Album Review

‚ÄčLamb of God - VII: Sturm und Drang

Released July 24, 2015
Lisa Sanchez
‚ÄčLamb of God has reached a level where their new album VII: Sturm und Drang needs to be accessed according to different standards. The Virginian five-piece has helped cultivate and define "American metal" while maintaining the conspicuous absence of confederate flags and cowboy hats that can be dubiously associated with the word pairing. Now, VII: Sturm und Drang (meaning "Storm and Stress" in German) may be one of the most personal albums spanning Lamb of God's 15-year career, but the album may not meet the high expectations of fans.
VII: Sturm und Drang is the first album Lamb of God (sometimes abbreviated to LoG) has released in three years and since lead singer Randy Blythe's incarceration in a Czech Republic prison for an incident that happened in 2010. The vocalist was charged with manslaughter after a concert-goer fell from the stage during Lamb of God's performance and subsequently died. Blythe was eventually found not liable in the fan's death and has talked extensively about his experience since his release from prison in 2012, but the new album seems the natural medium to vicariously relive the singer's truly unique experience.
Lamb of God has always dealt with heavier topics, such as death and anger, but they tackle a whole new world with Blythe's experience. The album encapsulates Blythe's captivity and his guilt as well as his frustration at trying to defend himself in a country where he doesn't speak the language. The album begins with "Still Echoes" and "Erase This" both of which feature the band's signature dueling guitars. Both Mark Morton and Willie Adler play off each other well as usual, and Blythe's distinct raspy yet guttural vocals cut through with emotive lyrics. The tracks aren't especially stand-out, although "Erase This" has some interesting guitar effects and drum and bass interplay, and the songs only function to warm up the listener.
"512" is where VII: Sturm und Drang really begins to get interesting. "512" is named after the numbered cell Blythe was confined to during his time in the Czech Republic and the song is just as heavy as its inspiration. Blythe puts some of his best vocalizing on the track, varying from spoken word to deep growls and devastating screeches. The lyrics are some of the best on VII: Sturm und Drang, including a chorus of Blythe screaming "My hands are painted red, my picture is painted black. I can't recognize myself. I think I'm someone else."
In addition to this being Lamb of God's most personal and emotive album, VII: Sturm und Drang features an interesting collection of guest vocals on the album. "Embers" features Chino Moreno of the Deftones, whose vocals give the song an unexpected ethereal atmosphere. He enters the song about three quarters of the way through, interplaying his dreamy, higher pitched vocals with Blythe's furious howl. It's a good song, but the vocal pairing comes off as disharmonious and disjointed considering Moreno's vocals come in so abruptly. The ultimate track on VII: Sturm und Drang features vocals from Greg Puciato from Dillinger Escape Plan. Puciato's vocals are used sparingly in "Torches," more as a background effect than anything else. He adds clean-sung parts as well as a massive wall of heavy howling with his bellows. "Torches" is better compositionally than "Embers", perhaps because it's the last track on the album and eases the album to a close with its diversity.
VII: Sturm und Drang is a unique Lamb of God record for a number of reasons, but is also the first record from the band that prominently features Blythe's clean vocals. This may not seem like a big deal, but in eight albums the vocalist has never flexed his clean singing skills. As a purist, I bristled at "Overlord" considering it simply lesser than the other songs on the album because it ratcheted down the intensity. However, Lamb of God really put their hearts into this track, both lyrically and musically. The song is soulful; it starts off slow then works up into a fervor and is terribly memorable. I didn't realize how good this song was until I found myself singing Blythe's clean vocals. It's my opinion that Blythe's real vocal talents lie in his unraveling screams, but his clean singing is mellow and engaging. If anyone dismisses Lamb of God as just another metal band this song will shut up any dissenters.
I thoroughly enjoyed VII: Sturm und Drang and found it difficult to listen to anything else once it was released, but it is not Lamb of God's greatest album. It is certainly their most personal and diverse work, but, again, definitely not their best. I think the band would have almost benefited from putting out an EP of songs about Blythe's experience and then concentrated on a different album entirely. The songs about his experience in the Czech prison are obviously different from the other songs on the album and it makes the whole thing feel discordant, as if the band just threw in extra songs to fill out a ten-song track list. Looking beyond that misstep, I would argue that VII: Sturm und Drang is still one of the best albums released this year, if not the best album, and that's enough for me.