CD Review: ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang’ by Lamb Of God

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For another perspective on this album, check out David Feltman’s review.
 

I remember when my friend introduced me to Lamb Of God. He was blasting their newest album at that time, Sacrament, and I was enveloped by a combination of thrash metal and groove, which took turns assaulting me from the left and the right. Now, despite what I’ve read from some others out there, I feel that the band has, despite refining their sound, always stayed the course with their music. From 2000’s New American Gospel to the just released VII: Sturm Und Drang, the band’s seventh studio album, it has been one whirlwind of groove-filled riffs, double bass, and vocals dug from the pit of some demonic diaphragm. While some fans sit and complain of bands who never evolve and others rant over the minutest deviation from the norm, I’ll be over here enjoying this new Lamb Of God release.

I’d be surprised if anyone didn’t mention the most obvious thing about this album, which is that it rides in on the back of the band’s struggle with the loss of vocalist Randy Blythe to a Czech prison for 5 weeks and the trial that accompanied it in relation to a 2010 concert in which a fan was tragically injured and later died. Blythe was eventually acquitted, but his experiences have shaped this release. At the very least, he has spoken to the fact that the tracks “Still Echoes” and “512” were written during his time in jail, and the album’s title, German for “Storm And Stress,” seems apt given all that has occurred.

We hit the ground running from the moment the pin drops on the opening track. In fact, it feels like we’ve been dropped in the middle of a chase that was in progress before we arrived. “A thousand years of failure…” Blythe erupts amidst the commotion, making me feel reassured in my assessment. This sense of urgency continues with the following tune “Erase This,” as well as on tracks such as “Footprints” and “Anthropoid,” which steamroll over the listener with indomitable force. The twin guitar attack of Willie Adler and Mark Morton do well in pairing crushing riffs with soaring melodies, and I certainly can find no fault in the combined rhythm abilities of bassist John Campbell and drummer Chris Adler. Of course, a point of contention has already been found in tracks such as “Embers” and “Overlord,” both of which feature clean singing. However, other peoples’ complaints don’t find a home in me the same way. While others view the melodic vocals of Deftones’ Chino Moreno on the former to be out of place, I find the combination of Moreno’s clean voice with Blythe’s raspy growl to complement each other and propels the song higher. Meanwhile, Randy’s solemn singing on the blues-laden latter highlights the intensity of the track’s climactic end.

Whatever small turns might have been taken along the way, Lamb Of God has continued paving their career with a release that brings with it an aura of grandeur. This release is forceful, whether in sound or subject matter. One need only look to the album closer, “Torches,” which brings to my mind images of the start of the Arab Spring in all its self-immolating glory, to sense the passion that was coursing through Blythe as he was writing. If anyone felt that the group was losing their touch after the last few albums, Sturm Und Drang is sure to offer second thoughts. For myself, it has transformed various rooms of my house into one-man mosh pits. Thank you, Lamb Of God; my wife is not amused.

 
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CD Review: ‘VII: Strum Und Drang’ by Lamb of God

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Lamb of God couldn’t have come up with a more apt title for its seventh album. Lead singer Randy Blythe’s incarceration following the death of a fan in Czechoslovakia (as detailed in the noteworthy documentary “As the Palace Burns”) and the extended hiatus that followed caused dark clouds to surround the band. Fans speculated whether Lamb of God had reached the end. Luckily, the band has resurrected. But while a murder wrap and inner turmoil have all the makings of metal legend, or at least the back drop for a solid album, the band’s new release sadly follows the same steady trend toward mediocrity as its previous two LPs.

“Strum Und Drang” has the shiny veneer of overproduction. All of the rough edges of the band’s defining southern metal have been carefully ironed out. One would think that time in a Czech prison would have inspired some fear and anger, maybe a little angst, but the songs found here are disappointingly tame. The album is brimming with mechanical blast beats and cookie-cutter riffs. Experiments with clean vocals on tracks like “Overlord” and “Torches” are cringe-worthy and reminiscent of the cheesy soullessness of bands like Staind. There are glimmers of the band that once was on tracks like “Engage the Fear Machine” and “Delusion Pandemic,” but it isn’t enough to salvage the album. “Strum Und Drang” brings all of the band’s worst qualities to the forefront and even guest appearances by Chino Moreno and Greg Puciato are squandered by poor employment.

Something has soured in the Lamb of God makeup. The band feels hell bent on moving away from the sound that built its fan base and toward radio-friendly banality. Maybe with a little luck and prayer the band will still manage to right itself. But considering Blythe’s recent comments about no longer wishing to scream and wanting to take a break from the band, it looks like the end times are upon us.