“We’ve just been through so much and on every level of this business… There’s nothing we haven’t seen together.” – Morton
The Virginian-based metal legends have seized the heavy music world in their grip for the last 15 years, but they were once a basement band.
Since their inception back in 1994 as Burn The Priest, Lamb of God have mounted every rung on the band ladder. Starting by storming any pizza shop, coffee house or bar that would have them, they can now credit some of the biggest festivals and stadiums as former hosts. Together with the likes of Slipknot and Killswitch Engage, the quintet have injected the globe with some of the freshest and innovative heavy metal, forever influencing the genre. Seven albums later, we’re stilling feeling the powerhouse effects.
I sat down with guitarist Mark Morton to reflect on the double-edged sword of touring, forming an unbreakable bond since the dawn of the band, and roaring back to life from tragic circumstances with latest record VII: Sturm und Drang.
A double wave of some of the best metal has to offer is set to hit Australia in October, and I opened our chat by inviting Morton to look back on his relationship with the Slipknot guys before their upcoming tour together.
“It’s great, we’ve done a lot of work with Slipknot over the years. I think the first time we toured with them was in 2005 and we’ve worked with them sporadically ever since,” he established. “Most recently, we did about two months with them in North America last summer. So it’s a really good relationship. Obviously they’re one of the biggest heavy metal bands in the world, but we find that we have a lot of congruence in terms of our fan base, so it makes a lot of sense for us to do shows together. On a personal level, in the end we’ve worked together so much that they’re friends of ours’, so that makes it even easier when you go on these tours.”
Being friends with your tour mates is definitely integral, yet a weighty downside is that “unfortunately there’s another 22 hours of the day” spent either travelling or simply waiting to play. This particularly impacts on Morton and his other bandmates who struggle with being away from their families, and the axeman had some thoughtful reflections to offer.
“Certainly the time on stage in front of the fans is why we’re there, and that’s what keeps us on the road. But the nature of the music business these days means that we’re considered to be a blue collar band. We have to tour to make a living and support our families. So it makes for a lot of shows every year and time away.”
“You can sometimes bring your family out and I’ve done that recently where I’ve brought my girls out on the road with me, but even they get kind of sick of it [laughs]. I’m super blessed to be able to play music with the guys that I play with. But that is for sure one of the most challenging parts about what we do, living out of a van for months at a time and waking up five hundred miles from where you woke up yesterday.”
Things went down a very personal path as the conversation turned to vocalist Randy Blythe, who following sixth album Resolution (2012) was accused of deliberately harming a fan at a show in Prague back in 2010 and faced a hefty prison sentence.
After asking Morton how the ordeal put things into perspective for him, my respect for the man shot up as he affirmed that “the first concern was with my friend Randy, not Randy Blythe the lead singer of Lamb of God or my band… and of course with his family as well.”
“Once that settled down, it really just reinforced the idea of how lucky we are to be able to do this, and the prospect of having it taken away not on our own terms and certainly for such a tragic reason shook us up a little bit, it certainly did me. But throughout that time frame, the concern was with the real people involved, not so much the band, business or anything like that.”
Morton then gave me some insight into how the group bounced back from that horrific experience, stating that their mindset going into the latest record was “really just to do something fresh for us.”
“By and large, our mindset going into every new record is just to make sure we’re doing something that’s worth doing… I don’t think we’ve necessarily come up with some new formula for heavy metal, but in terms of what our band is doing, I think this new album has some material on it that’s really fresh for us and keeps us inspired as artists… and I think songs like ‘Embers’ and ‘Overlord’ show that we were successful in doing that.”
This is particularly apparent on the slow yet hard-hitting ‘Overlord’, with the vocal experimentation and range from Blythe really coming through.
Another difference in approach was Morton collaborating much more strongly with Willie Adler [rhythm guitar] on the record than on previous albums, where him and Adler “would bring songs that were at least musically very much written in their entirety.”
“In the initial creative sessions for this one, we brought in maybe two or three riffs put together, but they were by no means structured or a finished demo. So that facilitated a situation where Willie would wind up adding music to a piece that I brought in or vice versa. It wasn’t necessarily intentional, I think that’s just the stage of where the raw material was at when we started getting together. But once we realised that was happening, we rallied around that approach and realised that this was becoming a very collaborative project.”
“If you listen to the new album and the past couple, you can hear a different character within, and that has a lot to do with the way we’ve put the songs together.”
This unique character can also be attributed to Morton making far less lyrical contributions to the album than in the past, with the guitarist admitting that “I held back a little bit because I felt that given the things that we had all gone through in our personal lives, Randy might have a lot to say this time around. I don’t know if he would necessarily characterise it the same way… but as it worked out I think that was the case. Randy came in with like a book full of lyrics, so there was no shortage of material for us to dive into.”
I wrapped up our chat by asking the guitarist to reflect on their basement days as a band, and without hesitating Morton asserted that only having one member change in over 20 years created an enduring bond very early on.
“That’s not to say we don’t have our differences and conflicts, but we’ve just been through so much and on every level of this business… There’s nothing we haven’t seen together. I think that has quite a bit to do with the fact that the five guys you see now are the same ones that were taking turns driving the van and playing in a basement, or a pizza shop or somebody’s living room. You know, we were sleeping on top of our speaker cabinets at a rest stop on the side of the highway… Those were things we all did together long before we were on tour buses or airplanes.”
“I think it solidified us as a group and made things pretty unbreakable.”
Catch Lamb Of God when they support Slipknot and storm two headline shows of their own on the Aussie tour dates below, or grab VII: Sturm und Drang here.