After Randy Blythe was arrested on a charge of manslaughter in the Czech Republic in June 2012, the future of Lamb of God was uncertain. If found guilty, it would put the band on hold for approximately a decade – and given that their 2011 release ‘Resolution’ placed the band further into the big league, the timing could not be more unfortunate. Understandably, given the good news of his innocence – a decision reached in March 2013 – the band’s first return to the UK just under a year later is cause for celebration; their show at London’s Brixton Academy is, unsurprisingly, a sell-out.
Normally, Brixton Academy is a good venue for metal gigs, but on this particular occasion, something’s just not quite right. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s absolutely freezing; maybe it’s the odd, sour and nutty smell that occasionally drifts into the audience area – although not as pungent, it’s a little like a festival toilet, suggesting there’s possibly something wrong with the plumbing somewhere. Whatever it is, London’s Brixton Academy lacks it’s usual shabby, yet brilliant appeal.
Even when first support band Huntress take the stage, there’s no real buzz of excitement…Despite this, the Californian metal act give their all. Although much heavier live than on record, their harder metal edges are tempered by some great twin lead work. Jill Janus’s voice doesn’t always hit the huge growling notes for which she aims – she’s no Angela Gossow, but very few are – but during moments where she pulls back, there’s a fine voice to be heard. Bantering with a relatively sparse audience, the band are supremely confident; Janus skips around the stage with abandon, recalling the over-zealous Janick Gers during Iron Maiden’s second London show in 2013. Huntress’ own material goes down well enough with the attendant crowd, with ‘I Wanna Fuck You To Death’ (a co-write with rock god Lemmy) gaining an even bigger reaction. As Huntress leave the stage after half an hour of proving themselves as a hard working band, a small choir of audience voices at front stage right sing “get your tits out for the lads”, in a rather disappointing display. Let’s hope Janus doesn’t have to endure such idiocy too often. Twenty more minutes of Huntress would have been far preferable to the near-hour’s worth of tuneless death metal from Decapitated. Once you’ve spent about four minutes marvelling at the speed and technicality of your average death metal drummer, the lesser bands within the genre run the risk of becoming somewhat dull. Poland’s answer to Cannibal Corpse are no exception as they hammer out relentless pneumatic noises for what feels like…forever. Even having the band leave the stage sporadically for some droning noises and a doomy light show never distracts from the lack of variety in the material.
At a rather late 9:50 pm, Lamb of God finally appear. Just over an hour for a headline set? Jesus, who do they think they’re kidding here…? Hopefully the lack of duration will be made up for with a full-throttle performance. After an intro of ‘Desolation’, the band launch into ‘Ghost Walking’ with sheer abandon. The energy from the crowd excels that of the energy on stage, but at least for the first time the venue actually feels exciting (and by now, at least it’s bearably warm, although the moderate lavatorial smell has fused with an unpleasant dope reek). The sound mix is so bad that Blythe’s vocals are not really audible at all, but Chris Adler’s drum sound is immense. However, it takes more than a drum sound to make a performance, and the audio muddiness kills most of the music’s finer points. On stage left, regular guitarist Mark Morton is absent (“family problems”), but Paul Waggoner of Between The Buried & Me does a fine job filling the space. However, as the show progresses, it’s clear that having a stand in brings problems of its own – namely not being able to draw from a broad selection of the band’s brilliant catalogue. As ‘Walk With Me In Hell’ rises, Blythe proudly states that the audience “know the words, sing them for me!” …No, actually, Randall, fuck off: we’ve sat through a death metal band for what feels like an age, and then so far with Lamb of God, we couldn’t hear you at all. How about we hear you sing this? We’ve paid for this gig, after all. From the second verse, however, this tune stands proudly as a twenty-first century metal classic, something which the band are rightfully proud – and a tune that, essentially, no audio problems can keep down.
There’s some time filled as Morton’s absence is explained, before even more time is filled by a huge speech regarding loyalty and fan-love – all very genuine, but with time ticking away, more music would be preferred. Hammering through the classics ‘Omerta’, ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’ and ‘Set To Fail’, musically things are very strong. The riffs are brutal, the drums tight, with a heavy bass rattle adding extra bottom end. Even then, between these should-have-been-great performances (the sound mix is still like mud), there’s a niggling sense of the performance having no real pace. The band constantly play for time between songs, with other meandering announcements just smacking of a band who haven’t rehearsed enough to fill a decent length set.
The encore includes a fantastic rendition of ‘Laid To Rest’ – the sound mix finally nears something half decent and Lamb of God are at full greatness. It seems too little too late, though, and before too long things grind to a halt once again with a bunch of inane questions: “How many of you have never seen us? How many of you have seen Lamb of God before? How many of you live in London? How many of you came here tonight from elsewhere? How many of you have work in the morning?” For Christ’s sake, guys, stop it. Just shut up and play. You’ve just about played a set that’s acceptable for a support band so far (both in intermittent good/bad quality and duration), but here you are – again – stalling, filling time, hoping no-one notices. You’ve only got seven more minutes before curfew and you know it. You could at least pretend that you actually give a fuck now you’ve taken our money. Rounding the evening out with ‘Redneck’ and ‘Black Label’, the sweaty bodies in the moshpit can go home happy, but for those who us who want more music, this comes as little consolation. Just as Lamb of God finally finds something resembling their stride, the show is over.
Being just about the only band strong enough to fill the void left by the mighty Pantera, based on this evening, Lamb of God need to up their game – to give their fans more. Yes, this show comes at a time when (according to press) they are “soldiering on through hard times”, but there are times when that shows a little too obviously. Maybe the band should have ensured Waggoner was in a position to tackle a few more songs? Maybe they ought to have postponed the tour until all members were ready to give their all? Even with the short set of sixty five minutes, Lamb of God seem to be taking things at too much of a leisurely pace. Sure, fans can be loyal, but even the most devoted will eventually spot when they’re being short-changed…and Lamb of God are on shaky ground.
Leaving the venue, a few voices suggest that this night had been billed as a double headliner between Lamb of God and Decapitated, but nothing official online suggests this was ever the intention. Most of the audience hadn’t paid to see the second-tier death metal band…
Rather fittingly, ‘Cheated’ is not part of Lamb of God’s setlist.