Unraveling the facts behind this album and listening to it, has been an experience akin to watching the first series of Scandinavian crime show The Killing. It is baffling, surprising, enjoyable and infuriating by turn. Red Lamb is the combined efforts of Megadeth‘s Dave Mustaine and guitarist Danny Spitz, who we haven’t heard from since he left Anthrax.
It turns out Mustaine co-wrote and co-produced this album with Spitz. He does not seemingly appear on it, although you’d never guess. I happily listened to it three times convinced he WAS singing on virtually every track before I started digging. Perhaps Danny wanted Dave on vocals, but when he demurred he sought out a ‘stunt Dave’, a willing vessel to do all the tightly wound, grizzly snarls and wails we all associate with Mustaine. To be fair ‘stunt Dave’ Don Chaffin is a more talented singer, with a wider range and a slightly more relaxed style, but still his presence creates issues. This record can never shake off the feeling of a Megadeth tribute act. However, fans of Mustaine and co. and indeed any thrasher may find much to enjoy here if they can get past the freakish similarities and a few other issues.
Spitz‘s guitars are crisp and crunchy and the “brothers in arms” including ex-Yngwie Malmsteen drummer, Patrick Johannson on drums, are solid without being remarkable. For many however, Mustaine‘s involvement will be the deciding factor either way as to how much you can enjoy this album. Without apparently playing a note, Mustaine is all over this record, not just in Chaffin‘s vocals, but in the lyrics. It seems that Spitz, like Mustaine, is a born again Christian and the two of them have clearly been comfortable enough to make this the backbone of some of the songs.
There is also the usual conspiracy theory filled rants so beloved of right wing nuts. Lead out track ‘The Cage’ is the story of a religious conversion. No sneaking potentially unpalatable material onto the end of an album here! Actually there’s much more challenging stuff near the end, but I’ll come back to that! Although religious imagery and an obvious powerful sense of belief pervades this record most of it is easy to ignore as standard portentous metal lyrics. The aforementioned ‘The Cage’, the epic ‘Angels of War’ and the upbeat ‘Standby Passenger’ are as good as any trad thrash I’ve heard this year. Problems actually begin with ‘Puzzle Box’, an angry call for more funding and research into autism. Laudable and made poignant by the fact that Spitz is father to autistic twins. The trouble is the lyrics take a turn for the weird and end up seemingly accusing the government of a cover up and suggesting that the medical profession are not doing God’s work. This is the sort of lazy, wrong-thinking, knee-jerk bullshit that gives Americans a bad name. If that was the worst of it I could dismiss it as the misdirected anger of a concerned parent.
Then ‘Warpaint’ marches into existence and I give up making excuses. Basically Danny and Dave feel that America is ‘on it’s knees ‘ because the people have abandoned their faith in God or rather, the God worshiped by these white Christians anyway. Guns and overthrowing the government are mentioned. It’s pathetic and childish and unfortunately, not unexpected. After that I stopped caring about “Red Lamb” and if I had it in a physical format I’d throw it out of the window. Should I be more tolerant? Maybe, but there’s plenty of good music out there to enjoy that doesn’t rub me up the wrong way.