It’s been a while since the last Lamb Of God album, but the three years between 2012’s Resolution and their new effort, VII: Sturm Und Drang have been anything but quiet. Randy Blythe, their dreadlock-toting, pig-squealing frontman, has inadvertently created a storm of publicity around the band by returning to face trial in the Czech Republic following the death of a fan, Daniel Nosek, at a Lamb Of God show there on the Resolution tour. So widely and extensively reported was this fiasco that the band has had the opportunity to pursue other projects while Blythe has been fielding questions, putting on photography exhibitions and writing a book. Chris Adler leant his sticks to Dave Mustaine for the new Megadeth album. Now that’s a side project.
The upshot of all of this is that the expectations for Lamb Of God’s seventh album have been confused: would it be a break with the past? Would they continue with the sound on Resolution, or would they want to leave it behind? Would the subject matter play out like a courtroom drama? And, of course, a kind of ubiquitous question for metal fans: would Randy expand the role of the clean vocals he introduced on Resolution?
Well, none of those questions have been answered outright. The first thing to say about VII is that, despite three years off, voluntary or not, it does sound like a mixtape of songs that could very well have been on Resolution. In fact, a couple of them sound like they didn’t make it with good reason. During my first listen to this LP, I found the word “bland” continually popping into my head. There are some good tracks, there are some solid tracks, and there are some tracks that just aren’t very interesting, but there are a few tracks that really flower after a second or third listen.
‘Still Echoes’, which the band released on their website in anticipation of the album’s release, is a highlight, opening the album with a strong groove and one of the few examples of the band’s “classic” riffing on this LP. Next we are treated to another fast and groovy tune in the shape of ‘Erase This’. ‘Engage The Fear Machine’, despite its melodramatic title, has a chilling riff and exciting delivery, and ‘Delusion Pandemic’ might be the heaviest (and angriest) thing the band has released for a long time. ‘512’, the only track here that deals explicitly with Randy’s time in prison and his struggle with Nosek’s death, is another highlight, and recalls many instrumental elements that would have sat at home on 2006’s Sacrament, arguably their strongest album to date.
Unfortunately, tracks like ‘Embers’, ‘Footprints’ and particularly ‘Overlord’, which now has a music video and seems like the intended centrepiece of the album, are eminently skippable. The clean vocals are not an issue in terms of their nature, but they are just not special in the same way that Randy’s screams are; he is, regrettably, an average singer, as he showcases on the forgettable ‘Overlord’, wasting an excellent middle-eight riff in the process. The guest spot from Deftones’ Chino Moreno on ‘Embers’ does very little to lift it from the mediocre, despite an interesting introduction and a frantic verse riff. The album closer, ‘Torches’, while perhaps a good track in its own right, cannot possibly stand up against the band’s other album closers, songs like ‘Reclamation’, ‘King Me’, ‘Remorse Is For The Dead’ and ‘Vigil’. VII doesn’t end with a whimper, but it doesn’t end with a bang either.
What must be said, despite the hot and cold track listing, is that this album sounds excellent. Since 2004’s Ashes Of The Wake, Lamb Of God have been at the forefront of modern metal production. Add that to Willie Adler and Mark Morton’s long-lived partnership with Mesa/Boogie and their eternal search for the best and most complementary guitar tones, and you have recordings that showcase clarity, depth and energy in equal measure. VII is no exception. My only reservation is that the band continues to move away from the precision of Ashes Of The Wake and Sacrament for the more layered (and, arguably, less unique) sound that really came together on Resolution. This album, though, exhibits much more of a coherent identity, event if some of that identity fails to set ears aflame.