When Lamb of God headlined a cold January night at the Brixton Academy in 2014, their performance bordered on woeful. Bad sound, a short setlist and a lot of time spent talking between songs resulted in a massive disappointment. With hindsight, the night’s opening act wiped the floor with them. In an energetic half-hour slot, Huntress, fronted by the spirited Jill Janus, showed a lot of energy and a willingness to please the audience, obviously being more than aware of how hard it is to be a relatively unknown support band. After the revelation that Jill took her own life in August 2018, that set is now a memory to treasure. Lamb of God’s, not so much.
Wembley Arena is packed to the rafters this evening. The night’s event – headlined by Slayer, but also featuring Obituary, Anthrax and Lamb of God – is a metal fan’s dream. Obituary have shown themselves to be true professionals even as underdogs, and Anthrax – stalwarts of 80s thrash – have put on a really fun support slot, showing why they’ve retained their legendary status.
Lamb of God are due to take the stage at any moment and thoughts of the Brixton disaster – but also a tip off that their Dublin set from just two nights ago was pretty bad – doesn’t actually inspire much confidence in them. However, judging by the stage set up that’s just been put in place, the band themselves are feeling pretty confident…
The house lights dim and the massive riff that opens the classic ‘Omerta’ fills the air. The sound is pretty muddy – easily the worst of the night, so far – but nevertheless, half of the sell-out crowd have quickly whipped themselves into a frenzy. As the number progresses, Randy Blythe’s vocals are half lost in the distorted dirge, but it’s obvious he’s working very hard. The stage set is particularly effective: bathed completely in red light, a huge Lamb of God logo is flanked by two small staircases which, also lit in red, create huge blocks of colour. The minimalist approach is very striking, especially set against the sledgehammer approach of the music itself. Given time to adjust, the sound gradually improves and ‘Omerta’ comes across well, before ‘Ruin’ and an absolutely devastating ‘Walk With Me In Hell’ both help to cement Lamb of God’s place as the current kings of groove metal. Blythe still seems far too keen on audience participation, but tonight, his desire for interaction seems purely to stoke up the fun, rather than to kill time.
If the beginning of the set seems full on, then ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’ is a pure tour-de-force of metal, with Lamb of God’s presence given an extra hand by the flag adorned light boxes at the top of the stairs. Flickering on and off in a heavy strobed fashion, they’re not very epilepsy friendly, but cutting through the single blocks of colour – red and blue, in the main – it shows what can be done with a bit of imagination…and the stage looks great. It’s clear, looking at their set up and the sheer sense of drive coming from the band that they want to assert themselves as a big draw, but they don’t necessarily want to upstage the headliners. So far, and against the previous odds, they’ve more than succeeded.
The middle of the set places attention on the band’s most recent album [‘VII: Sturm and Drang‘], with strong outings of both ‘512’ and ‘Engage The Fear Machine’, but despite everything, these numbers really don’t reach the standard that’s been set thus far, before ‘Blacken The Cursed Sun’ absolutely rips the guts out of the front of the audience, half of whom are giving their all in one of the biggest circle pits seen at an indoor venue.
The stage lights have gone off. The entire venue is now bathed in complete darkness. Nothing on stage signified the end of a set. Surely that can’t be it? Lamb of God are supposed to be on for a bit longer… After a brilliant start, have they now run out of steam and sold us short? After all, they do have previous for this kind of thing.
The venue stays dark for the better part of two minutes. It’s actually a bit unsettling, as if there could have been a technical issue… In the upstairs circle, there’s definitely some uncertainty as to what’s occurred or occurring.
Finally, the band returns and a double-whammy encore of ‘Laid To Rest’ and ‘Redneck’ sees them go out on a maximum high. Sure, the sound could be a little crisper – Obituary managed it, after all, and first band on always have the hardest job sound-wise – but Randy’s vocals are incredibly forceful and the twin guitar assault throughout brings some of the best extreme metal in the wake of Pantera and this side of Slayer. In approximately fifty minutes, Lamb of God have absolutely nailed it.
Four years can make a huge difference and tonight, Lamb of God have proved themselves to be a solid live act. Their sound hasn’t been as good as it perhaps could have been, nor have they been anywhere near as much fun as Anthrax, but the performance has had guts and spirit – a world away from their London show on the ‘Resolution’ tour. Offering a short set but one heavily geared towards most of the classics (only ‘Black Label’ and a couple of ‘Resolution’ tracks would have made it better), this has been a fan-pleasing, riff-heavy, gut-churning experience.
A job well done.