Lamb of God
New Year's Resolution
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.
Political expression from Blythe has, in recent years, not been limited to Lamb of God lyrics. His active twitter presence, for example, has given birth to a fictional land of wonder and libertarian values called Randonesia. "People were always asking 'When are you coming to Indonesia?'" Blythe explains. "I just bullshitted one night: 'I'm not, I'm going to Randonesia, People started sending in these comments, like 'Randonesia sounds rad, what do you do there?' and I'm like 'Whatever you want.'"
Almost immediately, the portmanteau of Randy and Indonesia took shape in the minds of Lamb of God fans, who proposed ideas like "In Randonesia, you never get a speeding ticket" or "In Randonesia, everybody's in a band and the bands are all killer."
As Lamb of God's vocalist and because of his online presence, there's a special kinship between Blythe and his fans that stems from a shared, intellectual point of view. He has also currently been engaging people with thought-provoking content through his blog on Tumblr, also dubbed Randonesia (randonesia.tumblr.com).
Blythe's blog entries vary in subject matter, such as a 7,000 word rant on the state of the internet age and anonymous commenters. A more recent post, however ― his campaign launch to run for President of the United States ― is one of his most politically-driven. Although it's just a joke to make a point of his dissatisfaction with current U.S. politics (we assume), it's clear that Blythe's interest in politics goes far beyond Lamb of God lyrics.
Ashes of the Wake struck a chord both politically and musically. Critically acclaimed, it sold over 35,000 copies in its first week, and debuted at #27 on the Billboard album chart. It also came with excellent timing ― 2004 was a benchmark year for a resurgence of older metal bands. Bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, such as Juda Priest, were reuniting, as were bands influenced by NWOBHM, such as Megadeth.
Lamb of God's classic heavy metal/thrash-influenced sound fit well with old school metal, dubbing them the leaders of the "New Wave of American Heavy Metal," a play on NWOBHM. This set them apart from the Slipknot and Mudvayne-influenced type of alternative metal bands, which meant that Lamb of God provided the perfect opening support on tour for many of these influential older bands.
Lamb of God's next two albums, 2006's more melodic Sacrament and 2009's fast and aggressive Wrath, received critical acclaim and resulted in headlining arena shows. The latter debuted at number two, behind Taylor Swift's Fearless ― an accomplishment, to be sure, yet tempered by the fact that the music industry was in crisis, one that metal weathered better than most because of its loyal, album-oriented fan base.
This month, Lamb of God unleash Resolution, their seventh full-length in 13 years and the next step in their slow, yet steadily building career. A few aspects have changed this time around, including more introspective lyrics written by both Blythe and Morton.
"Mark and I started looking internally at all aspects of our personalities ― the good, the bad and the really, really fucking ugly. Instead of looking at things in the outside world that we don't like, we decided to step back and take a look at our inner guts and see what kind of nastiness we could dig up," Blythe says.
"In a sense, for this record ― without trying to sound arrogant ― I was inspired by myself, which is not necessarily a good inspiration. And I think Mark came from a similar headspace. He and I have been through a lot of things together in life and a lot of really eerily similar situations, some of which are not so good."
While the record still features the band's classic thrash-inspired heavy riffs, whiplash drumming and Pantera-style Southern groove, they've also experimented with their signature sound more than ever before.
Resolution's final track, "King Me," in particular features a few things Lamb of God have never done before: bring in an opera singer and a symphony. "When we first heard it back, it was like, 'Whoa, I don't know about that, that's a little bit too much, it's crazy.' But the more we listened to it, the more disappointing it was to listen to it without it," Adler says. "Although we were scared at first, I think it did create something that people react to in different ways, I think it makes the hair on your neck stand up."
It seems odd that while Lamb of God have always been a band that do whatever they want regardless of outside influences or pressures, it's now ― over a decade into their career ― that they feel comfortable experimenting with new elements. But Adler says that they have wanted to bring in symphonic elements for a long time. It's not that they were ever afraid to experiment with their sound, it's that the opportunity for it wasn't there and what they were doing on their previous records didn't work with that kind of thing.
Although Lamb of God have experimented more with their sound, they still have some self-imposed restrictions. "We're not going to go put out a ballad or mess around with pop or anything like that," Adler says. "We're a metal band, we know we do that well, we don't want to veer off of that track. There's all kinds of rules with metal and metal fans, where you can do this or you can't do that, and we've found ourselves constricted by that before and wanting to play by those rules. On this album we just decided that for us, at this point in our career, the rules really don't apply anymore and we can do whatever we want. As long as it's heavy to us, it's going to work."
Confident in their new approach, the result is a record that Blythe says is much better, sonically and thematically, than Wrath. "I think it's a much more cohesive record. Willie really came into his own as a songwriter, whereas before Mark was really the songwriter in the group and Willie was the riff master. Willie brought in the craziest, sickest, most insane riffs and Mark had ideas about song structure. This time Willie really thought about where his riffs were going and there was a lot more work between the two of them on structuring the songs, so it's a more dynamic record."
In comparison to Wrath, Adler says that Resolution is far more diverse. "Wrath was intentionally a 100-mile-an-hour punch to the face the whole time through. Resolution has a lot more heaps and valleys, there are those moments of the extreme metal that you expect from us and then there's these moments of almost jazzy, math-rocky kind of stuff that we haven't done in a very long time."
In many ways, Lamb of God's success has come to them. Although flattered by the recognition and appreciative of the success of their last few releases, Lamb of God couldn't care less about making it on the charts or how many records they'll sell. "We're constantly thinking about how we can improve as a band," Blythe says. "I try not to pay attention to this, 'Oh, you're this popular metal band,' which I suppose we are, because when you start believing all that horseshit people feed you, then the music starts sucking. We feel lots of pressure but it's all internal. We could make a polka record and if we liked it, we'd be like 'That's a great Lamb of God record.' We started the band when nobody wanted to hear us and we'll still be playing when nobody wants to hear us."
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