Latest release: Lamb of God (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.lamb-of-god.com
Mark Morton is under no illusions about the significance of the events unfolding in his country right now. When asked about the potential for future material in the current situation, the Lamb of God guitarist muses for only a moment.
“What you see going on right now with the protests here is a lot bigger than a heavy metal song, man. It’s a massive social change. It’s a really powerful moment in the history of the United States, so maybe it will find itself into some lyrics, but it’s way bigger than that.”
Lamb of God has never been afraid to tackle social issues, and their new album is awash with diatribes against societal ills from mass shootings to environmental concerns and standing in support of Native American protesters, the subject of the album’s second single, Routes, that features a roaring cameo from Testament’s Chuck Billy. Morton feels a particular affinity with the album opener, Memento Mori.
“I love the whole album to be honest, but Memento Mori I think is my favourite song on the album. I just feel that the music on that song is really dynamic, I think it grooves really hard and it gives a great impression of what Lamb of God really sounds like. I also really like the themes in the lyrics, where Randy is talking about mindfulness and being present in the moment, disengaging from all the chaos that we as a society seem so addicted to.”
The band chose to title their new release eponymously for the same reason the guitarist alludes to when he talks about the opening track: it defines the band, without need for another name.
“We felt like this album was very self-explanatory in terms of style, the sound… really, I think it’s just where we’re at in our career and the confidence we have and the position where we are,” he says. “We didn’t feel like we had anything else we needed to say – the songs speak for themselves.”
“It just felt right,” he continues, when asked why they had never felt the need to self-title an album in the past. “It had come up over the course of the last seven or eight albums. At the time it felt like we were selling ourselves short, that we were copping out, but this time it just felt natural. It felt like a bookend of one phase of our career to another and we felt that this album really represented where we were at.”
Lamb of God marks the band’s first release with its first new member since Willie Adler joined and they changed their name from Burn the Priest in 1999. One-time Prong drummer Art Cruz has been drafted into the group following the departure of founder Chris Adler during the band’s long hiatus since Sturm und Drang in 2015. Morton doesn’t go into detail about the split with the elder Adler, but it’s probably been spoken of enough by now anyhow.
“Chris is an incredibly talented guy and a great drummer and I can’t wait to hear what he does next. We made some great music together. All of the music we made I am incredibly proud of,” he says. When it came to recording time, Cruz had been well augmented into the line-up. “We have been playing with Art in the band for almost two years before we started the recording sessions, so any of the learning curve and getting him worked in and getting him in the groove with the band was done by then. It was very fortunate for us that we got it worked out before we got to a recording session. By the time we were writing the music and doing pre-production, we were dialled in tighter than we’d even been.”
The five-year gap in albums is the longest in the band’s history, broken only by their album of hardcore covers, Legion: XX, released under the Burn the Priest name in 2018. While the band intended to take something of a break following the intensity of their touring on Sturm und Drang, it turned out to be longer than they planned.
“It ended up being an asset for us. We wanted to get into the studio a lot quicker, but towards the end of our touring campaign for the last album we got asked to go out Slayer on their farewell tour and do a few legs on that,” Morton explains. “But ultimately, we were jumping in and out of the studio in short blocks and I think that really gave us the opportunity to sit on the songs a bit more and let them develop and it gave us more time to work on the material, and I think it wound up being a real benefit.”
As well as working on Lamb of God, Morton did two solo releases – the full-length Anesthetic and the EP Ether, released in January. Both are a considerable contrast from what he is usually known for. Released in early 2019, Anesthetic was put together over several years and featured a guest vocal from Chester Bennington on the track Cross Off that appeared briefly in Billboard’s rock charts.
“I’ve been super busy man, writing and recording music,” Morton says. “It’s interesting, I was so busy last year, and now with the virus shutting down everything, I’ve had a lot of downtime at home and it’s a contrast for me, for sure.”
Lamb of God should be touring now. Instead, Morton has found himself doing a lot of writing as he waits for the day his band can hit the world’s stages once again. COVID-19 has interrupted the usual record/release/touring cycle most musical artists fall into, but Morton doesn’t seem too concerned about that having an impact for them.
“I don’t think touring necessarily equates to visibility of a record for a band at our place in our career and the way music is transferred these days,” he says thoughtfully. “I don’t know… bands certainly still use the model of doing an album and then going to tour, and that’s what we would have been doing. The fact is though that, even though heavy metal still sells more physical copies than any other genre – at least I think that’s right – most music is digital now and people will stream the album!”
While concern and confusion still reigns about the likelihood of wide-scale rock touring happening again in the foreseeable future, Mark Morton remains confident Lamb of God will be in people’s faces again – very soon.
“We can’t wait to get back to tour, and I’m pretty optimistic that it will be this year. We have plans to. People will need to wear masks and be conscious of the interests of hygiene with hand sanitiser and things like that and I don’t want to do it until it’s safe. I just believe that at some point in the near future, we’ll figure out a way to have live shows again.”
We should all hope the same.