Arguably the most prominent practitioners of The New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement, Virginia’s Lamb of God rolled into (and over) Toronto on Friday night during the band’s current six-date tour to promote their just-released seventh studio album, Resolution (out now from Epic).
The last time the band came through town, they were the opening act for Metallica on the World Magnetic tour in October of 2009 at the cavernous Air Canada Centre (capacity: 20,000). Arena shows can be great spectacles, of course, but it’s no secret that warm-up bands get the short end of the stick as a general rule. They’re seldom granted the same calibre of sound, the lighting schemes are kept to a minimum and, when they’re standing in the shadow of a musical giant the size of Metallica, typically generate a response made up of equal amounts polite applause, general disinterest or audible indignation by the headliners’ increasingly anxious, impatient and/or drunk fanbase.
On this particular night, however, Lamb of God was the main attraction, and a sold-out crowd of roughly a thousand lecherous metalheads wedged into the sweltering Phoenix in hopes of being sonically lambasted by the band’s overdriven and blackened update of Pantera’s Southern-fried power-groove metal.
They were not disappointed.
In front of a simple black and white banner that riffed upon the American flag, the band opened with “Desolation” and “Ghost Walking,” two of Resolution’s most devastating anthems. The one-two punch worked well to get the crowd onboard early, though it also signaled the end of audibly discerning any of singer Randy Blythe’s growled lyrics as his well-cured rasp seemed to dip down into the mix for the rest of the night amongst a maelstrom of artificial harmonics and drummer Chris Adler’s best attempts at driving his drum riser right through the floor of the stage.
Next came the lead track from 2006’s Sacrament, “Walk with Me in Hell,” “Set to Fail” from 2009’s Wrath, and “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” from 2004’s Ashes of the Wake. Throughout, the quartet of Adler, his younger brother Willie (guitar), Mark Morton (guitar) and John Campbell (bass) were supernaturally tight. On record, one of Lamb of God’s strengths is finding an even heavier riff to go to during a sequence in which the band sounds as if they couldn’t get any heavier. This ability to shift the songs into a gear you didn’t know was there was even more effective in a club setting. Blythe’s banter, on the other hand, was pretty lunkheaded (“Hey Canada! You guys ready to get crazy?”) for a guy who has literally played thousands of shows over the past decade. Nonetheless, the crowd hadn’t gathered to talk about “stuff” and they didn’t require any coercion to bang their heads. They were there to pick up a T-shirt and a case of tinnitus, and have their craniums caved in by one of the most consistent and badassiest bands in mainstream metal right now.
The rest of the set was comprised of eardrum crushers from throughout the band’s meaty catalogue, including “Ruin,” “Hourglass,” “Blacken the Cursed Sun,” “Laid to Rest,” and two more standout tracks from Resolution, “The Undertow” and “The Number Six.” Unsurprisingly, the fighting Virginians were called back for an encore by the inconsolable crowd, who were treated to clinically executed renditions of “The Passing,” “In Your Words,” and the Grammy-nominated “Redneck.”
And no Lamb show would be complete without a “Wall of Death,” the moshing stunt in which the crowd in front of the stage divides itself into two distinct sections with a large gap between them. The two groups then run at each other at full speed and violently collide in a melee of sweaty, flailing limbs.
Before ripping into the final song of the night, New American Gospel‘s “Black Label,” Blythe warned that those who didn’t have any clue what was about to transpire better get the fuck off the dance floor. Few wavered, though, surprising at least this reporter. Hailing from the rough-and-tumble prairies as I do, I’ve watched in amazement over the past five years at how incredibly well a sniffy Toronto audience can collectively impersonate a flaccid penis on a porno set at the various rock shows I’ve taken in. I’m happy to have been proven wrong for this show. Dead wrong. It was an unexpected manning-up; a fit of courage in the form of a flesh yard sale that summed up what Lamb of God had done all night from the stage.
Toronto, I didn’t know you had it in you.