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A reassurance of energy and vigor. - 75%

bkuettel, January 18th, 2016

Lamb of God fans wildly speculated that the band were cruelly torn apart due to vocalist Randy Blythe’s incarceration by the Czech Republic in 2012. Imprisoned for manslaughter, he could hardly be faulted for merely pushing a dangerous fan from breaching the stage. However, the fan had tripped and later died from head injuries. Blythe was not held criminally liable, and released by 2013. These tumultuous events, the band’s drained funds from legal fees, and other setbacks left their future in question. An optimistic announcement to enter the recording studio in 2014 was an encouraging sign to say the least. However, Blythe stated that following this album, it's tour, and the release of his new book, he would take a long break from Lamb of God. The question now is what has changed for their signature, reliable groove metal sound in the wake of these extreme events? Well, the answer is not much. Recent releases had refined and streamlined their instrumental songwriting, as well as included more instances of singing and spoken-word passages from Blythe. Once again, Lamb of God’s minimal forays into experimentation are the most memorable and enjoyable aspects of the powerful, refined qualities within VII: Sturm und Drang.

Perhaps the most noticeable influences from Lamb of God’s crises are the change of lyrical themes. Musings on imprisonment come up minimally, but are certainly there. Spoken word verses like “Six bars laid across the sky, four empty walls to fill the time, one careless word, you lose your life, a grave new world awaits inside” and screamed choruses like “My hands are painted RREEEED” from “512” paint a disturbing picture of what Blythe went through during those harrowing months in prison. Aside from that, everything about Lamb of God remain largely the same. Chris Adler’s drumming is technical and enjoyable to listen to as always, and John Campbell’s impressive yet mostly inaudible bass playing follows the rhythm guitar riffs. “Embers” remains a nice exception, with only bass and drums fading the song out to the end. Mark Morton and Willie Adler keep the guitar riffing and chugging at the forefront as always. Sparse moments of non-distorted clean guitar playing shine through the cracks of walls of distortion and riffage. These rare gems are pleasant surprises among the consistent and relying formula they’ve utilized for eight albums now.

“Embers” and “Overlord” both feature atmospheric, dark guitar passages that provide a welcome change of pace. The latter in particular sounds more like something from Alice in Chains than Lamb of God, especially with the use of clean guitar arpeggiating. Blythe even breaks out a decent singing performance, making for their most interesting song to date. The guest vocalists help provide some welcome variety, and instigate some of the album's most instrumentally interesting moments. Aside from these occasional experimental flourishes, most of Sturm... is the same straightforward, hard-hitting Lamb of God we've all come to know and love. The first three tracks, particularly the dissonant "512" make for typical exercises in ferocity. Razor sharp guitar riffing, blasting drumming, and roaring vocals lay to rest any doubts that the quintet had been thrown off by Blythe's tribulations. Lamb of God is a band of strength and resilience, and the listener gets the sense that Blythe is exercising his demons through his vocals and chants.

While the first half of the album is impressive and diverse enough, the second half serves to maintain their established signature sound. The ending run of songs sacrifices opportunities for continued progression for playing it safe, even drawing parallels with previous releases. “Anthropoid” hearkens back to “Dead Seeds” from Wrath, particularly in the riffing and song structure. Given the nature of recent releases, an expected quality of Sturm… is the predictable verse-chorus-verse style of playing. There are minimal attempts at varying up the songwriting, which can result in songs beginning to sound a little too similar to each other. Aside from the aforementioned examples, nearly every track repeats the same formula and structural patterns. While the newer Lamb of God has been polished, reliable, and consistent, the older, rawer sound maintained a gritty, dark ferocity that somehow feels more wildly visceral and effective in retrospect. If anything, Sturm… is a solid reassurance to fans that Lamb of God are still going strong in their rising from the ashes of extreme circumstances, and a possible goodbye letter that keeps their satisfying, reliable songwriting style intact. In the wake of volatile recent events, as well as a confirmed hiatus for the band, that’s all we really need from Lamb of God right now.