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Album review: Lamb of God – The Duke

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Even though its not exactly a desirable task, it would be impossible to talk about Lamb of God’s new EP, The Duke, without exploring its tragic backstory.

Lamb of God – The Duke

Exactly a month before the mini-album is due to be released, lead singer Randy Blythe posted a video onto his band’s YouTube page, entitled “The Story of ‘The Duke’”. In it, he details his experiences with a fan-turned-friend called Wayne Ford.

A sufferer of leukaemia, Ford first met Blythe in 2012 at a Lamb of God show.

The two re-established contact in January 2015, speaking regularly and establishing a short but clearly genuine friendship before Wayne would go on to sadly lose his battle with cancer the month after.

And so, nearly two years after Ford’s passing, Lamb of God will release their loving tribute to a fallen comrade. Comprised of two new songs with three live tracks, The Duke EP is a short but doubtlessly heart-warming love letter, peaking early with its opener and title track.

The emotive song is a solemn lamentation upon mortality, possessing lyrics clearly inspired by the life and struggle of Ford. Despite the cut’s macabre tone, it is also bizarrely enjoyable hearing Lamb of God – a band infamous for embodying the intense, angry, “fuck you” punk rock ideology – take the more sombre route.

For the first time in his career, the usually roaring Blythe utilises more clean vocals than he does abrasive shouts and the underlying, undistorted guitar adds an atmospheric edge to the verses, even when heavy, electric chugging is heard coming from the axe as well.

Overall, it is a work of both devastation and energy, finding space for the usual anarchy of the Lamb of God instrumental style in the choruses to balance out the more downbeat verses.

But any tranquillity or melancholia that ‘The Duke’ may possess is quickly off-set by the thrashing follow-up, ‘Culling’. Beginning with a rip-roaring riff that would feel right at home on their Sacrament (2007) album followed by a quick, shredding solo, the cut wastes no time in resurrecting the pissed off Lamb of God that old-school fans know and love. With its highlight being an expert drum fill from the virtuoso Chris Adler midway through, ‘Culling’ is an all-shouting, all-killer-no-filler slice of frenetic speed metal that counteracts its predecessor perfectly.

As a result, in both of The Duke’s new tracks, Lamb of God demonstrates a versatility the likes of which a lot of fans might have never known they were capable of. While the band’s cleaner side isn’t something that should be utilised too often – it’s rarity is what makes it special – there’s no denying that the new emotions and tones that they explore here work, especially given the context.

Meanwhile, the EP’s three live tracks – ‘Still Echoes’, ‘512’ and ‘Engage the Fear Machine’, all of which come from Lamb of God’s latest album, VII: Sturm und Drang (2015) – feel somewhat superfluous in their inclusion here. The cuts are taken from the band’s sets at Rock am Ring 2015 and the 2016 Bonnaroo Festival, both of which can actually be viewed for free, in full and with visual accompaniment on YouTube.

Nonetheless, every one of these live tracks is still very enjoyable; Lamb of God’s visceral brand of aggressive groove metal has always been a style that connects brilliantly with live crowds longing to mosh and headbang, and these three cuts are no exception. Even though the listener is only experiencing these tracks through a speaker, it is still possible to sense the passion, weight and power that they bring with them to the live show.

While some may read The Duke’s usage of only new tracks from the live set as a blatant promotional tactic for the Sturm und Drang album – and there may well be truth in that sentiment – they also do prove the staying power of the record for those who may not have had the chance to hear this latest material live yet.

On the part of Lamb of God, it demonstrates confidence in their new songs; clearly they are just as comfortable with performing them in a live setting as they are with beloved classics like ‘Walk with Me in Hell’, ‘Redneck’, ‘Laid to Rest’ and ‘Ruin’.

While these live clips are available for free online, the new songs that come at The Duke’s beginning more than make the EP worth the cost of entry. The two tracks, stylistically and emotionally, could not be further apart, offering an intriguing dichotomy, the likes of which hasn’t been heard from Lamb of God before. And any band trying their best to expand their musical range can only be an inherently positive thing, surely?

The Duke will be available physically and digitally via Nuclear Blast Records on 18th November.




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