Release Date: Jul 24, 2015
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative Metal, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Speed/Thrash Metal
VII: Sturm und Drang is the first Lamb of God album following the manslaughter trial that put the future of vocalist Randy Blythe and, consequently, the band, in question. And while that experience was most certainly an emotional experience, the band have put that regrettable chapter behind them to create an album that lives up to the standard they've set during their impressive time as a creative unit. The opening blastbeats of "Still Echoes" and "Footprints," and the As the Palaces Burn-esque closing breakdown of "Delusion Pandemic" show that Lamb of God can still fire on all cylinders, while guest spots from Deftones' Chino Moreno and the Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato bring the flavour of their respective bands into the mix without overpowering Lamb of God's groovy and thrashing metal.
The seventh studio album (eighth if you count the group's 1999 debut under the Burn the Priest moniker), Sturm und Drang arrives at the end of a tumultuous three-year period for the veteran metal outfit that saw frontman Randy Blythe arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately exonerated for charges stemming from the onstage death of a fan at a 2010 Lamb of God show in the Czech Republic. The financial strain nearly decimated the band, who went on hiatus at the beginning of 2014, but what a difference a year makes. Released alongside Blythe's first foray into the publishing world, Dark Days: A Memoir, the aptly named Sturm und Drang (German for "storm and stress") picks right up sonically where 2012's Resolution left off, with opener and lead single "Still Echoes" arriving via a blaze of feedback and serpentine riffage, while offering up a chilling history lesson concerning Prague's infamous Pankrác Prison, where Blythe served his sentence.
The past few years have been somewhat eventful for Lamb of God, not least owing to frontman Randy Blythe’s trial on manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic. Exonerated and free to roar anew, Blythe clearly has plenty of fresh axes to grind on his band’s seventh studio album. With songs about the violent history of Prague’s Pankrác prison (Still Echoes), politically motivated self-immolation (Torches) and the bloody aftermath of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s “butcher of Prague” (Anthropoid), VII: Sturm und Drang is a ferociously intelligent and startlingly intense affair.
Legal experts warned Blythe not to go back to the Czech Republic, but the vocalist was determined to honourably face the music and bravely returned with a clear conscience, to participate in the legal proceedings which would hopefully give the Nosek family closure. After a five day trial, Blythe was acquitted of the charge on 5th March 2013. Fast forward two years and four months and Lamb of God release their first record since the court case.
We do not live in a golden age of major-label heavy metal. Gone are the days when many of the worldwide form’s biggest innovators earned large budgets from still-larger companies or bidding wars occurred for the most brutal new prospect. Though there are exceptions, most modern metal backed by largesse aims so squarely for genre rigidity and predictability that it’s hard to believe it requires humans to make.
Over the course of their career, Lamb Of God has been a band that could always be relied on to deliver no compromises music. Sturm Und Drang can be translated either as storm and drive, or storm and stress, and whilst these terms adequately describe most of the band’s material to date, both are particularly pertinent to this latest effort. The movement in German literature from which the album takes its name concentrated on emotional extremes, and given the considerable trails (both metaphorical and literal) that the band, and in particular vocalist Randy Blythe, have endured it’s no surprise to find that VII is at times, a passionate affair.
It may have taken seven records and a prison scare, but Lamb of God's expert growler, Randy Blythe, finally sings for once, on "Overlord," a grungy ballad on this LP — and he actually sounds good doing it. It feels like the threat of losing everything before Blythe was found not guilty in the death of a Czech fan shook loose a new energy in the band. Although there's plenty of Lamb of God's trademark guitar chug and Olympics-level drumming, the eerier moments (see the jailhouse tale "512") and unexpected guests (including members of Deftones and the Dillinger Escape Plan) show a group that's thirsty to evolve beyond its own established patterns.
Few albums have been as overshadowed by their creators’ recent history as Lamb Of God’s seventh, named after the emotional German literary movement equating roughly to “storm and stress”. As metalheads will know, LOG singer Randy Blythe came close to a prison sentence for murder in the Czech Republic a couple of years ago. Though he was cleared of all charges, for a while it looked serious – hence many of the grimmer subjects on this album.
Unlike tourmates Slipknot and Bullet for My Valentine, Lamb of God have achieved juggernaut status while mostly abjuring the nü-metal and post-hardcore/screamo elements that helped their peers poach fans from the Family Values/Warped Tour generation and score major-label contracts. They also have little use for either the genre purism or doom/drone vanguardism that the crossover indie crowd rallies around. Lamb of God is meat-and-potatoes modern metal, virtuosic but not cerebral, uninterested in theatrics, aimed straight at the solar plexus.
Metalheads have wondered what Richmond, Va. , quintet Lamb of God would sound like after vocalist Randy Blythe served time in a Czech Republic jail, awaiting trial on manslaughter charges after a 19-year-old fan he pushed offstage in Prague in 2010 died of injuries sustained in the fall. The singer was acquitted, and just released a gripping new memoir, “Dark Days.
With the release of its self-titled album in 1991, Metallica immediately transitioned from menacing thrash into the listener-friendly world of stadium rock. Although Lamb Of God’s move toward accessibility has been more gradual, when comparing new release VII: Sturm Und Drang to the band’s earlier material, the decision to exchange brutality for mainstream appeal is clear. Lamb Of God’s early releases offer classic examples of Southern groove metal, intermixing the thrashing squall of Slayer and Sepultura with deep-fried breakdowns that pay homage to Soilent Green.
It’s hard to think of another album that starts as ferociously as Lamb of God’s seventh: Randy Blythe summons a yell straight from hell as drummer Chris Adler unleashes a virtuosic drum sequence pummelling enough to penetrate steel. Meanwhile, layers of guitars gallop and groove. This 30-second intro is a sign of all that’s to come: the Richmond, Virginia, metal five-piece churn out their most extreme record in a long time.