To say LAMB OF GOD have had a rough few years would probably be the biggest understatement of all time. The arrest of frontman Randy Blythe on manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic was one of the most shocking stories of 2012 and his subsequent time in prison made things seem incredibly dark for the Virginia band. Fortunately, Blythe was acquitted in 2013 and the band set about working on a new studio album – eventually named VII: Sturm Und Drang (German for “Storm and Stress”).
Anyone who thought the band might have lost some of their fire since 2012’s Resolution is fortunately proven wrong from the very beginning. Still Echoes is one of only two tracks based on Blythe’s incarceration featured on the album and it really shows. The track’s dark lyrics based around the Nazi history of Pankrác Prison might seem ridiculous to some, but there’s no cartoonish death metal-esque imagery here, only the dark realism of Blythe’s own experiences.
Erase This ramps up the speed slightly, Blythe’s furious barking accompanies a thrashy guitar riff that sits easily alongside their best, and drumming that’s more frantic than most bands would even dream of. Tackling “negative people and how they can drag you down without you realizing it”, according to the band, it’s a track that sounds pretty similar to the material on Ashes Of The Wake, in the best possible way imaginable.
Things get significantly more interesting on 512. Named after the prison cell where Blythe spent much of his time, it’s a much slower, more contemplative number, which gradually ramps up to a monstrously heavy conclusion. Featuring spoken vocals in places, it’s an unexpected, but welcome curveball.
Continuing the theme of surprises, huge choruses are the order of the day on Embers – a track which also features DEFTONES’ main-man Chino Moreno on guest vocal duties. Clearly a ready-made single, the tune is probably one of the most accessible things LAMB OF GOD have ever produced, and one that’s nothing short of brilliant.
Footprints kicks off at breakneck pace and barely relents throughout. Drummer Chris Adler and bassist John Campbell form truly one of the best rhythm sections in modern metal, and it’s clearly apparent here as the pair set a gloriously quick tempo for their bandmates to follow.
Overlord is the longest track on the album, and also its most surprising. At almost six and a half minutes long, it’s also the first LAMB OF GOD song to feature clean singing. Haunting and melodic, the track is essentially a ballad for its first three minutes, but soon amps up the distortion for a crushing mid-section of noise, before returning to melody for the conclusion. Hearing Blythe literally singing for the first time is remarkably moving, and it’s something the band should really consider using again in the future.
Anthropoid and Engage The Fear Machine, meanwhile, are some of the most unrelenting tracks on VII: Sturm Und Drang – their pounding drums accompanying some of the most evil-sounding vocals the band have ever produced. You can almost hear the venom and bile in Blythe’s voice here as he roars with the hatred of a man who really has been through hell and back.
Delusion Pandemic brings frenetic riffing to the forefront again, as guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler launch into an ever-increasing cacophony of distortion. In a completely random turn, the track breaks down to an increasingly-angry rant from Blythe, before essentially going deathcore for the final few moments.
Closing track Torches begins as another slow song – Blythe’s vocals joined with the haunting melodies of THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN vocalist Greg Puciato. Things soon accelerate though, and the groove-metal behemoth returns to its usual fare. As the final notes of its staccato closing riff ring out,
Considering how close LAMB OF GOD came to extinction recently, it truly is remarkable just how good VII: Sturm Und Drang is. The trauma of the last few years seems to have only added to the band’s ferocity and from the ashes of what could have easily been their own demise, the Virginia quintet have managed to produce what can only be described as their best album ever, and potentially the best albums of 2015.