VII: Sturm und Drang is an album that marked a creative shift for Lamb Of God. Experiments with tempo changes and spoken word passages, plus a couple of collaborations, were all embraced by fans who were anxious to hear what level of influence Randy Blythe’s ordeal in Prague would have on his songwriting. VII was released in July and the groove metal giants finally brought the new material to their “spiritual hometown” of Philadelphia on Saturday. The band’s last appearance here (barring the premiere of the documentary As The Palaces Burn at the Trocadero in early 2014) was well over two years ago, due in part to Randy’s arrest and consequent memoir, and their summer run skipped over the City of Brotherly Love. The Electric Factory was overdue for a visit.
The lineup for this tour was led by Power Trip, a quintet that sounds like a southern version of Cro-Mags. The “Power Trip Power Half-Hour”, as dubbed by vocalist Riley Gale, was 30 minutes of nonstop pummeling over his disgustingly acidic bawl. “Crossbreaker” was the standout track, paying homage to classic thrashers like Anthrax, who would take the stage later in the night. At one point, the sihouette of Lamb Of God’s frontman appeared in the photo pit, trying to grab a few shots incognito. Randy’s affinity for photography is well-documented on Instagram and he was spotted several times throughout the show, camera in hand.
Deafheaven came next with a change in pace that left the beer-guzzling aggro portion of the room perplexed. The SanFran genre benders have been hailed as the next saviors of metal, but I approached with caution, reluctant to be sucked in by hype alone. Let me tell you: the hype is real. Deafheaven are masters of the slow burn, allowing lush instrumentation to churn and build until George Clarke’s desperate howls cut through the ambience.
When he wasn’t spewing into the mic, George would slither over the stage monitors like an animal stalking its prey, or spring upright to conduct his invisible orchestra that hovered over the crowd. Drummer Daniel Tracy was laser-focused, dictating the mood with his seamless tempo oscillations. The salmon-shaded cover of their album Sunbather (a stark contrast to the routine black-on-black aesthetic) speaks volumes; dark music is going in a new direction and Deafheaven is here to lead the charge. Most were receptive, but some showgoers hung back at the bar and talked over the splendor. Their loss.
The sold-out Factory was packed in time for Anthrax. The thrash titans nailed tried-and-true favorites from their late-80s releases; “Caught In A Mosh” and “Antisocial” raised more than a few horns in the crowd. Their brand new single “Evil Twin” harkens back to that era, albeit slightly more melodic, but reassuring us that the group won’t stray far from their familiar sound on the upcoming record For All Kings. Joey Belladonna’s wail was clear as ever as he galloped back and forth, careful not to disrupt Scott Ian’s lumbering pirouettes. Scott referenced their last show in Philly, a stop at the Tower in September, which was part of what turned out to be Motorhead’s final U.S. tour. Chants of “Lemmy” echoed in honor of the fallen rock legend. The Anthrax ballad “In The End” served as a tribute for Dio and Dimebag, whose portraits were emblazoned on giant banners behind them.
After a half-hour changeover, the lights dimmed and Lamb Of God took their places in front of massive screens flashing demolition footage. “Desolation”, a recent track that quickly became a staple, kicked off the set with a dynamite blast. This was only the second date of the tour, and the whole group seemed chipper, yet to be wearied from weeks on the road. They moved into “512”, the new single that earned the band their 5th Grammy nod. We’ll find out next month if they win, but it won’t matter either way: most the band are only mildly enthused over the nomination, and Randy doesn’t plan to attend the ceremony at all.
From there, the set jumped from album to album, covering their entire discography. Cuts from VII were spiked in, as expected, but the inclusion of “Overlord” was surprising. The first half of the song is mellow and contemplative with clean vocals – a radical departure from the bone-shaking roars and riffs that Lamb Of God is known for. It’s a solid piece, but in a live setting, there’s a risk of disrupting the momentum. A couple of minutes in, the rhythm went double time, and it was back to business as usual. One might assume that this and other tracks from VII all deal with Randy’s manslaughter trial in Prague, but he’s made it clear in interviews and in his memoir Dark Days that this is by no means a “prison record”. Instead, the lyrical themes deal with how humans react to extreme situations on both global and individual levels.
Randy threw his lanky frame in every direction and the crowd followed suit. Tornadic pits broke out for “Walk With Me In Hell” and “Set To Fail”. Drummer Chris Adler (who’s been working overtime with Megadeth recently) has a way of making even the most intricate passages look like child’s play, and he was stunning to watch. Willie Adler, John Campbell, and Mark Morton held their own, concentrating more on their instruments than on stage acrobatics. They weren’t bored, just focused: they were there to play guitar instead fling themselves off of the risers in a fit of mania. That was Randy’s job. The screens provided more visuals: loops of riots, candles, and snake charmers.
“Ruin” was dedicated to Mikey Brosnan, the late Philadelphia-based promoter who gave Lamb Of God their start. It’s because of him that the band call this city their second home; they cultivated a following here before their own hometown of Richmond, VA caught on. Lamb Of God recorded a live album here, premiered their documentary here, and sell out every show here. On Saturday night at the Electric Factory, they were right where they belong.
Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t
Got the Time (Joe Jackson cover)
Caught in a Mosh
Antisocial (Trust cover)
March of the S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death cover)
In the End
Among the Living
LAMB OF GOD SETLIST:
Walk with Me in Hell
The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion
The Faded Line
Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
Set to Fail
Blacken the Cursed Sun
Laid to Rest
Photos & Words by Sara Patrick