Lamb of God 's New American Gospel debut featured a caustic yet lucid version of post-Pantera death metal, surprisingly effective songwriting, massive amounts of confidence for a brand new band, and, to be honest, a really annoying drum sound (rather like tightly skinned tin cans). Even though the latter point is certainly subject to opinion, at least the other two positive attributes can be partly explained by the group having already cut an earlier album while still going by the rather unsavory name of Burn the Priest. Which about catches everyone up to discuss the band's second effort as Lamb of God, 2003's equally impressive As the Palaces Burn. First off, gone is that out-of-whack percussive curiosity (thanks, boys!), but the band's knack for conjuring tasty riffs out of death metal's tired and weathered carcass remains intact, and it's pleasantly refreshing to discover something memorable and compelling about virtually every song. Among these, the excellent tandem of "Ruin" and the title track offer a powerful opening salvo, and additional highlights such as "11th Hour," "Boot Scraper," and the absolutely monstrous "Vigil" continually insert dark, distinctive melody lines within the heaviest of riffs. Further progress can be heard in vocalist Randy Blythe's performance, as he continues to shed his latent Anselmo-isms to strike a far more individual presence behind the mike. And still, for all of these positives, one can't help but feel in the end that there's still a wealth of untapped talent just beneath the surface here. If Lamb of God can maintain their momentum and actually figure it out, they may well find themselves at the top of America's heavy metal stack one day.