Although it’s something of a mystery to outsiders, it’s really not hard to understand why heavy metal fans are among the most loyal music consumers on the planet. One of the main reasons is that these musicians — for all their hollering, aggressive posturing and frenetic performance speeds — practice what they preach when it comes to important adages in life: remember who you are and who had your back, and pay it forward when you get the chance.
Lamb of God, like nearly every other touring headliner, started from the bottom when it formed in Richmond, Va., in 1990. The groove metal outfit counts the Big Four of thrash among its influences. The sole New York band of that quartet, Anthrax, took Lamb of God on tour with it as a supporting act when the latter band was building its résumé. Now that LOG is a music leader in its own right, it’s giving back by not only choosing developing acts Deafheaven and Power Trip to fill out the bill, but by also inviting Anthrax to join as direct support on its current U.S. tour and dedicating the song “Ruin” to them during LOG’s Jan. 25 show at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Winter Storm Jonas had bumped the concert from its original date of Jan. 23, and it wasn’t lost on Lamb of God that the packed room had navigated tricky conditions to attend.
“Look at all of you motherfuckers,” said singer Randy Blythe by way of thanking the attendees. “It’s a Monday, and you’re all here.”
Meanwhile, Anthrax showed its love for two metal legends that are no longer here: Ronnie James Dio and Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott. With a tapestry of Dio hanging at stage right and one of Dimebag at stage left, the band played the tribute song from its Worship Music album that it wrote for both deceased musicians, “In the End.” This kind of celebratory spirit is what Anthrax has always been about. Whether it’s a heavy-hearted requiem that’s bracketed with mournful church bells, apocalypse-inspired rumblers like “Fight Em’ Til You Can’t” and “Among the Living” or declarative statements like “Antisocial” and “Caught in a Mosh,” Anthrax’s ground zero of inspiration comes from praising the arts of thrash and rebellion. After 35 years, it’s still performing with exuberance and fortitude, with bassist Frank Bello and guitarist Scott Ian jacked up on enough enthusiasm to carry the whole audience.
While Anthrax can’t hide the grin it wears while giving the world the finger, Lamb of God is not smiling. At all. This act has a scowl permanently etched on its face as it intently points out the nihilism and self-destruction that seems inherent in the world. The opening video footage for its set consisted of buildings collapsing from controlled demolition, and throughout the night the visuals were a refresher course in man-made tragedies.
The Anthrax shout-out that was “Ruin” — which actually sounded like it could destroy someone if the song’s decibels and ferocity were physical weapons — was supplemented with images from the Jonestown Massacre, the burning Branch Davidian compound and followers of Charles Manson; “Walk With Me in Hell,” a track filled with menace, was illustrated with photos of the nuclear bombs. Personal tragedies were part of the show, too: “512” and “Still Echoes,” the two tracks from last year’s Sturm Und Drang that documented Blythe’s six-week imprisonment in the Czech Republic, were also performed. “This is about the unpleasant place I got put a while ago,” was all Blythe said to introduce the latter track, letting its raw, stinging guitar and pounding rhythms express how he felt about the experience.
SLamb of God continued to lay aural waste with “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For,” “Set to Fail,” “Blacken the Cursed Sun” and “Erase This,” its noise level reverberating as if the band was an orchestra instead of a quintet. It was the sound of acerbic defiance and cathartic confrontation, from the instrumental introduction to the finale of “Redneck.” It was also the sound of a band that knows who it is, and the path it traveled to get there.