Lamb of God: An Interview
by Alun Thomas
Published July 6, 2006 in The Zephyr, Galesburg, Ill.
Becoming a heavy metal band that can attain mainstream success and major label status in 2006 is a feat most bands could ever hope to achieve, particularly metal bands of the traditional order. The ascent of Lamb Of God since their 2000 debut ‘New American Gospel’ can be seen as a major victory in many regards, the band starting out in the mid 90s as Burn The Witch, and releasing a self titled album in 1998, three years after the Virginia-bred act first assembled. Changing the bands name, LOG quickly gained a measure of credibility with ‘New American Gospel’, with its thrash meets NEW metal crunch, that revealed there was indeed a band out there capable of equaling stalwarts like Slayer and Pantera in terms of mass acceptance.
2002’s ‘As The Palaces Burn’ catapulted the band into the ranks of a major label, Epic Records signing them after the commercial impact of their second album. Capitalizing on this the band quickly recorded their Epic debut, 2004’s ‘Ashes Of The Wake’, a more diverse set that strayed from the earlier brutal work and duly sold over thirty thousand copies in its first week, reaching 27 on Billboard’s album chart. After a successful headlining set on Ozzfest’s second stage that year, the band filmed two Philadelphia shows that resulted in 2005’s ‘Kiladelphia’ DVD which has since gone gold. With new album ‘Sacrament’ due in August and currently on tour with Slayer as part of the ‘Unholy Alliance’ tour, the future seems brighter than ever for LOG. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with guitarist Mark Morton about how things are progressing in the LOG camp before the band’s performance in San Antonio.
The Zephyr: Did you ever think you would be in a position where you would be playing alongside Slayer with an album due arguably as anticipated as theirs?
Mark Morton: “Well I don’t know if I could comment safely on the second bit (laughs) but we have played with Slayer before at a couple of shows in London a few years ago and on Ozzfest in 2004, but this tour (‘Unholy Alliance’) is different, being on an arena tour with them is an honor. As a teenage kid growing up they were one of my favorite bands, so to be sharing the stage with them is really cool. The whole bill in general, with Mastadon, Children Of Bodom, it’s a killer tour. The crowds have been great so far, absolutely nuts and with good reason. This is the heaviest tour out right now, something for the real metal fan and they’re coming out in droves. I’d be lying if I said we were selling places out, but these are huge arenas you know?”
TZ: Did you expect the sales of ‘Killadelphia’ to reach the levels they have? You must be pleased with the results.
MM: “Very pleased. We didn’t have any expectations and we rarely do. We don’t know what people are going to buy and we do our thing. We’ve never made decisions based on how it might affect sales. We write our songs and record our albums and ‘Killadelphia’ was just another example of that. It’s a real honest look at what we do and what’s it’s like to do it. Our agenda was just to be honest and real and it’s something we decided to do before we started filming any of it. Looking at how it came together I think it’s a really interesting piece going beyond the show and a behind the scenes look at a touring metal band. That’s a lot of the reason for its success as someone could get something out of it without ever having heard of LOG.”
TZ: Has it been a conscious decision on the part of the band to keep the majority of the new material secret?
MM: “I think so. Part of the reason is that over the course of our career we’ve never made music for anyone but ourselves. It’s hard enough for us to find an album or a song that the five of us agree on so we don’t solicit or are interested in any outside opinions, from fans, anybody. It’s tricky to say we don’t care about our fans but to a certain degree if you love it great, if you don’t that’s cool too. We’re making music for us, that’s all we’ve ever done. To start letting new songs out and getting a lot of feedback is something we don’t want. I want it to be new and fresh the day it drops.”
TZ: How important was it for metal to have a band like LOG reach such lofty heights after so many barren years for the genre, especially the mid 90’s when acts like Metallica abandoned thrash?
MM: “I don’t know. The way it happened was so genuine, so grass roots that it’s really hard to soak up. We’re the same band that was sleeping on top of our equipment at rest stops. And still doing pretty much the same music. Obviously we’ve changed stylistically and as musicians but the agenda is still the same. It was as bigger surprise to us as anybody that we are doing as well as we are right now. The metal scene isn’t entirely on our shoulders, there was a movement going of bands that were doing this for real and if you’d told me once that I could be playing arenas with tour buses, with all this gear, selling these records playing the kind of music we’re playing, I would have told you you’re nuts. But it happened. And I don’t put any rules on this band, we can do whatever we want. Some of your fans want you to make the same record over and over. But are we going to be a top 40 band putting out radio hits like Metallica did? Hell no.
The reason this group started playing together in a basement over a twelve pack of beer is the simple fact you could not go and see live metal. It just wasn’t there except for a handful of bands who we considered to be real metal, so we said ‘fuck it we’ll just have to do it ourselves.’ Metal had slipped so far away and that was the catalyst for us, we were starving for it.”
TZ: Have your major label dealings made things easier for the band or more stressful with the growing demand of you?
MM: “I don’t want to give the impression that we’re doing it for the money but the fact is when we switched to a major label we were able to do LOG full time. It only helps the music and allows us to focus and direct our energy on the band and our music. We’re by no means wealthy but I have a cool job right now.”
TZ: What was it like working with Devin Townshend (Strapping Young Lad) on 2002’s ‘As The Palaces Burn?’
MM: “Honestly and he (Devin) knows this as well, I wasn’t well versed in his music. I knew who he was and I was familiar with some of his stuff, but I hadn’t actively listened to him. After having worked with him I’m a big fan. But I went into that situation untainted by the whole fan thing and being influenced by what he did musically. I was more interested in how we could make a record together. Over the course of that album we developed a good friendship. He’s a brilliant dude.”
TZ: How difficult or simple was the recording process this time around?
MM: “It’s exhausting as we’re so invested in these songs and these albums. On a day to day level it’s sitting and playing guitar for five hours. For me it’s more of the emotional and creative aspects that take a lot out of you. It’s important to us to keep moving forward and not get complacent with our music, as this is our life. All of us have each given up so much to do this. It looks great from the outside, you know big metal band, touring the world, but people don’t see the things you give up to do that. It’s all we’re left with, so these albums are really important to us. It really takes a lot out of you.”
TZ: How involved are you in the songwriting process?
MM: “Heavily. But we’re a very collaborative band and at the end of the day everyone’s had some input.”
TZ: I’ve asked this to a lot of musicians and the answer usually varies, but who are more fanatical, Europeans or Americans?
MM: “From my experience I would say American fans, but my band happens to be bigger in America. If you asked Machine Head they’d probably say European fans. Everybody has different experiences in different places and we’re no exception.”
TZ: Stock question, who were your guitar idols growing up?
MM: “The first guitar player I ever got into was Eddie Van Halen, and I really love Jimmy Page’s playing. Randy Rhoades was a big one for for me, in the early eighties Ozzy Osbourne was considered pretty heavy and extreme and Randy found a way to bring other elements into the music which kept it fresh. It’s a shame his career was cut short and we didn’t hear more out of him. What’s there is great though and he really was a big influence on me.”
TZ: How long are you playing on the current tour nightly?
MM: “About 55 minutes to an hour.”
TZ: Including any Burn The Priest material?
MM: “Most of our fans know about Burn The Priest and last year we re-released the album and it’s been doing well, so anything we play of that the hardcore fans are pretty well acquainted with.”
TZ: Why did you change the name of the band? Was it because you perceived the name as too stereotypical for a metal band that might impede your progress?
MM: “That question’s been covered so much dude.”
TZ: To be honest I didn’t know why. Thanks for your time.