As post-Pantera flagbearers for delivering modern American metal to the masses, Virginia’s Lamb of God has garnered similar levels of commercial success and popularity while keeping their heads above water as their profile has snowballed. Even in the face of inevitable detractors, Lamb of God’s workmanlike dedication and impressive work ethics on the road has firmly established the divisive veterans as one of metal’s most (commercially) adored and successful bands during the post-millennium era. Unfortunately Lamb of God’s recent output hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, with the band treading water creatively for much of the past decade and succumbing to Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™. VII: Sturm Und Drang (translated to “Storm and Stress“) marks the seventh full-length release under the LoG moniker, and first since 2012’s solid but unspectacular Resolution album, and it follows a quite turbulent couple of years for the band.
Perhaps the most significant context behind this latest platter resides in the well-documented turmoil surrounding frontman Randy Blythe’s brief incarceration and trial in Prague on manslaughter charges following the untimely and accidental death of a fan on stage in 2010. Although Blythe’s acquittal occurred over two years ago, the events surrounding the case and implications placed upon Blythe rocked the band to its core and raised doubts over their immediate future. Thankfully those unfortunate occurrences haven’t derailed Lamb of God’s career or dented their resolve and they continue to apply tons of energy, passion and aggression to their work. Right from the outset the familiar elements are on show with reliably tight performances and proficient musicianship across the board. Chris Adler remains a creative beast on drums, and Mark Morton and Willie Adler churn out signature groove-laden leads and riffs, striking a muscular balance between technicality, melody and thrashy chops.
The main issue I have with later day LoG is they too often fall back into a safety net of recycled ideas and self-plagiarism, with much of their recent material lacking the vitality and engaging hooks of their earlier works The first two singles (“Still Echoes” and “512”) lyrically tackle Blythe’s harrowing time spent in Pankrác prison, but both fail to make a musical statement worthy of the subject matter. “Still Echoes” serves as a solid opener with all the trademark LoG elements in place, but it’s also fairly unremarkable, while “512” is marred by Blythe’s spoken word vocals and its repetitive chug.
Credit where it’s due, Lamb of God break the shackles of predictability with the excellent “Anthropoid” featuring a more dynamic, dare I say ‘blackened’ edge to Blythe’s vocals, coupled with a catchy chorus and a number of strong riffs. However the biggest surprise occurs on the bloated semi-ballad “Overlord,” with Blythe dabbling in clean vocals as the band channel a bluesy ’90s grunge vibe. It’s a touch awkward musically and vocally but is not without its strengths. Unfortunately it drags too long and the heavier climax seems at odds with the rest of the song. Blythe flips between being a strength and a weakness to the LoG cause and I wish he would ditch the damn spoken word parts. What’s worse is his laughable tirade that shoots dead the momentum of “Delusion Pandemic” and conjures up ugly memories of Guns N’ Roses “Get in the Ring.”
On paper guest contributions from Chino Moreno (Deftones) and Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan) sounds appealing, particularly when considering the contrast of disparate vocal styles. Neither song really takes flight though, with “Embers” being the stronger of the two. It’s a shame that Moreno’s contribution fails to capitalize on the song’s impressive build-up of trademark LoG aggression, churning riffs and inspired vocals from Blythe. Moreno’s stoned-out melodies are pleasant enough but can’t deliver the knock-out performance the song was calling out for. Amidst the uneven song-writing and mixed bag experimentation are a few barnstorming gems which alleviate some of the frustration, but they simply doesn’t hit the sweet spot often or consistently enough. “Erase This” is an especially bruising and dynamic tune, highlighted by inspired guitar work, thrashing bursts of speedy melodeath and a ripping solo.
Like much of Lamb of God’s recent output, VII: Sturm Und Drang bristles with energy and speckles of inspiration but is ultimately overwhelmed with tired ideas and patchy song-writing. Diehards may lap this up, but I expect more from Lamb of God and demand a little more substance and consistency with my metal to fully recommend this uneven affair.