Seven albums into his career with Lamb of God, guitarist/songwriter Mark Morton figures the biggest thing that could surprise him about making a new album would be if the music held no surprises for the band.
“I think for my part, to even bother doing a new album, I feel like you’ve got to have something more to say or something more to add,” Morton said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t want to get into a place career-wise where we’re just making an album because it’s time to make an album. And you know, I can think of some bands I know that have gone through old material just to assemble the stuff that didn’t make it on previous albums, just to assemble a new album because it was time to. That’s not really how we work.”
So the fact that Lamb of God has a new album out called “VII: “Sturm & Drang” means the group found something fresh in the process of creating its latest body of work.
That new territory on this seventh studio album from the group exists within songs like “Overlord,” a dark, slow-burning but melodic track that features frontman Randy Blythe for the first time delivering a sung vocal. “Embers” also features a departure as Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno sings a melodic section that sweetens this tumultuous track. Fans, though, can take comfort in knowing that the other songs on “VII: Sturm & Drang” have the usual Lamb of God trademarks – the feral, screamed vocals of Blythe, the mix of roiling, heavy and melodic guitars and pummeling drums.
To hear Lamb of God come back strong on “Sturm & Drang” is certainly good news for the band, its fans and for heavy metal as a genre.
As anyone who has followed the group knows, there was a period after the release of its 2012 album “Resolution” when its future was in serious question. The problem had nothing to do with the band itself, the chemistry between its five members – Morton, Blythe, bassist John Campbell, drummer Chris Adler and guitarist Willie Adler (Chris’ younger brother) – or the music.
Arriving in the Czech Republic for a run of concerts in June 2012, Blythe was arrested and charged with manslaughter, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years in that country.
The charge stemmed from a May 24, 2010, concert at Club Abaton in Prague at which prosecutors in the Czech Republic asserted that Blythe had pushed a 19-year-old fan, Daniel Nosek, off the stage. Nosek at some point fell, hitting his head on the floor. Later that evening, Nosek became violently ill, was taken to a hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery. He slipped into a coma and died.
After his arrest, Blythe spent 37 days in jail before he was released on bail. He then returned to the Czech Republic for trial in February 2013.
The case, though, was not clear cut. Reports indicated that the Lamb of God show was plagued by security lapses that allowed fans to get on the stage, and there was conflicting testimony from concert-goers about whether they saw Blythe push Nosek, and exactly when and how Nosek fell to the floor.
In the end, the judge acquitted Blythe, allowing him to resume his career with Lamb of God. Blythe has since written a book about his experience, “Dark Days: A Memoir.”
“VII: Sturm & Drang” has a couple of songs that relate to the Blythe saga – “Still Echoes” and “512” (the number of Blythe’s prison cell). Otherwise the songs deal with a variety of other personal or topical issues.
Morton said the band was not about to make an album about the Blythe saga, saying that would commercialize and cheapen a profound and personal experience.
It “would have been at the very least poor taste, probably something much worse than that,” Morton said. “So yeah, there is reference to it. Randy and I both write lyrics about life experience, and that was certainly a life experience for him, and to some degree, for all of us. But no, it wasn’t something that you just used as fodder for heavy metal lyrics.”
Since releasing “VII: Sturm & Drang” in July, Lamb of God has done two major tours – a U.S. amphitheater run in the summer, opening for Slipknot, followed by a European tour with Megadeth. For its current headlining tour of the states, Morton said the band is trying to bring as much of the big production as possible into the smaller theaters on this tour.
“We certainly want to give the fans as much value as we can for their ticket money, and we’ve got some really, really cool visuals that we’ve worked on to go along with the music,” he said. “So yeah, we’re just looking at trying to cram as much of that stuff into the theaters as we can.”