VII: Sturm und Drang is the first album after lead vocalist Randy Blythe's manslaughter case and a brief hiatus after finishing the Resolution touring cycle. Randy Blythe stated that people shouldn't expect a prison record and that instead, he would "write about things that affect me very deeply", such as going to prison in a foreign country and being charged with manslaughter, as stated by Blythe.
The album's subtitle, literally translated as "Storm and Stress", indirectly refers to Blythe's experience. Blythe says he and Mark Morton were talking about how the record's theme relates to the psychology of humans reacting under extreme conditions, and they wanted a word that reflected such situations. Morton, whose mother is German, came across the term while researching German vocabulary. After which, the band agreed to the title.
There was a guillotine
right down the hall from me, from when the Nazis
had the prison. From 1943 to 1945 they executed almost 2,000 people by the guillotine, because it was cheaper than shooting and quicker than hanging... They call it the Pankrác 'Saw Room' or the 'Axe Room'. I sat there at night, and I'd think about all those dudes that got their heads chopped off – men and women – in that place not too far from me.
— Randy Blythe talking about the inspiration behind "Still Echoes".
Blythe calls the album "the most cohesive record" the band has done in a long time, with Blythe writing "90 percent" of the lyrics as well as main songwriters Mark Morton and Willie Adler working in collaboration on all of the tracks instead of writing complete songs individually. Blythe also stated that due to these reasons, "The record is much, much stronger for it" and is less "schizophrenic" than previous albums.
"Still Echoes", VII's first single, draws inspiration from the history of Pankrác Prison, where Blythe was held on manslaughter charges. Reciting the first lyric from "Still Echoes", Blythe asserts that there was real inspiration for the lyrics even though the words "might read like graphic metal imagery". Blythe said that he sought out information about the prison's history from guards and fellow inmates while he was incarcerated.
Blythe wrote the lyrics to the song "512", the album's second single, in Pankrác Prison cell number 512, while he was contemplating how the experience was changing him. According to Blythe, most of his time was spent in a basement dungeon. He said the guards put him there so they could monitor him for depression. "They stick you in the worst, dimmest, darkest place in the prison," he says. "I couldn't even see the sun to tell what part of the day it was. It was just steadily lessening levels of gloom."
The third single, "Overlord", was released on June 30, 2015. Blythe said the song is about the dangers of self-obsession in our distressingly myopic and increasingly entitled 'me-now/now-me' culture. It's about how many people can't seem to look past their own relatively small problems to see the bigger picture, and how everyday problems do not in any way shape or form constitute an emergency. Blythe commented: "Sometimes things just don't work out the way we want them to, [so] deal with it. People who only see their own problems eventually wind up alone because no one wants to hear their crap anymore. We all know someone like that, always whining and complaining about some inconsequential setback as if it were the apocalypse. This song is for those people."
A fourth single, "Erase This" was made available for streaming on July 10, 2015. Guitarist Mark Morton told Rolling Stone the song is about "negative people and how they can drag you down without you realizing it. It's about people you might be close to, but who are stuck in their own self-pity and that kind of energy can spread like a virus". "Most of us as humans have been on both the giving and receiving end of that kind of attitude, but the older I get, the more I try to focus on not allowing that type of vibe to enter my mindset." He also said, musically, "it's trademark Lamb of God riffing," and compared it to "Laid to Rest" from 2004's Ashes of the Wake.
On July 17, 2015, a week before the album's release, a fifth song entitled "Embers" was released. The song features a guest vocal appearance from Chino Moreno of Deftones. Randy Blythe says the lyrics deal with how loss affects interpersonal relationships in terms of a family dynamic, and if a family member dies, that can really twist things up. Blythe commented further, saying: "I used a sort of 'oceanic' vibe in the lyrics. I'm talking about I've been staring at her laying still for so long, and I'm talking about the ocean at that point. The ocean is a metaphor for life." Blythe also said when the song was written there were two different endings. The first one was "'Lamb of God-like" which is "boring" and "done it a million times", said Blythe. Guitarist Mark Morton wrote the second ending and when Blythe was down at the beach writing his book and listening to it he says he could hear Chino's vocals on it and is a huge Deftones fan.
"Footprints" is an ecological song according to Blythe. While he was living at the beach during the making of the album, for the summer, he remembered how much he hated tourist season. "There is no reason for tourists to behave like fucking animals and children. The locals are not your goddamn maids, and if you want the beach to be nice or the mountaintop to be nice or the town to remain picturesque, don't like throw trash everywhere, don't destroy beauty...So 'Footprints' is about [carbon] footprints."
"Anthropoid" is about Reinhard Heydrich who was the architect of the Final Solution during World War II. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, they sent Heydrich. Heydrich was brutal to the people of Prague and broke their spirits. Due to his brutal efficiency, Heydrich was nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman. Later, a group of Czech-born, British-trained paratroopers carried out the only successful assassination attempt on a high-ranking Nazi official when they attacked Heydrich during Operation Anthropoid on May 27, 1942 and died a few days later from his injuries. Blythe considers them superior men, and wanted to honor them with a song. So the song is about them and killing the Butcher of Prague.
"Engage the Fear Machine" is about the media using scare tactics and controlling the masses through fear. Since the band was flying around a lot during that time Blythe says he remembers seeing all of the stories about Ebola and how insane he thought it was. Blythe says: "What ever happened to Ebola? How long ago was that? We were all going to die, you know? The news just takes everything to the next limit, and it keeps viewers glued to the TV and it brings in advertiser dollars."
"Delusion Pandemic" is about how the Internet is a useful tool, and you can use it to learn, but it has also created a creatively stifled environment. "I do not like mashup culture." Blythe says. "There is nothing original about it. It's a waste of my cerebral space. Everything's getting shittier and shittier and shittier. I mean, I'm not Ernest Hemingway or whatever, I'm not the new greatest photographer in the world, but at least I'm writing my own stuff and I'm doing my own thing. Internet memes? Why are you paying attention to this? Why is there some stupid picture that you put some stupid little things on that say something dumb? This is cerebral garbage. You are clogging your mind".
"Torches" was inspired by a Czech student named Jan Palach. In 1968 the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in an attempt to keep the Czech people under communist rule. Since the Nazis had already destroyed and brutalized Czechoslovakia during World War II, this student went to Wenceslas Square to the stairs of the National Museum during a busy time of the day and set himself on fire. He walked down the steps in protest and then died a few days later. He became a symbol of dissidence for the Czechs up until the end of the communist area. Blythe says he learned of the topic while awaiting his trial and had a lot of respect for him. It also made Blythe think about "what kind of mentality does a person have to be in to be so upset that you burn yourself alive? That's got to be an unpleasant way to go." The song was inspired by visiting Palach's grave. The song also features guest vocals by Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan.