About halfway through Lamb of God’s magnificent new album, Sturm Und Drang (Epic/Nuclear Blast) vocalist Randy Blythe screams into the microphone: “How the FUCK did you think this would end?!” It’s both a question and a statement of defiance, summing up five years that have been nothing less than challenging for this band.
You’ve all read about Mr Blythe’s trials and tribulations; I won’t waste space going into them yet again but surely there must have been points when the band must have wondered how it all might end – fearing that they might never make any record ever again. That they have returned and delivered an album this ferocious, this energised, this brilliant, is utterly remarkable and testimony to a sense of collective tenacity and drive that can only be admired.
Suffice to say, there is an air of valediction surrounding Sturm Und Drang. They are right to feel valediction too: this is a quite brilliant record, their most ferocious since As The Palaces Burn (Prosthetic/Epic) and, in all probability, the best thing they have ever done. Scratch that: there’s no “probability” at all – it’s their best record. Period.
There are so many things to get excited about: the song-writing has never been stronger and the musicianship a veritable showcase of individual and collective talent. Whether you opt for Chris Adler’s drumming, Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s astonishing gifts for killer riffs, John Campbell’s hypnotic, rumbling basslines or Blythe’s vocals (is there anyone who sounds more metal than him? That’s correct, there isn’t) it scarcely matters: on this record, the band haven’t just upped their game, they have decided to change it altogether.
From the scabrous and infectious opening of ‘Still Echoes’ which erupts like a line of aural hand grenades in your head, it is clear that Lamb of God aren’t content with throwing down the gauntlet, they are throwing down every gauntlet ever made. It is an instant classic, a song to cheer to the rafters and to howl along with in the circle pits. It is breathless and brilliant.
And so it continues: ‘Erase This’ pummels you into submission, a neck cracking riff allied to a chant along chorus line are terrific ingredients to blend together and the sonic cocktail they have conjured here is deeply intoxicating. It’s hardly a surprise that Blythe references the challenging times he has been through. On the blistering and belligerent ‘512’ (the cell number that Blythe occupied during his incarceration in the Czech Republic) we are treated to a deeply personal insight into the vocalist’s sense of outrage at the injustice he suffered; you get the sense that Blythe is straining every sinew as he spits out the lyrics with venomous bile. It’s an extraordinary display backed by a relentless band performance.
Lamb of God are not a band you’d readily associate with ballads but on ‘Overlord’, a song that has echoes of Alice in Chains, we see Blythe turn in a clean, nuanced and, ultimately, powerfully affecting performance. The song’s ambition is more than matched by the band’s ability to execute and it positively radiates.
It’s not just the massive riffs or the killer tunes that you warm to on Sturm Und Drang, although they are here in abundance: ‘Anthropoid’ and ‘Footprints’ are two further effortless examples in how to write killer heavy metal songs. What equally impresses on this record is the creativity and detail that has been taken. For example, when Deftones’ Chino Moreno makes a startling and very welcome appearance on the exquisite ‘Embers’ it sounds so right, so appropriate that you wonder why they hadn’t tried it before; similarly, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato adds scope, nuance and texture to the album closer, ‘Torches’.
Sturm Und Drang takes all the emotions, frustrations and challenges of the band’s last five years and distills them into an album of relentless, authentic brilliance. It is everything you hoped this band could produce and more. Sturm Und Drang is the most exciting heavy metal album of the year by a country mile.
All Heavy Metal records should sound this good.