Over the past twenty-four years Richmond, Virginia’s Lamb of God have become synonymous with the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Finding themselves at the forefront of the movement along with the likes of Machine Head and Pantera, the band has further cemented their place in metal history with consistently stellar albums and unbeatable, high energy live performances. Even more impressive, since 1999 the group has held steady with the same lineup.
The band began as Burn the Priest in the mid-90’s, and was originally conceived by four students at Virginia Commonwealth University – guitarists Mark Morton and Matt Conner, bassist John Campbell and drummer Chris Adler. By the end of the summer of ‘95 Morton and Conner had been replaced by Abe Spear. The three-piece instrumental group was making their way through the local scene when Spear invited a former bandmate to catch their set at a house party.
Having recently returned to Richmond, Randy Blythe had no intentions of joining a band before he saw Burn the Priest perform live. “I walked in and the band was just ripping,” Blythe recalls in a recent interview with Decibel Magazine. Within a week he was an official member of the group.
1995 also marked the release of their self-titled demo, a four-track recording also known as Burn the Priest Tour Tape. With elements of hardcore punk and death metal, this precursor to one of the biggest bands on the planet shows that the group held promise even in the early days.
By 1999 Morton had returned to flesh out the five-piece, and the group released what was to be their only full-length under the name Burn the Priest for two decades.
Produced by Steve Austin of Today is The Day, Burn The Priest came out on Legion Records and helped to break the band into a larger scene. In an era when grunge and nu metal reigned supreme, this album brought alternative music fans something different. While the band’s sound would develop further over the years, their debut effort fused elements of death metal and grindcore into an aggressive and explosive forty minutes that foreshadowed the grooves and energy the band would later become known for.
Following the release of Burn The Priest, Spear would leave the band to be replaced by Willie Adler, younger brother of drummer Chris. Around that same time the band was signed to Prosthetic Records, and changed their name to Lamb of God.
Rumors have circulated that the change was prompted by bans from certain venues, but in a 2012 interview with Metalship, Campbell revealed that the bans came after the name change.
“We changed our name because people thought that we were a satanic metal band, and kind of wrote us off and wouldn’t take us seriously as a group,” he said. “So we as a group decided that the best thing was to change the name.”
Now armed with their final lineup and a new name, Lamb of God released New American Gospel in September 2000. This album lead the band to higher levels of recognition, with comparisons to Slayer and Pantera being made by such outlets as Revolver and Exclaim.
The group would follow this release with heavy touring that they would keep up for years to come.
2003 brought even more success for Lamb of God, when they released As The Palaces Burn. Produced by Devin Townsend of Strapping Young Lad, the album featured four singles: “Ruin,” “11th Hour,” “As The Palaces Burn,” and “Vigil.” A huge success, this recording brought the band some serious airplay as well as album of the year designations from both Revolver and Metal Hammer. This year also saw the recording and release of their first live DVD and documentary, Terror and Hubris.
Since the beginning of this musical endeavor, the has band kept up a hefty practice schedule of five times per week. The hard work began to pay off and the dedication only became more apparent as the group’s successes continued to pile up. In nine short years the band had gone from playing house parties to selling 35,000 albums in the first week of their 2004 effort Ashes of the Wake.
This record marks the band’s first collaboration with producer Machine (AKA Gene Freeman), who has also worked with White Zombie, Clutch, and King Crimson. Lyrically, the album focuses on the war in Iraq, while overall the record saw the band really falling into their signature heavy, technical, and groovy sound. It also brought some of the band’s best known songs, including “Laid to Rest” and “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For.”
In the tours following the album’s release, the band recorded another live performance which was released on CD and DVD as Killadelphia.
Currently, Ashes is the group’s best-selling record, and was certified gold in 2016.
Once again teaming up with Machine, Lamb of God released Sacrament in 2006; a record that helped to solidify the band’s position as one of the biggest metal acts in the world. While some would scorn the accessibility of this fourth record, its influence on the band’s career, and the genre at large, is undeniable.
Following its release, the album received heavy airplay of its singles “Redneck,” “Walk with Me in Hell,” and “Blacken the Cursed Sun.” It was the number-one selling metal album of the year, and earned the band their first Grammy nomination for the performance of “Redneck.”
In the following few years the band was on almost every major metal tour in North America, including The Unholy Alliance Tour with Slayer, Gigantour with Megadeth, and Ozzfest. They also made their way across the pond to perform at Download Fest in the U.K., and somehow found time for a world tour that included Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Sacrament also spawned the group’s third concert DVD, Walk With Me In Hell, which was released in 2008.
Throughout their career Lamb of God continued to provide extra content to their followers in the form of these DVDs and documentaries, but in 2007 they started to take things further.
The Sacrament: Deluxe Producer Edition allowed fans to remix the album to their own liking, and the recording process of the follow-up record was filmed via webcam and available to view on the band’s site.
In February 2009 the fruits of that effort were officially unleashed as Wrath, a somewhat disappointing follow-up to the intensity that was Sacrament. Nonetheless, the album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 charts, and it’s second single “Set to Fail” was nominated for best metal performance at the 2010 Grammys.
While the tones on this album may have been a little cleaner than fans were used to, Wrath is still undeniably a Lamb of God record. Starting off with the slow instrumental track “The Passing” was an interesting move that either came as a refreshing surprise or a lame cop-out, depending on who you ask. The remaining songs felt like a tired continuation of Sacrament. For any other band, Wrath would be an impressive release, but missed the mark by the standards Lamb of God had previously set for themselves.
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, these guys follow a pattern: record an album, release an album, tour, repeat (sometimes mixing up steps one and three a bit), and this time was no exception.
Now into 2009, Lamb of God has shown no signs of slowing down, still booking shows around the world and serving as direct support for Metallica in the U.S.
They did manage to find time for some videogames, however.
In 2006 “Laid to Rest” was featured in Guitar Hero II as a playable track, and the band followed that up with a single in the 2010 Iron Man 2 videogame. The track, entitled “Hit the Wall,” was later made available for download through the band’s website and on Decibel Magazine’s limited-edition flexidisc vinyl pressing.
2009 to 2011 was more touring and recording, as would be expected, until LoG’s sixth album Resolution was released in January 2012. This installment to the group’s catalogue continued with some of the acoustic and prog elements originally seen on Wrath, while at the same time further polishing the aggression and groove of Sacrament.
As you could maybe guess, they followed this with some more touring until vocalist Blythe was arrested in June of that same year.
While in the Czech Republic, Blythe was apprehended by police in connection to the death of a nineteen-year-old fan following an incident at a show two years previous.
On May 24th, 2010, the group was playing Abaton in Prague – a venue with a small, cramped stage, according to Blythe’s 2015 memoir Dark Days. He goes on to recall a lack of security and a number of stage crashers, if not much else from the fairly routine performance.
In his recollection of that night, Blythe notes a blonde-haired fan who mounted the stage at least three times and had a brief physical encounter with the singer, which might have included a push from the stage.
“I remember this young man shaking his head briefly as if he was not okay, then proceeding to briefly headbang again as if nothing had happened before wandering back into the crowd. This gave me a moment’s concern, but I supposed that he was fine, and we continued to play. No one told us otherwise,” he writes.
And yet two years later Blythe found himself in Prague’s dank Pankrác Prison where he would spend thirty-seven days before being released on bail. Charged with manslaughter in relation to the death of Daniel Nosek, the vocalist was ultimately found not criminally liable for the man’s death after a six-day trial in 2013.
Following the tour cycle for Resolution, the band took a well-deserved hiatus for about a year.
During his incarceration Blythe conceptualized two new songs which were to be featured on the band’s seventh album, VII: Sturm und Drang, released July 24th, 2015. While still heavily critical of humanity, VII saw the band step off the political soapbox and focus more on the failings of society as a whole, complimenting the signature sawing vocals with penetrating drum beats and exceptionally heavy riffs.
In early 2018 Lamb of God was announced as support for the Slayer farewell tour, and shortly after revealed the upcoming release of Legion: XX, a cover album recorded as Burn The Priest, and slated for release on May 18th. Currently available for pre-order, the collection will include groove-metal takes on tracks by The Melvins, Bad Brains, Ministry, and more. Celebrating Priest’s 20th anniversary, the band has decided to get back to their roots and explore the correlation between thrash metal and punk with ten ferocious remakes (eleven, if you pick up the LP, which will feature an additional Helmet track).
Over the past twenty four years, five guys from Richmond, Virginia have changed the landscape of metal on a global scale, creating music that will inspire new waves of metalheads for years to come. For me personally, Lamb of God were my gateway into an appreciation for live music after I saw them perform at Gigantour 2006 in Detroit along with Megadeth, Arch Enemy, and Opeth. I would go on to see them countless more times on other tours, and even had the chance to meet them at a signing in Saskatoon, of all places. The signed photo from that meeting still hangs above my front door, and I still regularly wear the necklace I made from a John Campbell pick I received at the following show. I’ve still got the copy of As The Palaces Burn that my english teacher gave me in grade ten, and Sacrament will always be one of my favourite albums to workout to.
The experiences that I’ve had with the band’s music are far from unique. In the past two decades Lamb of God have managed to create something that has brought together people from all walks of life over one common love – heavy metal.
Catch Lamb of God on tour this summer with Slayer, Anthrax, Behemoth, and Testament.Lamb of God Summer 2018 Tour Dates