Although 45 minutes of Middle-Aged White Male Aggression may feel out of pace with the current national moment, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe has always written more open-minded and inclusive lyrics than many of his peers — you just have to strain your ears to make sense of his screeds.
When he bellows hoarsely about “The American Scream” on “Checkmate,” one of 10 chugging ragers on the band’s self-titled eighth album, it’s not just generalized hate-the-world enmity but a fierce Trump takedown, with Blythe sarcastically using the phrase “Make America Hate Again.” Similarly, the title “New Colossal Hate” by itself suggests a grown-man hissy fit — and the track’s pneumatic drumming certainly could lead to one one — but a close read of the lyrics reveal its focus in on the current administration’s immigration policies, with Blythe barking, “the melting pot is melting down” as “the coddled masses slam the golden door.”
But without the lyrics in front of you, it’s easy to misinterpret the record as the band doing the “self-titled thing” with 10 new headbanging declarations of dissatisfaction. Much of Lamb of God contains the sort of piledriving guitar riffs and Olympic-medal-worthy drumming the band has perfected over the last 20 years, making it easy for their less political fans to get in on the fun.
That said, the group sounds best when they take musical risks. Guest singer Chuck Billy from thrash metallers Testament adds some melody to “Routes,” and they find a good balance of metal mayhem and musical daring on the record’s proggy final track, “On the Hook” — about the “Hippocratic hypocrites” behind the opioid epidemic — which contains more riffs than the rest of record combined but played in a purposeful, hard-hitting way. “Memento Mori” opens with a murky, gothy backdrop so Blythe can do his best Peter Murphy impression, while “Resurrection Man” — one of the few lyrical wrong turns here, since its opening line rips off Mercyful Fate’s classic introduction “I was born in a cemetery” — sports a grinding, noisy guitar melody when it starts. But after these brief moments of ear candy, the band quickly returns to its headache-inducing rhythms, which sometimes blur into each other. (Caveat emptor: Ballads are not part of the Lamb of God experience, so bring your own neck brace.)
Lamb of God know, after all, that their true essence is brutish machismo and that they are a vehicle for total catharsis. So whether or not you pick apart Blythe’s intention in his yowls, the American Scream is universal.