The list of American heavy metal bands that have enjoyed more 21st-century success than Virginia’s Lamb of God is a very short one indeed. Since their commercial breakthrough with As the Palaces Burn in 2003, the thrashy, growling headbangers have released a string of five more albums, sold millions of records and T-shirts and toured the planet with the biggest names in the genre.
On their way to becoming respected and established veterans, Lamb of God have enjoyed the kind of career that plenty of longhairs would kill for — even if the band never quite saw it coming.
“It’s kind of succeeded beyond our imagination,” says bassist John Campbell in between shows on the band’s current tour of U.S. theaters. “What the key to it is, I wish I knew! I’d bottle it up and sell it to somebody. I think it’s an immense amount of luck. I think that we’ve made wise choices with some of the opportunities that we’ve been given. Why there are incredibly talented people sitting at home making music as opposed to being out on the road, I couldn’t tell you.”
Lamb of God has hit the road hard since the release of their latest album, VII: Sturm Und Drang, last summer. They were last in Houston in September, battering the Woodlands Pavilion in tandem with Slipknot. But when the band hits the stage at Revention Music Center tomorrow night, they’ll be at the top of the bill this time — and it’s a stacked one. Dallas’s chugging hardcore prodigies Power Trip are the tour opener, playing their largest stages yet, followed by rising blackgaze icons Deafheaven.
The primary support slot will be held down by a group Campbell says he still can’t quite believe is opening for him: thrash metal icons Anthrax.
“We’d seen those guys kicking ass for many years before we ever thought we’d have a chance to meet them, let alone play shows with them,” the bassist says. “They carried us out about 12 years ago, and it’s great to be back on the road with these guys. Getting to hang out with [Anthrax bassist] Frank Bello backstage is really kind of surreal.
“Although I did whoop his ass at table tennis,” he adds, chuckling.
Athletic triumphs aside, it hasn’t all been dreams come true for the band. In their years spent shredding along in a genre known for trading in nightmares, Lamb of God has lived through a few in recent years. Most recently, the group canceled most of its European tour in the wake of November’s terror attacks in Paris, which included a deadly rampage at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater. The band had their reasons to be cautious: Europe has spelled trouble for them in the not-so-distant past. On the same tour, singer Randy Blythe had been attacked and clubbed over the head, apparently at random, by a gang of teenagers in Dublin.
While his injuries weren’t serious, Blythe’s indictment on manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic in 2012 certainly was. In 2010, Blythe shoved a fan offstage at a show in Prague who later struck his head and died. The singer was imprisoned, tried and ultimately acquitted, but it was a dark and uncertain period for the band that could have easily ended their careers in infamy.
On Sturm Und Drang, Lamb of God turned the tragic incident into inspiration with the song “512,” named for Blythe’s cell number at the “historic” Pankrác Prison. The song has since been nominated for a Best Metal Performance Grammy at the ceremony scheduled for February 15.
Campbell says the band is gratified by the nomination — their fifth. But they aren’t holding their breaths.
“I’m definitely not in the business of winning Grammys at this point, since we’re four-time losers,” he says. “So, it’s hard to get terribly excited about it. Considering that we started as five drunks who just wanted to play parties and chase girls, to have the validation of being nominated for a Grammy now for the fifth time — it’s impressive. But, pragmatically, it really does nothing for you.
“I can’t show my bank a Grammy award and say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to pay my mortgage this month. Cool?" he adds.
While the harrowing, mid-tempo crunch of “512” falls neatly into Lamb of God’s modern wheelhouse, the band isn’t afraid to try out new textures. Another of Sturm Und Drang’s standouts, “Overlord,” features honest-to-God singing from Blythe — a conspicuous first from a front man celebrated for his inhuman shrieking. In the world of metal, it’s a leap risky enough that one could imagine a band meeting being called to discuss it. But Campbell says there no such forewarning. He only heard the clean vocal style once the track had already been recorded.
“I don’t want to say I went cold or got a knot in my stomach, but it was like, ‘What?! He what?’” the bassist recalls. And [producer] Josh [Wilbur] said, ‘Well, but it’s cool! Sit down and listen to this.’ And I heard it, and was absolutely blown away. I’m really glad that [Blythe] had the balls to do that.
“I mean, for a guy that’s known for the screaming and growling and yelling and barking, to come through like that was amazing,” Campbell continues. “It gives the record a great dynamic that we’ve never tapped into before.”
Interesting as that experiment turned out, the bassist says he was glad to get recording out of the way.
“I prefer the stage,” Campbell says. “The studio is a mind-numbing amount of work. The stage is a cathartic release of endorphins.”
Considering the violence, death and imprisonment that have dogged the band in recent years, every endorphin counts. There’s no doubt they’re happy to be back on the road in the U.S., where security is tight. In a perfect world, none of it would be necessary. But Lamb of God has been fighting (and winning) its battles long enough to know that the sturm und drang will never really end.
“Does it ever end for anybody?” Campbell asks. “I mean, life is a struggle. Life is about suffering. I don’t think it does. Luckily, there’s an opportunity for us to discuss and explore that aspect of life.”
Lamb of God storms into Revention Music Center, 520 Texas, on Thursday with Power Trip, Deafheaven and Anthrax. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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