Released: 2015, Epic Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The trials – quite literally – tribulations, distractions and brief hiatus that faced Virginia's Lamb of God since 2012's Resolution have been well documented and need not be repeated here. Needless to say, they came into their seventh album a rather changed band, at least psychologically – especially in frontman Randy Blythe's case.
VII: Sturm Und Drang, lyrically anyway, is a reflection on that turbulent time, with a number of tracks inspired, in one way or another, by Blythe’s incarceration in Prague in 2012. “Still Echoes” and “512” could be described as diary entries from the period, as they were mostly written while he was still in Pankrác Prison – 512 being his cell number. “Anthropoid” and the climatic “Torches” - with Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato joining in on vocals - recall martyrs from the Czech Republic’s World War II/Communist-era past. It’s vivid, weighty fare to be sure.
Elsewhere is the more typical Lamb of God lashing out. But even there, Blythe’s rants about mass media manipulation (“Engage The Fear Machine”), self-obsession (“Overlord”), ecology (“Footprints”) and online culture (“Delusion Pandemic”) are particularly pointed and evocative, even with his wolverine caterwaul. His sentiments are as clearheaded as they are irascible.
The musical accompaniment to all this offers plenty of the “storm and stress” promised in the translation of the album's title. However, it makes for a somewhat uneven mix of familiar thrash metal ferocity and galloping grooves, the occasional mood piece and some experimenting that is sometimes quite effective – the crooning of Deftones' Chino Moreno on the wickedly catchy “Embers” and Puciato's aforementioned contribution – and sometimes not, like the curious voice box segment on “Erase This” or Blythe’s clean vocals on the front end of “Overlord.”
Granted guest spots and quasi-power balladry is not the most daring approach, but at least here – and in the Southern rockisms of Resolution - Lamb of God at least seem willing to branch out as their career progresses into its third decade, if you count the Burn The Priest years. And they are smart enough to draw the line well far of going full Load-era Metallica, so what made them so effective and resonant earlier on remains, if in slightly lesser quantities.
Indeed, the album opens with the balls out “Still Echoes” where drummer Chris Adler – who recently began moonlighting with Megadeth – gets downright blast beaty. “Delusion Pandemic” and “Anthropoid” are nearly as frantic, but get accented by the swaggering hooks of guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton. “Footprints” has the sort of surge and slam approach, and profanity, of “Redneck” from 2006's Sacrament and is sure to stir up action in the pit if it's played live – something the band, given recent circumstances, must now be quite cognizant of, unfortunately.
On the other hand, the comparatively mid-tempo “512” and “Engage The Fear Machine,” with their chugging pace, Blythe's spoken word/megaphone-like vocal affectations and Chris Adler's rolling drum fills, trod ground Lamb of God have been over many times before, something that pops up to a lesser extent elsewhere. And the overall sonic tableau producer Josh Wilbur crafts for Sturm und Drang is nearly identical to his work on Resolution and Wrath, which only brings more attention to what sound-alikedness there is here.
But given all the turmoil that preceded it, things certainly could have been worse on Sturm Und Drang. Lamb Of God could have half-assed it just to get something out so they could go back on the road and make up for the time they lost during Blythe's legal troubles. Or they could have gone overboard trying to prove something and ended up with more dubious experiments. As it is, it's a dependably solid, occasionally sensational, return that should help get the band moving forward once again and leave what has passed further behind.