Just released on July 24, and now topping Billboard’s Rock Albums chart, Lamb of God’s VII: Sturm und Drang is a force to be reckoned with. The Richmond, Va.-formed band is no stranger to Billboard success after their 2012 release, Resolution, peaked at No. 3 on the same chart.
Arguably, it is rare for a metal record to climb so quickly, but even more rare is metal of this heavy caliber. The band is known for their anti-religious views, so the new song titles left me momentarily confused. “Still Echoes,” “Embers,” and “Footprints” sound like something played in the waiting room of a dentist’s office, not the tracks found on a rip-your-fucking-face-off Lamb of God release. But my curiosity was quickly doused by the thunder that ripped through my speakers when I played the LP.
Twelve songs spanning 56 minutes and boasting two duets with some of the greatest names in metal, VII: Sturm and Drang is easily the greatest metal release this year so far. The LP opens with “Still Echoes,” a song whose quiet beginnings belie the aggressive percussion and opening screams. With a voice like razor blades, singer Randy Blythe tears through song after song, with his famous roaring crescendos and deep growling vocals supplying the energy that runs through the entire album.
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And that momentum comes from the darkest chapter of the band's history. After finding himself accused of supposedly "intentionally inflicting bodily harm" on a fan in the Czech Republic in 2010 and subsequently incarcerated, Blythe' s impetus for writing lyrics comes from a very private and painful place. According to Lamb of God's Web site, Blythe explains, "...writing in [jail] was an act of preservation." Since being cleared in 2013, Blythe has channeled those foreboding feelings into an incredible creative release. Tracks like "Still Echoes" and "512" draw on his time behind bars with reflections of imprisonment found in the lyrical flashback, "Six bars laid across the sky/ Four empty walls to fill the time/ One careless word, you lose your life/ A grave new world awaits inside."
Coupled with haunting guitar work and a melody hinting at doom and dread, it's easily one of the best songs on the album. Young drummers take special note of the impressive work by the masterful Chris Adler, whose performance should be compulsory education for all metal drummers. His ability to complement and balance the music instead of overpowering the songs is the technique of a man who clearly understands he’s in a band, not a solo act. (Sadly, I must steer you away from the accompanying video. It’s an odd yarn. An unfortunate attempt at the original Sturm und Drang sentiment, it feels more like the stuff of junior-high emo poetry. It’s terribly distracting to an otherwise outstanding song. Just look away.)
Ire further finds itself expressed in songs such as, “Erase This” whose headbanging-inspired beat echoes their thrash roots. “Delusion Pandemic” with its roaring beat and fast tempo, actually features a spoken-word refrain. Encouraging and motivating (think: Shia LaBeouf screaming at you to JUST DO IT!), it's an interesting auditory turn on the album. A further delight is the voice of Chino Moreno, vocalist from the Deftones, joining Blythe in a duet on “Embers” amid John Campbell’s deep, raw bass line.
Even the album’s title lends itself to an interesting narrative. From the German for "Storm and Stress," the title — for those of you who slept through literature class in college — evokes a central literary figure (like a hero) who turns to violence (not very hero-like). Imagine a character arc that transforms a good guy into an evil one. Interested yet? I bet you are. Storm und Drang was an actual German musical and literary movement from the 18th century, whose artists focused on provoking extreme reactions, usually fueled by lust, greed and revenge.
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Emotional storms and outrage are perfect fodder for metal’s most profitable trope: self-righteous anger at religion and other canonized institutions. Not one to disappoint, Lamb of God show their hostility toward authority with the anthems "Anthropoid” and “Torches,” the latter featuring Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato. “Engage the Fear Machine” employs the lyrics, “Paranoia writes our checks/ Strung up like a marionette/ A hole in the sky/ A hole in your head.” Make the allusions to the establishment yourself.
Clearly, Sturm und Drang is exceptional work by an essential band in the metal scene. The missing link between thrash and core, Lamb of God’s sound literally joins the two subgenres in their discography. It’s no wonder why they’re so loved by young and old metal fans alike. Even the last track of Sturm und Drang, “Nightmare Seeker,” chants to the listener to “never forget,” an interesting psychological suggestion or just a convenient reminder that you have heard the one of the best metal albums released in recent memory.