"I've done a lot of shit in my life; a lot of crazy shit, a lot of cool shit, a lot of stuff that I'm not so proud of and I wouldn't change any of it," says Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe. Several years ago, Blythe found some notoriety after he got into a gnarly, drunken fist fight with his own bandmate (guitarist Mark Morton), complete with slurred trash talk, hair-pulling and head butts. Oh, and Blythe was wearing a kilt at the time.
It wouldn't be a proud moment for any band, but rather than ignoring or downplaying it, Lamb of God included all the damning footage on their 2005 concert DVD Killadelphia.
It's a telling gesture of exactly who Lamb of God are. The Richmond, VA groove metal band have been putting all their crap out on the table for nearly two decades, and not apologizing for any of it. "I know I did a lot of stupid shit," Blythe laughs, "but if I didn't do that I wouldn't be who I am, and today I think I'm a pretty good dude."
It's been a long journey from their early days of booze-fuelled debauchery, when they were called Burn the Priest. They've survived a name change, the rise and fall of grunge and nu-metal, and thrived in a metal revival scene that's flourished even as the music industry collapsed around them. Throughout, they've maintained a unique perspective on religion and politics, but have gotten more sophisticated about expressing those ideas.
Although the band members have all settled down with families, their attitude towards their music hasn't changed. With the release of their new album, Resolution, Lamb of God continue with the mantra they've preserved since their Burn the Priest days ― to make the music they want, when they want and how they want. "We make the music so that only five people can be happy," Blythe says, "and that's the five dudes in Lamb of God."
Mark Morton, drummer Chris Adler and bassist John Campbell formed Burn the Priest in their Virginia hometown in the early '90s. Morton left to pursue grad school and was replaced by Abe Spear, and the trio released a demo and two split EPs as an instrumental band before Randy Blythe joined in 1995; his lyric writing established the religious and political themes that remain to this day. Their sound ― a mix of thrash, death metal and sludge with punk and grindcore influences ― made them an anomaly.
"Nobody was making what we wanted to hear at that time," Blythe says. "Grunge had taken over. A few bands of the generation before us were still around of course, who were influences on us: Slayer, and Megadeth were still doing something, Pantera were still around, Testament were still doing stuff every now and then, but metal had pretty much croaked. We made heavy metal just 'cause we wanted to hear it. We never had any ideas of it turning into a career. We thought we'd drink beer and play some heavy metal, that's it."
Buzz began to build locally, and Morton re-joined the band in 1997, but it wasn't until the 1999 release of Burn the Priest's self-titled full-length that their line-up was finalized, when Adler's brother Willie replaced Spear as a second guitarist. But the attention garnered by Burn the Priest (produced by Today Is the Day's Steve Austin and released by Legion Records, later reissued by Epic) was being eclipsed by their controversial band name.
After the name got them banned from certain venues, they faced a difficult choice. "We spent a long time touring and writing under that name," Adler explains, "so when we changed it we definitely thought that we were shooting ourselves in the foot and washing all that work down the drain. I don't know if it really helped, but I know that today, as an adult with a kid, it's a lot easier to feel proud of what we've done, not having it be based on a gimmick."
The name change to Lamb of God retained a religious association without being offensive, and the band maintained the same lyrical and musical approach ― doing what they wanted. And it continued to fly in the face of popular aggressive music in the early '00s, which consisted of the down-tuned alt-rock/hip-hop fusion known as nu-metal, led by the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park.
After signing with Prosthetic Records, the band released their second album (and first as Lamb of God), New American Gospel, in 2000 and spent the next few years touring extensively before dropping As the Palaces Burn in 2003. Both records featured the same type of sound from their Burn the Priest days, but also introduced a groove metal tinge, often garnering comparisons to Texan genre heavyweights Pantera. Lamb of God landed on some large-scale tours, including the first Headbanger's Ball tour alongside God Forbid, Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage.
As the Palaces Burn marked a change toward more politically-focussed lyrics, which intensified on their next album, 2004's Ashes of the Wake. Recorded during George W. Bush's presidency, both contain themes of Bush's War on Terror military campaign, particularly the war in Iraq.
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