Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Lamb of God's 'VII: Sturm und Drang' - Album Review

Lamb of God are, quite rightly, one of the biggest modern metal bands. They have an instantly recognisable sound, an attitude that is easy to relate too, and a production quality (on their more recent albums at least) that makes their songs heavy yet still easy to listen to. VII: Sturm und Drang (which translates to 'storm and stress') is, despite the numeric part of the title, the band's eighth studio album - if you count Burn the Priest that is - and it continues the sound the band have been pioneering from the very beginning of their career. The band's mix of thrash, groove, and hardcore punk has made them extremely successful; and their heavy songs that are packed full of an inimitable attitude and catchy melodies are some of modern metal's classics. The band's last album, 2012's Resolution, is probably Lamb of God's most complete and accomplished work to date. While I still consider 2004's Ashes of the Wake to be my favourite of their discography, Resolution is probably their 'best' work. The production on that album is top-notch, and the songs are groovier and more memorable than ever. VII: Sturm und Drang is a great follow-up to Resolution, and contains songs that are formed in a similar mould. Once again, Josh Wilbur's production is amazing, and treads the thin line between making songs heavy as can be, and making songs so heavy that the distortion makes the music hard on the ear. There has always been a 'cleaness' to Lamb of God's sound, and this is probably what makes them so popular; and this is certainly a quality about them that I have always liked. Since Resolution, frontman Randy Blythe has had to endure arrest and imprisonment in Pankrác Prison in the Czech Republic for allegedly causing the death of a fan at one of the band's concerts in 2010. While VII: Sturm und Drang is not, as said by Blythe in an interview, a 'prison album'; there is no doubt that the experience has left its mark on the album. While a couple of songs do directly reference the incident and Blythe's feelings towards the whole affair, the rest of the material is certainly rawer and more caustic than usual. With songs about the scaremongering mass media, and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, there is no shortage of heavy subject matter to digest here. This fact makes VII: Sturm und Drang a hugely entertaining listen, and one that reveals itself over many listens. Some of the songs here are among the band's strongest ever, and it is also great to see the band experimenting with dynamics even more here, which leads to some songs that break away from the band's established sound somewhat.

The album begins with Still Echoes, about the bloody history of  Pankrác Prison, which is fast becoming one of my favourite Lamb of God songs. It is a true anthem with an irresistible chorus, which Blythe delivers with his trademark snarl, and some fantastic drumming from Chris Adler that shows exactly why he has been recruited by Megadeth. The band's classic southern metal sound is well depicted here, with some seriously heavy riffs that steam along at a mid-pace to maintain the groove. There is something of the band's Ashes of the Wake style here, and fans of that era of the band are sure to love this song. It ensures the album gets off to a great start. Erase This opens with a faster riff, utilising all of Chris Adler's skills again, and showing the guitar pairing of Mark Morten and Willie Adler is as tight and intricate as ever. The song is built upon riff after riff, and the pair continue to impress with tricky guitar patterns that match Chris Adler's drumming perfectly. Lamb of God have never been a 'tech metal' act, but their riffs are complex while still being memorable and catchy. There is another solid chorus here, with some strong gang vocal sections to ramp up the power and Blythe's angry delivery. There is a section part-way through that sounds like a talkbox is being utilised, which is a new addition to the band's sound. It fits in with the southern tinge to Lamb of God's sound, and makes the song interesting. 512, Blythe's cell number in Pankrác Prison, is used for the album's first music video. It opens with a sinister spoken word section, before one of the album's best riffs kicks in to help embed that sinister mood. There are quite a lot of discordant guitar parts during the song's verses that also reinforce this feeling. Blythe's vocal performance throughout on this song is awe-inspiring. He sounds eviler than ever, and the rawness of his chorus shrieks are enough to curdle the blood. There is also a great guitar solo here that adds some strange melody to the song. Embers is one of the more 'experimental' songs in the band's catalogue, and is a thing of two halves. It opens out as a rather standard Lamb of God tune, but soon descends into an epic, soaring piece of music with vocals from Chino Moreno (Deftones). I am not really familiar with Moreno's work, as I am not a fan of the Deftones, but his strange clean vocals really add to the song's second half. The contrast between his voice and Blythe's is a good one, and helps to bring out the best in both singers. Footprints is another heavy song, that has more than a hint of 2009's Wrath about it. The grooves are back in force here, and there is almost a swing-feel to the riffs that give the song a very hypnotic feel. The lyrics here are very angry, and almost feel like Blythe is screaming them right in your face, such is his delivery. While it adds nothing new to the band's sound, it is another good song that reinforces their strengths.

Overlord is another song that plays with dynamics, and it really pays off. The song has a bluesy feel to the opening, with short bursts of lead guitar and a mournful bassline from John Campbell. Blythe sings the majority of the song clean, and proves that he has a rather strong and tuneful voice. The slight weaknesses in his clean voice actually help the song, and the cracks give the song real feeling. It also serves well to highlight the power of the band on full throttle when the heavy section kicks in later on. This is a song that will probably confuse those who are not open-minded, but those who are always glad when bands take risks and try new things will really enjoy this. There is more than a hint of Alice in Chains here, and that is always welcome! Anthropoid gets back to the band's more conventional sound with furious riffing and killer drumming. Chris Adler goes through many different patterns throughout this song. One minute he is laying into his double bass pedals with inhuman speed, and the next he is pairing back and letting the natural groove take over. He never over-plays, and whatever he chooses to do always benefits the song as a whole - which is the mark of a great drummer. This is Lamb of God doing what they know best, and the product is another memorable song. Engage the Fear Machine follows on the previous song nicely and continues the aural onslaught with another flurry of evil riffs and dark vocals. The song's chorus is particularly memorable with some really anthemic vocal lines that I am sure would be great live. The song's groovy mid-section is also likely to get the pits moving live too, so I hope this is one they decide to add into their live setlist (which could do with a shakeup!). The penultimate song, Delusion Pandemic, is probably the album's least interesting number. While it is still an enjoyable song, it does not quite live up to the energy of the preceding ones. It does not offer anything new (like Overlord), and the rest of the more 'standard' Lamb of God-sounding songs pack much more of a punch. That being said though, the latter part of the song is strong. A rousing spoken word section is great, and the breakdown-type part that follows is sure to get anyone pumped up. The album comes to an end with Torches, which is another interesting song that features the diverse vocal talents of Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan; Killer be Killed) along with Blythe. Puciato contributes both clean and harsh vocals to the track, and works well with Blythe to add something different to the established Lamb of God sound. The song constantly changes pace and takes many twists and turns throughout it's run time. It's a song that makes sure the album ends well, even if it is one that may take a few listens to full appreciate. Overall, VII: Sturm und Drang is another really great addition to Lamb of God's discography. It's an album that offers something a little different in places from the band's tried and tested formula and ensures that boundaries are pushed without losing the band's soul. Highly recommended!

The album was released on 24th July 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for 512.

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