We live in a time when religious conviction has trumped social progressivism in the political arena. So maybe it’s not surprising that the conservative Christian group that owns the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles would ban Lamb of God from playing there because the band was formerly called Burn the Priest. Still, the band did change its controversial moniker — didn’t Jesus preach forgiveness, in addition to his more popular stances against abortion and gays? And why did the Forum’s owners choose to completely ignore Lamb of God’s music, which is no more offensive than that of tour-mates Slipknot? This is the kind of hypocrisy that Lamb of God has been railing against since its debut as Burn the Priest. Now remastered and re-issued, the album rams home the message that Lamb of God knew exactly where they were headed since day one.
As D. Randall Blythe vomits the words, “Archaic methods transfer through well in the face of mass denial” on the grinding opener “Bloodletting” (a video of a live performance of this song is included as enhanced content), it’s obvious that the church will take a severe beating on this album. Politicians fare even worse; you don’t need Babelfish to tell you that Blythe is addressing the president when he screams, “I take you under my dark wing and nurture you in hate, to dwell forever in a Maison Blanche” on “Dimera.” Lest we think we are free of blame, the closing salvo “Ruiner” fixes its crosshairs on a public whose “vicious lust for control has turned us into pawns for faceless kings.” You’ll need the lyric sheet to interpret Blythe’s scorched howls, but his intensity comes across just fine without it.
Ferocious as they are, the vocals aren’t nearly as impressive as the rest of the band’s savage churn. The members of Burn the Priest are expert riff architects, repeatedly demonstrating how they survived for two years as an instrumental thrash band. Shades of Pantera’s bluesy grind surface in “Goatfish” and “Departure Hymn,” and the un-headbangable riff that opens “Suffering Bastard” sounds like early Meshuggah.
But easy as it is to spot the band’s influences, Burn the Priest constantly surprises by welding together different shred styles within songs; the thrashy beginning of “Buckeye” gives drummer Chris Adler an ankle workout before the song suddenly slows to a standstill and unleashes a nasty Sabbath-inspired doom riff. Steve Austin’s meaty production work lacks the metallic sheen that marred Lamb of God’s recent Ashes of the Wake, successfully capturing both the band’s rawness and its martial precision.
Burn the Priest only got better after the name change. By 2003’s taut As the Palaces Burn, their breakdowns kicked more ass, the lockstep dual-guitar riffs split apart more often, and Blythe’s Woolite-pad vocals were less deliberately caustic, even as his lyrics became more so. But remarkably, even as they were synthesizing their influences, Burn the Priest was well on its way to becoming one of the finest — and angriest — metal bands of its generation.