Lamb of God – VII: Sturm Und Drang

Richmond’s Lamb of God is pretty much at the top of today’s popular heavy metal heap, or what’s left of it. The thing is, the heap’s nowhere as high as it once was.

The last few years have certainly been a wild ride for the band. In 2012, singer Randy Blythe was arrested for manslaughter in Prague. Blythe was accused of pushing an overzealous fan off the stage to his death. Blythe ended up spending several months in a nasty prison in Prague before finally being exonerated in June 2013.

All of this turmoil is historicized in the documentary, As The Palaces Burn, and Blythe’s forthcoming autobiography, Dark Days.

Through it all, Blythe’s been a total stand-up guy: He faced the charges when he could have avoided extradition. And he seemed truly concerned about helping the deceased fan’s family find closure through the trial. Blythe faced the proverbial music, weathered the storm (or sturm, as it were), and came out smelling like a rose. (Enough with the clichés already!)

So the next step in Lamb of God’s narrative arc should be that the band, rebounding from trial and tribulation, would release the strongest album of its career and rocket to the top of the charts – righteously merging inspiration in one of those super-rare moments when artistic and commercial success happen at the same time, right? Unfortunately, real life rarely turns out as neatly as is it does in fiction, documentaries and autobiographies. This is not to say that the newly released Sturm Und Drang is a bad album. In fact, it’s pretty damned good – if a bit workmanlike. Maybe this is just because Lamb of God is only a pretty damned good but not exactly great band.

Sturm Und Drang is just another solid installment in a solid band’s career. And that’s AOK.

Lamb of God has long since gotten its formula down. So what we have here is tight, fast heavy metal – a seamless amalgam of hardcore, thrash, classic rock and death metal sensibilities into a body of work that is heavy enough for the filthy hordes, but still occupies the DMZ between extremity and accessibility. This is heavy metal that would appeal to doctrinaire heshers and to the guys on the loading dock who love Van Halen – and, um, Pantera.

And then there’s the small matter of “Overlord,” the track that has sparked controversy on the metal boards because of its, ahem, “clean vocals.” So, what are “clean vocals,” you ask? Clean vocals are vocals where the singer actually sings instead of screaming, barking and yelling. And singing is certainly a “crime against metal,” isn’t it?

Well, not really. Still, the vocals in “Overlord” are digitally tweaked just so in a way that is a wee bit cringeworthy. Blythe sounds like (at best) Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley – or (at worst) like that douchebag in Creed. Actually, he sounds most like James Hetfield. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it could certainly be worse. The song is catchy. And it could conceivably be a radio hit – if there were still such a thing as rock radio, that is. But there isn’t. As such, the track’s naked lunge for the mainstream is a bit much to handle.

But let’s not be so hard on Lamb of God. All told, Sturm Und Drang is a solid set of meat-and-potatoes, modern metal. The production is pristine and the playing is precise. Shredding abounds. And the lyrics, well, they’re well intentioned. After all, Randy Blythe is a good guy. This is quality entertainment, folks. This is totally, uh, totally good enough.

Lamb of God
VII: Sturm Und Drang