I’ve got to hand it to Lamb of God. Even after all of the shit vocalist Randy Blythe went through with the Czech government, they’ve managed to stay on their recent “every three years” album cycle.
I’ll leave it at that. The rest of the Internet has the intricate details covered.
Speaking of the Internet, I’ve had to go back to remember what I thought of previous Lamb of God albums; at least, anything after Ashes of the Wake. What I found was startling. I didn’t like Sacrament? Wrath was a killer album? At least I remembered how disappointing Resolution was. It threw me for a loop, like suddenly I didn’t know what to expect, how to prepare, or where my basis for comparison would come.
I guess the best thing I can do is this: the recent (basically, post-Ashes of the Wake) pattern seems to be 1-3 really good tracks, 1-2 throwaways, and everything else in the middle somewhere. Accordingly, with the passage of time, only that first category is remembered. VII: Sturm Und Drang falls right in line with that pattern, though its middle area may be the strongest of the bunch.
Getting back to the Internet, I try to avoid listening to advance tracks/leaks, lyric videos, etc. when released. My preference, generally, is to take in a new album all at once with a clean slate. Opener “Still Echoes” was such a track, and I can see why. It’s a pure scorcher in the tried-and-true Lamb of God vein, sure to increase eagerness – and expectations – exponentially, whether heard as a single or an opening track.
I did however break my rule for “Overlord.” The early feedback was so mixed that I couldn’t help myself. Wow. Clean vocals? Subdued guitars? It barely sounded like Lamb of God at all…for the first 3+ minutes anyway. The middle 2+ took things back into familiar territory before going back to the beginning to close. I figured as long as it was a one-off, it might work in context to break things up, but certainly not throughout. There is nothing wrong with clean vocals and all that, but Blythe doesn’t really have the pipes to make it work. The good news is that he doesn’t do it again. The bad news is that somebody else does.
For the life of me I can’t figure out why any band would want to ruin a perfectly good song by having Deftones‘s Chino Moreno smear his vocal feces all over it, but that’s exactly what Lamb of God does with “Embers.” His screams aren’t as good as Blythe’s; his cleans are more grating than Randy’s are awkward. I could go on about how much I dislike the guy – certainly others have done the same to related vocalists that I do enjoy – but there are other, more important things to talk about.
“Anthropoid” quickly erases any lingering pain from the above as well as any uncertainty generated by “Overlord” (tracks 4 and 6 respectively – at least they were lumped together). It’s equal parts mission statement and battle cry seething with aggression. It won’t be long before you’ll be able to buy a band t-shirt emblazoned with “WE ARE THE APEX PREDATOR” (or Ibex Benatar, depending on the ear of the printer).
The album closes with an appearance from Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan) on the track “Torches,” which itself explores a bit of different sonic territory but with better results than previously. He’s there mostly for his cleans as well, though they’re used more for depth and atmosphere than leads. It’s a methodical, musical build to a midpoint of machine gun-like bursts; as the smoke clears, it’s a roll back to calm for the final moments. Nice finish.
So that’s the really notable stuff. But, you know, the rest of the stuff ain’t too shabby. “Erase This” and “512” give the album three strong tracks right out of the chute (“Embers” of course being the screeching halt). Breakneck modern thrash riffs accentuated with some strong vocal hooks in the chorus… these are the things that Lamb of God built their reputation on. “Footprints” to a lesser extent does the same, though that may be enhanced by its placement between the aforementioned oddities. Alternately, “Engage the Fear Machine” wants to be something special but isn’t quite there, which is a shame because it really seems to have something to say about some of the more fucked up aspects of the world today. It pairs in most ways with “Delusion Pandemic” in not standing out musically. Neither are the type of track you’ll skip, you just might not remember them later.
Uh oh – see what I did there? I say the nice things now, but there’s a good chance that those last words could apply to all the tracks in that paragraph, and that none of them will be remembered 3, 6, 12 months down the line. I’ve never been good at judging staying power. Hell, I didn’t think Lamb of God would last beyond New American Gospel. They sure proved me wrong. I’ll stick by my assertion that this is the band’s best work since Ashes of the Wake, hope that it’s the most memorable, and dare say that if they continue to push the creative envelope, they may soon top those works that brought them to the forefront of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal.
Crap…I hate that cliché…