Lamb of God

Formed a decade ago as Burn the Priest (gosh, why change that name?), Lamb of God has recently erupted on everything from MTV2's "Headbanger's Ball" to this summer's Ozzfest tour. Why? Because this Richmond-based quintet kicks you-know-what.

On the best metal album so far in 2004, Lamb of God dispenses its progressive, start-stop riffs with military precision. Guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton skillfully cram tension-building silence between each chunky note. On standouts such as "Laid to Rest," the duo inventively shifts dynamics, constantly hammering the metal into fresh shapes.

Like its inspiration, Slayer, this is the rare thrash group that bridges the gap between technical metal and neo-funk, between head banging and booty shaking. Credit drummer Chris Adler (Willie's brother), who attacks his kit with a grace that suggests a former life as a jazz drummer in a Holiday Inn lounge.

Want singing? Forget it. Gruff front man Randy Blythe sounds exactly like a tornado descending on your barn. But understand, these aren't Cookie Monster vocals. Blythe is more like Oscar the Grouch: "Now you've got something to die for!" he snarls sarcastically on one of several tunes inspired by the war in Iraq.

The crowning achievement is the epic title track: Old-school guitarists Chris Poland (from Megadeth) and Alex Skolnick (from Testament) guest-shred on an instrumental that includes four solos.

If you have any doubts about the resurgence of classic heavy metal after that, crank it up another notch. Then wake up and smell the "Ashes."

-- Michael Deeds