Sound — 7
The past few years have been a struggle for Lamb Of God, and particularly for frontman Randy Blythe. The whole metal community tensed up when Blythe was arrested for manslaughter in the Czech Republic, years after a show in Prague where Blythe pushed an audience member off the stage and died from an injury. The metal community later breathed a collective sigh of relief when Blythe was acquitted, but his time being locked up abroad was expectedly a harrowing experience, and the extensive legal fees needed for his trial left the band financially drained.
To look at this compounded misfortune from a glass-half-full standpoint, Lamb Of God converted that adversity into creative fuel for their most recent album, 2015's "VII: Sturm und Drang," though what Blythe had to endure prior to all of that is a mental scar that won't fade, and with the band also in the midst of making a documentary during that time, they ended up dedicating the finished documentary, "As the Palace Burns," to Daniel Nosek, the audience member who died at the show in Prague.
In a similar vein, Lamb Of God's newest EP, "The Duke," is dedicated to Wayne Ford, another LoG fan who tragically passed away. Inspired by the friendship Blythe had with Ford, who died from leukemia last year (the whole story can be read here), Blythe took it upon himself to make a song in his honor, as well as lining up the EP release with a charity campaign to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Aside from the live versions of "Sturm und Drang" favorites included on the EP ("Still Echoes," "512," "Engage the Fear Machine") that don't offer much variance from the studio versions, Lamb Of God use the two original tracks on the EP to take a shot in a different direction and then chase it with familiarity. The eponymous song shows the band taking a step into an alt-metal territory, and from the opening guitar melody to Blythe's clean singing, the song dons some of the easygoing sonic characteristics heard in "Sturm und Drang" along with its less-aggressive muted verse riffing. Lamb Of God still thrown in some harsh vocals and tougher guitar action in the bridge to give the song some teeth, but if that still doesn't make up for its alt-metal dosage, the band follow it up with a hearty helping of their classic sound in "Culling," which not only has Mark Morton ripping through a handful of guitar solos, but also has Chris Adler joining in on the fun with a drum solo of his own.
Lyrics — 8
While the lyrics in "Culling" make the social criticism of technological worship ("A pocket Jesus to light your path / A techno-messiah, enraptured crash"), it's clear that the more important bout of lyrics are in the eponymous song. Stating how inspired he felt by Ford's enlightened disposition regarding his terminality, Blythe's lyrics in the eponymous song are his attempt to look at death from Ford's perspective. Accepting that death is within reach, he isn't overwrought with turmoil, but eager to enjoy every moment left before the inevitable ("Stare into the eyes of the end / Reaping now without fear / The time that's left to spend"), and the second verse, while wielding symbolism standard for portraying the departure of this world, also refers to Ford's desire of wanting to be away from the hospital in order to enjoy his final months alive to the fullest ("This world has grown too small, I can't stay much longer / My body begins to fail as my spirit grows stronger / It's time for me to go").
Overall Impression — 8
Originally considered to be put on "Sturm und Drang," Lamb Of God opted to make "The Duke" a separate effort, and while that does help it stand out to better serve its purpose of honoring Wayne Ford, it also acts as a silver lining epilogue to the sentiments expressed in their previous album. Whereas "Sturm und Drang" focused on a number of bleak outlooks within this life, "The Duke" illuminates the ability to salvage the light in what's left even when the worst is right in front of you. With that, Blythe makes it crystal clear how important his friendship with Ford was and what it taught him, and it makes the EP resonate even more.