Ten Years Later, We Still Give A Fuck: A Decade of Lamb of God’s ‘Ashes of the Wake’

lamb of god ashes

In the early 2000s, the heavy metal community was in shambles. Pantera had imploded, and we’d later tragically lose Dimebag Darrell all together. Slayer was on cruise control. Metallica released St. Anger, and Machine Head’s Robb Flynn put on a shiny track suit and tried to rap. Our world needed a hero — and sorry, Dave Mustaine, but Megadeth had already taken one too many Risks to earn back our collective trust.

There’s a good chance this isn’t the only Ashes of the Wake retrospective you’ll read this week, but there’s an even better chance this is the only one to feature two cheesy Megadeth album title references in the same sentence. You’re welcome.

But alas, hope would soon arrive in the form of Lamb of God, a groove metal band from Richmond, Virginia whose previous releases for independent heavy metal label Prosthetic Records — New American Gospel and As The Palaces Burn — cemented their status as an underground sensation. But word was spreading and a move to Epic Records would bring Lamb of God’s brand of “Pure American Metal” to audiences larger than they had ever imagined.

The lead-up to Ashes‘ release saw the band performing on the second stage at Ozzfest 2004, which was one of the last few years of the annual traveling festival’s glory days — before Sharon’s infamous egging of Iron Maiden, System of a Down’s salary, and the launch of the rival Mayhem Fest sank what had been a holiday every metalhead circled on their calendar at the beginning of summer vacation. It was on this tour that the band debuted a new song called “Laid to Rest,” an instantly classic metal anthem for a new generation of fans that somehow survived the rap-metal years and came out craving something honest and authentic.

“Laid to Rest” would become the closest thing to a “hit” such an uncompromising metal band can hope for, earning radio play on only the bravest of mainstream rock stations and becoming a favorite on those insanely popular Guitar Hero games that everyone enjoyed playing in college while pre-gaming with a case of cheap beer. “Laid to Rest” had it all: A catchy shredder of a lead guitar riff, a pulsating drum pattern that showcased what made Chris Adler one of the finest in the genre, a mid-tempo groove impossible not to bang your head along with and a massive breakdown chant that gave angry youths an opportunity to scream the f-word at the top of their lungs.

“Destroy yourself. See who gives a fuck.”

In no way am I saying Lamb of God is merely a stupid heavy metal band that makes stupid heavy metal songs for angry meatheads. They wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have if that were the case. It’s really quite the opposite. Throughout high school and college, I used to skim through vocalist Randy Blythe’s lyrics whenever tasked with introducing a new vocabulary word to my English class, continually stumping all those lame kids who were never exposed to metal.

More than any other metal band at the time, Lamb of God was in touch with the post-9/11 political climate, tapping into the anger and frustration so much of our generation felt surrounding the Iraq War.

“Your trust has been misplaced, believed the lies told to your face. Become another casualty and now it’s too late.”

Lamb of God’s concerts became the ultimate outlet for catharsis. And if you were a high-profile metal tour in the years spanning 2004-2006, you had to have Lamb of God on the bill. You almost didn’t have a choice. The band’s audience was growing. And the genre’s biggest bands were taking notice.

Following Ozzfest, Lamb of God extensively toured North America as direct support on Slipknot’s ‘Subliminal Verses Tour.’ Slipknot was probably the genre’s biggest band at the time, but there was also a ton of buzz surrounding this whole “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” movement, and you have to credit Slipknot for acknowledging it, as opposed to trotting out the same tired openers grasping at the final strands of whatever was left of nu metal. Ten years later, it’s a shame this is no longer the case.

Slayer would later jump on the bandwagon, giving Lamb of God a similar role on their ‘Unholy Alliance’ run in 2006, which is still one of the better major metal tours in recent memory, with Children of Bodom and a young, hungry pre-Blood Mountain Mastodon rounding out the bill. But something was happening. Somehow, Lamb of God was receiving louder, more enthusiastic responses than Slayer. Yes, Slayer. FUCKING SLAYER.

When I saw that tour at Milwaukee’s Eagles Ballroom, Lamb of God’s vicious circle pit wrapped around the venue’s massive 3,500-capacity dance floor. A single lap seemed like a half-mile sprint, and I’d never before felt legitimate concern for my personal safety at a concert. “Angel of Death,” by comparison, inspired two or three smaller mosh pits that sort of petered out after a minute or so.

So many people were still unfamiliar with Lamb of God in 2004 that they felt like a brand new band, but in reality they’d already been around for a decade. The band had been fine-tuning their sound for years, and were already a well-oiled live band by the time they were given an opportunity to impress audiences on these larger stages. The jump to a major label didn’t soften their assault one bit, merely offering the budget to give justice to the massive sound they were able to produce in a live setting. Ashes of the Wake made the sort of impact on the genre that you’d expect out of a debut album, but Lamb of God had the advantage of already knowing exactly what Lamb of God is supposed to sound like.

In front of this machine was a frontman with a voice from hell and an endless supply of energy. We were pretty sure Randy Blythe was insane, but he also felt like one of us. Blythe was already into his 30s, but the kids latched onto his youthful enthusiasm, the conviction of his vocals and the fact that you just knew his entire life had been a struggle.

Given what has transpired with the band over the past few years, we know Blythe’s life hasn’t gotten much easier. Perhaps that’s why their crowds are just as large and enthusiastic in 2014 as they were in 2004. It also speaks to the timeless nature of their sound. Ten years later, Ashes of the Wake still sounds like an album that could have come out yesterday, but it’s better that it didn’t. Because instead, it came out at a time when we really needed it.

Editorial written by Kevin Blumeyer (follow him on Twitter)
‘Ashes of the Wake’ turned 10 on Sunday, August 31.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMsG7VBWDiQ

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  • Breathe_Easy

    I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. Man, I was at Ozzfest 2014 and I remember the vicious mosh pit that formed when Lamb of God came out. I had no idea who they were but my friend and I immediately ran out to buy Ashes of the Wake afterwards and were blown away by it. I saw them on the Unholy Alliance tour also. Holy hell man, I was only 20…ugh…nostalgia…

  • Art

    I know laid to rest was one of their most popular songs, but it was not Chris Adler’s best. Now you’ve got something to die for, or hourglass, or blood of the scribe. Laid to rest is probably the simplest song on the cd. I know you didn’t say best, but one of the finest is pretty much up there. Great article nonetheless.