Saturday, August 22, 2015

Album Review: Lamb of God - "VII: Sturm Und Drang"

To this point, Lamb of God has essentially produced the same record multiple times.  Now, we see the Richmond, Virginia screamers return to the fore with a record that does little to change their reputation or their immense popularity, but does see them take a step toward accessibility and craftsmanship.  “VII: Sturm Und Drang” isn’t a game changer for Lamb of God in the sense that it will seem unrecognizable to their doggedly loyal army of fanatics, but it will seem like a fresh face for those who thought that Lamb of God had since shown all their playable cards on their previous efforts.

What strikes most about “Sturm Und Drang” is that for the first time, Lamb of God is really embracing the idea of differing tempos and adjustments to the throttle.  Critics of the band have long contended that the largest part of their issue with the band is that these Atlantic coasters have never seen a double kick and buzzsaw riff they didn’t like.  Every song sounded like an anvil being hit with a different, larger anvil, thus creating a continual tidal wave of metal noise that left little space for distinguishing notes or chords or any semblance of a complete idea.  That no longer rings true for this record as we see the usual panoply of overdriven, steroidal riffs, but there’s a moderating maturity here that makes them more than just piles of scrap metal.

This album represents the first studio material from Lamb of God since Randy Blythe was imprisoned and subsequently exonerated.  Rather than compose a so-called ‘prison album’ Blythe and company instead have used the experience to write an album detailing with the struggle of the judicial process and one man’s solitary journey through it.

Bringing together everything we’ve discussed so far, “Sturm and Drang” (storm and stress, for those not up on their German – also, the title of a pretty good KMFDM song,) begins with “Still Echoes,” a rolling grind of turgid riffs that remains powerful and threatening without spilling over the edge into a miasma of chaos.  The song is measured but potent, stalking rather than charging, a churning burn that stamps out pugilistic beat-centric metal without opening the flood gates of continual cacophony that has plagued Lamb of God from time to time.

Right on the heels of that success is “Erase This,” another strong song which ties together the ambulatory principles of a lumbering giant with the well struck sensibilities of basic thrash.  That’s not to say that Lamb of God is encroaching on that subgenre's territory or anything, but the threads of that cloth are woven into the fabric of the song, lending it a cadence that moves along in a nice pocket to the rhythm and melody.

Where the album loses some steam is in the meaty middle section, where many of the songs follow the same rough pattern and fail to distinguish themselves from the robust beginning.  Starting with “512,” each cut starts to increasingly adopt a sort of head-down, shoulders-hunched approach to songwriting, the brutality of the band overshadowing their earlier success at real craftsmanship.  There’s the usual spate of mushy, swampy overdriven guitar, but the spirit that effectively renders “Escape This” and forces it to evolve is absent.  As such, the middle section of the record feels uninspired and listless, lying roughly flat until the listener is rejuvenated by the gallop of “Anthropoid,”

No one can diminish the harrowing journey that Blythe found himself on not so long ago and the incorporation of his experience into the theme of “Sturm Und Drang” is poignant and done with some care.  Nevertheless, there are isolated moments on the record where some hardcore-style exhortations show through, and the general sense of “You are responsible for you and fuck everyone else RAHHH!” seems a little tired.  Again, we’re not making light of Blythe’s experience, merely suggesting that some metaphor or greater concentration on presentation would have better served the concept.

“Sturm Und Drang” is a stark improvement for Lamb of God and just might be their best record to date.  For some that’s a low bar to set, but it remains significant for a band that remains one of the most popular modern metal bands, which in itself is impressive considering the band’s lack of mainstream marketing potential.  Ardent fans will hardly need justification for their interesting in this record, but if you’ve never been a fan of Lamb of God before, try this on for size at least once to see what you think.  It probably won’t change everything you believe about the band, but it may show a glimmer of something new.

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