I have to admit, when Ryan first approached me about writing reviews for his site, I was a bit hesitant. A lot of the records he had suggested to me were by bands that I have not only had a professional relationship with but had become close friends with over the years. The last thing I wanted to do is put people I respect on blast if I wasn’t that into the music, but at the same time I have to be honest about my feelings on the songs if I going to offer my opinion. To deal with this potential conflict, I have decided to review these records in the way that I would hope a journalist would approach an album that I had created by taking the time to do a thorough track by track breakdown and really delve into the album to try and get the full picture. It used to drive me crazy reading reviews where you could tell the writer had already formed an opinion based on the bands bio or history or only listened to the album opener and then skipped around without giving the entire album a chance to grow on them. So hopefully I can achieve my goal of giving an honest and thorough review without pissing off a bunch of my friends along the way!
Enough babbling, let’s get to some music. It’s kind of perfect that the first record Ryan asked me to review is the latest album from Richmond VA’s LAMB OF GOD. I have been blessed to have been around to watch these guys evolve from the sheer insanity that was BURN THE PRIEST into the unstoppable metal juggernaut that is LAMB OF GOD. It has been a tumultuous few years for the band and they finally break their silence and emerge from the smoke with “STURM UND DRANG”.
Damn! The boys waste no time letting you know that they are coming out swinging! The opening riff makes you think the groove is coming but right before you think the beat is going to drop, they kick you straight in the teeth with an unrelentingblastbeat. Randy unleashes his signature high pitched banshee wail, rising up from the depths as if it was the sonic embodiment of all of the chaos, uncertainty and trauma he had endured over the past few years. This unrelenting classic Lamb Of God song is the perfect way to get things started.
One thing I have always loved about Lamb Of God is that they never lose their core groove no matter what type of beat the riff is over. Blastbeats, mid tempo or breakdown, they always keep your head bobbing and the intensity at that tempo that keeps the heart rate accelerated. This song has the energy of “As The Palaces Burn” era songs but without sounding like a throwback. The gang vocal chorus has that live sing along vibe and then Morton busts out a talkbox to push this song over the edge. Killer.
Even though this song has a very discordant and dark vibe, it also gives me that top down, pedal to the metal feel. I could definitely see myself cranking this one up and driving way too fast. The vocals of the chorus perfectly capture the sound of a man at the moment of a devastating self-realization. Randy at his most raw and exposed. Production wise, this song showcases how well the album balances the underlying ambient and atmospheric elements without losing the jackhammer like driving force of the riffs.
The first thing I think when I hear this song is that I cannot wait to hear Chris playing drums on the new Megadeth record!! The opening riffs and the bridge have such a “Rust In Peace” feel to it and the outro takes you back out on a “Dawn Patrol”! After the onslaught of the verses, I love hearing the band switch it up on the chorus and bring that southern rock inspired groove and vocals. Things take an unexpected turn at then end up this song when they open things up to arena size with giant chords and the soaring melodic vocals of Chino from The Deftones. This part serves as the perfect compliment to the intensity and unrelenting fury of the first few tracks and shows that Lamb Of God are not afraid to experiment and expand on their signature sound. A great example of a band remaining built on their roots but willing to allow things to grow naturally into new territory.
After the slow fade out of “Embers”, the boys fire the kill machine back up to full blast and let it rip! This is an example of the band at its most fierce, just an assault of riffs and kickdrums. I’ve always loved how Lamb Of God mixes up fast picked riffs over slower drum beats and wide open guitar riffs over up tempo thrash beats. That contrast always creates a jarring and intense combination.
I’m sure this song will be a bit divisive among Lamb Of God fans. Whenever a band gets huge, the old school fans are always afraid of the band going soft and writing the feared “radio song”. Fuck that! If you don’t let a band explore and expand their sound things become trapped and stale. “Overlord” shows that Lamb Of God isn’t afraid to accept the challenge of writing a powerful song without relying on riffs built around a million notes and just letting things breathe while focusing on vocal melodies, chord progressions and note choices. I think they pull it off brilliantly. The verses create a haunting mood, showcasing Randy at his most vulnerable before building seamlessly into a massive chorus. The middle section of this song does have feel a bit pasted in to me, almost like they wanted to remind you that it was still Lamb Of God. It’s a killer section but it seems a bit forced in the context of the rest of the tune. Besides that small complaint, this is such a solid heavy rock tune with a killer hook and a powerhouse vocal performance from Randy. I love hearing the band add to their playbook and allow all of their influences to shine through.
The Slayer and Pantera influences that have always been a part of Lamb Of God’s sound are on full display during “Anthropoid”. The straight forward drum beats are a real driving force to this song. Sometimes you have to just got with that old four on the floor and drive people into the ground like a hammer. Great sing along chorus as well.
Engage The Fear Machine
The song builds up with a killer chugging riff over a military style drum roll before the bottom drops out into a headbanging groove before building back up to a dirty and sludgy chorus. Absolutely love the bluesy solo from Mark with bends and runs that would make Dickie Betts proud.
Circle pit!! I can already envision the devastation that will occur in the crowd at a festival when this tune kicks in. After a classic thrash style intro full of downpicking and cymbal clutches, the band settle into a killer groove that keeps the energy rolling along. I love how Chris spices things up with the occasional blastbeat fills and accents. Randy might be the only person on this planet that can make the word “mockingbird” sound metal and his spoken word rant would make Lorenzo of Sworn Enemy proud!! It’s only fitting that such a classic rant leads into the only true “breakdown” of the album and it’s a brutal one.
What a great way to close out an album. The layered vocals, drenched in delay, create a very Black Sabbath vibe on the opening verse, building up to a crescendo that erupts into a staccato riff that hits with the impact of a machine gun cutting down everything in its way. A short but intense solo shreds it’s way over the bridge and continues with a sick little run underthe second verse. Everything builds to the simple but crushing riff that the song fades out on. This song has a very different vibe for Lamb Of God and is a great change of pace to close things out.
Whew! Now that was a party!! Honestly, it has been a long time since I have been truly inspired or impressed by a modern day heavy metal album from beginning to end. Not only did Lamb Of God accomplish that with “VII: STURM UND DRANG”, they have shown that they are capable of continually evolving and adding to their sound without losing what it is that made them great. It is a difficult balance to achieve and they have nailed it with this album.