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VERSUS: Ashes of The Wake vs. The Blackening
Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal, compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.
In this edition of Versus, we are tackling two of the biggest bands in the groove metal genre. One band, taking their political frustrations and themes and channeling them into what some claim to be the band's magnum opus. The other, a new direction, including more thrash and progressive elements, along with aggression that the band would continue to this day. Let's jump into the pit and see which album will stand on the top of the mountain in this matchup I'm calling "The Move To The Top of The Groove".
In this corner, we have Lamb of God with the band's third album, 2004's Ashes of The Wake. Influenced by the events occurring during the Iraq War, this album would catapult the band into popularity. Launching the band as one of the faces of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, making countless year end lists as well as rated by Metal Hammer as the fifth greatest Metal album of the 21st century. Does this record stack up against today's opponent? Will it be the defining metal record of the 2000's that fans and critics say it is?
The album opens with the lead single "Laid To Rest". With a metalcore like intricate guitar opening into pinch harmonic squeals, vocalist Randy Blythe delivers an ominous spoken word section before back to the squeals. Then the song intensifies with Blythe's snarling and gritty vocal delivery with wailing guitars behind him on the verse section. The double kicks from Chris Adler create an aggressive and driving pulse to the song, adding intensity on the verses and accenting the guitars in the main riff. That chugging breakdown after the line "see who gives a fuck" is an instant circle pit song as the song builds with the guitars into Blythe's legendary almost minute long scream. The band sprints to the finish line with fast paced drumming, chugging metalcore-like guitars into one last scream from Blythe as the song repeats the intro to the pounding drum hits. "Hourglass" starts with another chugging, gritty guitar riff with driving drums from Adler again. Guitar harmonies from Mark Morton & Willie Adler, with the intense drumming and Blythe's vocals, just make Lamb of God one of the best riff machines in American heavy metal. The high shriek at the end of the song still gives me goosebumps every time into the chugging riff and repeating double bass.
The next track and second single off the album is "Now You've Got Something To Die For". I love the grimy opening riff with Blythe's gravely and guttural growling of the song's title before the pace picks up into a more classic 80's thrash sounding riff. The tinging of the ride cymbal on Adler's kit, along with the chugging guitar riff by Adler and Morton just make the song a runaway freight train throughout the entire three and a half minutes. The whole song's energy and intensity in the performance just makes it a great song live. Especially with the call and response energy near the end of the track with Blythe shouting the song's title. On "The Faded Line", the song is just another riff heavy opening track with double bass punching behind it in the mix. Chris Adler gets to shine with double bass and cymbal hopping in the chugging breakdown section in-between verses. Blythe's vocal highs on the pre-chorus are so guttural and phlegm-inducing in its delivery. Just impressive sounding over the chugging, classic metalcore sounding riff.
"Omerta" opens with the spoken word oath of the Sicilian Mafia's Code of Silence. The chug of the palm-muted riff, with the simple drumming and accenting double bass, add a sludgier tone to the song, but still create a heavy aura behind the track. Adler's double bass and cymbals punch through so hard in the mix through the chuggy and pinch harmonic guitars. My favorite line of the song "Saint Peter greets with empty eyes, then turns and locks the gate", sounds so evil and foreboding before the pre-chorus riff starts. Near the end of the song's closing with Blythe's high screams as the riff and drums pick up just hit so hard. "Blood of The Scribe" sounds like a nostalgic 80's thrash opener. The fast-paced d-beat drumming, into a chugging, slower riff on the chorus, before the building drums and looping guitars just brings the energy of classic bay-area thrash like Exodus. Blythe's screams are at peak performance on this album, the range of highs and low hopping is just unmatched at the time. His energy in the vocals and delivery deliver that Lamb of God trademark sound. "One Gun" continues the same energy and intensity that the band delivers from the previous song with driving double bass throughout.
"Break You" is one of my favorite tracks. I love the gritty guitar tone of the track in the opening riff into Blythe's building low to high shriek. The verse section almost has a modern metal tone and sound to it, explaining why they are one of the torchbearers of the title. Then the shriek vocals kick in and it returns to an 80's thrash/crossover riff. Drenched in high pitch harmonics before drum fills and tom hits slow the pace down, creating that groove effect. I love the slow down/speed up pacing throughout the song. The guttural low Blythe gets on the "eternal winter" line just is so stank-face inducingly heavy. The closing breakdown-esque riff into Blythe screaming "son of a bitch, I'm going to break you" and screaming break you just ends the track on such a heavy note.
With "What I've Become" the song is back to that thrashy, heavy opening guitar riff, before slowing it down to a more groove style thrash riff in the vein of Pantera, channeling the Cowboys From Hell so well with the energy and performance of the band. The instrumental title track is a strong, chugging and driving track. Featuring guest guitar solos by Alex Skolnick of Testament and former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland, the manic and frantic guitar playing and drum hits, mixed with disturbing audio of conversations about the Iraq War experience, add to it, creating a weirdly heavy sounding instrumental track. The album's closer "Remorse is For The Dead" teases a somber, clean guitar passage, a sound the band would use on later releases. The building drum fills and eerie guitar helps set the stage for an ominous sounding track, then the track breaks the door down. Blythe goes for the gusto in his vocals on the track as the band tries to end the album with a strong, thrash sounding closer that concludes this political juggernaut of American heavy metal.
Their opponents, Bay-Area groove metal act Machine Head with their sixth studio album, 2007's The Blackening. A record with themes of love, war, religion, societal anger and a battle cry for the late Dimebag Darrell, the record showed the band become more furious with more traits of progressive metal. A theme they would begin to incorporate more on their following record Unto The Locust. With the influence of Bay-Area thrash and the band's trademark groove, how do they matchup against their opponents?
The album opens with "Clenching The Fists of Dissent". With a somber and sorrowful opening acoustic guitar passage, electric guitars and slow drums begin to build behind it with vocalist Robb Flynn's manic and incoherently distorted vocals in the background. Then the thrash-infused opening riff kicks in, with classic drum stabs and cymbal chokes. Pummeling double bass by drummer Dave McClain give that classic Bay-Area thrash sound. Flynn's raspy and gritty cries to the sky into the first breakdown creates a nice, slow chugging riff and heaviness. An awesome, but short guitar solo by Phil Demmel is a great addition leading into the second verse section. I do love the super low, sludgy bass tone from Adam Duce at the halfway mark of the song, which also showcases Demmel on another strong, manic and fast paced guitar solo section. With the chanting crowd, building drums, and Flynn's guttural cries, the song's progressive elements across the song is so eclectic and diverse. A strong opening track, that is a great fusion of the groove metal sound the band is known for, along with a little more thrash metal incorporated into it.
"Beautiful Mourning" has a gritty, classic thrash sounding guitar riff with POUNDING double bass, making it a strong and heavy opening riff into the verse section. The clean vocals are mixed nicely, showcasing Flynn does have a good clean singing voice, in the midst of his aggressive growls. I love the breakdown riff at the halfway mark, with McClain's little flourishes with drum fills and almost letting him shine when the bridge kicks in. Letting him go all over the place during Flynn's clean vocals. A more straightforward thrash/groove fusion and less progressive, but is a good follow up to the progressive and diversity of the album's opener.
Then comes the track "Aesthetics of Hate". The song's lyrical origin is based on an article Flynn read called "Aesthetics of Hate: R.I.P. Dimebag Abbott, & Good Riddance", where the writer bashed Darrell's legacy, personality and his musicianship. Furious at the article, Flynn wrote this song as a response. The unmatched energy of Flynn's vocals and lyrics channels EVERY metalhead who would hear the comments about Darrell in the article and agree with Flynn 100%. The song is just unbridled anger and ferocity. Even the music itself sounds like a heavy as hell Pantera riff like something off Vulgar Display of Power. Even having a post breakdown section at the quarter mark that literally is the band channeling Dimebag in the guitar. Such a heavy song throughout, with dual harmonies in the guitars at certain points, with McClain keeping the pulse of the song going as Demmel & Flynn stand out and channel their inner rock Gods. A relentless fury of heaviness throughout the entire song and is one of Machine Head's all time best songs and the best track on the album.
On "Now I Lay Thee Down", with a nice opening chugging riff after some high pitched guitar notes, the song rides that groove train all the way to the verse. Flynn's vocals are more subdued and tamed, with a slower but somehow uplifting guitar riff and drums behind him. Duce's bass peaks through on the clean vocal pieces, adding dynamics to the track. Musically, the sound of it is almost like a weird Machine Head take on a ballad in the notes and the performance. Slowing the pace down compared to the first track. Unique guitar and bass dueling section at the halfway mark and near the end of the track, before the song gets heavier and Flynn's growls come back harsher. Definitely showing their progressive influence on the record and some of the hints where the band would go on future releases. "Slanderous" has a grimy, down tuned opening riff rising in scale as drums are simple, but punch at just the right timing of the guitar. The one thing I love about this band is how the band knows how to play with their songs. With this one, you have elements where its a grungy and gritty thrash like sound. Then, you get a groove, almost sludge metal sounding chorus, which is tough to do and make it work successfully. I LOVE the breakdown at the halfway mark, definitely a slow headbanger of one with Demmel's sludgy sounding guitar wails during it before the pacing picks up. Almost mutating into a classic heavy metal sounding riff, solo and drum section you would hear on any Iron Maiden record (especially the duel harmonies on the guitar).
Next is "Halo". With Duce's bass leading the charge with a driving rhythm, it is accented by guitars and drums as the song builds. I love the wailing opening guitar before we get to the classic Machine Head distorted note hit you hear in a lot of their songs. Flynn's vocals are so demanding and larger than life, leading with an almost call-to-arms in his performance. His cleans are very good sounding in the mix on the chorus, with the guitars and vocal harmonies accenting it very well on the track. Showing that he doesn't have to growl all the time and can showcase his emotions well with his cleans. I love Duce's bass throughout the track, peaking through at certain parts. Giving off a feel of unease and anxious, creating a weird anticipation of where are we going with the song? With "Wolves", the song has great mix with the drums and the dirge-like guitar tone of the track. The wailing opening guitar solo is a nice touch, shredding into the main verse riff. The frantic pacing of the song at the minute and a half mark, creates a classic nostalgic heavy metal tone and sound of traditional heavy metal. The band stays mainly in the thrash metal energy and musicianship of the song. The album closes with "A Farewell To Arms". With guitar drenched in reverb and chorus, slow building drums, the ominous feel of the song begins to build the listener up into Flynn's clean vocal opening. I love the vocal harmony mix on the song, with the guitar playing behind him, creating a almost harmonious and somber feel to the song. At around the two and a half mark, the heaviness kicks in. With that ringing guitar into that thrash metal sounding riff and drums, the song just goes into a groove-like breakdown with Flynn ditching the cleans and getting right to the gutturals. The song flip-flops between both somber and melancholic guitar and cleans, then into aggressive groove metal sounding guitars before beautifully combining them together at the end.
After listening to both of these records, who stands on top of the groove metal mountain? In my opinion, Lamb of God with Ashes of The Wake is the winner in this matchup. With Ashes, there is no bad songs or lull moments on this album. Blythe's vocals are insane on this album. The band is at their peak both musically, energy, song writing, and wrote one hell of a record and deserves all the hype it gets. I do like The Blackening and I do like the band beginning to incorporate more of the progressive elements and tempo changes, but I think this was the first steps and has moments where some parts could have been cut down or songs shortened and it would have been better. While the band would perfect it on the follow up, it shows that they are on to something and just need to fine tune it. I also feel that there are some songs that aren't as strong as others, which does hurt the overall feel of the record. It is still a good record and one of the best in Machine Head's discography, and it was a tough contender in today's matchup, but I have to declare Lamb of God the winner in this matchup.
Lamb of God would face some difficult times in 2012, when Blythe was charged with Manslaughter and extradited to the Czech Republic, facing five to ten years in prison if convicted. In 2010, Blythe shoved a fan off the stage during a Lamb of God concert, which the fan would die from the incident. Blythe would spend five weeks in a Czech prison. Per the court, he was morally responsible for the fan's death, but did not face criminal charges for the incident. The incident would be chronicled in his memoir Dark Days: A Memoir, the documentary As The Palaces Burn, and lyrically in their 2015 album VII: Sturm und Drang.
In 2019, drummer Chris Adler would leave the band, and would be replaced by former Prong drummer Art Cruz. He would make his official studio debut with the band on their 2020 self-titled album and has been with the band since. They followed that record up with 2022's Omens, which debuted at number fifteen on the Billboard 200.
After The Blackening, the band would follow that album with 2011's Unto The Locust. It would be the band's highest charting album, entering at twenty two on the Billboard 200 at the time. It would be the band's last album with founding member and bassist Adam Duce before he was fired due to "differences" in 2013.
Their most recent record, 2022's Of Kingdom and Crown, showed the band try their first concept album, set in a futuristic wasteland and revolves around two characters, Ares and Eros, who both go on their own respective killing sprees following the death of their loved ones. One of the darkest records, both lyrically and musically, was received well from critics and fans, citing as a return to form.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.