ASK ANY MUSICIAN, and they’ll tell you flat out that genre labels are a drag—useless idioms that limit something (namely, musical creativity) that should otherwise be boundless. Ask most music journalists, however, and they’ll admit that labels are a necessary evil—a way to translate something as ephemeral as music into words. But how do you accurately classify Lamb of God’s blend of prog, hardcore, thrash, punk, and black metal?
“You can’t,” states guitarist Willie Adler. “We have such a wide array of influences that we simply can’t be categorized.”
Adler speaks the truth. From the Pantera-ish boogie swagger of “Redneck” to the punky blast-beat gallop of “Foot to the Throat” to the decidedly dark overtones of “Again We Rise,” the Richmond, Virginia, quintet’s fourth and latest offering, Sacrament [Epic], is a panoply of power that is finding sanction among metalheads of all genres. In addition, fans are anointing Adler and lead guitarist Mark Morton as the most messianic masters of übermetal since Hammett and Hetfield. Moments prior to taking the stage of Boston’s massive Bank of America Pavilion as part of the Gigantour (with Megadeth, Opeth, Arch Enemy, and Overkill), Adler and Morton chatted with GP about their new custom guitars, recording Sacrament, and Lamb of God’s riff-writing regiment.
You both have signature guitar models coming out.
Adler: ESP built me a custom model based on the Eclipse body style, but it’s a little bit thicker for added sustain. It’s loaded with two Seymour Duncan ’59 pickups, and it has the Lamb of God flag inlaid from the ninth to the 12th fret, plus an eagle inlay from frets one through seven. That’s my family crest. My last name means “eagle” in German.
Morton: My guitar is called a Jackson Mark Morton Dominion. It’s that old clichéd story—I drew a body shape on the back of a napkin, sent it in to Jackson, and they built it [laughs]! It has a mahogany body and a maple top like a Les Paul, but there’s graphite in the neck, as well as hollow chambers below the neck pickup and near the top bout. It’s also loaded with Duncan ’59s with individual Volume and Tone knobs, plus a coil tap for each pickup.
What were your signal chains for recording Sacrament?
Adler: We went direct into either a Line 6 Pod or an Amp Farm plug-in for monitoring purposes, and then we re-amped the clean signal through a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV or a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto into an Orange 4x12 cabinet. We also used a Tech 21 SansAmp. Most of the rhythm parts were done twice, and panned hard-left and hard-right.
What about your live rigs?
Morton: My guitar goes into a Sennheiser wireless, and then the signal is split with a Whirlwind A/B box into two separate dbx 166XL compressors, and two Boogie Mark IVs that are noise gated in the power-amp stage with Rocktron Hush Super Cs. Upfront, I use a Dunlop Zakk Wylde Signature CryBaby wah. Willie’s rig is similar, but he only runs one Mark IV.
You had more time to write and rehearse Sacrament than your previous release. What were the advantages and disadvantages to that situation?
Morton: Last time out, we had just signed with Epic, and they wanted product right away. For this record, we were afforded the luxury of more time. One obvious advantage is that you’re not under the gun to meet a deadline, so you can experiment, and if it doesn’t work, it’s okay. You can just dig out and start again.
Adler: We actually reached a point where nothing new was coming out of us, and, luckily, we had the time to take a break, and come back to the material fresh. We were in the fishbowl where we got so caught up in the minutest details that we lost the big picture. That’s the danger of having too much time, I guess.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
Adler: Either Mark or I will bring in a riff or a finished song, and then our drummer Chris Adler and bassist John Campbell will learn it. Once the music is locked, our singer, Randy Blythe, comes in to do his vocals. Mark does a fair amount of the lyric writing, as well.
How would you contrast and compare each other’s guitar styles and roles in the band?
Adler: I’m the metal purist, whereas Mark is the blues and classic rock guy. I like to say I have the right hand and Mark has the left. I tend to play very driving and rhythmic sixteenth-note riffs.
Do you mainly use downstrokes when you play rhythm?
Adler: Yes. I’ll keep them going until my hand bleeds, because they give your attack more consistency and precision than alternate picking.
Morton: Willie is a hellacious rhythm player with a machine for a right hand! I do most of the leads, but I often see my role as playing more of the atmospheric stuff. I just try to work something around his rhythm parts.
Morton: On the second half of the verse of “Laid to Rest” [from Ashes of the Wake], I break off to play the simple, high-octave melody around Willie’s main riff. Or, at the top of “Walk with Me in Hell” [from Sacrament], Willie is playing those big open chords, and I’m playing the lead line.
Do you work out your solos in advance, or are they done off the cuff?
Morton: Both. Sometimes, I’ll figure something out by playing along with the rhythm track. Machine—our producer for this record—was big on having me do things in the spur of the moment. Initially, I had the whole solo for “Pathetic” mapped out in advance, and he said, “That’s great, Mark. Let’s save it, and try again. Only this time, don’t play anything you just played.” Long story short—the unrehearsed solo was the one we went with, and it’s one of my favorites on the record.
Do you find you have to check your collective egos to make room for each other?
Adler: Sometimes. In the past, it was, “I wrote this part, so it’s going in the damn song!” But now, we base the decision to keep something in or leave it out on how well the part actually serves the song.
Your latest single “Redneck” seems to be a prime example of a stripped-down approach. Were you thinking Black Label Society or Pantera there?
Adler: We weren’t consciously copying those bands, but when Mark brought in that tune, we jokingly christened it our “Cowboys from Hell” song.
Morton: When that song came out everybody said, “Wow, it sounds like Pantera.” I actually thought it sounded like something Corrosion of Conformity guitarist Pepper Martin would do! It has that throwing-beer- bottles-in-a-bar swagger, and it was called “Redneck” before we even had lyrics to it.
What’s that cool-sounding drone at the beginning of “Again We Rise”?
Morton: I’m tuned [low to high] D, A, D, G, B, D, and I’m sounding unison Ds in three different places: on the open high string, on the third fret of the B string, and on the seventh fret of the G string. I’m also cycling between them to produce this swirling effect. At the end of the riff, I slide to higher notes on the B string, while still droning against the open high D.
Do you regularly use alternate tunings?
Morton: Although I use the D, A, D, G, B, D tuning on a few things, most everything else is in dropped-D—[low to high] D, A, D, G, B, E.
Do either of you ever spend time studying styles outside of the metal field?
Morton: Absolutely. I have a country bar-band back home in Richmond, and my favorite guitar players are Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons. I really consider myself more of a blues player than a metal player, but I think that’s what makes our sound special—we’re not afraid to have a crazy progressive thrash riff with blues licks thrown on top of it.
Did you ever take formal guitar lessons?
Morton: I had a few lessons to get me started where I learned basic cowboy chords and stuff, but, outside of that, I’ve never had proper musical training. Over the years, I’ve tried to learn as much as I can by listening to—and jamming with—other players.
Adler: I took one lesson when I was young, but then I decided I’d rather just go out and rock [laughs]. However, on this tour, I’ve been sitting down with Dave Linsk from Overkill, and he has been showing me some basic scales and lead runs. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to start shredding up there, but I’m working on it!
Over the past year, Lamb of God has made the jump from club band to arena band. How has that affected you?
Adler: We’ve got bigger lights, a better backline, and a bigger stage to play on. That’s pretty much it. We’re still the same band we always were. We keep our egos intact, and we stay grounded.