To say that the three years between VII: Sturm Und Drang and 2012’s Resolution have been traumatic for the members of Lamb of God would be a tragic understatement. With much of that interim eaten up by the imprisonment and subsequent trial of frontman Randy Blythe, the remaining four members have largely found themselves on pins and needles awaiting the fate of their beleaguered leader. That acquittal having come through a good two years ago now, Blythe has spent the subsequent period penning a memoir about his experiences and decompressing somewhat via extended book tour. Finally, after what seemed an interminable gestation period, Lamb of God are back and ready to reclaim their birthright: total dominance of all things metal.
Few would say that LoG out-and-out embarrassed themselves with Resolution or its predecessor Wrath, but it’s probably safe to say that neither is the favorite album of many fans. By the point of 2009’s Wrath, the band were giving mixed signals about whether they desired to break further into the mainstream, or if they were just running out of ideas within their existing milieu. Resolution more or less skewed in favor of the latter, with many citing it a worthy comeback at the time, but in the ensuing years it still hasn’t quite coalesced into the kind of long-range classic as, say, 2006’s Sacrament, to this day the band’s high water mark.
Sturm Und Drang finds Blythe and co. in relatively conservative form, never getting too poppy but also self-consciously sticking to their roots, as opposed to pulling the brooding stab at a mid-paced, “serious” magnum opus that might be expected at this point in their career, life events being what they have been and all. Opening track “Still Echoes” makes reference to Eastern Europe as a whole (“Soviet hangover, Eastern Bloc / And dirty money still flows through locks”) but trades largely in generalized political statements; at no point does Blythe come off like he’s complaining about the specific locus of his imprisonment.
That inevitable reference comes with “512”, evoking the cell number Blythe was detained in and thankfully not a misplaced cover of the old Megadeth ode to speed traps. Even here Blythe speaks only of the general psycho-spiritual experience of being behind bars (“My hands are painted red / My future’s painted black / I can’t recognize myself, I’ve become someone else”) instead of railing against the Czech legal system that put him there, a classy – even remarkable – bit of restraint that illustrates why fans and fellow metal musicians alike sprung immediately to his defense upon the initial arrest and throughout the subsequent trial.
Those worried about perhaps the most controversial pre-release aspect of Sturm Und Drang, Blythe’s announcement that he has no burning desire to scream, have nothing to fear as the negatively anticipated clean vocals alluded to by process of exclusion are fairly benign and infrequent. Aside from an ill-fitting cameo by Chino Moreno (Deftones) on “Embers”, Blythe’s clean vocals are confined to the back half of the album: “Overlord” sees the man employing a frankly kind of generic, mainstream hard rock croon that might have went over in the 90’s but here just sounds dated and tired. “Torches” begins life as a tepid Slipknot clone but fortunately rallies midway through, morphing seamlessly into the kind of high intensity Lamb of God standard-bearer that makes you wonder why the whole fucking track couldn’t have just been… that.
Those criticism muddle what is otherwise a pretty worthy entry in the band’s catalog. Few will find anything to complain about in such classic riff-heavy mosh-stirrers as “Engage the Fear Machine”, “Footprints” or the aforementioned “Still Echoes”. In many ways a mixed effort featuring 75% strong material is far preferable to a uniformly mediocre effort like Resolution, so in spite of a few legitimate reservations Sturm Und Drang is nonetheless a welcome return, a sense of relief that hasn’t been attached to the band since Blythe affirmed his freedom back in early 2013.