Willie Adler (left) and Mark Morton onstage with Lamb of God.
Listen to "Ghost Walking" and "Desolation" from Resolution:
“Whether it’s Slayer or Megadeth or anybody else, I want to go out there and mop up the floor with them,” said Lamb of God’s lead guitarist Mark Morton in Walk with Me in Hell, the band’s 2008 documentary DVD. “I want to play as hard as I can and make them look old and tired when we’re done.” This take-no-prisoners mindset has been the driving force behind LoG since its earliest incarnation in 1990 as Burn the Priest. The current lineup was solidified in the mid ’90s, when Morton, drummer Chris Adler, and bassist John Campbell were joined by vocalist Randy Blithe and guitarist Willie Adler (Chris’ brother), and the band changed its name to quell controversy that got it banned from more than a few venues.
Around that same time, change was also in the air for the metal scene in general. Along with bands like Pantera and Mastodon, Lamb of God helped usher in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement , bringing back some long-missing credibility to the genre after several years of “nu-metal” reigning supreme on the charts and radio waves with a recipe that often seemed to jettison melody and musicianship in favor of detuned monotony and guttural gibberish.
Albums like Ashes of the Wake and Sacrament—the latter of which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance on “Redneck”—and prime touring slots opening for icons like Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer gave Lamb of God a prime spot to surf on that new metal wave. Resolution, the band’s latest release, hit the streets this January, and though its title and timing might lead some to think the band is embarking on a feel-good spiritual reawakening, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Although we do like puppies and flowers, that’s not what we’re writing about,” explains Morton. “I think it’s safe to say all of our songs are pretty dark. Resolution is more about being resolved to something. It’s more about the end of a certain phase of one’s life or situation, and also the clarity of an image.” Asked to expound on the latter point, Morton says, “I think we’ve kind of reached a new sound—a more realistic vision of what we are, personally. I don’t want to get too specific—I prefer not to spell things out literally, because it’s always best when people interpret the songs for themselves. But I think it’s all there [on the album].”
We caught up with Morton and Adler to get the inside scoop on recording Resolution, their signature axes, and the secret formula for maintaining a successful career.
Resolution has 14 tracks in a pretty broad
range of styles. Is it difficult to be that
adventurous and still keep a sound that’s
identifiably Lamb of God?
Adler: It’s gotten to the point now where we really don’t see any kind of barriers, as far as our sound goes. It’s inherently going to sound like us because it’s us playing it— and I don’t think any of us would depart from the traditional sound. But it’s constant exploration, and we’re willing to try anything to see if it sticks and if it’s cool. Josh [Wilbur], our producer, was there for the entire songwriting process, and he kind of cracked the whip on us. He was like, “Yeah it’s not quite there. If you want to save the song, you better go home and rewrite it.” I’d be in the practice space from noon until 6 o’clock, and then go home and be in my own studio from about 9 o’clock till about 4 a.m., rewriting. There would be parts here and there that were standout, great parts. For quite a few songs on this record, these parts got mashed together to make one killer track.
“King Me” has a lot of parts. Is that one
where you combined bits and pieces from
different demo songs?
Morton: That one was originally brought in by Willie and was pretty far developed. We’d already recorded the tracks for it and pretty much decided it was going to be the closer on the album. Then Josh came up very late in the process with the idea of adding the opera vocals and the string arrangements. It’s a very unique piece for us. We all really love the song. We usually try and close the album with something big and powerful. The last track on the album is one that we reserve for an epic piece, like we did with “Reclamation” on Wrath and “Vigil” on As the Palaces Burn. So “King Me” was already holding that spot, but I think when Josh had the idea of adding those extra elements, it really took it to the next level.
Adler: When Josh came up with the idea to add the strings, it was a little bit of a scary prospect at first. I kept questioning myself, “Can we do this?” But the rest of the band was so down for it. And once I heard, I thought, “This song really lends itself to this.”
Adler cranks out blistering riffs on his signature ESP solidbody, which features Seymour Duncan JB (bridge) and ’59 (neck) pickups.
Were they real strings?
Adler: They were real strings. Josh knows a few guys up in New York, and they came in and put real strings on it.
Who wrote the parts?
Adler: I think the string players wrote them out.
The intro to that track [“King Me”]
has this haunting, minor/major7-type
Adler: That’s my crazy, untrained and un-theory-knowing brain. I just kind of play completely outside the box and have no idea what I’m doing other than it’s sounding amazing.
It doesn’t really matter what it means,
theory-wise, because what it comes
down to at the end of the day is what
it sounds like.
Adler: Yeah, I don’t get caught up thinking, “What mode is this in? What scale is this in?” I don’t have those walls to confine me.
Any advice for someone looking to
develop the speed and endurance
needed to play songs like “Visitation,”
“Guilty,” and “Desolation?”
Morton: I’ve found that it’s useful to have a very accurate and powerful upstroke. If you can get your upstroke as powerful as your downstroke, it enables you to have a more fluid sound. Another thing you might try is playing a slower lick or riff using all upstrokes. Force yourself to do it with all upstrokes, and that will really hyper-focus you on defining your upstroke. It’s going to feel very awkward, and it’s probably not something you would do in a performance setting.
Do you use exercises like that to warm
up before a show?
Morton: I usually grab a guitar 15 minutes before we go onstage. I don’t know why, but I’ve never really noticed a difference between playing for 45 minutes before a show and playing for five minutes before a show. I’ve had great shows where I didn’t even touch a guitar before I went onstage, and I’ve had terrible shows where I’ve warmed up for 45 minutes before.
Have there ever been times where you
guys were playing live and the adrenaline
was flowing and the drums sped
up so much that you couldn’t execute
some of your faster riffs?
Adler: It can happen. We would have meetings afterwards, and we would be, like, “Dude, you ramped that part up so [expletive] fast, I couldn’t play it!” Thank god, Chris is using a click now. He started using a click during the last touring cycle for Wrath. He maintains his speeds and the solidity of the songs, so it’s not up and down, up and down, up and down.
Mark, even though you have chops to
spare, one thing you do that a lot of
shredders don’t do is play bluesy phrases
in between the fast stuff. Who are some
of your favorite lead players?
Morton: My favorite players are blues players. I grew up on that stuff, as well as Southern rock and classic rock. I’m in a metal band and I have a vast appreciation and respect for metal but, honestly, my favorite players are Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix. Certainly, those guys are rock players, but they’re very heavily blues influenced. Those are the masters to me. Those are the guys that I look up to. I’d rather listen to Billy Gibbons than Yngwie Malmsteen, any day.