Lamb Of God

VII: Sturm und Drang

Written by: AP on 21/09/2015 20:30:08

To say that the becoming of the aptly titled “VII: Sturm und Drang” — the seventh studio album by Richmond, VA groove metal icons Lamb of God — was a somewhat tumultuous affair would be the understatement of the century. In a much publicised saga, the band’s front figure Randy Blythe was arrested, imprisoned, tried and eventually found not to be criminally liable for the tragic death of Daniel Nosek, a 19-year-old Czech fan whom, it was alleged, Blythe deliberately pushed off the stage during an attempted stage dive at a Lamb of God’s concert in Prague on May 24th, 2010. That this latest record would stem its roots in that incident and its repercussions for Blythe was therefore a certainty, one confirmed when its title was officially set to resemble the turn of a chapter, and translate from German to mean Storm and Stress.

The foundations were thus laid for a dark and gritty atmosphere, and in this sense, “VII: Sturm und Drang” does not disappoint. Blythe and his cohorts — guitarists Mark Morton & Willie Adler, bassist John Campbell and drummer Chris Adler — have been quoted as deeming it their most cohesive effort to date, with none of the schizophrenia of previous albums distorting the tone (you will recall the raucous "Redneck" standing in stark contrast with songs like "Descending" on the revered 2006 record "Sacrament", for example). The flipside, it could be argued, is that consequentially, Lamb of God are less keen on parading hits and instant classics like they did on the aforementioned outing, and its predecessor "Ashes of the Wake" from 2003; with the focus now shifted toward exploring subjects that affect Blythe in a deep, personal way. Curiously, "VII" does not however wrangle with his incarceration to the degree most fans probably expected, with just two of the ten tracks specifically stemming from that experience.

There is no escaping the fact that those two pieces emerge as definitive highlights though, and somewhat anticlimactically they are both placed at the outset of the album at tracks one and three, respectively. "Still Echoes" provides a familiar chokehold for Lamb of God's devout following, blasting out of the gates with a traditionally groove laden onslaught of double pedal syncopation, eerie riffs and Blythe's signature growling — added lyrical inspiration from the history of Pankrác Prison, where Blythe was held on manslaughter charges. "512", on the other hand, contemplates how solitary confinement in a basement cell (the number of which lends the song its title) with no possibility even to see the sun in order to determine the time of day, changed and affected his psyche. From the most profound realities come the most heartfelt and convincing songs, and "512" is no exception: it is the most honest and distressing track Lamb of God have recorded to date, its unforgettable chorus — "The time is slipping by, no peace in sight. But the teeth of time still hold their bite. My hands are painted red - my future's painted black. I can't recognise myself - I've become someone else. My hands are painted red" — in particular leaving a haunting impression in liaison with a monumental signature riff. There is simply no way you won't share Blythe's anguish when he snarls "Red, red, red, red!" with increasing urgency near the end of the song, and find yourself humming its apocalyptic melody at the strangest of moments. Truly, one of the best songs Lamb of God have conjured up to date.

Elsewhere, and both "Erase This" and "Embers" also leave solid impressions; the former with a simple yet effective thrash discharge aimed at the mosh pit and reminiscent of the classic "Laid to Rest", the latter by incorporating guest star Chino Moreno's dreamy singing into its slower, atmospheric second half. But neither of these two, nor the remainder of "VII" manages to soar to the heights Lamb of God found themselves during the two early apexes mentioned in the previous paragraph. The quality remains high throughout and as such you are unlikely to be disappointed by the likes of "Footprints" and "Delusion Pandemic", but for a band of this stature the autopilot is engaged a little too often for this scribe and fan's liking. And when they are flying manual to deliver more unusual and ambitious picks like "Overlord" and "Torches", there is the sensation that Lamb of God are straying a little too far from their comfort zone with elements like clean singing and blues ridden NOLA worship. It is rather telling that the finest moments in these songs manifest when the musicians floor the pedal and deploy their tried and tested weaponry — not when Blythe mimics Phil Anselmo's softer side, nor when Greg Puciato contributes some wry and distant guest vocals.

Cohesive though "VII: Sturm und Drang" may be, it is on the strength of the two lead singles that the album makes its mark — with a generous helping hand from the never failing prowess of the underlying musicians. Lamb of God could probably write a hard hitting metal banger by pissing the notes in snow without hands, so it is easy to understand why the veterans (can we call them that by now, please?) might be intrigued by probing other approaches. The inclusion of the proggy "King Me" on 2010's "Resolution" signalled as much; now it remains to be seen if Lamb of God can fully harness the skill, and produce music in that vein but with the same ability rapidly to ingrain it in memory.

Download: Still Echoes, Erase This, 512, Footprints
For the fans of: Chimaira, DevilDriver, Machine Head
Listen: Official website

Release date 24.07.2015
Nuclear Blast Records

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