A lot has happened in the LAMB OF GOD camp the past five years, the most intense events surrounding vocalist Randy Blythe. Consult the band's haunting "As the Palaces Burn" docufilm if you're not up to speed on Blythe's exoneration following his captivity in Prague following the death of a fan at a 2010 LAMB OF GOD show in the Czech Republic. John Campbell was forced to bow out for much of the band's 2013 tour due to a family emergency. Because of the legal costs incurred in Blythe's defense, the band was forced into relative hiatus following their effective "Revelation" album from 2012. 2015, however, it's all systems go. Blythe has a bio book on the way and the band releases their second album since the Prague tumult and seventh overall, "VII: Sturm und Drang".
Guitarist Mark Morton has commented about the album's title (translated as "storm and stress"), an 18th century German movement in literature and the arts which focused on emotional duress and a rebuff of the day's conventions. Morton says the common thread of "Sturm und Drang"'s songs "represented that inner conflict and the pressure and the turmoil and the chaos and how one responds to those things". Brother isn't kidding. "VII: Sturm und Drang" is freaking ferocious.
The new album is once again produced and mixed by Josh Wilbur, who finds himself a busy man these days, also fielding current projects by ALL THAT REMAINS, CROWBAR, VAMPS, CHIODOS and HATEBREED. Add to this banging affair guest appearances by the DEFTONES' Chino Moreno and THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN's Greg Puciato and "VII: Sturm und Drang" is nearly more than LAMB OF GOD fans can handle.
"Still Echoes" is exactly the rip-snorting, hammered-down leadoff track "VII: Sturm und Drang" needed and not only does LAMB OF GOD sound pissed off, they're well-dialed into their groove. Chris Adler's tappity rhythms give "Still Echoes" a monstrous, jam-based verve for the band to rake out their tasty riffs. John Campbell's bass is given a beautiful push in the mix, which cannot be understated in a contemporary metal scene that often drowns the bass position in final mixes. The final guitar solo on "Still Echoes" is positively electric.
Campbell's as much a beast as Mark Morton and Willie Adler, and listening to all three blitz in tandem on the rapid-paced "Erase This", Campbell provides a funky hum beneath his band on both tracks. There's so much going on in "Erase This" between the thrash nuggets and wah-guitars on the breakdown, even five minutes seems barely enough to withhold it all. Randy Blythe sounds as angry as ever, yet he's even more focused than ever to his task, which includes opening up his usual ralphs to include bat screeches and spit-laden yowls.
Slower measures on "512" (referring to Blythe's cell number in Pankrac Prison) doesn't mean less heavy. It's quite the opposite, as Randy Blythe spews some of his ugliest retches upon the song's methodic toil. It's as if he unleashed every lick of anger stemming from his imprisonment inside the microphone booth, ditto for "Footprints", "Anthropoid" and "Embers", the latter of which has a brisk, scalding intro dumping into a slow and steady pulse. "Embers" heavies up alongside Blythe, then the band wisely dials back within a whisper to allow Chino Moreno to croon beauteously into the track. Moreno's appearance is magnificent. He grabs the moment and the hearts of any metal fan.
Blythe snarls "Jesus Christ, you make me sick" on "Footprints", and interpreting that as you will, the band rolls through their customary groove shuffles, yet there's immense density and power metal pounding behind the inherent boogie of the track, leading up to a midpoint thrash attack. "How the fuck did you think this would end?" Blythe posits on his way out of the song.
How the fuck do you think the next song "Overlord" would begin? How about with a sedate guitar and bass plug and Randy Blythe clean singing? Yep, he's clean singing through a 6:28 power ballad, but this is LAMB OF GOD, so a power ballad here is more in the vein of ALICE IN CHAINS than the SCORPIONS. Blythe is as commanding in clean mode on "Overlord" as he is in hard, and worry not, he pulls out his sinewy screams once "Overlord" spikes tempos and belts out the amplification. The songwriting on "Overlord" is ballsy and pays off huge.
The mosh-minded "Anthropoid" is a guaranteed pit burner as Randy Blythe gurgles and shrieks and Chris Adler punks it up with a rolling rhythm until a later-end progression changes the dimension of the track. Still, it kicks serious ass, setting up for the bobbing crashes of "Engage the Fear Machine", a song that pushes toward the edge and cascades back to convey varying sensations and succeeding tremendously. "Delusion Pandemic" consults LAMB OF GOD's trusted playbook with thrashes, pogo rhythms, breakdowns and boogie riffs galore (with a blaring rant from Blythe along the way), while "Torches" rounds the album with spoken word passages by Blythe and Greg Puciato swooning behind him.
There's still something about the breathtaking, encompassing brutality of "A Devil in God's Country" from the "As the Palaces Burn" album that might never be replicated by LAMB OF GOD, yet "VII: Sturm und Drang", for all of its polish and bows to melody, is one of the fiercest albums they've ever laid down. "Overlord" alone is one of the most masterful songs LAMB OF GOD has conceived, while "Anthropoid" and "Engage the Fear Machine" get within reach of "A Devil in God's Country"'s sweat. This album is a full-on purge and if you can relate, "VII: Sturm und Drang" will get you off in more ways than one.