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Friday, June 04, 2010

CD Review: Lamb of God - Hourglass

Lamb of God - Hourglass
2010 Epic Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Now you've got something to die for again if you're a Lamb of God fan. While nearly every diehard has the entire stock of Lamb of God's catalog, savvy marketing behind an out-of-nowhere anthology means you have to give the devout supplemental pages to amend their metal bible, Book of LOG.

Frankly, greatest hits and compilations manifesting at the zenith of a band's career are dubious, even 15 years to the mark as Lamb of God celebrates this year. Then again, the Rolling Stones put out Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) in the mid-sixties after the Stones had dropped a handful of albums. Time and tide waited upon the Stones, blessing them with four decades' worth of life that continues today. It can happen, so they say. Cash in along the way.

As ambassadors to the self-dubbed "New Wave of American Heavy Metal," Lamb of God has backed their claim with firestorms in disguise of albums. Landing with the majors thankfully didn't kill this band; in fact, it refined their voluminous processing with an enviable polish. By attrition, the spit-shine of Lamb of God's work following their dirty and apocalyptic breakout As the Palaces Burn from 2003 has calibrated this band into a marketable commodity, on the level of Megadeth and Testament at the heights of their ascension in the eighties.

One might say on their most-recent studio album Wrath, Lamb of God felt the need to derail the runaway sales train provoked by their thrash 'n goof ditty "Redneck" from 2006's Sacrament. Many say they're back to form with Wrath, yet Lamb of God is a different band than the ones who recorded New American Gospel and As the Palaces Burn. Certainly different from the provocation horde calling themselves Burn the Priest. In some ways, they've even traversed a different--though no less raucous--path since recording the fan-favorite Ashes of the Wake in 2004.

Looking back at Lamb of God's progress from their Burn the Priest days, this hop-skip anthology Hourglass is a fundamental primer to the band posting the bonus attraction of 18 nuggets of rarities and time-capsule recordings of past songs.

You've already banged your head numerous times to "Walk With Me in Hell," "Ruin," "Pariah," "In Your Words," "Blacken the Cursed Sun" and "Now You've Got Something to Die For," and they're guaranteed for repeat edification on this comp. Hourglass sieves roughly four songs apiece from each of Lamb of God album on the first two discs of this triple compendium, with an extra helping by one from New American Gospel. That being said, if you're new to Lamb of God or simply never picked up their albums, Hourglass' selections are a dandy way to get acquainted.

Since many listeners have yet to buddy up with the 1998 self-titled Burn the Priest album, you can expect a generous outlay: eight out of fourteen tracks make it to Hourglass including an encore of "Suffering Bastard," 7-inch version on the bonus disc. It's appropriate for Lamb of God to reward their fans with so much Burn the Priest material, including tour tape versions of "Salivation," "Lame" and "Leech," not to mention other 7-inch cuts of "Ruiner," "Preaching to the Converted" plus the rarely-heard "Ballad of Kansas City." Eat hearty.

From a historical perspective, all of this drumming-up of Burn the Priest tracks makes Hourglass a valuable research tool. Set as part of the "Underground Years" disc, coupled with the "Epic Years" album, a neophyte can get a hankering for the bleeding and the blazing Lamb of God went through to finesse their rough 'n tumble thrash grind into a sometimes-eloquent smoothover of Slayer-loving steel-core. By themselves, the combo punches of "The Passing," "In Your Words" and "Set to Fail" from Wrath tells the Lamb of God story in song; spiffy picking, Epic.

However, the project is grossly undermined with the ommission of Lamb of God's avalanching masterpiece, "A Devil in God's Country" from As the Palaces Burn. Licensing issues or whatever the reason "God's Country" missed inclusion is inexcusable. By far the mightiest song Lamb of God has yet penned, Hourglass feels stark naked without it. The absenteeism of "A Devil in God's Country," frankly, hurts Hourglass' reason for being, which is to provide an audile examination of a modern powerhouse in metal. In fact, it would've been far preferable to lose the demo cut of "Now You've Got Something to Die For" or "Hourglass" to make room for Lamb of God's crowning achievement on a singular level. Just saying. Some might even itch about the elimination of "Again We Rise" from Sacrament, but at that point the bone-picking become monotonous.

Hourglass' bonus album is the high focus point and for all the demo and lost tape tricks yanked out of the bag, the best of the bunch are the Japanese album songs "Nippon" and "Condemn the Hive." Both burst with exquisite detonation, though at times you can hear jumbled breakdowns and attempts at prog that confuse the routine order. Ditto for "We Die Alone" and "Shadow of Your God." Sometimes Randy Blythe's vocal mixes are drowned by his band's amplitude, likely the reason they were relegated to special feature instead of final cut. Still, these are all splendid castoff rescues which quakes Disc 3 before it settles into archive outtakes and vintage recordings of early-on material the remainder of the way.

As one of the chunkiest bands in the land, Lamb of God hardly carries a commercial vibe. Yet Hourglass is a slick and commercialized collection of fan favorites, breakdown staples and an extra pack of meat to substantiate Lamb of God's loud 'n proud by-product. Good news for testifiers is there's more gospel than diatribe here, even if subjectivity robs this comp of its full impact.

Of course, for everything said in this review, Lamb of God is offering five different mega formats and round-ups including deluxe editions and full-length vinyl packages of their entire catalog, so get some as you please.

Rating: ****

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