Lamb Of God: VII Sturm Und Drang (Nuclear Blast)
Is there anyone in the Western world of metal who hasn't heard or read about D. Randall Blythe’s unjust incarceration in Pankrac prison in the Czech Republic in 2012? Numerous metal bands proclaimed their support with banners at gigs whilst the internet buzzed and crackled with rumour and speculation about the LOG frontman. As we know, justice prevailed and the incredible dignity and humanity that Blythe demonstrated throughout the whole sad episode was a lesson to us all. He certainly earned the admiration of many who had previously thought that all metal frontmen were just a step above Neanderthal man in both lyrical content and vocal delivery.
Now, whilst LOG are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, there can be no denying the sheer quality of their hook laden riffage which has improved with every release. I could list about 30 favourite LOG tracks just to illustrate my point but find me a track with more hooks than Ruin and I’ll be there in a flash. LOG’s appeal? Where do you start? Randy’s delivery? Gutteral, brutal and aggressive but strangely understandable and laced with intelligent lyrics. Chris Adler’s octopus-like drumming? Ever watched a drum-cam of him on stage? No wonder Mustaine made him an offer. And don’t forget the sharp riffage of Mark Morton and Willie Adler, held together by the pounding bass lines of John Campbell. It’s the complete package, powerful yet thoughtful and live, well if you've never caught these guys live then you really need to get out and sort that out. But take an extra oxygen cylinder because you’ll be gasping for breath by the end.
So, after all the shit that the band went through, it was a real joy to read that they’d got back into the studio and over the past few months there has been a steady build up toward the release of VII – Sturm Und Drang with the release of a couple of tracks easing the tension before the final release. What you get with this release is an album full of darkness, an exploration of the worst elements of humanity, a searching journey of exploration of the effect of incarceration on the human soul. Opener Still Echoes, written by Blythe whilst in Pankrac is a stunning opener. Focusing on the history of the prison, Chris Adler’s drumming is ferocious whilst Blythe’s gruesome narrative is delivered with real brutality. Riffs galore, more hooks than the butcher’s shop and a powerful statement of intent. As the album progresses with the themes continuing to focus on the dark depths of atrocities, you feel the passion and tension come flooding out in the playing of the band. Erase This basically kicks your head in, such is the intensity whilst 512, another penned whilst locked in the gloom and despair of the 135 year old prison recalls the horror of a place where over 1500 people were beheaded by the Nazis during WWII. 512 contains some of the most memorable riffs on the entire album, complete with the atmosphere of a place you cannot contemplate unless you've been there. However, it has the feel of a track that could sit comfortably on Sacrament, an album that is already nine years old.
That’s not to say that LOG haven’t moved on with their sound. Two tracks on Sturm Und Drang feature guest vocalists. Deftones Chino Moreno adds a completely brilliant and unexpected layer to Embers whilst Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan) features on Torches, a song which covers the subject of self-immolation and Jan Palach who immolated himself in Wenceslas Square in protest at the Warsaw Pact Invasion. Who said metal was all about tits, beer and the devil? The other change on this album is the clean vocals on Overlord. Now as we know Blythe sang some of Insurrection on Resolution with clean vocals but this is another level and it is breathtakingly good. Vocally melodic, Overlord retains the typical LOG steel spine; cue the explosion into more familiar territory from about three minutes in. No messing with the rest of the tracks on the album. Anthropoid focuses on more history, this time Operation Anthropoid, the plot to take out the Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich. A particularly gruesome tale, this track hits you like a freight train and doesn't stop until you get to the end of the line.
As well as the intellectually stimulating if depressingly dark theme, Sturm Und Drang also highlights what excellent musicians this band are. The pressures of the past few years appear to have been released, demons exorcised in a flurry of razor sharp riffs, powerhouse drumming and driving bass. LOG have probably released the album of the year and possibly their best ever long player. It really does rival Sacrament as an album with no weaknesses. Storm and Stress? Very possibly given what they have been through. This is a welcome return to one of the best metal bands in the world. 10/10