While it has only been three years between records for Richmond, Virginia’s Lamb of God, for some reason it seemed much longer. Perhaps it was the Prague “prison drama” vocalist Randy Blythe endured after the release of 2012’s Resolution, or perhaps it is just because these guys are so damn good, the distance between new music just feels like an eternity. Regardless, the leaders of the new wave of American metal have not disappointed with their seventh slab of weighty goodness, titled VII: Sturm und Drang, which loosely translates to something like Storm and Stress. It is about turmoil, and there is an undercurrent of that feeling flowing through this record.
Lamb of God celebrates 20 years with what feels like its most cohesive album so far, but one that finds the band, as always, pushing at the boundaries of its past works to claim new ground. While at times subtle, the growth in the band can be heard right from the lead off track, “Still Echoes” Drummer Chris Adler is a pulverizing beast (no wonder Megadeth tapped him for its new studio album), and bassist John Campbell sets the rhythmic pace for a track attacks with barely restrained fury. Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s roiling guitars spin through the song like a strand of razor wire cutting through flesh. Blythe’s vocals almost seethe with rage as he taps into the dark recesses of his experiences in Pankrác Prison to deliver some of his most dim and savage work to date.
The chaotic fervor continues at a pummeling pace on “Erase This” and Blythe is equal parts bludgeoning and thought-provoking in his delivery and lyrical content. The fretwork is hallmark Lamb of God, and Adler attacks like a man bent on triturating your marrow.
“512” refers to Blythe’s prison cell number, and the much like the walls that contained him, the song is more restrained yet no less heavy. The guitars set an ominous tone that is further fed by Blythe’s cold oration. The Deftones’ Chino Moreno adds the perfect closing touch to “Embers”, which is otherwise perhaps the most stagnant song on the record.
Fast riffing and double bass assaults set the tone for “Footprints”, a song about our ecological impact, while a more chugging riff marks the pace for “Engage the Fear Machine”, Blythe’s indictment of the media’s role in controlling public sentiment through scare tactics and controversial hyperbole.
One of the album’s most pleasant surprises comes with “Overlord” as Blythe gives fans a clear feel for his vocal abilities with clean singing on what serves as the closest thing to a Lamb of God ballad as we have ever heard. The moody acoustic intro and Alice in Chains-like bass rumble set the tone for a bleak statement on the myopic narcissism of far too many people in this day and age.
Blythe’s caustic growling returns on the speed metal anthem “Anthropoid” which pays tribute to the men who assassinated Hitler’s Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. The tempo speeds up further on my personal favorite, “Delusion Pandemic”, which is a barbarous aural onslaught that lyrically strikes at the internet drivel so much of the world gets caught up in; political memes, cat videos, and the mindless nothingness of Facebook, Twitter, et. al.
The album closes out nicely with a guest appearance from Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan, Killer Be Killed) on “Torches”, a track about politically motivated self-immolation. The song resonates with the frustration of its protagonist.
VII: Sturm und Drang vibrates with a caliginous intensity and edgy intelligence. Equal parts brutal and intuitive, this record is sonically and intellectually impressive though at times a bit uneven and caught up in musical predictability. While not the best effort in the Lamb of God canon, VII: Sturm und Drang is vital and visceral; packed with the meaty riffage and heavy grooves fans have come to expect, and some of the more intriguing lyrical tableaus Blythe has written about the extremes of mankind. In all, this is a strong return to form for Lamb of God.