It took a couple of mediocre albums to confirm what a great band Lamb of God really is. At last Friday's show at Roseland Ballroom, Virginia's greatest metal band aligned themselves with Maiden, Metallica and the elite few metal bands who can still stun from the stage long after their new albums stop mattering.
The smoke machines and projectors (which kicked off the show by airing Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy" attack ad) were new, but somehow they accentuated the excitement. Perhaps it was the novelty of seeing a band of Lamb of God's rawness with a higher-budget show--not since Pantera in the '90s has a band of such unmatched brutality fought their way into the Billboard Top Five. More impressive was watching the band lock in with the tightness of a brotherhood on older grooves like "Ruin," "As the Palaces Burn" and "Laid to Rest," still some of the best metal the past decade has offered. Even a few recent songs, rescued from the slog of their home albums, were even show highlights--every Lamb of God set should include "Set to Fail" and "Contractor." To the uninitiated, I'll recommend Sony's The Essential Lamb of God in advance.
Lamb of God's riff work will thrive Guitar World indefinitely, and snare master Chris Adler is still one of modern music's most discernible drummers. But this ongoing tour is deservedly the Randy Blythe Show. Currently facing involuntary manslaughter charges and coming off a stint in a Prague prison, Blythe is performing this tour like it literally will be his last, showing off 20 years of frontman experience, boundless energy and a bellow that shows no signs of winding down. Maybe he was especially charged up by the idea that he may be locked up for the next 10-15 years, but still some other force must account for his consistently rousing belligerence and engaging interaction. While his bandmates left stage to change instruments, Blythe was at times alone on stage, modestly thanking the fans or reflecting on his band's history between howling out curses to various oppressors.
Ending with the two-fisted "Redneck" and the swinging "Black Label," Lamb of God signed off with the conclusion that their best studio years may be behind them, but that they could be one of metal's best live bands for decades.
The openers were a mixed bag. England's Sylosis, hand-picked to star the show by Chris Adler, offered progressive, tuneful death metal, whereas Connecticut's Hatebreed epitomized the kind of hardcore kid numbskullery that Minor Threat worked to defy. In Flames, one of death metal's greatest claims on record, were slightly stifled by poor sound, an average setlist and a blinding stage light show.