Lamb of God: Pure American Mettle
Originally published in Guitar World, May 2009
Will Lamb of God’s Wrath be able to best its hit predecessor, Sacrament? As their new song “Contractor” declares, it’s “guaran-fucking-teed.” Willie Adler and Mark Morton give Guitar World their word.
From the wide, tree-lined street, Willie Adler’s house looks much like any other, tucked neatly among rows of newly developed two-story residences in a suburb outside Richmond, Virginia. A healthy lawn rings the perimeter, bicycles lay in a heap by the front steps, and two SUVs sit side-by-side in the driveway. On first glance, there’s nothing to lead your average soccer mom to suspect her neighbor to be one-fifth of the band behind such speed-metal screeds as “Walk with Me in Hell” and “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For.” Though there is at least a subtle warning: the Lamb of God sticker on display in the rear window of each vehicle.
Inside the house, the signifiers of Adler’s day job are evident. Adjacent to a family room is a makeshift demo studio, outfitted with a computer and various instruments and pieces of gear. On a living room wall hangs a row of guitars, including two new camouflage versions of Adler’s ESP signature model and an old B.C. Rich Bich, the white body adorned with Metallica and Mr. T. stickers. “That was my first guitar,” Adler says of the beat-up ax. “I used that on a lot of the early Lamb of God material.” As he administers the brief tour, two eager dogs roam the premises, and, in a cage by the back door, Paco, his green parrot, sits on a perch. At the moment, Adler is less than pleased with the bird. “He shits a lot,” he says. “One of the dogs was laying underneath him the other day, and he shit all over her.” But the parrot has its redeeming qualities. “He loves the metal. I’ll be blaring the heaviest stuff from the music room, and then I’ll come in here and he’ll be in his cage, dancing.”
Today, Paco will have ample reason to dance. Later in the afternoon, Adler and Lamb of God co-guitarist Mark Morton will sit on a couch in Adler’s living room, plug in guitars and run through some of their greatest riffs, including the ones that comprise “Set to Fail,” the first single from the band’s new album, Wrath (Epic). Afterward, Adler will grab an advance copy of the disc from his wife’s car, pop it in his studio’s computer and crank it throughout the house. He’ll highlight moments he’s especially proud of—a particularly snaky riff, or one of Morton’s solos—by cracking a wide grin and playing air guitar along with the part.
At present, however, Mark Morton has yet to materialize. As it turns out, he took a wrong turn on the drive over—odd, considering the two guitarists live only a few miles apart. When Morton finally shows up, he admits that despite their proximity to one another, this is the first time he has actually been to Adler’s house. “Look,” he says with a smile, extending his arm out horizontally, “for two years at a time we live about this far from each other. So when we get off the road, I don’t need to come over and—I don’t know—watch the game.”
The two will soon enough be once again living at arm’s length. In a week, Lamb of God head off to Finland to begin touring for Wrath. They hit the U.S. for their first headlining run in the spring and look to be on the road for “at least the next 18 months or so,” Adler says. At present, the band—which also includes drummer (and Willie’s older brother) Chris Adler, bassist John Campbell and singer Randy Blythe—has been home for only a few weeks, having just finished up a month of support dates for Metallica on their World Magnetic tour. “That was really exciting,” Morton says. “Of all the bands that were big influences on us—Slayer, Megadeth, those types of guys—there are very few left that we haven’t done shows with. Metallica were one of them, and now they’re not.” The gigs also presented Lamb of God with what is a rare scenario these days—facing an audience that may have no idea who they are. “Metallica is such a commercially successful act that a lot of their crowd is not what I would consider to be metal fans,” Morton says. “So it was a challenge. But I think it was really good for us to be thrown into open water like that and have to figure it out. At this point, it’s not often that we find ourselves in situations we haven’t experienced before.”
Indeed, there isn’t much Lamb of God haven’t seen or done by this stage of their career. Since forming in Richmond in the early Nineties as Burn the Priest, they’ve been on a steady rise to the top of the metal heap. Many of their albums, including 2000’s New American Gospel and 2003’s As the Palaces Burn, stand as defining documents of post-Pantera metal—rooted in classic thrash and speed metal but executed with heightened technical facility and fury, and topped with hardcore-ish vocals that alternate between a clipped bark and an all-consuming roar. It’s hardly a recipe for mainstream success, yet Lamb of God’s last disc—and second for major label Epic—Sacrament, debuted at number eight on the Billboard album chart and was crowned the biggest-selling metal record of 2006. Add to that an almost nonstop tour schedule that has seen them play alongside—now that Metallica has been crossed off the list—just about everyone, and it’s hardly surprising that Morton is up for any new challenge that comes Lamb of God’s way.