"WE FIND THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE who come to our shows aren’t necessarily hardcore metal fans,” says Lamb of God’s Mark Morton. “They’re just fans of what we’re doing, and what we do has a lot of really cool guitar stuff going on.” The recent Wrath [Roadrunner] is LOG’s fifth album under that name— the band’s 1998 debut was released under the moniker Burn the Priest— and Morton and co-guitarist Willie Adler have watched their group grow to sell millions of records, and even snatch a Grammy nomination.
“I’ve been playing for 25 years, and I’m still learning something new all the time,” says Morton. “I’m not here because I wanted to be a rock star, tour Japan, and do drugs. I'm here because I love the instrument, and I consider myself a student of the guitar."
How does Wrath compare to Lamb of God’s previous releases?
Morton:In the past, we’ve done some pretty elaborate productions, but one of our primary objectives going into the studio is to never do the same thing twice. This time, we’ve deliberately tried to keep things a little more organic—particularly with the guitar tones. It sounds a little more like an actual band playing in front of you. The takes were chosen more for character and personality than for perfection and sterility. Oddly enough, we recorded more guitar tracks for Wrath than we did for any of our previous albums. There is plenty of layering going on. The difference is that those tracks are recorded more naturally. The process was similar to when you play live—where you have to get the sound right going in. In the past, we might track the guitars clean, and then play with the tones during the editing and mixing phases. This time, we got our tones first, and I think the sound is a little dirtier. In terms of the guitar orchestrations and arrangements, Wrath is influenced by Metallica’s And Justice for All and Megadeth’s Rust in Peace.
Adler:I always get excited when we have a new record, and I think Wrath is the best we’ve done yet. I don’t mean to sound pompous by saying that, but as you do more recording, you learn more about the in and outs of it all, and you’re naturally and progressively going to get better at it. Wrath is just amps, cabinets, and guitars. There are no techie tricks with computer software. Mark and I did our tracking at Studio Barbarossa in Matthews County, Virginia, which is right on the beach. It’s a small town with nothing big going on—the nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away—so recording there was a nice and relaxing experience. The environment definitely had an effect on us, but we’re not going to start writing mellow beach tunes now.
How do you both approach the songwriting process?
Morton: Songwriting responsibility is evenly split between Willie and me, and we’re really lucky to have wound up playing with each other, because we have very complementary styles. Willie is a very unconventional player, and he doesn’t think about music the same way I do. He’s more avant-garde with his note choices—a little outside the box. He is less concerned with modes or scales, and he plays purely by ear. He’s also very fast and precise with his right hand. I’m probably more lead oriented, but I’m the more conventional player. I bring a little more of the classic rock and roll song structure, and it’s Willie who keeps things odd sounding. He’ll bring in the more frenetic and odd scales, as well as the galloping, staccato rhythms. “In Your Words” is pretty exemplary of Willie’s style. It’s frenetic and fast—a little more in front of the beat. If you want to hear my bluesy sort of swagger, listen to “Set to Fail.” Of course, by the time a tune makes the record, we’ve both adjusted things on each other’s ideas. Then, John [Campbell, bass] and Chris [Adler, drums] will pitch in.
Adler: Describing me as odd and outside the box is dead on. I have absolutely no clue about theory, modes, or scales. When I play something, I play it because that’s what I want to hear. I can’t read a lick of music. I took one guitar lesson because my mom made me. I tend to figure out solos kind of like approaching a math problem—I work in bits and pieces towards a logical resolution. I guess you could say that I know scales, but I don’t know that I know them.
As far as my songs are concerned, I’m a little more progressive—it’s not so much of that verse, chorus, bridge approach. Mark is more like that, so it’s the song arrangements that seem to differentiate our approaches— although everything is built around the riff. On Wrath, Mark’s song “Contractor” is a good example of what he does.
Do you develop ideas by jamming together, or does one of you bring a nearly completely song to the other?
Morton: This is a career now, so there’s not too much jamming in the basement these days. I’ve become a little more fluent with some recording software and drum programs, so I can show the guys a song idea that’s three minutes long with drum patterns and bass on it. However, we still try to get in the same room and listen as the riffs get put together, so we can learn them as a group and see where they go. It’s still collaborative. We are busy, but it hasn’t gotten so bad that we’re sending audio files to each other. There’s no one person emailing you ten songs they did at home, and saying, “Learn these—it’s the new record.”
Your music is not exactly easy to play. What does it take to develop the necessary precision?
Morton: We have to be pretty well rehearsed. Before this tour, we only practiced as a group for a few weeks, but we work five days a week, and that gets us pretty tight. When we’re writing or recording, we work Monday through Friday—like a regular job. Maybe the hours are a little better, because we start at around 11:00 am, but it’s still full time, and we’re in there working.
Which players have most influenced your style?
Morton: The guitarists who give me goose bumps are blues and classic rock players such as Jimmy Page, Rory Gallagher, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Ultimately, I consider myself kind of a misplaced blues player. When I’m by myself and just jamming, I tend to gravitate towards one of my favorite players— like Warren Haynes or Luther Dickinson. I try to weave some of that approach into what we do, but Lamb of God is clearly a metal band. When I listen to metal, it’s more to reference contemporary artists, and research the genre to see what everyone is up to. Inside, I still feel like a blues player in a metal band. Tony Iommi is one of the best examples of someone with a background in blues who works it into heavy metal. He’s a class act, and of all the players I’ve toured with, I’ve watched him the most. I don’t know how old the guy is, but he just kills it night after night.
Adler: I was raised on piano, but when I picked up the guitar, and I started listening to the Sex Pistols and Metallica, I knew that was the instrument I’d stick with. It’s hard to name a favorite guitarist, because it’s apples and oranges. I like Nick Drake and folk music, and I think hip-hop was the most original music for its time. Nowadays, it’s extremely commercialized, and it can all sound the same. I guess you could say that about metal, too.
Mark, what’s the story with your Jackson signature model? Is this your dream guitar?
Morton: Yes, it is! I played a Jackson Randy Rhoads V for a while, so I knew Jackson could make a guitar that would sound and play how I wanted it to. A lot of Jackson guitars are angular and pointy in shape, and I wanted something a little more classic that would reflect where I’m coming from stylistically—that rock and blues tradition. I wanted to be able to get a lot of tones out of it, so I could use it with Lamb of God, and then play a blues set in a bar with the same instrument. The main objective was diversity of tone. We borrowed some concepts from the Fender Telecaster, some from the Les Paul, and a little from the Gibson Firebird. My Jackson has two passive humbuckers that are coil-tapped with individual Volume and Tone knobs. It’s a neck-through-body design with a stop tailpiece, and it has an unfinished neck, and a chambered mahogany body with a gorgeous flame-maple top. I wanted to make a guitar that would work for me, yet anyone who doesn’t know Lamb of God, or care about Mark Morton, would be drawn to it by its own merits.
What made you decide on a chambered design?
Morton: It was kind of an accident. It wasn’t something I was looking for, initially, but the guys at Jackson sent me one of their Swee-Tones, and I loved it so much that I wound up playing it on a couple of tours. When I talked to them later, I mentioned that the Swee-Tone sounds so bright—and has such sustain and resonance—that it sings in a way that all my other instruments don’t. They told me it had a chambered body, and I immediately said, “Whoa, we’ve got to do that for my guitars!”
Willie, could you detail your gear?
Adler: ESP built me my dream guitar, and it’s flattering for a guitar company to give you the opportunity to design something for yourself. They initially sent me a standard model, and I wanted to stick with that body style, and do mainly aesthetic stuff—like my signature green-camouflage finish. I love Seymour Duncan JB and ’59 pickups, so I stuck with those. For amps, I’m a Mesa/ Boogie Mark IV guy. We both use GHS Boomers. gauged .010-.046. I use 1mm Dunlop Tortex picks, while Mark uses the 1.4mm Tortex. Mine aren’t as thick as Mark’s, but they’re tough, and they have a little give to them so that I’m not breaking strings all over the place. Mark always gives me sh*t about it, and tells me to use a “big boy” pick like he does.
Morton: Like Willie, my tone is all about the Mesa Boogie Mark IV. I have a Fender Deluxe Reverb at home that is one of my favorite amps in the world, but for total diversity, and an amp that can do anything you want, I haven’t found anything that can touch the Mark IV. If you listen to our latest record, we have a pretty high-gain heavy-metal tone, and what you’re hearing is the Mark IV. I don’t use distortion pedals for my rhythm sound—it’s all gain and tube distortion. The Mark IV also has built-in 5-band EQ, which is my secret weapon. For my leads, I use the MXR GT-OD Overdrive and the MXR EVH Phase 90. The Overdrive gives me extra cut and sustain for leads, and the Phase 90 lets the leads sing harder. For playing in a big amphitheater or arena, I like the Dunlop Zakk Wylde Signature Wah, because of its harder sweep, so I can hear what’s going on. At a big show, you need broader strokes, and things need to be exaggerated sonically, or your volume just kind of goes away. A club or theater has a tight and dry environment, so I’ll use the original Dunlop Crybaby. I don’t need it to be as drastic, because I can hear all the little nuances.
What’s your opinion on the current state of popular music?
Morton: I’m actually a big hip-hop fan. There’s an energy and heaviness to rap music that I really love. It’s not typically associated with guitar players, but there’s an element of danger in it that I dig. Rap appeals to kids for the same reasons that metal does: It’s aggressive and driving, the subject matter is dark, and it scares your parents! I think the last few years have been kind of disappointing, though. It’s almost as if everyone just wants to nail a quick ringtone. The focus is off the songwriting. But all styles go through ebbs and flows. You could easily say the same thing about metal.