No matter what you normally think of Lamb of God, you have to admit: it’s been tough not to pay attention to updates on their new album, VII: Sturm und Drang, over the last couple of months. After the turbulent three years they just had? After vocalist Randy Blythe’s manslaughter trial in the Czech Republic? Of course you’re going to be a little curious. And the good news is: for the most part, the album rewards that curiosity.
What’s interesting about the album is that for the most part, even after all of the adversity, VII still sounds very much like Lamb of God. There aren’t really any grand, sweeping changes to the band’s established sound. Sure, they’ve made some subtle alterations — a clean vocal part here, a guest performance there — but in general, the most respectable quality ends up being the degree of care with which they’ve constructed the album. Put simply, it’s their most focused work in several years.
And while it’s not a full-on concept album, VII does include its share of allusions to Blythe’s ordeal. First up, there’s the album’s title, which translates from German into “storm and stress.” Opening track “Still Echoes” shares a history of Prague’s Pankrác Prison, the over-crowded, under-financed 19th century establishment where Blythe was held throughout his trial. “512” gets even more personal, offering a glimpse into the despair Blythe encountered while being held in the cell of the same number. From both lyrical and musical standpoints, the latter is VII‘s finest hour by some distance.
Admittedly, most of what we get beyond that is standard-issue Lamb of God. But to the band’s great credit, they’ve avoided the top-heaviness that had plagued them since…really, Sacrament. Albums always have their hits and misses — VII‘s no exception — but where once the band might have top-loaded their strongest tracks, they’ve spaced them out more evenly here. Hell, one of the album’s big highlights is its closing track! (“Torches,” which features a guest spot from Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato) When was the last time we could say that about a Lamb of God album?
And sure, there are parts that don’t quite add up. For all the fanfare around Deftones frontman Chino Moreno’s guest appearance on “Embers,” the song doesn’t quite nail his entrance, and ends up feeling like the band kind of forced him in there. And given how well Blythe handles his clean vocal turn on “Overlord,” it’s almost kind of disappointing not to hear him explore that style further on VII.
But in the end, VII is solid enough to overcome these few shortcomings. It’s a welcome return-to-form — and a welcome return, period — from Lamb of God.
Keep it heavy,