My Take on Lamb of God’s Latest Album, VII: Sturm Und Drang

Waking up of for work this past Friday morning didn’t seem so bad. A notification from Spotify on my phone informed me that Lamb of God’s new album,VII: Sturm Und Drang, was now available for streaming. I knew that already of course and eagerly planned on complementing my morning L.A. traffic routine with Lamb of God’s latest record pumping at a generous volume.

Upon that first listen, which probably boosted my commute’s average speed up a solid 15 mph, I was simply happy to hear new music from one of the few metal bands I still actively follow and consider myself a true fan of.

I pulled in to work and continued to blast the record in my car for a few more minutes before walking in. Upon my exit, a non-metal coworker passed by and asked, “Was that YOUR metal playing in the parking lot?”

In a moment of pride and with adrenaline still pumping, I gave her the Walter White stare down and said,

“You’re goddamn right.”

walterwhite

Throughout the day, my metalhead friends and I texted our initial thoughts back and forth. I told them I’d give the album a few more listens before forming a solidified opinion.

This review is it.

It’s the result of multiple close listens and a deep pondering of the overall effectiveness of LoG VII without snap judgements and surface-level observations, which unfortunately seems to be the case with many initial reviews of the album so far.

My second listen of the record occurred this morning while cleaning my apartment. Although using a Swiffer on my kitchen’s tile floor isn’t exactly the most metal context to listen to a Lamb of God record, the mundane task plus a pair of quality headphones made for the right condition to give the album the close and attentive listen it deserves.

I’m on my third listen while writing this.

Now, as much as I’d love to be able to evaluate and comment on this album purely on its musical content alone, it’s impossible to ignore the band’s prior work and the somewhat recent dramatic events surrounding singer Randy Blythe.

This is the first LoG record in three years and the first since Randy’s highly publicized manslaughter arrest and subsequent imprisonment in the Czech Republic.

If you’re still reading this, I’m guessing you’re enough of a LoG fan to already know that Randy was acquitted of all charges because he didn’t really do anything to begin with. I’ll spare the retelling of events here since the whole matter is common knowledge to fans at this point.

Nonetheless, this record was touted as Randy’s “prison record,” expected to contain dark, claustrophobic, and detailed lyrics about his criminal accusations and foreign incarceration.

Would post-Czech-prison LoG emerge even more fierce and brutal than they have in recent years?

Longtime fans also shared the collective hope that LoG would release a record more in line with the universally loved and unrelenting As the Palaces Burn (2003) and Ashes of the Wake (2004) and ditch the current  “mainstream” sound (by metal standards) found on the band’s later albums, Wrath (2009) and Resolution (2012).

I joined the figurative Lamb of God fan club at the point between the band’s early and later career. I was introduced and got hooked on Wrath in ‘09 and couldn’t stop listening to its rawness, speed, musicianship and grit. It sounded like Pantera after hefty line of pure, uncut Colombian cocaine.

My introduction to Wrath lead me to work backwards in LoG’s catalog. The etherial, polished and layered Sacrament (2006); the mechanical, cold, and compressed riff assault in Ashes of the Wake; the gritty, jarring and brutal As the Palaces Burn; the low-quality-yet-still-metal-as-anything New American Gospel (2000) these records made it clear that LoG was a band that meant business, showed up drunk to said business meeting, and closed the deal with an onslaught of undeniably fast and dexterous riffs, furiously complex drumming and a nonstop scream machine.

Hence why I still follow Lamb of God and why this record promised to be an important one in the band’s career.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the last record, Resolution. Aside from a few songs, it seemed that LoG had settled on a more commercial sound and wasn’t turning as many tricks as on the early records. Although still LoG, Resolution seemed safer and more predictable by comparison.

So the question on my mind in the few days prior to the albums release: Will VII: Sturm Und Drang be a better record than Resolution?

Acknowledging the subjective nature of the word “better,” I at least hoped for a more enjoyable listening experience, more creativity and more repeated listening value.

Now after several listens, I feel equipped to give an honest presentation of my feelings for the record. This is my opinion and that’s all it is. Agree with me or don’t, but this review is meant to really dig deep into the record and not simply write ad nauseam about Randy’s legal drama or bemoan the fact that that the record isn’t Ashes 2.0.

Let’s start with the five songs we heard before the record’s release date.

The Five Pre-Released Tracks

Over the past few months we’ve been treated to five new songs off LoG VII, “Still Echoes,” “512,” “Erase This,” “Overlord,” and “Embers.”

I’ll go into each song in the order they appear on the album, which isn’t too far off from the order they were released (and the album is definitely front-loaded with these pre-released tracks).

Still Echoes

“Still Echoes” was the first track released, and right off the bat, it seems to embody the newer Lamb of God style, particularly with the inclusion of a catchy “big chorus” — a staple of more accessible and “mainstream” metal.

I’ll admit, once the giddiness of hearing new LoG music wore off after my first listen to this, I found myself a little skeptical about the direction of the new record as a whole. Was it going to be Resolution Pt. II?

I felt like I’d heard it before and my brain seemed to anticipate a good deal of the musical elements in the song before they even happened. Nothing earth-shattering or unique on this track. It won’t blow your mind, but it’ll get you started.

In terms of a track opener, it does the job of setting the album’s pace, but in comparison to such killer openers on previous records (“The Passing”/“In Your Words” from Wrath; “Ruin” from Palaces; “Walk With Me In Hell” from Sacrament), I’m somewhat underwhelmed by this song as an opener.

Erase This

Guitarist Mark Morton has likened this track to one of Lamb of God’s most well-known songs, “Laid to Rest.” You can definitely hear the “Laid to Rest” vibe in the verse riff (0:27) and “The Faded Line” comes to memory when listening to the song’s prechorus.

“Erase This” is definitely more reminiscent to the older Ashes sound. There are great riffs throughout (especially the Megadeth-like chorus riff) and the track overall comes off as more sinister and raw than “Still Echoes.”

You’ll notice the lead guitar sound to the riff starting at 3:03 is something we haven’t heard. Some have pointed out that the guitar effect here sounds too much like Bon Jovi; however, I take it as a welcome treat to hear sonic characteristics we haven’t heard before, even if it’s in the form of a talk box effect.

Great lead guitar work from the metal hobbit Mark Morton as well.

512

“512” is really growing on me. Although I dug the overall sound of the track, my initial feeling was that it’s somewhat on the predictable side again. You have that catchy BIG chorus with a chant quality again (“My HANDS are PAINTED REDDDDD!!!!!”) and the chord progression reminds me a lot of “Walk With Me in Hell.”

It’s at 2:50 where my ear really gets its cartilage hard. The absolutely clean and blistering rhythm guitar riffing in this section shows the sheer athleticism of some of Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s riffs. You can’t help but be impressed with the guitar performances. No longer spring checkens, Mark and Willie continue to set the bar extremely high when it comes to speed, articulation and accuracy in metal guitar playing.

This is a song to come back to for repeated listens. It’s more than what it seems.

Embers

“Embers” goes a little further into unchartered LoG territory, particularly with the feature of guest vocalist Chino Moreno of Deftones and the song’s uncharacteristic ending.

The first half of the song contains some fun and solid riff chugging during the verses. You get another big catchy chorus again…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s really in the song’s second half starting at 2:47 where your ears really start paying attention and realizing that Lamb of God are actually venturing into considerably different musical directions.

Chino enters and offers an etherial melody and harmonies resting on top of mid-tempo, layered guitar lines laying in the guitars’ middle register.

Almost like a call-and-response, Chino’s melodies are answered by Randy’s guttural screams. The reverb-laden finale fills up a unique sonic space that we’ve never before heard on a Lamb of God record.

You’ll love it or hate it depending on your musical preferences.

I’m a sucker for dark melodic musical passages like this, so I’m sold.

At this point, I want to mention how much of a pleasure John Campbell’s bass sound and performance is on this record. Compared to other LoG records (and many metal records as well), the bass actually has a felt presence that sits firmly in the mix.

Listen to the bass walking out the rest of the band after the song’s climax at 4:20. I’d like to think this as if Campbell is saying, “Remember how there’s bass in metal? Well, here’s a reminder for you all and it sounds huge!”

Overlord

“Overlord” takes the departure from the tried-and-true LoG style even further.

While the band has definitely written slower “ballads” in the past, “Overlord” is the first to feature clean vocals from Randy Blythe for the majority of the song.

Some should be able to appreciate the more melodic (maybe tender) side of Blythe’s voice, while some will conclude that this audacious act of introducing clean “hard rock” vocals is the final nail in the coffin that forever buries Lamb of God’s true metal credibility.

Nonetheless, the track demands attention with its uniqueness within in the LoG canon.

We’re treated to loose blues licks from Mark Morton during the song’s intro — a flavor we haven’t tasted yet in a roasted rack of Lamb of God. (Heh).

The song swims between a clean, droney, almost Tool-like verse and a distorted and steady chorus that could easily be something written by Alice in Chains.

After a tasteful guitar solo, the song then goes into full force with a speedy metal assault underneath Randy’s return to screaming. We’re talking some seriously fast riffs starting at 3:29 and some ferocious screams from Mr. Blythe. There’s Lamb of God again! Punch us in the FACES!!!

This return to LAMB OF GODNESS comes off like a strong wink at the listener and suggests where these five seasoned metal musicians stand as a band in 2015: they can sure pound ass like they did 10+ years ago, but they’re going to expand their sound and take some risks at this point.

Not a bad way to be when most metal bands tend to phone it in eight albums into their careers (if they even make it that far). My respect for this band grows.

We’re halfway through the record and although a lot of the material was par for the current Lamb of God course, there were some undeniably unique moments and flavors.

Let’s see what happens on the record’s second half, which contains the tracks we haven’t heard before the album’s release.

This has gotta be the good stuff.

The Never-Before-Heard-Until-Now Tracks

Footprints

Preceding “Overlord,” “Footprints” kicks off at a high tempo with some furious riffs, blistering tom fills and Randy sounding particularly intense with lines like “JESUS CHRIST, YOU MAKE ME SICKKKKK!”….”HOW THE F@$% DID YOU THINK THIS WOULD END?!?!”). Woah.

On first listen, nothing immediately jumped out about this track musically. Some might see it as mid-album filler material. I found that paying particular attention to the guitars during this track is where you’ll find the real magic of the song. It probably won’t be a favorite, but you can definitely appreciate the musicianship and riffs (I’m loving the gritty saw-like guitar outro at 3:55).

Anthropoid

“Anthropoid” is also a high-tempo track that displays a handful of Megadeth-influenced riffs and energy. It’s more thrashy than other tracks, but like “Footprints,” it’s much less anthemic and conventional than songs like “Still Echoes” or “512.”

Fans of the earlier LoG sound should take to this song quite well.

Engage The Fear Machine

Now that’s a metal song title!

“Engage the Fear Machine” creeps in and immediately establishes a darker, spookier quality due to a lower tuning. This track has a real gritty Wrath vibe, but I’ll admit that the only thing that really perked up my ears was the song’s outro with clean and warm twin guitars.

Not the best track on the record, but it’s nothing to scoff at either.

Delusion Pandemic

HERE we go! What an opening riff! This could easily pass as a Palaces track.

Maybe it’s the title’s badass nature, but I somehow knew before I played this track that it would slam hard and not let up.

I was right — it’s definitely one of the most energetic, chaotic and riff-heavy songs on the record, and with a chorus that proclaims, “THIS IS THE RISE OF OUR DEMISE!” you can’t help but chuckle at the overall heaviness of the song.

If I was 10 years younger and a willing participant in the pit, I’d lose my shit to this one live, especially at the groovy, slamming breakdown at 3:25.

Torches

“Torches” is the album’s closer (first edition pressings get two more bonus tracks) and it features another guest vocalist – Greg Puciano of The Dillinger Escape Plan.

Like Chino’s performance on “Embers,” Greg Puciano offers a melodic foil to Randy’s grating screams, although this time the guest vocals are more subdued and used more as a texture instead of a focal point.

The looser feel to the song’s verses and punchy power chord walls during the choruses bring slower-tempo LoG songs to mind (“Vigil” and “Omerta,” to name a few).

But like so many other tracks on this record, the gas is pressed during the song’s second half, where real the real craziness occurs.

You’ll see when you hear the buildup starting at 1:49 and feel it slam at 2:17. You’ll hear another appropriate solo from Morton at 2:46, and if you really pay attention, some very subdued needle-like guitar textures at 3:00.

This is a great representation of the Lamb of God I enjoy the most — plenty of dynamic, and rhythmic variation, insane breakneck guitars, and little subtle nuggets throughout that reward the close listener and make you appreciate the production value.

I mentioned that the last two tracks, “Wine and Piss,” and “Nightmare Seeker” are technically bonus tracks. I didn’t realize this until my information friend, Wikipedia, told me.

Having “Torches” as the album closer makes a lot more sense as it concludes with a clean, melancholic riff, almost sounding as if the record is ending on a question mark, dazed after the beating and wondering what happened.

Overall, the second half of the record comes off as an execution of the weirder, less accessible side of Lamb of God that values complexity and speed over catchiness.

Now let’s look at the remaining two bonus tracks.

Bonus Tracks

Wine and Piss

“Wine and Piss” seems like it could have been a Resolution B-side. I can’t really say much aside from that it sounds solid enough, and sometimes I too feel like my glass is filled with wine and piss, but that’s usually a result of buying Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.

Nightmare Seeker (The Little Red House)

Again, “Nightmare Seeker (The Little Red House)” isn’t the most memorable song and it sounds like it could have come from Wrath (you’ll hear similarities to “In Your Words”).

That aside, I can’t get help but get absolutely down to some choice riffs on this track, particularly the groove-tastic riff at 1:12.

And that’s the album! Now to wrap all of this up and bring it back to the central question I wondered before the first listen: Is this a stronger record than Resolution?

Conclusions and Whatnot

I think it goes without saying that VII: Sturm Und Drang is a MUCH more focused, adventurous, cohesive and concise album than Wrath or Resolution. Randy has stated all members contributed to the writing process for this record, which he says makes it a “less schizophrenic” record than others. I’d have to agree with that.

Fans wanting to peer into the psyche of Randy Blythe and his lyrics surrounding the whole prison thing will definitely get that in songs like “Still Echoes.” It’s intriguing and compelling stuff, but I think we’ll be able to get more caught up with Randy’s personal life by reading his upcoming book about the whole matter.

Production wise, you get crisp, loud and well-articulated distorted guitars as well as resonant clean tones. The added bass presence is a welcome addition, while Chris Adler’s drum sound is something we’ve come to expect. The prominent vocals sit snugly in the mix as to not overwhelm, which also adds to the record’s seamless blend of every musical element. Lamb of God were never a band with one instrument highlighted above the rest, after all.

In terms of musicianship, there’s nothing on this record that hints at a loss of energy and brutality. Sure, their sound may have matured since the days of Burn The Priest when the lads were in their twenties, but LoG in 2015 is clearly well-oiled group of veteran musicians ready to continue trekking on their metal journey.

The music is familiar enough, and yet it does take some chances. The thing I like most about this record is the decision to keep the conventional LoG vehicle full steam ahead while adding some tasty ear candy we haven’t heard before.

At this stage in their career, Lamb of God isn’t going to give a middle finger to newer fans by doing a complete 180 and delivering a sequel to Ashes of the Wake. But what they are doing is honoring their older style, keeping up with the new, and expanding into new musical territories.

Just for fun, I put on Ashes of the Wake immediately after listening to VII to compare the listening experiences.

They are strikingly different records. Ashes is unrelenting. Riff after riff after riff. Complicated. Cold. Compressed, Crazy, really.

Ashes may be a better record overall, but I try to remind myself that LoG was in a very different place 10 years ago. That album was a younger band’s chance at making a lasting impression and proving themselves on their first major label release.

VII has a much different context. VII shows LoG in a time of regrouping and reassessing their role as one of today’s biggest metal bands. The band knows it can take chances, but it also knows what has worked in the past. VII’s more realized and experimental nature (compared to Resolution) tells fans that the last thing Lamb of God are doing right now are cruising along and phoning it in.

TL; DR: If you enjoy Lamb of God’s more recent sound, you’ll enjoy VII, perhaps more so than the last two records due to the more focused and adventurous nature of the album. If you’re truly hoping for a return to form in the vein of As the Palaces Burn or Ashes of the Wake, you’ll likely bag on a lot of the obvious points that suggest that this band isn’t what it once was.

Standout Moments from VII: Sturm Und Drang (IMO):

Leave a comment below with how you feel about the record. Did I hit anything on the head or am I off the mark? What do you love? What do you hate? I want to hear from you.

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