Has the new wave of American heavy metal reached maturity? New releases from two of the movement’s top acts, Virginia’s Lamb of God and New Jersey’s God Forbid, point to a dichotomy developing among the acts that have brought American metalcore to the forefront of heavy music in the past decade: While Lamb of God mines the same relentless, single-minded brutality that has worked so well for them on past releases, God Forbid continues to expand its sound while remaining true to its roots, augmenting punishing intensity with proggy expansiveness and occasional radio-friendly hooks.
There’s certainly something to be said for consistency, and in that sense Lamb of God’s sixth studio album, Wrath, is a success; it continues the band’s fusion of death and thrash metal that has filled the Pantera-shaped hole in many metalheads’ hearts (“Contractor” could easily be a Pantera outtake). Vocalist Randy Blythe never deviates from his guttural roar, and the rhythm section sets itself on overdrive from the moment the album starts (well, right after uncharacteristically understated opening instrumental “The Passing”). A few quiet instrumental passages aside, Wrath is a nonstop wall of interchangeable, mostly unmemorable riffs—an album that may get your head banging but is unlikely to stick around in it after ending.
God Forbid’s Earthsblood, on the other hand, is another step in the band’s musical evolution, on the heels of 2005’s excellent concept album Constitution of Treason. It ranges from the catchy, riff-driven metalcore of “Walk Alone” to the nine-minute, multipart epic title track. Frontman Byron Davis is adept at the heavy-metal growl, and guitarists Doc and Dallas Coyle provide accomplished melodic vocals while building up a wonderful interplay of blistering solos and distinctive riffs. Earthsblood takes on serious social criticism in the same way that Treason did, without coming off as cheesy or forced—“Gaia (The Vultures)” could go toe to toe with any of the great doomsaying anthems of ’80s thrash. Lamb of God may be an acceptable Pantera substitute, but Earthsblood proves that God Forbid easily has what it takes to be the next Metallica.