By Alan Sculley
If you love metal then you already know that Lamb of God is a true metal success story with essentially more than 20 years of extreme metal, going from its original moniker Burn the Priest to signing with a major label, Epic Records. On tour in support of its album VII: Sturm und Drang, Lamb of God will be performing at the Bomb Factory on Friday, Feb. 5 with metal brethren Anthrax.
Seven albums into his career with Lamb of God, guitarist/songwriter Mark Morton figures the biggest thing that could surprise him about making a new album would be if the music held no surprises for the band.
“I think for my part, to even bother doing a new album, I feel like you’ve got to have something more to say, or something more to add,” Morton said in a mid-December interview. “I don’t want to get into a place career-wise where we’re just making an album because it’s time to make an album. And you know, I can think of some bands I know that have gone through old material just to assemble the stuff that didn’t make it on previous albums, just to assemble a new album because it was time to. That’s not really how we work.”
So the fact that Lamb of God has a new album out called VII: Sturm und Drang means the group found something fresh in the process of creating its latest body of work.
That new territory exists within songs like “Overlord,” a dark, slow-burning, but melodic, track that features front man Randy Blythe for the first time delivering a sung vocal. “Embers” also features a departure as Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno sings a melodic section that sweetens this tumultuous track. Fans, though, can take comfort in knowing that the other songs on VII: Sturm und Drang have the usual Lamb of God trademarks – Blythe’s feral, screamed vocals, the mix of roiling, heavy and melodic guitars and pummeling drums.
To hear Lamb of God come back strong on Sturm und Drang certainly is good news for the band, its fans and for heavy metal as a genre.
As anyone who has followed the group knows, there was a period after the release of Lamb of God’s previous album, Resolution, where the band’s future was in serious question.
The problem had nothing to do with the band itself, the chemistry between its five members – Morton, Blythe, bassist John Campbell, drummer Chris Adler and guitarist Willie Adler (Chris’ younger brother) – or the music.
Arriving in the Czech Republic for a run of concerts in June 2012, Blythe was arrested and charged with manslaughter, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years in that country.
The charge stemmed from a May 24, 2010 concert at Club Abaton in Prague at which prosecutors in the Czech Republic asserted that Blythe had pushed a 19-year-old fan, Daniel Nosek, off of the stage. Nosek at some point fell, hitting his head on the floor. Later that evening, Nosek became violently ill, was taken to a hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery. Sadly, he slipped into a coma and died from his injury.
After his arrest, Blythe spent 37 days in jail before he was released on bail. He then returned to the Czech Republic for trial in February 2013.
The case, though, was not clear cut. Reports indicated the Lamb of God show was plagued by security lapses that allowed fans to get on the stage, and there also was conflicting testimony from concert-goers about whether they saw Blythe push Nosek, and exactly when and how Nosek fell to the floor.
In the end, the judge acquitted Blythe and the singer was freed, allowing him to resume his Lamb of God career. Blythe has since written a book about his experience, Dark Days: A Memoir.
Asked if he’s seen any changes in Blythe – or if the personal dynamic within Lamb of God has shifted as a result of the singer’s scary ordeal, Morton chose not to offer specifics. He noted there have been any number of events and experiences since the group formed in the early 1990s in Richmond, Virginia (under the original band name Burn the Priest) that have impacted the individual members or the band as a whole on multiple levels – and Blythe’s encounter with the Czech Republic justice system was one such event.
“I just think it was a really personal issue that was much more far reaching than how it impacted the band,” Morton said. “It was and remains a really, really heavy time, and the impact that it had on all of us and in our relationships were on a personal level and far beyond anything that has to do with Lamb of God.”
VII: Sturm und Drang has a couple of songs relating to the Blythe saga – “Still Echoes” and “512” (the number of Blythe’s prison cell). But otherwise the songs deal with a variety of other personal or topical issues.
Morton said the band was not about to make an album about the Blythe saga, saying that would commercialize and cheapen a profound and personal experience.
“(It) would have been at the very least, poor taste, probably something much worse than that,” Morton said. “So yeah, there is reference to it. Randy and I both write lyrics about life experience, and that was certainly a life experience for him, and to some degree, for all of us. But no, it wasn’t something that you just used as fodder for heavy metal lyrics.”
Musically, VII: Sturm und Drang became one of Lamb of God’s most collaborative albums – although it wasn’t by any predetermined plan. As usual, the process started with Morton and Willie Adler serving as the group’s music writers. But things changed from there.
“One thing that was distinctly different was that Willie and I both brought in pieces of music that were a little less complete,” Morton said. “For the previous three or four albums, we would bring in, once the band agreed we were in writing mode, quote-unquote, Willie and I would bring in, in some cases, literally a CD with four songs on it that were like completely demoed out and play it for the band and see who responded to what and what we wanted to do with them.
“This time, those ideas were brought in less elaborate, less completed. And so you might just have a riff or maybe two riffs put together. ‘Hey, I’ve got this chorus, but I don’t know what to do with it.’ So what that ultimately wound up creating was a much more collaborative environment on this album.”
This approach wasn’t entirely new, Morton said, noting that early albums like New American Gospel and As the Palaces Burn were written in this manner before he and Adler began writing more complete songs to bring to the rest of the band.
“It wasn’t a revolution for us, but it was at least fresh in terms of the way we had been writing the previous few albums,” Morton said.
Since releasing VII: Sturm und Drang in July, Lamb of God has done two major tours – a U.S. amphitheater run in the summer opening for Slipknot followed by a European tour with Megadeth. For its winter headlining tour of the states, Morton said the band is trying to bring as much of the big production from the Slipknot shows as possible into the smaller theaters on this tour.
“We certainly want to give the fans as much value as we can for their ticket money, and we’ve got some really, really cool visuals that we’ve worked on to go along with the music,” he said. “So yeah, we’re just looking at trying to cram as much of that stuff into the theaters as we can.”