whole. No, it’s not the angry, violent lyrics or the growled, percussion like vocals. I knew what I was signing up for here. My main gripes with this album come instead from the song structure and the mixing.
I’ll start with the song structure: a lot (not all) of these songs are very…static. There’s a lot of riffs and patterns that repeat over and over and while I understand this is a thing in a lot of metal music I also tend to consider it a weakness of the genre. Something about repeating lines of really fast chugging guitars and speed-kicking drums tends to get grating faster than regular music for reasons I can’t explain other than to say I don’t like it. At the very least the riffs could be more melodic if they’re going to be so repetitive. Despite the actual speed everything’s played at, a lot of these songs feel slow due to the same measures just being repeated over and over before transitioning to another repetitive section that will then be repeated again later in the song. Repetitive and dull is the complain I have about a lot of these riffs. Again, this doesn’t go for everything on this album, there’s some definite standouts I’ll mention as we go, but I wanted to get this out of the way first.
The second issue I mentioned was the mixing. This album has the same problem a lot of rock albums release around this time had, a problem referred to as “wall of sound” mixing. At the time there was a lot of push for hard rock and metal bands to sound as loud as possible, which led to a lot of rather lazy mixing where all instruments were cranked up to the max, creating a less dynamic sound and more just, well, a wall of sound. There’s so many times in this album where the drummer or one of the guitarists is doing something really cool, but due to the mixing I’m forced to strain my ear to try to pick it out amongst all the other noise.
All that being said, let’s start with the track-by-track analysis. “Laid to Rest” is an opener that lets the listener know what this album’s gonna be like, I sure have to give it that. Otherwise it’s mostly uninteresting. It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s angry and it’s surely a fantastic mosh pit song, but it’s just not very engaging otherwise. “Hourglass” largely has the same problems mentioned previously. Another note about this album is that there are no melodic vocals, only growling, screeching, and spoken word.
“Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” starts my favorite section of this album. This song is definitely very thrash, giving very strong Slayer vibes which I must say I’m really into. This song is where things started to turn around for me and the problems I mentioned previously started to fade away. “The Faded Line” continues that trend with some particularly great drumming. It’s still hard to pick out at times, but it’s really good regardless. The ending of this song is particularly fun and intense as what sounds like air raid sirens begin blaring as the song comes to a climactic, violent ending. Have I mentioned this album is super anti-war? It doesn’t change much about the album, but it’s a recurring theme.
“Omerta” is the reason I wanted to listen to the album, so of course that means I liked it. I liked it beforehand. This is the song I expected the rest of the album to sound like and probably the reason a lot of it disappointed me. This song also is just the most interesting lyrically using biblical imagery and parallels to illustrate the violence and wrath of the Italian mafia. This song seems less anti-war and more story-telling in nature which I think makes it stand out lyrically. Also, what can I say except the music here is really good.
“Blood of the Scribe” is fast, really fast, but sadly that’s about all it has going for it. Unfortunately this is a song that dips back into the issues of the first two tracks. “One Gun” is one of the better songs on the album, if only for being one of the few, and the first, song to actually have a legitamate guitar solo. I didn’t even realize until this track that guitar solos had been nearly entirely absent from this album up to this point. This kinda adds to the whole lack of variety and repetitive problem, even the most gimme aspect to spice up a rock song is absent from most tracks here. “Break You” is another track that doesn’t do much for me.
“What I’ve Become” is another unique track in that it’s the only song on the back half of this album I actually really like. There’s another guitar solo here that’s really good. This song is fast like “Blood of the Scribe,” but uses that to speed along, never wasting time with repetitiveness. The slowest part of the chorus which honestly works really well, contrasting with the fast verses. A great standout towards the end of the album.
“Ashes of the Wake” is a song that is absolutely butchered by the mixing. Part of the song is a suite of guitar solos by four different musicians, but unfortunately all of their solos are buried among the rest of the noise and a lot of the intricacies are lost because of this. This song would be so much greater if the other guitarists would just let whoever is playing the solo shine, or, you know, if the mixing on this album wasn’t terrible.
“Remorse is for the Dead” opens with a bit of bait in a real nice clean guitar section before becoming everything I dislike about this album for, well, the rest of the song. I don’t have much to say about this one that hasn’t already been said.
Overall this album isn’t bad persay, but it’s far from being great and I honestly don’t feel like it’s purely the band’s fault here. There’s some standout tracks, and even the songs that aren’t great aren’t bad either. At worst this album is a bit boring, at best it’s high adrenaline thrashy goodness.
My final rating of this album is a 5/10, for an album that does an average job, not great, not bad, just somewhere in between.
Sorry to any metal heads I may have upset with my review here, but maybe I’ll be able to make it up to you, as next week’s album is another metal record: CrazyEightyEight’s 2018 release, Burning Alive.