Interview: Lamb of God's Mark Morton and Willie Adler Discuss the Band's New Album, 'Resolution'
Mark Morton and Willie Adler discuss Lamb of God's latest album, Resolution.
It’s the week before Christmas and the country homes outside of Richmond, Virginia, are decorated in traditional holiday fashion, with blinking colored lights, wreaths and American flags.
The mild temperature creates the feeling of a crisp fall day, and there’s a festive, peaceful vibe as we drive through the winding rural roads.
Guitar World has come here to hang with Lamb of God’s Mark Morton and Willie Adler to discuss the group’s latest album, Resolution. But the setting is strangely at odds with what we expected to find when we set out to meet the guitarists behind modern metal’s biggest group.
Just as we start thinking that we’ve driven into the pages of a genteel Southern Living magazine spread, we turn a corner and hear the loud blasts of a sputtering engine. Seconds later, a rider on a fat-tired minibike jets out of the woods and skids to a stop a few yards in front of us.
It’s Morton, who motions for us to follow him. A minute later we find ourselves entering the Morton compound, which consists of a stately main house and a freestanding two-story garage situated on several acres of wooded land.
Dressed in a black hoodie, army camo shorts and long underwear, Morton dismounts the minibike and extends a handshake. He leads us into the garage, which turns out to be the kind of man cave that any red-blooded American guitarist would want for Christmas. Morton, who likes to build cars in his spare time, shows us two of his latest: a 1972 Cutlass muscle car and a 1981 Cutlass 455 drag racer.
“I’m a huge NASCAR fan,” he says. “I race the ’81 Cutlass in the quarter-mile. My new project is the ’72 Cutlass, which is from the same year that I was born.” From the garage, it’s just a short walk up the stairs to Morton’s jam room, where we find ourselves amid stacks of Marshall, Fender, Sunn and Mesa/Boogie amps, scores of guitar cases and other rock and roll amenities (including a mini-fridge stocked with beer and moonshine).
As we kick back and wait for Adler to arrive, Morton begins talking about the making of Resolution. The band’s seventh LP, Resolution is a mix of brutal grooving thrash and technical wizardry, and it includes their most diverse and progressive work to date. The tracks are satisfyingly ripping, but they are also eclectic in a way that you might not expect from Lamb of God. While some fans might think the album is a conscious effort to break with the group’s past, Morton says nothing could be further from the truth.
“There’s a misconception that we have this primary directive to stick to certain guidelines,” he says. “But it’s just not true. There is no rulebook. In fact, there’s an unspoken current between us where we’re like, ‘Let’s see if we can get away with this.’ ”
Since they first emerged in the mid-Nineties, Lamb of God have released some of the most exciting, technical and bludgeoning music in the metal scene. The consistent quality of their albums—including their 2000 breakthrough record, New American Gospel, 2004’s fan favorite Ashes of the Wake, 2006’s modern-metal benchmark Sacrament and 2009’s raw, organic-sounding Wrath—has elevated their status.
For millions of headbangers, Lamb of God are simply the most important contemporary metal band in the world. It’s exactly the focus and fury of their output that has also caused fans to jump to the conclusion that the band has methodically charted its career with a compass pointed directly at metal purity.
But as Morton explains, the band has in fact grown increasingly comfortable with expanding its sonic horizons. As befits any genre leader, Lamb of God keep things interesting for themselves with their ambitious creativity, an approach that is also crucial to keeping the genre fresh, relevant and evolving.
Lamb of God’s first blatant attempt at expanding their sound—and the receptiveness of their audience—was heard on 2009’s Wrath. On that record, they moved away from the multitracked guitars and modern production of the massively popular Sacrament and returned to a purer live guitar sound. They also wrote a few tracks that hinted at their ability to diversify: “The Passing” was a melodic, midpaced and moody opening track, while “Reclamation” and “Grace” featured acoustic and clean intro passages, respectively.
Lamb of God were rewarded for their efforts when Wrath reached the Number Two spot on the Billboard Top 200 upon its release. But their intention to push sonic boundaries has never manifested itself more clearly and prominently than on Resolution.
“At this point, we’re not inhibited that something might be received as un-metal,” Morton says. “We are a bit governed by the fact that Randy [Blythe] is not a particularly melodic singer, so there’s always going to be gruff, aggressive singing over 99 percent of the stuff. With that said, there are a couple of cleaner vocal parts on the new record. But it’s really what we all decide we can get away with, like the song ‘To the End.’ We originally called it ‘ZZ Top,’ because the riff sounds like ‘Just Got Paid.’ It’s one of the most rock and roll songs we’ve ever done.”
Resolution exudes the pure thrash attitude and technical prowess that fans have come to expect from Lamb of God, but the 14-song disc unfolds like no other LoG release. The tracks are sequenced as if the album is divided into two separate sides, like a vinyl record, a quality that gives it the arc and diversity of a classic epic metal album along the lines of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning or Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power. The disc unselfconsciously moves from sludgy doom (“Straight for the Sun”), archetypal thrash (“Desolation” and “Ghost Walking”) and instrumental interludes (“Barbarossa”) to punk (“Cheated”), clean/dirty vocals (“Insurrection”) and orchestral, operatic metal (“King Me”).
At a stage in their career when some bands might be tempted to ease up a bit and hit cruise control, Lamb of God are firing on all cylinders as they confidently blaze into this uncharted territory. Morton’s meticulous rhythm playing and his hybrid lead style—a mix of acrobatic shred runs, ballsy bends and bluesy melodies—have evolved into distinctive calling cards.
Adler’s unconventional songwriting style and visceral riff work shine throughout Resolution and act as the perfect counterpoint to Morton’s analytical, schooled approach to composition. Vocalist Randy Blythe has harnessed the raw power of his rich, ragged growls, and his vicious, call-to-action vocals have grown surprisingly articulate. Holding all this together is the precision rhythm machine of John Campbell and Chris Adler. Campbell locks into the groove and never lets it stray, while Chris Adler simultaneously propels and colors the rhythms, and plays the drums as a kind of third lead instrument in the mix.
What’s more, Resolution not only proves the guys have successfully expanded their sound but also represents how they have overcome the inevitable personal and professional growing pains experienced from working in the music industry. “The album name has a few different meanings,” Morton says. “One of them is finality, or the end of a phase. It can also mean someone’s strength of will, or it can be used to describe the clarity of an image. The idea is that we’ve finished certain struggles and conflicts in our personal lives, and through that process we’ve found ourselves with a clearer vision.”
As Morton finishes, Willie Adler enters the room, cracks open a beer and grabs a seat on the sofa, ready to join an in-depth conversation about the making of Resolution. In the following interview, he and Morton expand on Lamb of God’s new vision and tell how they came to create the most highly anticipated thrash metal record of 2012.
GUITAR WORLD: With Resolution, you guys seem to be pushing the limits of what people expect from Lamb of God. Is there someone in the band that acts as the metal quality-control dude so that you don’t stray too far off course?
MARK MORTON: I think Chris is probably the metal purist, though it’s more like he acts as a referee between Willie and I, because we’re the composers. With Willie, you have a very—and I say this with the utmost respect—unschooled, untrained and peculiar approach to playing avant, acrobatic and technical metal. Then you have me, a misplaced blues player in a metal band. We’re both throwing riffs at Chris, who’s one of the best metal drummers in the world, and he’s left with the monumental task trying to make it all work out. But I think that process is a big part of what makes us Lamb of God. And when I say that about Willie, there is always a mode, scale, chord or position that applies to everything he does…
WILLIE ADLER: …except I have no idea what they are! [laughs] But I actually think it’s beneficial to me.
MORTON: More than beneficial, I think it’s the key to your genius. Sometimes I get caught up, like, “Is this Mixolydian, Dorian or Aeolian?” He doesn’t trip over that shit.
Lamb of God’s thrashing, heavy grooves are always a point of conversation when people talk about the band. Willie, do you feel that you and your brother, Chris, have a special intuition when it comes to locking in on rhythms?
ADLER: I think because Chris and I started playing together as kids we were more in sync early on. But considering how long Lamb of God’s been playing together at this point, I wouldn’t say we’re more synched up than anyone else in the band.
MORTON: From my perspective, I feel like I know what Chris is going to do before he does it. And I think he would say the same thing about me. If we started playing and I told him I had two riffs, we would change at the same point. Chris and I butt heads on everything else, but we turn on a dime together. Even though we’re not blood, we are really intuitively locked in, and I think it has to do with our shared influences and the fact that we’ve been playing together for so long. Actually, I think Chris has me figured out more than he does Willie.
ADLER: I think he does too. It’s funny, because sometimes I’ll be playing a riff with a specific drumbeat in my head, but Chris will do something 180 degrees different. It’ll turn out fine but totally different from what I expected.
MORTON: Here’s how it goes: When I bring in a riff, Chris will go, “Okay you want this…” And it’s exactly what I wanted. Then he’s like, “I knew that’s what you’d want, but can I do this…” And I’ll be like, “I hate it.” Then the next day I’ll come in and he’ll play the one I want him to play, with this really long face. [laughs] Then I’ll be like, “Wait, what was that other one again?” He’ll get all excited, play it, and it’ll be perfect. [Mark and Willie laugh] Then, of course, Willie will be like, “Oh yeah, that one was way cooler.”
ADLER: [laughing] Yup, that’s pretty much how it goes.
Artists:Lamb of God
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