The Awesomeness of Lamb of God and ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang’

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There is this unwavering aura of excitement whenever one of metal’s fiercest acts drops a new record, especially when the modern torchbearer of extreme metal releases an instant classic. Unlike most genres, heavy metal listeners welcome new material from legendary acts since we crave this euphoric intensity, which we felt while discovering groundbreaking LPs like As The Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake.

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The name “Lamb of God” instantly evokes this unrelenting feeling of musical freedom backed by a commitment to unleash hostile energy through a devastatingly therapeutic outlet. This group of lifelong friends from Richmond, Virginia took the world by storm since they dropped New American Gospel in 2000 yet no experience tested their collective willpower quite like the disgustingly inhumane trial of frontman Randy Blythe in 2012. For those unfamiliar, Lamb of God were set to headline a show in Prague before Randy Blythe was arrested for attempted manslaughter. In 2010, a young fan named Daniel Nosek attended a Lamb of God show and sustained head injuries, which ultimately led to his death. On the grounds of a highly questionable witness testimony, Randy Blythe allegedly pushed Nosek off the stage, which resulted in his traumatic condition. Nosek’s family held Blythe responsible for his death and Czech officials considered Blythe an international fugitive. Nearly two years later, Czech police officers seized Randy Blythe at a Prague airport upon arrival where he was detained and thrown in prison for a period of 38 days.

Like most metalheads, I followed this story very closely and paid attention to any sort of news related to the situation. At the end of the day, it’s a tragedy knowing how a young fan died after seeing one of his favorite bands perform, however, anyone who stage dives, crowd surfs, or moshes opens themselves up to injury. Even worse, the promoters failed to adhere to their contract where the band specifically demanded common necessities like a sufficient gate barrier and adequate security. The witness testimonies were extremely inconsistent – dare I say pathetically full of hypocrisy. In the United States, this case would’ve been thrown out in the courts yet Blythe was the victim of a witch-hunt. Czech government officials tried to make an example of Blythe – an American heavy metal vocalist. This derogatory stereotype against heavy metal spreads across most cultures due to its misinterpreted association with violence, Satanism, and rebellion. Government officials from the Czech Republic failed to notify both the band’s representatives and the United States Department of Justice about this investigation. Even worse, the Department of Justice truly failed to protect their own citizen as they let Blythe sit in a prison cell.

Before I begin my review, I highly recommend readers check out Lamb of God’s documentary As The Palaces Burn – yes, the same name as their monumental album. This film started out as an in-depth documentary about Lamb of God’s intuitive connection with their fans yet cameras were coincidentally on hand during Blythe’s arrest and the filmmakers ultimately documented the entire trial. Blythe was eventually released on bail in August 2012 but he needed to return and face trial in 2013. This man could’ve easily never went back to the Czech Republic to protect his freedom yet he wanted Nosek’s family to feel some sort of resolution. He declared his innocence from the start and adhered to the ethical standards of the Czech Republic law system. Even in a corrupt courtroom, Blythe was found not guilty of all charges. True justice ultimately prevailed yet this experience impacted the band on a personal, psychological, and financial level.

Back in November 2012, my hometown area of central New Jersey was still in the infantile stages of recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Thousands of people lost their homes and many were without power for extended periods of times. I live in an area where a majority of the workforce commutes to New York City. Believe it or not, the NJ Transit train system still hasn’t fully recovered from Sandy and there were very few trains available to get into the city. Once Blythe was released on bail, the band immediately hit the road and headlined a show with Hatebreed and In Flames at the iconic Roseland Ballroom on November 16, 2012. Long story short, I wasn’t missing this show. This might’ve been my last chance to see Lamb of God perform ever again. Fans didn’t know if Randy Blythe would be found innocent and my friends and me wanted to support one of our favorite bands after they faced such a traumatizing experience.

I’ve seen Lamb of God perform eight times since 2006 and this was the best show for a multitude of reasons. Everyone in this crowd came prepared to give each group 110 percent of their energy. This storm took a beating on all of us and we understood how one of our own was being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. Just from the opening notes of “Desolation,” there was this sense of determination amongst the band members to lash out against the oppression lying in their way. You could see it on the faces of Mark Morton and Willie Adler, they viciously plucked away at the strings while John Campbell and Chris Adler relentlessly pummeled through their breathtaking rhythms. When Randy Blythe came running towards the front of the stage, he looked possessed by the power of the moment. Seriously, this was a man with nothing left to lose so this frenzied crowd was overpowered by the anger in his voice. Once I walked away from the show, I said to my friends, “If he’s found not guilty and they channel tonight’s energy into their songwriting, this next record might be their best one yet.”

Flash forward nearly three years later, Lamb of God recently released their eighth studio LP VII: Sturm Und Drang. As I predicted, the band members translated a lifetime’s worth of hostility into 10 songs packed with melancholy ferocity. Right off the bat, Blythe admitted in multiple interviews how the band purposely avoided writing a prison album but the anxiety hanging over their heads for the last few years certainly found its way into the overall landscape of this record. This is easily Lamb of God’s darkest album yet and the musical undertones create the sort of dramatic uplift that compliments the lyrical content.

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Lamb of God’s consistency in the songwriting department is a major reason why the band continues to grow in popularity nearly fifteen years after their debut. There’s a positive aura that surrounds previous records like Wrath and Resolution but there’s always been a segment of Lamb of God fans solely fixated on As The Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wakes. I’ll argue for Wrath until my face turns blue – that record is criminally underrated, however, I truly believe VII: Sturm Und Drang is Lamb of God’s best record since Ashes of the Wake.

Let’s start off by talking about “Still Echoes,” this song features one of Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s finest intro riffs-to-date before Chris Adler’s heart shattering drum fill kicks into an excruciating Randy Blythe scream. The lyrical nature of this song revolves around the historical background of Pankrác Prison where Blythe served his time in the Czech Republic. As Blythe sings the words “Still echoes of their screams,” John Campbell’s bass line hits the chest, which adds yet another pulverizing layer of instrumental perfection. The chorus of this song “A thousand years of failure/ A thousand years they bled/To the bear, the blitzkrieg, and the Holy Father/ They just bowed their heads,” will instantly send listeners into a frenzy – talk about some historic poetry, this song reads like a death alibi. Dare I say, any Lamb of God listener unhappy with this song should reconsider why they listen to the band in the first place.

What makes VII: Sturm Und Drang incredibly special – the precedent set forth by “Still Echoes” never slows down once throughout the record. “Erase This” will recall the fondest memories of hearing “Hourglass” for the first time as these gargantuan riffs bounce straight into these melodic passages of thrashy elegance. Towards the latter portion, there’s even utterances of a voice box, which provides a surprisingly aggressive substance to the guitar tracks. It’s easy to picture fans screaming the chorus, “For what it’s worth/ It was over before it began,” at future concerts since the heartfelt rage within the vocal delivery commands such a reaction.

Photo Courtesy: Adrenaline PR
Photo Courtesy: Adrenaline PR

Third track “512” is truly the crown gem of Sturm Und Drang and I honestly rank it among the best Lamb of God songs of all-time. This song picks up right where the band left off on Resolution considering how its melodic virtuosity recalls the likes of “King Me.” There’s this sense of misconstrued regret in Blythe’s voice once he sings, “My hands are painted red/ My future’s painted black/ I can’t recognize myself/ I’ve become someone else.” “512” focuses on the severe changes in Blythe’s personality and psyche throughout his prison sentence as he spent a majority of his time locked up in the dungeons of the basement. Considering the cold emotional substance behind the lyrics, this track is surprisingly uplifting from a musical standpoint. Both Mark Morton and Willie Adler summon one devastatingly melodic riff after another but this track’s main chorus riff is the textbook definition of heavy metal brilliance. Morton kicks into one of the tastiest solo’s of his career while his incorporation of the wah pedal amplifies his note selection into a thrilling conclusion.

“Embers” starts off with one of Sturm Und Drang’s creepiest riffs as Willie Adler plays this harmonized melody that creates the aura of a collapsing infrastructure. When both guitarists tremolo pick (play at high speeds) and repeatedly bend the note before the chorus, the sudden change in tempo is like going from the frozen artic and being thrown into the midst of the boiling sun. The breakdown towards the latter half perfectly leads into Chino Moreno’s guest appearance as his voice creates this sense of cathartic beauty alongside Blythe’s inner wrath. Major props should be given to the band for reaching out to someone of Moreno’s caliber, as his voice is unmatched in the genre. Truth be told, I initially expected a slower paced song with more of a groove-ridden feel similar to Deftones. However, I find it highly impressive how they transitioned from such a terrifying manifestation of shear heaviness into this calming ambience, which allowed Moreno to truly add his own flavor to the song. The last thirty seconds where the bass guitar just rattles alongside the groovy backbeat could easily be mistaken for a Deftones song, which demonstrates the musical range of Lamb of God. Blythe claimed to hear Moreno’s voice when the latter portion of this track was initially composed and it’s easy to understand his reasoning.

Photo Credit: Jeff Crespi
Photo Credit: Jeff Crespi

“Footprints” kicks into this vintage Lamb of God syncopation between the guitars and drums where instant headbanging will most likely occur. Chris Adler truly steals the spotlight as he summons these monstrous drum fills before he whirlwinds a Black Sabbath inspired groove into a trashing execution of Slayer proportions. Very few bands are able to create such irresistible hooks underneath such painful vocal deliveries and the range of different emotions throughout “Footprints” solidifies this notion. Old school Lamb of God fans will practically beg for more once the last note hits and Randy Blythe venomously screams, “How the fuck did you think this would end?”

Real talk, I’ve wanted Lamb of God to write “Overlord” for nearly a decade now. A song of this caliber has always been within reach since they are such gifted musicians. They could honestly thrive in any musical setting since they have a first class sense of song structure, melody, and dynamics. While Blythe has previously hinted at singing in the past, “Overlord” showcases a delicate side of his personality never previously heard on any Lamb of God record. By all means, this is a HUGE creative risk since Lamb of God is so respected for their visceral aggression. With its southern rock influence reminiscent of Corrosion of Conformity, “Overlord” has a Metallica “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” feel since it starts off calmly and builds into these thought provoking choruses and highly complex guitar solo’s. By the midway point, “Overlord” suddenly takes the listener on a roller coaster ride of emotions as Lamb of God unleashes this manifested resentment after Blythe screams “A problem hidden in plain view/ Is staring right back at you!” First off, this is some of the finest guitar work ever displayed by Mark Morton and Willie Adler. The expressive substance within the note selection elevates this track to newfound heights of beauty. “Overlord” features a broad range of styles including blues, southern rock, groove metal, death metal, and borderline progressive metal. The words “sell out” will instantly bestow themselves upon Lamb of God but this song doesn’t incorporate singing for the sake of cultivating a hit, Blythe’s clean vocals truly capture the literary substance of his lyrics. While fickle headed listeners will cry foul, Blythe walks away the true winner since his brutal honesty shines brightest.

“Anthropoid,” is definitely a musical “thank you” geared towards longtime fans as this track contains all of the necessities for a standard Lamb of God crusher. This song isn’t anywhere near as radical as “Overlord” and should mentally cool down any old school listener infuriated by Blythe’s clean vocals. Lyrically speaking, this song revolves around a group of Czech born/British soldiers who successfully assassinated a high-ranking Nazi during WWII terrifyingly known as “The Butcher of Prague.” Blythe pays homage to these soldiers since he greatly respects the courage it took to pull off such a momentous feat against someone so despised throughout Prague.

“Engage The Fear Machine,” features the deadliest combination of grooves and brutality off the entire LP. Quite frankly, the main riff is simply addicting and stands alongside some of the finest work in Lamb of God’s arsenal. If I defined this song as a quintessential “headbanger,” I wouldn’t be giving it enough credit. When the band slows everything down towards the 2:45 mark, Chris Adler’s drums lead into this gargantuan interlude before Mark Morton fires off a spectacular guitar solo where he truly bend the hell out of those notes.

“Delusion Pandemic” follows the “Anthropoid” template where Lamb of God doesn’t stray too far from their signature dash of southern infused extreme metal, however, the last minute and a half takes this song in a completely different direction. Blythe proceeds to bark these marching orders about accepting responsibility for yourself when he yells, “So stop blaming your problems on any and everything else/ It does not matter one tiny fucking bit how unfair you think the world is/ It’s only what you do, right here, right now, right this fucking instant that matters!” As a listener, this is what separates Blythe from most modern metal vocalists – he’s able to break the fourth wall and his lyrics capture our attention due to the command of his voice.

Photo Credit: Jeff Crespi
Photo Credit: Jeff Crespi

“Torches” stands alongside “Overlord” in pushing the envelope unlike anything else previously heard from Lamb of God. The introduction summons this Alice In Chains aura where guest vocalist Greg Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan harmonizes alongside Blythe and their voices fade in and out like a nightmare-induced hallucination. When Blythe utters the words, “I strike the match (It’s not me who dies)/ And let it fall/ Oppression, injustice, self-immolation,” Puciato summons of the most gut wrenching screams I’ve ever heard. It’s not extremely high the mix but focus on Puciato around the 3:45 mark and unfamiliar listeners will get a full sample of Dilliner Escape Plan’s brutality. From an instrumental perspective, the band creates an Edgar Allen Poe aura that’s extremely bleak in tone yet compliments the deathly aura within the lyrics. This being the last song on the record, I’d say Lamb of God sends a strong message about being excited to pursue new territory on future material. No matter how light or dark the subject manner, anything is possible, which is simply a delight to hear since there is no limit to what this band is capable of musically achieving.

As any reader might be able to tell, this album struck a chord that I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m not afraid to make this claim – Sturm Und Drang proudly stands alongside As The Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Awake. Those two records certainly contain groundbreaking songs, which made them beloved classics but I feel Sturm Und Drang features the best songwriting of their career. In terms of flow, these songs compliment each other so well since they capture the overall story of a group of brothers digging themselves out from the bottom. Life dealt these guys some awful cards – that itself is an understatement – yet Lamb of God refused to back down. Some listeners feel they settled for comfort on their previous records but those arguments came crashing down once real life danger clouded this band’s future. What makes Sturm Und Drang surpass Sacrament, Wrath, and Resolution is the mutual sense of determination to prove the world wrong. From what I gather, the group cherishes each other’s company and they understand how nothing could surpass their collective willpower. The five of them cultivate a brash style of extreme metal that influences millions around the world and they fought to preserve their legacy. This refusal to surrender in 2015 is the same sort of determination it took to breakout in the early – mid 2000s. Between the quench for extermination or their ability to expand upon the roots of their original groundwork, Lamb of God continues to carry the flag for a genre in need of strong leaders. The metal scene will greatly benefit from a band of their caliber establishing a new status quo. To keep a highly regarded legacy in tact requires a healthy output throughout a band’s tenure. If you’re looking to take the throne, this sort of brilliance will be consistently expected. And no questions asked, Lamb of God will not be “Laid to Rest.”

Rating: 9/10

To purchase VII: Sturm Und Drang by Lamb of God on iTunes, click here.


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