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A Quietus Interview

Pause For Thought: Lamb Of God Interviewed
Toby Cook , February 7th, 2012 04:06

Lamb Of God guitarist Mark Morton tells Toby Cook about the important advice he received from Dave Mustaine and their new album Resolution

“Mainstream garbage”; “Metal for 14-year-olds”; “Forgotten in a couple of months”. Just some of the comments people felt compelled to post on this very site mere days after the Track By Track review of Lamb Of God’s new LP Resolution was published. Granted, they’re far from the most vitriolic and ignorant things to have ever greeted a review published online, yet they do at least point to a commonly held misconception about the Richmond, Virginia quintet.

To a degree, it's easy to see where this idea that Lamb Of God are some sort of thuggish, Pantera rip-off for pre-teens has come from. Those who are only familiar with them via the video for ‘Redneck’ from their 2006 album Sacrament – which features, amongst other things, excessive beer consumption and the band leering at strippers whilst on their tour bus – might easily have cultivated a negative opinion. And truth be told, as Metal Hammer magazine also pointed out recently, frontman Randy Blythe is often more confrontational than he perhaps should be with his own internet-based proclamations on Twitter (that said, his feed is truly something to behold).

I will admit that I too dismissed LOG in their early days, but dig a little deeper, by say, reading Blythe’s regular blog updates, and you discover in him a man who proves himself to be an intelligent, articulate and driven individual. And so the same is true for the band themselves, as becomes clear not just through careful exploration of their back catalogue but also by spending time chatting with their guitarist, Mark Morton.

I meet Morton at the Roadrunner offices and find him sat at the end of large conference table, guitar on lap, strumming away. Although a softly spoken individual at times, during our interview his eyes burn with a fire and piercing intensity that his body language totally belies. But his demeanour and responses are not that of an angry or intense man - they’re the considered, thoughtful and unflinchingly honest answers of a man at peace with himself and his place in the grand order of things, a man who genuinely doesn’t care if you think his band are “mainstream garbage”.

So Mark, given the success of Wrath was there an added sense of pressure when creating Resolution?

Mark Morton: I don’t think so, not really man. Wrath did really well for us, and it’s exciting that the momentum has continued. But Resolution – if you count Burn The Priest, which I do, because we all kind of lived it – is our seventh studio record, and we’ve got to the point now where we certainly hope that our albums do well commercially, and it’s nice when they do, but ultimately the goal remains to just respect the band and our sound and just write some songs that feel like where we are at this point in time. And that’s always been the process, so to change it now, or to try and react to any response or the success of an album before, seems like it would be a mistake.

If it ain’t broke...?

MM: Well, it’s more about just being honest with yourself.

Titling the album Resolution: just as a name it hints at being a bit more positive than Wrath. Wrath obviously has very destructive, war like connotations to it whereas Resolution points towards, well, things being resolved. Was there more of a sense of positivity with this record?

MM: I think there is. I think it’s closer to that than ever, but I mean, if you read the lyrics there’s still plenty of hopelessness in there – it is a heavy metal record after all. But yeah, I think you’re picking up on something. I think that 'resolution' basically came from some of the themes that Randy and I were writing about – lyrically, obviously – there are some threads of certain aspects of our lives coming to conclusion. Resolution can also refer to the clarity of an image, and I like the way that those two ideas work together - certain cycles of life being finished, and then also a clear picture of what lies beyond.

It’s interesting you say that. Some of the songs, ‘Straight For The Sun’ and ‘Ghost Walk’ for example, seem to be a bit preoccupied with destruction and a sort of death-like finality – is that part of it?

MM: Well death and destruction, let’s face it, is typical heavy metal fodder.

Well, yes. But more so than previously?

MM: I think death and rebirth are really the currents that are going on there, and also there’s a theme of detachment. Like ‘Straight For The Sun’ – it’s a song that I brought in – it’s not like, straight for the sun like a flower blooming, it’s more like ‘Blast me off, incinerate me, send me where I’ll be the only person in that orb, being incinerated'. It’s wanting to be as alone and isolated, or feeling as isolated, as one can possibly be.

And I suppose that ties in nicely with the cover art. The image I’ve seen – I guess it’s the final design – reminds me a lot of the first Gulf War with these burning oil fields, but how does it tie in exactly? Obviously it’s a very clear image too, in terms of it resolution.

MM: I think again it ties into those themes of detachment. Like in the song ‘Straight For The Sun’ there’s a line: "shoot me straight for the sun, I want to be the only one left” and it’s very much like that image. There’s nothing else around, it’s the last thing left, and you’re feeling like the last little speck in the spectrum.


MM: Cheers!

So as you said, to all intents and purposes this is your seventh album and as a band you seem to be somewhat of an anomaly, where with each release and tour you seem to garner more fans, more respect, more acclaim. Why do you feel that that has been the case with your career?

MM: It’s not only potentially awkward, but it’s also pretty hard for me to answer that question, as I don’t really know - I’m so inside of it. What I can tell you is that we’re a very honest band, be it with our music, with our lyrics, with our interviews, with the access that, over the years, we’ve provided fans into who we are and what we do. There’s not a lot of pretense. When we walk on stage we look exactly like we do when we walk across the street to get a coffee. When we meet our fans they find that we’re really just like them.

So I would speculate that some of those things have to do with the staying power and the level with which our fans connect to the music and to the band. But why it has grown and spread like it has? If I knew the answer to that I could probably make a lot more money than I do… [laughs loudly and manically]

Do you ever take a minute, or catch yourself thinking that, y’know, 15-20 years ago you were just jamming in a garage, and now you’re doing world tours and getting Grammy nominations?

MM: I do, yeah. You really do. Years ago I did a piece for a magazine we have in the states called Revolver, you know it?

Oh yeah, I know the one.

MM: They used to do a piece, they still do I think, where they have a young gun – which I was at the time, I’m certainly not any more – interview a veteran and an influence. I got to interview Dave Mustaine. It was really, really cool. I hadn’t yet met him, it was years before we wound up touring together and I could say I’d spent some time with him. I’ve forgotten what my question was but it alluded to: ‘What can you tell me about getting from where I am to where you are?’, or some shit like that, but he said: “Make sure you look out of the side window, and see where you are and what’s happening right now. Because so much, and so often, people such as ourselves get caught up looking forward, simply because that’s the way the business is structured.”

We live off of calendars. Come January I’m going to go on the road for 18 to 24 months, right? As a guitar player for Lamb Of God I realise that those things are very important and there’s going to be a lot of very amazing experiences that go along with that. As a father, as a husband, I realise that the balance to that is that there’s a lot of things I’m going to be needed for that I’m just going to be absent for, and there’s a lot of incredible experiences – some of the most important things in my life – that I’m going to miss, right?

So, it’s a balance. I don’t expect an 18-year-old fan to understand that, and I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, I can stop whenever I want, it’s a choice I make. It’s the career I chose and choose to continue. But there are challenges that go along with it and there are balances that go along with it, and the way it’s structured, as I was saying, is that everything is moving forward and you’re always looking ahead to a certain point. Mr. Mustaine gave me some very profound advice, and that was to look out of the side window and see where you are; to take a minute, take a deep breath and soak it in, because you’re never going to be at that spot again.

I would say that advice applies to anyone, no matter what you do, we get so caught up as people, as a society, in trying to get more; to get ahead and to get bigger; to get richer and to get more successful; to get here and go there and we forget where we are.

What led me to that rant was that you asked, do I ever stop and go, ‘Holy fuck, look at what we’ve done’. And I try to, I really try to, because it’s pretty remarkable that we’ve come as far as we have with the music that we make.

And by the same token, do you ever catch yourself glaring too long and hard out of the front window, looking too far and too expectantly towards the future?

MM: Not any more man, not any more. I used to do that, probably because I think I looked at things a different way maybe five or six years ago, but I was a different person. The person I was at that time was very competitive, very driven and aggressive about getting better, bigger and blowing up the band. We all were, and it takes that, it really takes that approach, it takes that commitment. But now I’m almost 40 and I’m a father, and the things that are important to me are different to what they were five or six years ago – thank god!

So, yeah, do I want to headline Wembley? Sure, that’d be great, y’know what I mean? But am I ok with having a great show in Brixton? Fuck yeah!

Can’t complain, right?

MM: [Laughs] Yeah, right, like, how hard can it be?

So this change in attitude, being a bit more chilled out with who and where you are, is that why there’s an orchestra on the new record?

MM: [Laughing] No, no! We actually have orchestras in there because Josh thought it would be a really good idea – Josh meaning Josh Wilbur our producer. Yeah, ‘King Me’. Everyone wants to talk about ‘King Me’, understandably, it’s a really fucking epic song. It was really, in its roots, a very simple yet incredibly dynamic song that Willie [Adler, guitar] was directing. He brought in the raw material for that and as we started putting it together we started to realise very quickly that it was a very unique piece for us, and one that was pointed to be the closer of the record – á la ‘Reclamation’, á la ‘Vigil’, and those types of almost ethereal, spooky songs that we like to close an album with.

‘King Me’ was bucking for that position from very early on. The orchestras and the operatic singing came at the suggestion of Josh Wilbur though, we were all really open to the idea and he really made that his baby. Obviously he produced the record so he was very connected with everything on it, but he took that initiative and it’s just a perfect example of what a creative and talented producer can bring to a project.

But, I mean, it’s still an oppressively heavy tune. It’s not like it’s a ballad…

MM: No, and lyrically it’s very, very heavy too – it’s very important to Randy.

So, it’s not a precursor to going down the Metallica S&M route and starting to fanny about with orchestras for whole albums?

MM: I don’t like to ever rule anything out, but my instinctive reply would be that the fact that we put a choir and an orchestra on this album means you can probably guarantee that we won’t on the next one.

Makes sense.

MM: But I’ve been wrong before!

There obviously a lot being made of this whole Big Four thing at the moment. I spoke to Robb Flynn of Machine Head recently about who he saw as his generation's Big Four, in terms of bands he considered his peers, and one of the four he mentioned was Lamb Of God. Who do you see as your generation's Big Four?

MM: Well, I was there as a fan when the Big Four were the Big Four – y’know what I mean? So it’s not a history lesson for me, y’know? I’m almost 40 years old and I was going to see all those bands when I was 15. So, I want to answer your question, but it’s tough to say because it’s changed so much. I mean, when we were coming out the bands that we were aspiring to be like first of all would differ depending on which band member you asked.

There’s probably such a small musical comparison that it’ll confuse people, but we really look a lot to Meshuggah and at what they were doing around the turn of the century – I love putting it like that. Commercially we’ve probably eclipsed them but just their ambition, musically, was something that was very inspirational to us.

Killswitch [Engage], I guess, in terms of the fact that at around that time there were certain American bands that were starting to make noise and I guess we were part of that. People like to group us together but I don’t think there’re really any similarities between the bands except that we have some rough vocals and are from the states. But with Killswitch I was always impressed with their ability to write songs within the context of an extreme metal genre. Of course they’ve honed that now into something even slicker and it’s something that I’m a fan of, I think they’re a fantastic band.

But, y’know, again a Big Four? I just cited Killswitch and Meshuggah; I mean there’s nothing similar between those bands. At The Gates were earlier but were a big influence on us – they just had ‘that’ sound. But to me that doesn’t compare to the Big Four so, I mean... I’m not really answering your question am I?

Well, how about in terms of bands that you toured with regularly back in the day, those that you feel a connection to?

MM: Like a kinship to? Sure. Not musically, but just in terms of the timing of things: Lamb Of God, Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and probably Unearth… and God Forbid as well, come to think of it. That was actually a tour we did, the first Headbangers Ball tour we did was those bands. In fact, God Forbid and Unearth switched with one band doing half the tour and one the other. So to me those were our peers at the time, to the degree that when we first did that tour, if I remember correctly, Killswitch, Shadows and Lamb Of God were actually all alternating top spots. So to me that’s who I felt like our peers were. But don’t put ‘Big Four’ in my mouth when I say that! That’s not what I feel.

Lamb Of God's new LP, Resolution, is out now via Roadrunner Records