Legal experts warned Blythe not to go back to the Czech Republic, but the vocalist was determined to honourably face the music and bravely returned with a clear conscience, to participate in the legal proceedings which would hopefully give the Nosek family closure. After a five day trial, Blythe was acquitted of the charge on 5th March 2013.
Fast forward two years and four months and Lamb of God release their first record since the court case. Sturm und Drang translates as “Storm and Stress” in German, which is understandably representative of Blythe’s ordeal. Recorded in California and produced by Josh Wilbur – who was at the helm of the last two Lamb of God albums Wrath and Resolution – many presumed that Sturm und Drang was destined to be the cathartic outlet that Blythe needed to survive his tribulation. But in actual fact, the record is anything but a creative coping mechanism. A mere two of the album’s ten tracks bear the subject matter of Blythe’s trial in Prague, while the rest touch on a smattering of different topics and issues.
The first single and album opener ‘Still Echoes’ draws inspiration from Pankrác Prison, where Blythe spent over a month in custody. Musically, the pummelling signature Lamb of God groove-metal sound that we’ve grown to know and love is ever-present. Reminiscent of Pantera-derived vocals in places, it’s a nod to their metal predecessors rather a direct imitation; rest assured that Blythe’s pained growls will still tear right through you.
“Erase This” is trademark Lamb of God riffing, “It’s got that ’12 over 4′ time signature groove” according to lead guitarist Mark Morton. Lyrically it’s about negative people who drag others down with self-pity and bad energy. “512” is the number of the dank, gloomy cell devoid of any sunlight that Blythe was confined to during his incarceration. He wrote the lyrics whilst being monitored by guards, as he contemplated how the experience was changing him. The sentence, “I can’t recognise myself, I’ve become someone else, my hands are painted red”, exhibit his precise mind-set at that time. The higher-than-usual pitch of Morton’s lead guitar is chilling throughout and his stupendously isolated mid-track riff lays imposingly over the crushing instrumental power and synergy of the other three members.
By the fourth track, Sturm und Drang gets really interesting. Deftones frontman Chino Moreno appears from out of nowhere in the middle of “Embers” – an innovative, unpredictable pairing. Moreno’s almost sultry performance of Blythe’s lyrics adds a softer, more emotive tone to the song and the melange of the two artist’s respective sounds is tantalising and tangy all the way to fade-out.
The roar of drummer Chris Adler’s double-kick pedalling at the start of “Footprints” beholds a distinct menace that hadn’t yet revealed itself on the record until now. Blythe’s rage on this track is directed specifically at abusers of the environment and those who aren’t aware of their own carbon footprint. Blythe witnessed much of this at the North Carolina beach he lived at for eight months while writing his manuscript Dark Days, a memoir of his experience in the Czech Republic. “Overlord” begins with the gentle strum of a semi-acoustic guitar and is accompanied by possibly the cleanest vocals we have ever heard from Blythe. You couldn’t be blamed for mistaking Lamb of God for Alice in Chains based solely on this track. The mellow, laid-back grunge tempo is melodically alluring, until it morphs into full throttle heavy metal again. This song truly showcases the range of Blythe’s vocal dexterity. It’s awe-inspiring.
The gang vocals on ‘Anthropoid’ are as intimidating as the subject matter: challenging a particularly abhorrent and powerful Nazi soldier in WWII, then Blythe overtly critiques the mainstream media and their fear tactics in the utterly riff-tastic “Engage the Fear Machine”, whilst the break-neck speed of “Delusion Pandemic” pays homage to the band’s thrash influences and verbally mocks unproductive internet-users who systematically clog their brains with fluff. The Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato is another unlikely guest on the record. He features from beginning to end on “Torches”, the album’s closer. The mathcore mentalist’s contorted and intermittently drowning vocals adds an eerie dimension to a song inspired by a student who set himself on fire to publicly protest a political movement.
Without becoming commercially accessible, they’ve achieved commercial success: Sturm und Drang debuted at number seven in the UK and number three in the US. The band’s blueprint hasn’t changed nor have they compromised creativity. The public’s appreciation for Sturm und Drang is genuine because the music is intelligent and authentic. Lamb of God is everything a metal band should be in 2015 and so, so much more.