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Storm and stress and one hell of a comeback - 89%

Bloodstone, August 3rd, 2015

Do you feel Lamb of God have lost a lot of edge over the past decade? Like the fire just isn't there anymore and that they now sound a bit too comfortable and smug at their craft? Well, this album might just be what you – like me – have long been yearning for. If you've never warmed to the Virginians' brand of coarse, somewhat dryly delivered metalcore/groove metal before, Sturm und Drang (how's that for a title by an American major label act?) won't sway you even a little bit. But for fans, served up here is quite simply the strongest set of songs they've put out since Ashes of the Wake. Especially after the creative nadir and real dud that was their previous album, I can't say I expected this kind of quality from them ever again.

Aside from the half-ballad curveball track “Overlord”, really nothing here is changed about the band's highly recognizable, bluntly “rawr-rawr” southern-ass style, almost like the Pantera of our time. However, vocalist Randy Blythe going through legal trouble, imprisonment and basically hell since the last album (in turn putting the whole band's future in jeopardy) I guess was bound to leave some sort of mark, and the one positive outcome for everyone involved is the sense of a knife to the throat effect here, as if spurring on the band to write and perform with their livelihood threatened if they can't bounce back from things (the title sure seems to reflect this). Actually, on one hand, in terms of musical direction the album doesn't distinguish itself much from the rest of their discography, not unlike 2012's crappy Resolution. This doesn't have the more atmospheric and melodic approach of Sacrament, or the consistently aggressive directness of Wrath – this is just a very general, “vanilla” Lamb of God sound at its core. But the added sense of urgency and emotional turmoil is definitely there, resulting in songs like the bleak, haunting “512” – the soundtrack to your psyche being slowly torn to shreds right there, and a newborn LoG classic. Among the more straightforward stuff, “Erase This” is simply rousing, with riffage both highly melodic and razor sharp, recalling the group's masterwork As the Palaces Burn in its intensity. The distinctly Wrath sounding “Still Echoes” at first appeared to me as rather standard fare for a choice of first single, but subsequent listens have revealed a genuineness and drive to it, again one that hasn't quite been present over the past few releases. What I'm saying is, they now play it like they fucking mean it and have not put out another album just to have a career. Because I'm such a big fan, I have to pour some love over Chris Adler; ever Lamb of God's instrumental highlight and an essential component, his drumming impresses as always on the album. Those double kicks still flow like pouring water and for head-bobbing groove there's probably no one with better instincts. The incredibly strong material he is utilized for this time around makes you notice and appreciate his work that much more.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss some of the especially primal, uncompromising bluntness of the first three albums (under the LoG moniker), which did make up a lot of the band's charm for me. Of course, with age and maturity comes a delivery that is not quite as brash and more on par with what you'd expect from one of metal's most mainstream acts. But with songwriting this strong and a newly injected spirit to the proceedings (albeit under tragic circumstances), I'm really the last to complain and hey, it's not like they've gotten soft on us or anything. After a close call like that, it's amazing to have them back in such fine form. For your fill of stomping, American goddamn metal, look no further.