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Interview: Lamb of God’s Mark Morton on the new self-titled album

Lamb of God ushered in a new decade with the release of ‘New American Gospel’ in 2000 and solidified their position as an architect of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Now, they’re welcoming yet another decade with the release of their eighth studio album.

This is not only their first self-titled record, it’s also the first to feature a line-up change (excluding previous work as Burn The Priest). With drummer Chris Adler departing in 2019, they found a replacement in Art Cruz. And though they released a cover album in 2018 under their old moniker, Burn The Priest, this is their first LoG material since 2015’s ‘VII: Sturm und Drang.’  With all of that going on, Grater insisted on a catch up with guitarist Mark Morton.

This is Art Cruz’s first record with you guys.  What kind of energy did he bring to the process?

“I think you can hear it in the tracks.  Fortunately we had spent almost two years playing shows with Art before we got into the writing sessions for this album, so there was really no learning curve by the time we were working on new material. We were pretty locked in as a band; frankly tighter than we’ve ever been. The process of writing the composition – that didn’t change at all. It always starts with me and Willie writing guitar riffs. That’s where the music starts. And then we kind of put that together as instrumentals. And then Randy and sometimes myself will start working on the lyrics there. So that process stays the same. The person playing the drums changed, and there are some changes that come with that.  

“Art is significantly younger than the rest of us.  He’s not naive and he’s certainly not inexperienced. He was a professional drummer when he got here and his talent level speaks for itself, but his eyes and ears were wide open. He hasn’t necessarily worked on projects at this level. He was certainly ready for it technically, and he was ready for it mentally. But some of the situations and environments he found himself in were new, and it was kind of contagious – that excitement that you could feel coming off of him. And you could hear by the way he was playing and how he’s trying to push himself.  It was exciting to watch and go through that and navigate that and really exciting to see him absolutely knock it out of the park.”

The new album covers technology addiction, consumer culture, mass shootings, the opioid crisis, and politics, among other topics. Are the songs trying to educate or simply tell a story?

“I think this album is particularly topical and current. There’s a lot of contemporary issues politically, sociologically, economically, and all those things intertwine, and I also think that it depends on how you interpret it or where you’re at.  Some of those things aren’t an editorial as they are life experience. I don’t want to get too specific or detailed or too autobiographical. But the opioid crisis is something that has touched just about everyone either, if not personally, someone they know and love. So that comes less from a place of editorial and more from a place of experience and personal connection.  

“Songs like Memento Mori, that talk about unplugging from the devices and turning down the chaotic chatter that the media is inundating us with and going outside and experiencing life and some sunshine and find some mindfulness, that’s from life experience. It’s not so much a wagging finger or a directive as it is a bit of a soliloquy.”

Some people love your music, some people love your lyrics, and some love both.  In saying that, yourself and Randy especially don’t hide your beliefs.  Do you think people need to take Lamb of God as a whole package?

“I don’t think you need to do anything. It’s art. It’s an art form and so you can just get the visceral reaction out of the sound, you can read the lyrics – you can read only the lyrics – you can focus on the bass guitar.  I don’t feel like it’s the musician’s or the artist’s responsibility or obligation or right to tell the observer/listener how to view, how to listen, how to interpret the piece.  Once you release it out for display, it’s not really yours anyway.”

You have some strong political opinions on Twitter. Does management get the shits with you, or have they given up?

“You know, I’ve actually joked about that on Twitter.  They keep me on a pretty long leash.  It’s just kind of evolved into what it is.  I actually got on Facebook recently and … I was shocked at how much more toxic it seems.  I didn’t think that would have been possible, but Twitter seems to have a lot of sarcasm going around and that’s kind of my style. I talk a lot of smack on there. Sometimes it gets a little much and I stay off there a little bit. I apologise for my Twitter personality (laughs).”

Your first record as Lamb of God, ‘New American Gospel’, came out 20 years ago.  How does that feel?

“For me, New American Gospel was never really the beginning point as it is for a lot of other people, because we were the band Burn The Priest for about six years before.  So my time on everything starts around ’94 and I had a little break when I went to school and came back, but my chronology starts in the mid-90s. So it’s just been such a massive part of my life. It’s really – in a lot of ways – my life’s work. I don’t spend too much time looking back.  I remember a lot of experiences fondly, but I’m really grounded in where we are right now and the music we’re making and the things we have left to do. I’m proud of our body of work. And I’m proud of how we’ve hit every stage of the game, every rung of the ladder, if you will.  

“Every once in a while I’ll go back and listen to some of that old stuff.  But, I just feel like we’re so active right now in terms of our creative process and the music we’re making and the projects we have coming out, the ones we have coming up… I really feel like we’re at the height of our career.  The band’s bigger than it’s ever been. We’re tighter than we’ve ever been as a band. I think our songwriting is the best it’s ever been. So I’m really stoked on where we’re at right now and really, really, really grateful to be here.”

So what else does 2020 hold for the band?  You’re hoping to resume your tour with Megadeth, Trivium, and In Flames in October?

“Unfortunately we had to cancel a couple runs because of the coronavirus, but  that’s the next thing on the book.  And I’m super optimistic that we’re gonna be able to do that.”

We have to ask the obligatory Australian tour question……

“I certainly anticipate us getting back to Australia at some point for sure. We’ve been pretty vocal about how much we love touring there and it’s been far too long. Honestly, at this point, I will be excited to play anywhere.  I’d be excited to play a show here in Richmond at a bowling alley (laughs).  I’ll be thrilled to play music in front of people again.  I think that time’s coming soon.”

Lamb of God is out June 19 via Nuclear Blast

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