For all its depth, diversity and cross-pollinated ambition, modern metal needs its figureheads, its heroes and its leaders. Lamb of God have been blazing mercilessly away at the forefront of heavy music for the last 15 years, upholding metal’s intrinsic values of honesty, intensity and creativity while also daring to push boundaries and think outside the heavy box. Exploding into view with 2000’s seminal debut New American Gospel, the Virginian quintet inadvertently kick-started the so-called New Wave Of American Metal at the dawn of the 21st century; and have notched up a succession of huge commercial hit albums and remorselessly toured the globe ever since. The combination of vocalist Randy Blythe’s excoriating growls and roars, guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton’s precision attack and the bowel-shattering rumble of rhythm section John Campbell (bass) and Chris Adler (drums) has both refined and redefined the notion of aggressive metal in the modern era.
From the raw savagery of 2003’s As The Palaces Burn and its immaculate follow-up Ashes Of The Wake in 2004 to the widescreen pomp and melodic intricacy of Sacrament in 2006, the band’s rise to glory was steady and unstoppable. By the time they released Wrath in 2009, Lamb of God were simply one of the biggest metal bands on the planet, with a vast army of fans worldwide and a formidable reputation for delivering the goods on stage, with countless headlining tours and festival appearances contributing to their status as standard bearers for heavy music. 2012’s Resolution album marked a startling evolution in the band’s sound, displaying laudable levels of experimental fervour and sonic breadth. It built upon the successes of previous years by smashing into the US Billboard charts at number 3 and looked to usher in a new era of acclaim and achievement.
Of course, what happened next is well documented. Vocalist Randy Blythe’s trials and tribulations in the Czech Republic – wherein he stood accused of causing intentional bodily harm to a fan at an LOG show in Prague in 2010 and faced a lengthy prison sentence – momentarily threatened both his freedom and the future of his band. Eventually acquitted on all charges, Randy has spoken at length on his experiences and while it would be inaccurate to state that the new Lamb of God album – VII: Sturm und Drang – represents the story of those dark days, it undoubtedly had a huge impact on the lyrical direction that he took this time round.
“There’s no way around it, my trip to the gated community in Europe was the starting point for writing this record,” he states. “I wrote the opening track, Still Echoes, almost in its entirety. You’re familiar with the Misfits song London Dungeon, which is about when they got arrested? Well, I’m a huge Misfits fan so I thought I might as well write my own London Dungeon, except for it’s not in London. I also wrote parts of the song 512 while I was there, so I had those two things. But writing in there was an act of preservation for my morale, I suppose. Being creative, whenever I’m going through something rough and I don’t have anything else to turn to, I pick up the pen…”
With such a dramatic entry point for the writing process for Lamb of God’s seventh album, this was never going to be an upbeat affair. Inspired by those initial lyrical ideas, Randy Blythe and guitarist Mark Morton have conjured a collection of dark and menacing but ultimately inspirational lyrics for VII: Sturm und Drang, an album that deals with extreme real life circumstances and mankind’s ability to weather the most brutal storms in the ongoing quest for peace and happiness.
“It’s a record about how people handle extreme situations,” says Randy. “The literal translation is ‘Storm And Stress’ – it sums up everything on the record, it really does, perfectly. Obviously it started with me being in prison, but this isn’t my prison album. The song 512 is asking ‘How am I handling this?’ Anyone who’s been locked up will probably understand what I’m trying to say. It’s about the brutal psychic shift you undergo when you become incarcerated, because it’s not a normal situation at all. People in prison think and act 100% differently from people on the outside. It’s a different world.”
Reflecting this overall theme, VII: Sturm Und Drang features several songs that arose from Randy’s fascination with digging deeper into the horrors of history, the strength of humanity and our never-ending battle against oppressive, dishonest regimes. Closing track Torches was inspired by the story of Jan Palach, a Czech man that set himself alight in Wenceslas Square in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. The furious Engage The Fear Machine deals with the manipulation of mass media to control the masses, using scare tactics and outright lies to spread fear and paranoia, as with the recent worldwide ebola scare and its exploitation by unscrupulous broadcasters. Meanwhile, the hair-raising brutality of Anthropoid was inspired by the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the ‘Butcher Of Prague’ and architect of the Nazis’ final solution, in 1942. His assassins were “ratted out” and found themselves holed up in a local church crypt, with 800 Nazi stormtroopers out for their blood.
“They held the Nazis off for eight hours,” Randy explains. “These guys fought ‘em until they ran out of bullets and then they killed themselves so they wouldn’t be taken prisoner. So you can go into that crypt in Prague, and I did, and you can see where these guys were trying to dig through the wall into the sewer. It’s extremely heavy. These were superior men. That’s about as high level as you can get, in terms of character and doing the right thing. Situations don’t get much more extreme than that.”
To match the jarring intensity of the lyrics, the music on Lamb of God’s seventh album had to be both powerful and emotionally shrewd. In keeping with their previous works, VII: Sturm und Drang contains all the cherished LOG trademarks, but as with its predecessor Resolution, this is not a record that sits comfortably within a cozy formula. Instead, from the flailing muscularity of Erase This to the startling melodic vocals and surging crescendos of Overlord, from the skull-rattling grooves of Still Echoes to Embers’ heart-rending mixture of fragility and grandeur, this is both a consolidation of the values that Lamb of God have long upheld /and/ a bold leap into fresh territory that once again heralds the expansion of this band’s unique vision. With guest appearances from Deftones’ frontman Chino Moreno (on Embers) and Greg Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan (on monumental album closer Torches), VII: Sturm und Drang is a cohesive, focused and emotionally devastating piece of work.
“The last few years were definitely a unique period for us and one that doesn’t compare to anything we’ve gone through before,” states Mark Morton. “But for me, the writing process hasn’t changed. I just play the guitar and when something cool comes up and it’s relevant and appropriate to Lamb of God, I’ll document it and get it catalogued for future use. The difference this time was that me and Willie (Adler, LOG guitarist) collaborated a lot more than ever before. It grew from bits and pieces that me and Willie both brought in and we melded them into songs, with great results.”
“We set out to try and make a 10-song record,” Randy notes. “The concept of the album is getting lost nowadays, and one reason I think is that every fucking record is 18 songs long now. Albums used to really just be moments in time and they defined where the band was at that moment. Now I think there’s a lot of overwriting… this concept of more is better, and I think that’s nonsense. So we decided on ten songs, that’s it. Josh really encouraged Mark and Willie, those two write the tunes, instead of bringing in complete compositions on their own – and we’ve done that a lot in the past on records – and he got them to work together more. That happened quite a bit with this album and I think it made it much more cohesive and a stronger record as a result.”
Having lived through times that would have stopped most bands in their tracks, Lamb of God are back in 2015 with a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh perspective. They will embark on a full European Festival tour in the Summer of 2015, and then the Summer’s Last Stand Tour across North America, as direct support for Slipknot, and also featuring Bullet For My Valentine, and Motionless In White. Lamb of God are ready to roll.
“It’ll be cool to get out and tour the world and play this new stuff for the fans”, says Randy. “As always, I’ll try to see things I haven’t seen before, get out and do some photography and writing as well.”
“I’m really lucky to still be doing this with these guys and tour around the world,” Mark concludes. “That’s an honour and it’s one I don’t take for granted. It’s great to be part of something that’s as cool as Lamb Of God.”
Dom Lawson, June 2015