Over the course of their career, Lamb Of God has been a band that could always be relied on to deliver no compromises music. Sturm Und Drang can be translated either as storm and drive, or storm and stress, and whilst these terms adequately describe most of the band’s material to date, both are particularly pertinent to this latest effort.
The movement in German literature from which the album takes its name concentrated on emotional extremes, and given the considerable trails (both metaphorical and literal) that the band, and in particular vocalist Randy Blythe, have endured it’s no surprise to find that VII is at times, a passionate affair.
After an incident involving Blythe and the death of a fan, he was charged with manslaughter and imprisoned for a period in a Czech jail. Although he was acquitted, he still spent over a month in confinement whilst the cost of his legal defence sapped the resources of the band. Clearly this has had an impact on the outfit generally and on Blythe particularly, but experience is a great source of inspiration, and VII shows that Lamb Of God have spent time reflecting on the past. As might be expected, imprisonment takes a central role in the themes of the album. Whether it’s Blythe relating the history of the prison in which he was held (Still Echoes), the affect it had on him (512 – the number of his cell) or in the wider aspects of mental incarceration by media (Engage The Fear Machine) forms of bondage are all over VII.
Perhaps as a reaction to the idea of being entrapped by the past, the band has slightly expanded its sonic palette to include “clean” singing, which is something of a first for Blythe. Whilst this step is likely to lead to some disgruntlement amongst the band’s long term fans, it’s by no means a leap towards the mainstream. As influenced by the early Thrash bands as Lamb Of God are, VII doesn’t see them making forays into ballad territory that forerunners such as Metallica and Testament once did. That said, Overlord is the most delicate the band has ever been starting life as an almost dainty blues inflected rumination, and Blythe proves himself as a vocalist with more range than he’s been given credit for. It isn’t long before they revert to type though, and just as it feels as if the concept is running out of steam the riffs and rage take over.
Elsewhere there are a few other concessions to a slightly more melodic approach. The grinding riffs that introduce Embers are something of a red herring as eventually they give way to an expansive closing section graced by the vocals of Deftones‘ Chino Moreno, and allows the band another mode of expression beyond full on anger. Closing track, Torches takes the story of Czech student Jan Palach, who set fire to himself in reaction to Communist oppression and tries to make sense of such an extreme form of self-sacrifice and expression. With assistance from The Dillinger Escape Plan‘s Greg Puciato, who provides a harmonies behind Blythe’s spoken word tracts, it’s a well intentioned if rather dour tribute.
Hardcore fans need not worry that the band is softening in its approach. The ferocious growl of opening blast Still Echoes is sure to snap a few necks as the band rip through a series of speeding riffs whilst Blythe discusses the Nazi atrocities that once occurred in the prison he was held in. Erase This continues in a similar searing vein and throws a Framptonesque voice box into the mix, whilst Anthropoid’s gurgling and low-gear charge gives a salute to the assassins of high ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich.
Where the album falters slightly is in Blythe’s take downs of media manipulation on Fear Machine (a tired subject unless approached from a new angle), and the preachy tones of Delusion Pandemic. For all the progressive steps made else where, these two straight up tunes feel a little by the numbers. Yet, despite these slight missteps, VII is a fine addition to what is already a solid musical canon.