Metal, Have Mercy on Us
You could listen to Lamb of God quiet. They play modern metal extreme metal, some call it. Therefore low volume isnt the obvious choice. But turn it down, and its like jazz. Think of the bark-rasping guitars of Mark Morton and Will Adler as an alto sax and a trumpet like Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard. Imagine Randy Blythes distinctive guttural expostulations as a tenor sax à la Archie Shepp or a baritone by way of Pat Patrick. Theres already some Tony Williams in the way Chris Adler bangs drums; just mentally substitute looser tunings on the skins. John Campbells bass blends into the mix like a phantom same as on old jazz records!
Once youre reoriented, turn it up. Lamb of Gods new CD, As the Palaces Burn (arriving Tuesday on Prosthetic), comes on like a fire engine. A huge crash, a hell-burned scream, and the rhythms roar forth, never to relent. These guys have invented something; its a matter of how the instruments bounce off each other. Guitars hit accents while the drums shoulder the beat, then they switch places. You hear stop-starts, slowdowns, heavy riffs, single-string figures, but theres a flow to it. Constant counterpoint, not the kind of lockstep groove youre used to. Always changing.
Were never doin the same thing for very long, says Morton by phone from the bands hometown, Richmond, Virginia. We have short attention spans.
Short, yeah Morton never finished school. Grad school, that is, where he did two years. When he decided hed rather rejoin his band, he was a poli-sci major specializing in international relations. Hopeless, huh? And if he quit school, he could still hang with his college buddies, who after all constituted the majority of LoG: a couple of English majors and one mass-communications man.
The group formed in 1994 as Burn the Priest, but the dudes decided they didnt feel like killers; more like transcendent victims. Lamb of Gods lyrics, by Morton and Blythe, are about alienation, a fact youd know without deciphering the words (cant anyway). The audience for otherness is surely growing.
Theres probably more poor people to be confused and disenfranchised by their government, and helpless in terms of whats going on in the world, says Morton, a quick, articulate guy with a pleasant Southern accent. A thrash-metal show is a great way to forget about that for a little while.
More extreme feelings generate more extreme metal.
When Megadeths Peace Sells or Slayers South of Heaven came out, that was as extreme as you got. Morton is talking 1986 and 1988. And now, compared to us or whatever, its not near as heavy or as abrasive. Given the way the musics evolved, and also the way the civilizations evolved, there becomes a higher tolerance for whats considered extreme, what people are able to comprehend.
As the Palaces Burn is a substantial refocus from Lamb of Gods 2000 record, the much-admired New American Gospel. Its brighter and sharper, less bass/drums-heavy. Part of the change comes down to producer Devin Townsend, whos a guitarist himself (Steve Vai Band, Strapping Young Lad).
We consider ourselves to be pretty good guitar players, says Morton, but you sit down with Devin, and hes telling you for hours and hours, No, lay off of it. Nope, speed up, you missed it just a little bit. Morton was glad to take the whipping: As you can hear on the record, we really, really nailed the riffs, and some of those are just impossible to play. Lamb of God also got a transfusion from ex-Megadeth axman Chris Poland, whose solo on Purified connects these 30-year-olds to the metal bloodline they tapped into when they were teens.
Unless youre young, or old enough to hear metal and silicon and carbon compounds as new jazz, you might find it hard to get a handle on this music. It speaks mainly to those who need it most. Mortons father is clanking around in the background of the conversation, helping install a kitchen sink in his sons digs. His opinion is solicited.
Hey, Dad, whattaya think of Lamb of God?
(Distant shout:) It sucks.
He likes Elton John.
Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe recently jumped off a stage and busted himself up, but he and the band will still play at El Rey with hand-picked genre-spanning tourmates Chimaira (who just walked away from a bus wreck), Eighteen Visions and Atreyu on Friday, May 2.
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