Album Review: Lamb Of God – VII: STRUM UND DRANG

Erik D. Harshman

Lamb of God (LOG) have been on their way to being pop stars for a while now.

People once said that they were the “new Pantera” and while comparisons were inevitable: both rose from the underground to stadium tour success, both had a similar musician/vocalist setup, with LOG adding a guitarist, and both (after their mainstream success was cemented) chose to put the most marketable and publically digestible song (the “hit single”) as the third track on every album.

But the comparisons end there.

I equated LOG more to a modern Metallica or Megadeth. Whereas Pantera shirked mainstream accessibility and conformity with their later albums (Great Southern Trendkill and Reinventing the Steel), LOG, like ‘Deth and Metallica, have simply embraced it.

I can always tell when my favorite bands have gone mainstream: they stop going to Pop’s (a local venue that can hold about 1,500 and looks like a set out of the movie Road House) and they start going to The Pageant (which can hold 2,600 and looks like a location used in a Cameron Crowe film).

There’s a great moment in Rocky III when Mickey tells Rocky that the worst thing that can happen to a fighter is to become “civilized.” The same applies to rock stars. See, LOG used to come to town several times a year (I saw them open for Anthrax, co-headline with Fear Factory, on the Mtv2 Headbanger’s Ball Tour and headlining Sounds of the Underground). That was when they were hungry and had momentum. They are comfortable now and have completely lost that momentum.

Their albums also used to reflect the aforementioned hunger. They were angry at the way things were (societal norms, the government, America’s social and moral dynamic). Now they seem relatively complacent and accepting of the way things inevitably are.

It used to be that each new LOG album was a reason to celebrate (more on that in a minute) and each tour was better than the last; each show was one of the greatest metal shows I’d ever seen. But I haven’t been excited for a new LOG album in a really long time and the last time I saw them live (with Hatebreed and In Flames in late 2012) was, for me, disappointingly lackluster.

LOG’s first three albums (New American Gospel, As the Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake) form a unique triptych. Some people found their sound, lyrical content and overall aesthetic to be repetitive, I see them as three pieces of the same puzzle. Once that puzzle had been completed (in my opinion, Ashes of the Wake being the most vibrant and well-designed piece), they moved on. I guess my problem is that these new albums don’t seem to form any sort of puzzle; the albums have no continuity and LOG now seem to be making albums just because they can (or are obligated to).

 

Lamb Of God lineup (left to right): Mark Morton [lead guitar], John Campbell [bass guitar], Randy Blythe [vocals], Willie Adler [rhythm guitar], Chris Adler [drums] - image courtesy of Epic Records and Nuclear Blast Records (2015)
Lamb Of God lineup (left to right): Mark Morton [lead guitar], John Campbell [bass guitar], Randy Blythe [vocals], Willie Adler [rhythm guitar], Chris Adler [drums] – image courtesy of Epic Records / Nuclear Blast Records (2015)
The last album of LOG’s that really excited me was Sacrament, which divided a lot of their hardcore fans, as they saw it as a “sell out” album. I took it for what it was: a much slower, possibly lighter, more deliberate and meticulous album, with a different lyrical focus (personal and social issues, as opposed to political ones) and a different musical approach than they previous exhibited. Wrath was decent American thrash, but all the death metal had been drained from their sound and they were slowly becoming a band that would be played during the daytime on “alternative rock” radio stations, as opposed to a band that would only be played on metal radio stations, or at nighttime on the those same “alternative rock” stations, during their “metal hour”. I enjoyed only a handful of songs off Wrath (“Everything to Nothing” being primary, with “In Your Words,” “Set to Fail,” “Dead Seed” and “Broken Hands” rounding it out; I found “The Contractor” to be utterly obnoxious) and I found Resolution to be entirely forgettable; nothing remarkable or enjoyable about that album what so ever.

It’s funny that (for their last album) LOG chose to tour with Hatereed, as both bands rose from the underground, tasted mainstream success, then immediately betrayed the virtues and values they claimed to hold so dear (and would steadfastly maintain): Jamey Jasta would often profess his disgust at bands who had acoustic songs and clean vocals on their records. Now he is doing just that with his multitude of side projects (incidentally, side projects have killed more rock stars than heroin or golf combined). And so is LOG. It is also fitting that, this past summer, LOG chose to tour with Slipknot, as, when ‘Knot took too long to put out a new album or go on tour, hordes of counter-culture tourists (black lipstick-wearing suburb miscreants haunting their local Hot Topic, jock douchebags, who’d gotten into Hatebreed via the XxX film soundtrack and needed new music to beat “dweebs” to, among others) flocked to LOG when they needed a new band to adopt (Slipknot was their heavy metal “gateway drug”, if you will). They found LOG because they were visible, toured tirelessly and had stellar album sales (mostly from genuine metalheads who were tired of retreaded shit from their favorite bands). But if you look at Slipknot as some of the most painfully mainstream pop metal on the market and then look at LOG as the underground young turks they once were (I first heard about them when they were touring with Cannibal Corpse in early 2001), the prospect of LOG opening for Slipknot is relatively sad. LOG used to co-headline with Slayer (who is only a step or two on the mainstream ladder above Slipknot, let’s face it).

But I digress… On to VII: Stum und Drang (German for “storm and stress”… Also, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary it is: “a late 18th century German literary movement characterized by works containing rousing action and high emotionalism that often deal with the individual’s revolt against society”).

This album was released concurrently alongside Randy Blythe’s memoir Darkest Days and could conceivably be seen as the soundtrack to that volume.

For me this album is a little like Wrath, but with less to like: less of it is memorable or relevant to me after the album goes silent.

The album opens effectively (as LOG is good at that, see “Black Label”, “Ruin”, “Walk With Me in Hell” and “In Your Words” as examples) with “Still Echoes”. Musically, the song is fairly in sync with LOG’s musical aesthetic and carries Blythe’s trademark lyrics that seem vaguely (if not at times overtly) atheistic.

“Erase This” is textbook LOG but bears nothing worth remembering, save for its speed. It almost sounds like a B-side off Ashes of the Wake

“512” is memorable if nothing else than for its chorus (“My hands are painted red!”). Obviously, here Blythe is talking about his manslaughter rap and the power of the song lies not just in that lyric alone, but also in the layered thunking thrash sound that LOG has perfected over seven albums.

“Embers” begins with speed, and succumbs to the machine gun riffs that LOG are known for, but pulls back near the end and offers (for the first time on the album) Blythe’s newfound clean vocals. In fact, Blythe’s voice features a collaboration of the whining lament of Chino Moreno from Deftones on this track.

Lamb Of God - VII: STURM UND DRANG album cover art (2015) - image courtesy of Epic Records / Nuclear Blast Records (2015)
Lamb Of God – VII: STURM UND DRANG album cover art (2015) – image courtesy of Epic Records / Nuclear Blast Records (2015)

“Footprints” sounds, at first listen, like another Ashes B-side (LOG must be responding to complaints that they’ve lost their signature sound over the last few albums) and continues with this sound throughout (though, indeed, lighter and less punishing than Ashes’ gratuitously brutal honesty).

“Overlord” is probably the song that was given the most preemptive press by the band and the label. Indeed, it is the “slow” song on the album. For my money, for the first 3:30 it sounds like a ballad off Metallica’s Load (see, my rant at the beginning came full circle). After that time mark, the song becomes signature LOG. In fact, they have a habit of songs, which they want to be seen as “poignant” or “powerful”, starting off slow and then building to might (see “Vigil” off As the Palaces Burn).

“Anthropoid” shows more energy and passion than perhaps the rest of the album up to this point. It has bridges that impact and resonate, leading to a war cry chorus. But, like most of the album, the song seems to start with the same sound as its predecessors and carry a repetitive rhythm throughout.

“Engage the Fear Machine” starts off aspiring to give the audience a different rhythm, and achieves it for the most part. Though generic lyrics that feature clichéd similes (“strung out like a marionette) and lines such as “a hole in the sky/ a hole in your head” weaken and cheapen the song.

“Delusion Pandemic” is notable for LOG’s most epic breakdown since “Blacken the Cursed Sun.” The sledgehammer symphony at the end of the song (over Blythe’s growls of “sink or swim!”) gives me hope that the old LOG (of Palaces, Ashes and Sacrament) is still in there somewhere. Although, I could do without Blythe’s spoken mantra about accountability and socially reprehensible behavior that precedes the breakdown. As with his spoken mantra that opened “Omerta” on Ashes, I really think Blythe has watched Fight Club a few too many times.

And “Torches” veers between a dreamlike lulling riff (that sounds lifted from early 90’s grunge) and their established thrash sound. Though, again, the energy picks up and Blythe seems more invested in this song than he does in some of the album’s more musically monotonous tracks.

In the end it seems as if LOG is either doing one of two things: 1.) Going through the motions (now that they’ve hit the ceiling, where else is there to go?), or 2.) Trying to find their new musical direction (after two separate musical paths have been explored). All in all, I think LOG is trying too hard to sound like themselves when it is clear that they have lost the passion to sound anything remotely like the LOG we remember and know. As I said previously, very little of this album sticks out for me (less than Wrath, though substantially more than Resolution). Unfortunately, I see this album settling into a low spot on my “New Albums” rotation within a week or so… And I honestly never thought I’d say that about an LOG album.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Recommended If You Like: Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, God Forbid, Chimaira, Throwdown, Shadows Fall, Caliban

VII: Sturm Und Drang, the eighth full-length studio album from Lamb Of God, is available now via Epic Records and Nuclear Blast Records.

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