What an end-of-year 2016 is shaping up to be! First we have a slew of much anticipated releases from the likes of Insomnium, Alcest, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Meshuggah, Testament, Vader and Anaal Nathrakh and now it appears that not only are Metallica looking like they’re about to drop an album that isn’t full of uninspired trite – it might actually be their best in 25 years. And then out of nowhere Lamb of God announce a surprise EP. Merry Christmas you bastards. Now, the pedant in me is obligated to point out that, at two new songs and three live tracks, marketing this as an EP seems a little like an over-sell but the God aren’t exactly known for releasing material between albums, so who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth and complain about a few missing teeth?
Once its head-bopping intro subsides, title track ‘The Duke’ – written for the band’s late friend and fan, John Wayne – immediately reminds me of Sturm und Drang’s ‘Overlord’, for little reason other than that it makes prominent use of clean vocals. But this is as far as the similarities go. While ‘Overlord’ was very much a ballad with its clean guitars and minimalistic drumming, beneath ‘The Duke’’s melodic vocals seethes a maleficent palm-muted riff that simmers with barely-contained restraint before erupting into the hardest of rock choruses. This song is very much more an anthem than a ballad. Is this a glimpse of a future, slightly more commercially-orientated Lamb of God? Maybe. And if so, I welcome it with open arms, not least because I know that they’re still capable of writing absolutely shredding feral outbursts such as ‘Culling’.
‘Culling’ is the second new song to feature on The Duke and it has that raw, spontaneous, pissed-off punk rock vibe, somewhat reminiscent of Wrath’s ‘Contractor’. I’m a staunch believer that there are three ways to spot a decent song from the off – 1) it starts with a guitar solo; 2) legendary producer Andy Sneap has put his name to it; 3) it appears on an album that features artwork of a naked lady with a ram’s head on her shoulders and a pentagram carved into her chest. ‘Culling’ is of the former and roars into life with a ripping guitar solo and blistering low-end riff packed full of groove (I say this with complete sincerity – never has a bad song been written that starts with a guitar solo). “I couldn’t make this shit up, The truth is bad enough,” Randy rumbles during a bridge that eclipses the ensuing chorus with its bullish presence.
By the time we reach the third guitar solo (that’s right, count ‘em – three) I find myself thinking that this is a very guitar-orientated song and that drummer Chris Adler appears to have been relying on stock LoG grooves for the most part. And then, “Oh wait. There it is. Oh fuck. Goddamn, it’s still going. Well fuck me with a rusty fire iron – that was a drum fill and a half!” ‘Culling’ just snatched the title of Most Epic Drum Fill from ‘Ruin’ with a full four bars. Clocking in at under four minutes and brimming with bile, it’s a nasty shot of direct, stripped back punk rock energy; no frills or graces here. This is the Lamb of God that I know and love.
The rest of the songs you’ll have already heard on last year’s Sturm und Drang. There’s a version of ‘Still Echoes’ from Rock am Ring, and ‘512’ and ‘Engage the Fear Machine’ from Bonnaroo, all of which are already available on YouTube. The mix is absolutely sublime on both, though the vocals and guitars are a little brighter, clearer and higher in the mix on the Bonnaroo tracks. All three serve as a reminder that Lamb of God are still one of the leading live acts in the metal scene.
The Duke will be accompanied by a charity campaign with all proceeds going to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org).