Gear Gods Album Production Review – LAMB OF GOD’s VII: Sturm Und Drang

In our new Production Reviews column, we’ll be taking a look at the production aspects of different albums. We won’t be touching very much on the songwriting, performances, lyrics, or other things that normal people care about. It’s gonna get real geeky real fast! Today we are reviewing Lamb of God’s new album VII: Sturm Und Drang.

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Trey Xavier

Listening sources: Event Tuned Reference 8XL studio monitors, Apple ear buds

I remember hearing LoG’s New American Gospel back in the day and having one of my very first production-related thoughts – something to the effect of “Man, I can really hear that kick drum!”. It was an important production decision for them to make, as it highlighted the insanely tight playing of Chris Adler.

The first thought I had when I heard VII: Sturm und Drang was “Why can’t I ever get a Mesa/Boogie to sound this good?”. The guitar tones are tight. Like you were expecting anything else? I think that, despite not really being apart of it, the LoG tones and production had a huge impact on the djent sound. I can’t think of a band apart from Meshuggah that had the same tightness of guitar tones and clicky drums that originated from that same era. Plus, that GROOVE! Anyway, the guitars are classic Lamb, but a bit thicker this time, like they didn’t high pass it quite as hard as they have in the past.

On past albums I have always thought that the snare was tuned WAY too high. Like, distractingly high and sproingy. It sure cut through the mix, but holy hell. They have toned it (and tuned it) waaaaay down on this one. It’s still cutting, but not distractingly so. Nicely balanced, like everything else on the album.

Overall, I think this album is a great example of the modern metal production advantage – clean, tight, and professional, but also very natural sounding. This album has the greatest depth of character in the mix of any of their releases. It’s like they toned down the individual elements’ character just enough to strengthen the whole for a perfect balance, and everyone still gets their place in the sun.

Highlights: Lo-fi intro on “Embers” slamming into the first riff. “Delusion Pandemic” start to finish.

Things that I’d do differently: A bit of variation never hurt anybody. Sure, this album has the first LoG song with almost all clean singing, and there’s some interesting changes here and there, but for the most part it’s kind of set-and-forget. It hasn’t hurt their popularity yet, just as AC/DC’s unchanging sound never let them down. But I’m a part of the ADD generation, so I think next time they should continue to evolve their sound, adding new elements even more than they did on this one.

-Trey

Max Frank

Listening sources: Harmon/Kardon Desktop speakers, Bose Quietcomfort 2’s

My thoughts, going off you Trey…

I know I’m not alone in feeling that we’re more than a decade past Lamb of God’s artistic peak, but also think it’s unfair to judge their output over the past four albums against the experimental, almost avant-garde early days of albums like Burn the Priest, As the Palaces Burn, and for me the clear cornerstone Ashes of the Wake.

Like their peers in Mastodon, and similarly around the same time, Lamb of God have stopped trying to experiment as much (in guitarist Mark Morton’s words, “riff farming”), but instead lean on their strengths and hone in on the raw material that makes up their sound – which basically translates to the “Pure American Metal” tagline that they’ve adopted as their mantra. In other words, they are a band that makes bangers.

So my criteria for reviewing the production of Sturm Und Drang is simple: does it suit the bangers?

Without trying to guess at what exactly Lamb of God did, I can say that from a compositional standpoint, they wrote themselves into a place where a simple, direct approach to production was going to yield successful results that would strengthen the “bang.” Like the talkbox on the latter half of “Erase This,” or the variation in guitar attack on the verse riff drop on “Still Echoes” (accomplished, it seems, through a rather intricate dropping in and out of different guitar tracks and tones). Everything works the way it is supposed to.

But what I find deceptively tricky about Lamb of God is the amount of attention paid to the most minute details in order to make their bangers work. Like the high-gain, almost black-metal guitar tone on the verses of “Torches” that we don’t really hear elsewhere on the album – it sounds, appropriately, like it’s about to overheat their Mark V’s and set the studio on fire. Or like the mixture of multi-tracked and single-tracked guitars on “Engage the Fear Machine.” With post-Ashes Lamb of God, and in particular on Sturm, there is always significant amount of thought put into the simplest things, things most other bands overlook, which for me, is what sets Lamb of God apart from a lot of other bands that want to be Lamb of God.

Although I miss the old, experimental Lamb of God, there is no denying that albums like Sturm are the definition of what it means to deliver a modern “pure” metal record. This is how it’s done, boys.

-Maxy

Chris Alfano

Listening source: KRK V6 monitors and Shure SE-215 in-ears.

If I expect anything from a Lamb of God recording it’s clean, clockwork order – everything meticulously groomed. I imagine recording engineers so fastidious in their approach that they backup backups of their backup hard drives, they make Chris Adler swap out his sticks after every take, and they probably fold their dirty laundry before putting it in the hamper.

And largely I got what I expected here, with one glaring exception: There are a few points where the vocal plosives get really funky and cause some sort of ugly volume spike. It first jumped out at me in the chorus to “Erase This,” which seems to be the same take repeated all three times because each instance of the word “blind” at the start of the chorus’ second line has something…wrong going on. It could be a bad cut/crossfade (or lack thereof) but to me it sounds like a preamp or compressor peaking in an un-musical way. You can hear it at 1:12, 2:29, and 4:19. But a far more noticeable instance is in the bridge of “Torches,” on the word “I” at 4:07 (and to a lesser extent on the more background repeats of this phrase).

Okay, nitpicking on audio glitches that you probably won’t notice without headphones aside, I’m happy to hear that the drums sound a bit more lively on VII: Sturm und Drang than they did on the band’s last few Josh Wilbur-produced outings. I mean, no one will mistake this for an Albini recording, and the kick is about as real as a Hulk Hogan impersonator at your nephew’s birthday (that kid has some lame parties by the way, and that melty ice cream cake was bullshit), but at least the snare has a bit of ring to it. The identity of the band will likely always rest on the small, controlled precision of close micing and sample replacement – and don’t get me wrong, you can’t stray too far from that fundamental if you want to keep the laser focus on how insanely tight of a thrash machine Lamb of God is. That said, the band’s not-infrequent power slides into the half-time lane of the road are doomed to perpetually get short changed by the lack of perceived space that the percussion occupies.

But the guitars go a long way to pay penance for any other aural sins on Sturm und Drang. The clarity and attack of each picked note is incredibly impressive: You’d swear each string was tracked separately if it were humanly possible to sync that up. I do wish the bass were a bit louder in the mix, though. LoG has never been a band to spotlight the instrument, but Wrath and Resolution featured the bottom end a bit more prominently, at least. It’s a shame too, because the rest of the album’s mix carves out a notch that’s begging to be filled by just a smidge more John Campbell, yet they left that hot pocket unstuffed.

If it sounds like I’m calling out what are ultimately minor demerits on an otherwise well-produced record, it’s because I’m calling out minor demerits on an otherwise well-produced record. Lamb of God aren’t just a veteran group of excellent musicians with what we can bet is a pretty decent recording budget – they’re the standard bearers for a genre. And for better or worse they’re flying that flag high, tried and true. I tend to drift away from any band that doesn’t start to mix things up drastically by the 15-year mark, so I suppose I can’t hide the mild ennui that creeps on when a band that I adored in my early twenties is now releasing a record that elicits only the memory of a headbang. But damn, that’s a solid guitar tone.

-Chris

Alex Nasla

I should start off by mentioning that I have never been a massive Lamb of God fan. Any time they come out with a new album I will usually listen to it and kind of just move on. Not to say I don’t like their stuff, I think they are great musicians and the music is generally good but their music doesn’t usually stick with me.

With this album, I felt a little different this time. Songs like 512 and Embers will probably stick with me for a while. They are nice, fast, aggressive and catchy. I can’t imagine there will be many Lamb of God fans who won’t like this album.

But moving on to the production of the album – this one is mixed a little differently then their past stuff and their are choices made that I don’t think were the best way to really show off each song.

The first thing I noticed was how “small” sounding the drums were. For having a drummer as awesome as Chris Adler, I expected the drums to have a much bigger and wider feel to them. Their are a few reasons I can think of why this might have been the case. After listening to the entire album, it was very clear to me that the 2 aspects being highlighted the most on this record were the guitars and the vocals (naturally). Mixing is a constant battle of compromise. There is a reason why the guitars sound so good here. Everything else had to be compromised more then usual in order to achieve this. A good way to do this would be to make the guitars as “wide” as possible and make the drums a lot “closer” then usual. This gives the guitars a lot more room to breathe. Of course there is EQing going on to make them stand out even more in the mix, When it comes to vocals, everything else in the mix usually makes a compromise so they can fit just right in the mix.

-Alex

You can pick up VII: Sturm Und Drang right now on iTunes right now or anywhere that heavy metal is sold.

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