Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Burn the Priest - Legion: XX (Epic)

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a sultry late spring evening at The Exchange, a now defunct DIY venue and retail store in Wilmington, NC. The event was the annual Wilmington Exchange Festival, or W.E. Fest, a semi-legendary DIY music festival that attracted various bands, punk rockers, indie kids, street urchins, and other misfits and hooligans from all over the country to participate in a week long musical orgy on the shores of the Cape Fear River. The year was 1998 and I was a fresh faced kid right out of high school and a nascent publisher of a small music zine, still very music full of naiveté and an unbridled passion for music that only youth can provide. The day had started early and by the time the sun was fully down about a half dozen bands had already played in the small space in the back of The Exchange that passed for a venue, really not much bigger than a child’s bedroom. The heat of the amplifiers and the dozens of bodies crammed into such tight quarters created sweltering conditions that drew all of the festival goers out onto the sidewalk between sets to catch a bit of fresh air.

It was here that I first witnessed a non-descript van roll up to the curb and spill forth five scrappy-looking metalheads that made up the then relatively unknown band with the dubious appellation Burn the Priest from Richmond, VA. The dudes were running late and in a sour mood as they had to immediately set up for their set upon arriving to the venue. They were the only metal band on the bill that night, and after taking one look at the crowd of punk rockers and miscreants that meandered outside The Exchange, the guys in Burn the Priest were skeptical as to how they would be received. As a long-time metalhead myself, I for one was particularly looking forward to their set after being intrigued by their brazen choice of moniker. The nearly unbearable conditions inside stalled most of the crowd’s entrance into the venue until they heard the first strains of music emanating from inside. Once the band kicked into their set, the bedroom sized room quickly filled to capacity and beyond.

As the first crackling guitar riffs filled the room with their hellish cacophony, the place went absolutely bonkers. It quickly devolved into a torrent of twisting, churning, flailing bodies as the buzzsaw guitars and stampeding drums ripped through the crowd like a fully armored cavalry charge, topped off by the maniacal vocal contortions and antics of their apparently crazed frontman. Only a couple of songs into the set, the sweat from the bodies packed into the room literally pooled on the floor already covered by a day’s worth of spilt beer, blood, and vomit. Frontman Randy Blythe was already stripped to his skivvies and there was literally steam rising from his torso. He grabbed the mic between songs, made some colorful comments about the heat and proceeded to encourage everyone to get butt naked as a way to combat the oppressive pall that hung in the air like a stagnant desert breeze, setting the example by immediately stripping off his remaining clothing.

Our columnist back in 1988

As the band kicked into their next song, one by one folks in the crowd began to follow Randy’s lead and soon nearly everyone in that crammed space was stark raving naked. The entire room turned into one giant nude moshpit as the energy of the band and the thrill of letting all inhibitions go infected the crowd and spurred them to ever greater heights of insanity, which only served to feed into the power and intensity of the band. By the time it was all over, band and audience alike were naught but a mass of bruised and battered flesh left trembling on the venue floor.

| That was my first exposure to the band that became Lamb of God, who over the course of the next few years quickly climbed the ranks of the metal elite to become one of the most celebrated and successful American metal bands of the early 21st century. I have seen them at least a half dozen times since that fateful evening at W.E. Fest. Each time the band has delivered in spades, but none have come close to capturing the magic and intensity of that naked and sweaty Cape Fear evening. Legion: XX is Lamb of God’s attempt to capture and encapsulate the kind of musical magic that inspired them to pick up their instruments, hop into a rusty old van, and unleash hell in the streets of Wilmington that night so long ago. As this album of selected covers seeks to represent this ethos, it is entirely appropriate that the band has chosen to release it under their original moniker; a name they abandoned after being signed upon the advice that a name such as Burn the Priest would prevent their star from rising to its full potential.
Coming of age in the late 80s and early 90s, the lads on Lamb of God/Burn the Priest were heavily influenced by the seething underground thrash/crossover scene that flourished in those years and many of the tracks they selected to give their unique spin on are of that ilk. But, they were also could not help but be influenced by the grunge and alternative scenes that took the world by storm in the opening years of the 90s and sent real metal sulking back into the shadows for nearly a decade.

The album opens with a scathing rendition of Seattle, WA’s crossover titans The Accused’s “Inherit the Earth,” which bursts forth like a stark raving lunatic and crushes all in its path. The band then switches gears completely without sacrificing the intensity with a searing version of “Honey Bucket” by the Godfather’s of Grunge themselves, the Melvins. This has always been my personal favorite Melvins tune and this version does the original more than justice, with Chris Adler’s ferocious drum performance in particular adding even more punch and drive than the original.

For the third track, Burn the Priest attempt to cover Big Black’s opus to teen boredom and angst, “Kerosene.” While the track is more than competently performed and delivered, its repetitive nature seems to drain some of the momentum the band had built up with the first two numbers and falls a bit flat. The band quickly recovers with an outstanding version of the S.O.D. classic “Kill Yourself” that bulldozes through everything while seeming to teeter on the brink of coming completely unhinged as each instrument spurs and dares the others to keep pace or crash and burn. Once again, Chris Adler’s precision drumming hold everything together as the guitars spit and rage over top, leaving the listener gasping for breath at the end of its brief run time of just over two minutes. The band follows this with “I Against I” from the legendary Bad Brains. Here vocalist Randy Blythe stands out with his ability to not only faithfully but convincingly deliver the challenging vocal gymnastics of Bad Brain’s vocalist HR, which are definitely outside of his wheelhouse. Yet, Randy more than rises to the occasion, displaying his growth as a vocalist and not just the glorified screamer he was in the very early years of the band.

The band’s next choice is an interesting one that personally left me initially perplexed. I’ve always considered myself deeply knowledgeable about music in general and all things metal in particular, but the choice of Sliang Laos’ “Axis Rot” left me resorting to Google to fend off my ignorance. Turns out these guys were an obscure Richmond band that recorded one album in the mid-90s before disbanding and sinking back into the mists of legend and obscurity. Evidently they left quite an impression on the young Randy Blythe, leading to the inclusion of “Axis Rot” here. With a sound like a cross between Helmet and Don Caballero, the mathy and quirky “Axis Rot” certainly has a different feel than everything else on Legion: XX but Randy and the boys manage to pull it off. Randy once again shines by stepping outside of his wheelhouse with clean vocals that retain the venom and vitriol that he is known for without resorting to all out vocal violence.

Next the band tackles the metal tinged, industrial tinted monolith that is Ministry with a rendition of “Jesus Built My Hotrod” that removes the industrial tint without sacrificing the mechanical drive and head snapping groove. This track sees lead guitarist Mark Morton step out with a couple of searing solos, including some tasty slide guitar playing that is just as pleasing and fitting as it is unexpected. The band then returns to the realm of late 80s crossover with a pit-inducing version of the Agnostic Front’s “One Voice,” before once again doing a complete one eighty with a cover of “Dine Alone” by legendary post-hardcore mavericks Quicksand. Although not the best track on the record, the band does an honorable rendition that retains the aura of the original and seethes and boils in all the right places. They don’t try to do too much with it and Randy once again shows his vocal diversity with a performance that is melodic without being trite and vicious without being bombastic. The album closes with a version of NYC hardcore/crossover kings Cro-Mags’ “We Gotta Know” that delivers both punk hubris and metal violence and finishes the album in much the same place it began.

Over two decades in the music biz is enough to jade even the most intense musical passions. At this point in their careers, most metal bands of the caliber and longevity of Lamb of God/Burn the Priest tend to veer off the path that got them to that pinnacle and begin experimenting with sounds and styles that often tend to alienate their core fanbase. Just about every major metal band over the last three decades has succumbed to this trend, including Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and even Slayer. Yet every time these experiments fail and the bands come running back to their roots, with varying degrees of success in recapturing the essence that attracted fans to them in the first place. Legion: XX is Lamb of God’s statement to the world that they will not fall victim to such travesties of musical justice and a reminder to themselves of just why they enjoyed doing this music thing in the first place.


back to l back to top is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

Jersey Beat Podcast

Home | Contact Jersey Beat | Sitemap

©2010 Jersey Beat & Not a Mongo Multimedia

Music Fanzine - Jersey Beat