Sound — 6
"VII: Sturm und Drang" is album number eight for modern day legends Lamb of God, the follow up to 2012's "Resolution," an album that gained a rather average reception on release. Following the hubbub of Randy Blythe's arrest and temporary incarceration in the Czech Republic where he spent most of his year, this album has been touted as containing subject matter pertaining to the event.
Lamb of God are no doubt one of the more popular metal bands around, and despite significant mainstream attention, have never had to compromise their sound because of it. Ever since "Ashes of the Wake," they've stuck to a very thrash inspired, difficult-to-master, mid-tempo and blues riffy core sound. Along the way, they've picked up some minor but noteworthy additions and "Sturm und Drang" continues in part with Randy Blythe's new found love of clean singing.
As with every LoG album, we start with what is almost always the best (or one of the best) songs on the album, "Still Echoes." Brash, ballsy, taking little time to introduce itself, it sets everything up for a potentially explosive album. And follow up "Erase This," which is in itself a nice slice of grooving old-school melodeath, certainly holds the same promise. Also possibly the first time where Randy's gang vocals have actually been effective. Also (also), one of the best uses of auto-wah you'll likely hear in a metal song.
And there's certainly a lot of detail to like in "Sturm und Drang." Aforementioned "Erase This" has one of Mark Morton's best guitar solo's to date. "Embers" has the first inclusion of Randy Blythe's clean vox, bringing out his inner Phil Anselmo, and there's a certain sparkly, technical edge to the riffs that makes them feel incredibly memorable, but not the most inventive.
"Overlord" begins with a sober and dare I say, uplifting clean riff which flows very nicely into this near-7 minute groove ballad. It's a nice inclusion on album like this, for many probably reasons, but the main one being this is one of Blythe's finest vocal performances yet, in both fields.
Overall, there's a lot to like. But there has to come a point where listening to the 3rd reiteration of "Sacrament" gets on the tedious side. For every strong track on display, there's one that's equally uninteresting either because it feels like "just another LoG" song or because it's own detail is rather lacking. Songs like "512" and "Footprints" are easy to skip, and you'd be right in wanting to, as they're just a bit too bland. "Delusion Pandemic" (after the initial barrage wears off) and a couple of others unfortunately do the same. Something to ask yourself, what is this indicative of? Is it really enough to add clean vocals to a concept and be done with it? The answer is not really.
There's some kind of spark missing from this album's collection of tracks and it's to do with some of the guitar parts. Think of their live staple tracks, things like "Walk With Me in Hell" and "Grace," songs that delve into really great, unique sounding lead parts, melodic ideas and transitions on top of being really good songs. There's just something like that missing, a certain progressive edge that previous albums had that got swapped for some of LoG's earlier aggression. One step forward, one step back, nothing has been gained.
Production wise, it absolutely has not changed since "Ashes of the Wake." Sure, various tones have been altered slightly and everyone's performances have just grown better over time, but we have a positive classic case of "aint broke, don't fix it." Thankfully, Chris Adlers awful snare sound has grown up a bit and isn't as St. Anger-y as say, "Wrath." Basically, the gift wrapping gets slightly snazzier every release.
Lyrics — 8
Randy Blythe has always remained distinctive for his difficult-to-replicate half-hardcore, half-death metal vocal style. And certainly, he's one of the few vocalists that can be heard in today's more popular metal grouping that has got better as time goes on, especially from their peak during the mid "Sacrament"/"Wrath" years. Better technique, more ease and somehow something that can only be described as "more professionalism" in his vocal delivery. Pluses all round.
Even his clean vocals have made gains as well, and his highlight recording on "Overlord" follows the same standard, and is perhaps something we'll hear more of in the future. Some might be turned off by this approach but everything in small steps, as they say.
The two guest vocalists on this album, Chino Moreno and Greg Puciato of Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan fame respectively, are a comfortable if not especially amazing inclusion. "Embers" has the right fit for a clean vocal setup, but Chino's more drifting, drawn out and softer vocal style doesn't quite fit the more energetic composition, making it waaay less memorable that it aught to be. Greg Pucatio's ethereally crafted performance is not mired by this problem, although his presence is unfortunately brief.
Lyrically, as was previously alluded to, much of this album describes Blythe's emotive mindset during his incarceration period, as well as the general lyrical mudflinging that characterizes a lot of LoG's previous work. Not to say that there isn't a certain, definite eloquence and awareness in the lyrical themes and presentation, but this is the band that brought you "Redneck," a song about hating on that one guy who cut you off in traffic/stabbed your baby/did something equally as morally reprehensible and basically agrees with you that yeah, that guy was a dick.
Still, some tracks like "Still Echoes" and "Overlord" handle their respective matters very well.
Overall Impression — 7
So, we're basically at the point where we've got "another" LoG album. It's still the same band doing mostly the same things, improvements all round but lacking a certain song-writing spark that has dampened the strength of the album as a whole. Still, it begins and ends well, but it probably wont change opinions on the band that much.
Songs to look out for: "Still Echoes," "Erase This," "Embers," "Overlord," "Torches."