Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Nevermore
02. Vanishing
03. To The Grave
04. Ditch
05. Omens
06. Gomorrah
07. Ill Designs
08. Grayscale
09. Denial Mechanism
10. September Song

Another milestone along a road that is now littered with them, LAMB OF GOD's 2020 self-titled felt like a simple but honest restating of values. With a new drummer in tow (the now firmly established Art Cruz),  the Virginia quintet had enough fresh impetus to deliver another hard-to-fault collection of thunderous metal tunes. Two years on, expectations for their ninth album are largely the same as they were last time around, and another 45 minutes of brutal, thrash-fueled groove metal, executed by established experts, would arguably be more than sufficient for most fans. The problem for LAMB OF GOD is that they are clearly a band with ideas to spare, and while most of "Omens" sticks to the expected script (and rightly so, because nobody does this stuff better),  there are more surprises and moments of twisted ingenuity on display here than on any album since "Resolution".

The clues came early: first single "Nevermore" is instantly recognizable as LAMB OF GOD, but it's a skewed, menacing thing, with atypical riffs and a discernible heart of darkness. The title track hinges on a pendulous, loping groove that is only a distant cousin of the straight-ahead, re-tooled thrash riffs that have long been the band's primary focus. A subtle deviation from the norm, but a deviation nonetheless, its one-word chorus practically guarantees that "Omens" will become a steadfast live favorite, and that groove is eminently stinkface-worthy. Elsewhere, "To The Grave" twists the LOG formula into ugly new shapes, with a powerhouse Randy vocal that crackles with righteous fury, and "Denial Mechanism" is an absolute, bug-eyed riot, built from scorched-earth punk rock, the dirtiest thrash imaginable and enough swagger to spark a revolution. Even the superficially straightforward likes of "Gomorrah" and "Ditch" indicate that LAMB OF GOD are still tinkering with their proven formula, while "Grayscale" ("There's a war going on inside my head!" notes Randy) is as sludgy, grim and brutally memorable as anything they have recorded.

The grand finale is where the real revelations lurk. "September Song" is not a cover of the old jazz standard (although that would have been great!) but it does share that song's overwhelming sense of weariness and regret. Blessed with some of the heaviest and fastest riffs on the entire record, it's also one of the most dramatic and unsettling things LAMB OF GOD have ever committed to tape, and with Randy in the vocal form of his life.

One of these days, LAMB OF GOD might make an album that truly confounds expectations, but "Omens" is smart, surprising and monstrously heavy enough to distract us until they do.

Author: Dom Lawson
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