It’s not easy to go through what Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe went through. In 2012, a fan died during a show of theirs in the Czech Republic, and Randy was indicted with a manslaughter charge. He decided to go to the country and attend the trial, and was held in a Czech jail for a while. Even though he was acquitted after an arduous process, the whole ordeal left its mark on him (he’s even written a book about his experiences, and it’s actually pretty good). It was pretty clear that if the band were to come up with another album, it would be a pretty dark one. In contrast, their previous album Resolution was rather weak and uninspired, so putting these together, how their next album would turn out was a bit of a mystery. After much teasing, VII: Sturm und Drang is upon us, and fear not, because it’s pretty good.
Randy has said that while this album wouldn’t be a “prison record”, it would be about “things that affect him very deeply”. Honestly, it’s pretty clear to tell through his lyrics and the songwriting that the album is their most instrospective one since Sacrament, if not more so. And it’s definitely the one with the clearest direction and the most consistency since then. They’ve also continued the trend of expanding their stylistic palette that they started on Wrath, and while it’s not always so perfectly executed, overall they’ve done a good job of diversifying their sound to some extent.
The album is rather front-loaded, with the hardest-hitting (be it in terms of heaviness or emotional impact) songs making up the entirety of the first half. While the second half of the album is still good, it’s not as focused and obviously driven like tracks one through five. The opener, “Still Echoes” is a classic Lamb of God song with fast riffs, bouncy drumming, tight grooves and memorable licks. The follow-up, “Erase This” is also in that vein, but then the band start to show their more intimate side. “512” is very moody and deliberately paced, and with lyrics like “Six bars laid across the sky, four empty walls to fill the time” and the memorable chorus chant, “My hands are painted red”, it’s pretty clearly about Blythe’s incident and its fallout. It definitely carries some gravitas and successfully conveys the grim situation well, and shows that the band can tackle more personal concepts well. With “Embers”, Deftones frontman Chino Moreno gets in the ring to add even more flavor and ambience to a song that could already be a Lamb of God classic on its own.
The album is a constant flurry of good songs until the weird sore thumb that is “Overlord”. This is where the band attempts to pay homage to Alice In Chains, with Randy attempting (with a decent degree of success) clean vocals. Unfortunately, this song falls rather flat. It’s not that clean vocals ruin the band or any other elitist claim that can be leveled against them, it’s just that the song isn’t really good. With a pace like trudging through mud, tired southern-rock-esque riffs, the song is just a slog. It has a typical Lamb of God styled interlude where things pick up, but overall it’s just not that great, and the album never really recovers from that blow. The rest of the songs are all at least good, some are even great (like the progressive closing track “Torches” featuring The Dillinger Escape Plan and Killer Be Killed singer Greg Puciato, or the strong headbanger “Delusion Pandemic”), but the best songs are the first few. There isn’t really anything wrong with this, but it makes listening to the album in one sitting not as enjoyable as listening to individual songs. Regardless, every song on VII except for “Overload” is worth listening to, and even that one should be listened to see how weird it is.
In terms of production, it’s the usual Lamb of God fare that has been rather consistent for a while. It’s less abrasive than the slightly-clipping mix on Resolution, but other than that it’s a very recognizable sound. The snappy drums, crunchy guitars and Randy’s raspy voice are all the same as always. Well, Randy keeps going down his path of experimenting with different vocal styles as his main growling voice has gotten hoarser over the years, and it always works well, but for the most part he sticks to his main tone. “512” is probably the most interesting song vocally as he tries sing-screaming, high shrieks and more (not going to count “Overlord” here even though it’s the most different song in terms of singing, because it’s just out of place). While Resolution felt like the band had given up and phoned it in, it’s clear that they’ve gone back to applying themselves fully to their music here. The riffing is tight and nothing feels unnecessary, the drumming, while not offering anything different from Adler’s repertoire that has become pretty established over the years, is still good enough to keep things exciting.
Overall, VII: Sturm Und Drang is a very solid comeback that strengthens the band’s focus, inspired by trials and tribulations faced by Randy Blythe (literally). It’s easy for bands to take their own popularity for granted and pump out uninspired, soulless albums just to fuel their next touring cycle, but Lamb of God are clearly still angry, they clearly still care, and they clearly can still make good music, and this album is a testament to that.
Lamb Of God – VII: Sturm Und Drang gets…