First thing’s first, you guessed it, VII: Sturm und Drang is a Lamb of God record through and through. It’s groove metal with occasional explosions of thrash speed, bursts of blast beat and rounded out by vocals ranging from deep growls to shrill screeches. True to form, it’s a polished and perfectly understandable addition to Lamb of God’s catalogue. Fans will be thrilled. Newbies will find it’s not a bad place to start. The music isn’t what makes this album intriguing, however. There is a lyrical and thematic shift from Lamb of God’s previous work that very much merits discussion. So let’s get to work.

Sturm und Drang literally translates from the German as “Storm and Stress.” Considering the recent troubles vocalist Randy Blythe and company have endured, naming their seventh album VII: Sturm und Drang is fitting to say the least. For those who don’t know, Blythe did a stint in Pankrác Prison in Prague, Czech Republic, held on manslaughter charges for the tragic death of a teenaged concert goer during a Lamb of God set. Not found criminally liable but morally responsible, Blythe made it clear in a recent Rolling Stone article that he set out to write his most emotionally resonant record yet as a result of his imprisonment.

Blythe’s experiences in prison inform every lyrical notion here. He takes aim at specific imagery on the opening track “Still Echoes,” referencing those who lost their lives to a guillotine that stood just down the hall from his cell during World War II. “512” gets its title from that cell and discusses the radical shifts in Blythe’s emotional state during his time in isolation. He expands his thematic lens in “Anthropoid” and “Torches,” discussing the historical perspective of the dissident oppressed throughout Czech Republic’s history. And, in a third widening of his post-prison outlook, Blythe calls out anybody wasting their lives with manufactured societal distractions. He indicts mainstream media and the current uses for the internet in “Engage the Fear Machine” by ranting about scare tactics and misuses of information that keep people fighting one another instead of their oppressors.

Look, most of this needs to be taken with a giant grain of proverbial salt. Unless you care to fall down the grim, gritty and contrived metal rabbit hole, VII: Sturm und Drang needs to be understood as a reaction to a set of terrible circumstances and nothing more. It can’t be ignored that some of the techniques used to achieve Lamb of God’s goals on this album weigh down the material to a ridiculous point of collapse. The spoken word sections in “Embers,” the yelled call to arms in “Delusion Pandemic” and Blythe’s attempt at singing on “Overlord” do the record an outright injustice. These poor choices, which, granted, are merely attributes of the genre, cheapen the entire record. For all the good Lamb of God manage to pull off—it’s true, this is a hell of a listen—they are unable to transcend the ludicrous aspects of the genre that boil the already extreme musical nature over the top. Whether it was a lack of forethought, or an unfortunate devotion to played out genre tropes, the album suffers for it.

Lest we forget, there is some real value to VII: Sturm und Drang. While there’s nothing much new on the musical side of the equation, the shift in the band’s thematic focus is interesting enough to give it a go. At the end of the day, it’s another Lamb of God record. It’s head-banging, speaker-popping fun. As much as they may have tried, they fell short of hitting that emotional mark. That’s fine, we can deal with that. It’s still a new Lamb of God record and that’s totally okay by me. But just okay.

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