American groove metal icon Lamb of God’s newest release is perhaps the most frantic album the band have ever done. Though evident from the breakneck pace of blistering opener ‘Still Echoes’ it is the weight resting on the legendary 5-piece’s shoulders that especially creates a sense of immediacy throughout ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang’ (German for ‘Storm And Stress’).
Notable that this is the first release from the band since Randy Blythe’s well-documented overseas excursion that landed him in prison, it’s made even more important considering that LOG are already 7 albums deep and still a worldwide metal titan. One can come to expect greatness from these mighty gents, even with the few disappointments associated with their past 2 records. ‘VII’ makes a noticeable attempt at cleaning up the inconsistency of the group’s discography, only sometimes branching off the beaten path into left field for an intriguing, if not clunky, usage of clean vocals in both ‘Embers’ (courtesy of Deftones’ mainman Chino Moreno) and ‘Overlord’ which features Randy Blythe’s second-ever usage of clean vocals on record. At least Blythe’s mostly clean delivery in ‘Overlord’ fits the bluesy ‘Load’ Metallica-meets ‘Through The Ashes’ Machine Head-esque atmosphere created by his bandmates, and the chorus in ‘Embers’, one of Blythe’s brilliant usages of a more melodic shouting style, is extremely effective. Far more worthwhile than these 2 details is the stellar musicianship of the band, especially in a song like ‘512’ with its usage of an unsettling main lead riff that echoes the urgency the track displays. ‘512’ is also one of the only tracks that touches on how Randy felt about the whole prison situation, perhaps saving the majority of the details for his recently released auto-biography, reservedly so. It’s a refreshing tidbit that the lyrics on the album focus on personal emotions that the listener can more easily relate to. A common theme throughout is being haunted by past events. This is the first time the musicians in Lamb of God have written music with relatability squarely in mind. ‘Overlord’ is the principle foundation of that mindset, reminding the listener to never think so highly of themselves that they forget about others. No lyric on the album is as satisfying nor simple however as the “Jesus Christ, you make me sick!” heard delivered in ‘Footprints’, one of ‘VII’s more aggressive cuts. Classic Randy Blythe.
The composition this time around is less focused on groove and more on neck-snapping riffs, heavy bass sections and chugging rhythms. Lamb of God first and foremost have always been about riffs, and of course Chris Adler’s signature drum fills. ‘VII’ contains both of those aspects in spades, but you’ll bang your head hardest to ‘Still Echoes’. It’s not just a great album opener, it’s one of the best album openers Lamb of God have ever done, harkening back to ‘Ruin’ from ‘As The Palaces Burn’. It shows who Lamb of God are so clearly in fact that it may as well be self-titled after the band. ‘Delusion Pandemic’ is a close second though – Its main riff is classic Lamb of God post-thrash. The majority of the album is tried-and-true Lamb of God, for better or for worse. Consistency is the key with this record, aside from the 2 forgettable bonus tracks. The biggest risk the band have ever taken however lies in track 10 ‘Torches’ progressive structure and weaving middle-Eastern melody which is sang over beautifully by Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato. The initial build-up will confuse, as will the rocky transition into the climax of the song, but the risks pay off and create one of the band’s most epic and unexpected tracks. I do wish more of the album could have been adventurous but better safe than sorry in this case.
Compared to last year’s biggest metal record (Slipnot’s ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’) ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang’ isn’t nearly as textured, dynamic nor memorable a headliner for the 2015 metal scene. It is however the best Lamb of God release we have heard since 2005 and I’ll definitely take that. It stands as a reminder that metal is still alive and well and that a veteran heavy band can still find ways to keep themselves relevant and refreshed. Though sometimes a little too heavy on filler, ‘VII’ will please its established listener-base.