Lamb of God's Mark Morton Says Pandemic Is An Opportunity For Reinvention

If Lamb of God is truly going to take its place atop the modern metal genre, there's no better time than now.

After making official the first lineup change in its history last year, Lamb of God has been reconstituted, reinvigorated and undeterred by the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guitarist Mark Morton tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A, that as disappointed as he was to have to postpone Lamb of God's summer tour with Megadeth, he is as confident as ever in his bandmates and their organization to come back stronger than ever; actually, they don't plan to go away at all.

"...[We] have to invent how we’re going to react to this situation, as an industry, as a band, as an organization and try and be in front of it," Morton says. "As an industry, we’re all trying to figure that out, and as an organization, Lamb of God certainly is. I think this is an opportunity for, once again, the cream to rise to the top."

The most apparent testimony is the reception to the band's latest album, Lamb of God, its eighth overall. In over 20 years, Morton says there has never been such a universally positive response from fans and critics.

"I’ve been there for all of them. I don’t remember any of our albums ever being this well received right out of the gate," he says.

Check out the full QN'A conversation below. Morton discusses Metallica's endorsement, Lamb of God's responsibility and always being one or two steps ahead.

Get more info about all things Lamb of God here.

You’ve known Kirk Hammett and Metallica for a while, but seeing Kirk praise the new album still had to be cool.

Yeah. Very, very nice of Kirk to speak up.

It’s surreal, particularly in the context of if I go back to 16-year-old me. …[If you told me] that Kirk Hammett would be talking about my band, I wouldn’t have believed you.

We toured with Metallica for about a year-and-a-half [circa 2009] and we did become friendly — I would say friends — with those guys, shared some great experiences with them. They’ve been very supportive of us in ways like [what Kirk did] and in some ways behind the scenes as well. They’re great people. We’re very thankful to Kirk for speaking out about digging our album. It certainly didn’t hurt.

Metallica has been really good about taking out lesser-known bands. They really seem to give of themselves to the genre as a whole.

Yeah. I mean you’re talking about Metallica in the same conversation as you’re going to talk about U2 or the biggest bands in the world.

That’s thin air up there. I can’t imagine — I’ve certainly had my own level of success and it’s more than I’ve ever dreamed of, but I don’t think there’s a lot of examples of how to navigate that situation that they’ve found themselves in, that they’ve earned.

I think they do it with a lot of class and a lot of dignity. I really resect those guys on all those levels.

Do you any responsibility to pay it forward and give smaller bands those kinds of opportunities?

As you asked the question, I’m thinking about the fact that when we did those Metallica tours.

Those shows sold out before the support bands were announced.

We have been in situations where we are touring as direct support for a bigger band and we bring value to the show.I don’t mind saying that when we tour with Slayer, we add value to that package.

I’m not saying Slayer isn’t bigger or more legendary or can’t do it without us, but we bring something to that show. Same with Slipknot.

All respect to those guys, but with a band like Metallica, they announce a show and it sells out before they announce support, so we can’t walk in there thinking, ‘Yeah, cool, we’re helping out here.’

We’re along because they wanted us there.

In the context of your question, that shows the purity of their motivation. They feel like, I think — I’ve never actually talked about this to them directly — I believe that they think they are in a lot of ways, pulling someone that they did up and giving them that platform and that show.

How’s the quarantine thing going for you? Are you losing your mind? Are you writing music?

I think probably both. I just work. I work on music and, fortunately, there’s a lot that goes with the campaign of releasing a new album. Another layer of that is releasing a new album in this landscape of the pandemic.

All the typical, ‘proven’ routines of releasing an album, all the conventions that the industry would be applying to this rollout of the album are sort of unplugged.

I was talking to my manager about this yesterday: although I look forward to when we are out with Megadeth, playing amphitheaters somewhere … to thousands of metal fans … [Because] we can’t, it’s interesting and sometimes fun and sometimes frustrating and always challenging to be in a position where we have to invent how we’re going to react to this situation, as an industry, as a band, as an organization and try and be in front of it.

As an industry, we’re all trying to figure that out and as an organization, Lamb of God certainly is. I think this is an opportunity for, once again, the cream to rise to the top.

I mean, the people that will stagnate, the people that sit and wait for the old way to plug back in might get a little lost in the sauce. I don’t know. We are certainly trying to be as proactive and engaged in this current situation as we can, and maybe even carve out new opportunities for ourselves.

You’ve put out a lot of music recently, between your solo album last year, the new Lamb of God album and the solo EP you just released. Do you get burned out creatively or do you always dive into the next thing?

(Laughs) I’m laughing because…I’m like two projects ahead now. [The new Lamb of God album] was done months ago, so I’m already working on something that I’m hoping to get out whenever.

I just work, man. I just work on music — I guess it’s just what I do now.

Is there any burnout? Yes. I usually burn out before I know it. I’ll have a run where I’m working on stuff and I’m like, ‘This is really hitting. This is really cool.’ Then I’ll get in a week or something where nothing’s making sense. [Something] was cool yesterday and now I think it sucks. I’ll play it for someone and [they don’t react]; that’s when I know it’s time to put the guitar down for a little while.

I’ve never really thought about it on these terms, but if I’m out on tour and I’m gone for seven weeks or something, I don’t come in hear and start working on songs. I’ll go weeks without picking up the guitar to be completely honest.

But that’s not been the case. So yeah, I’m working on music, writing music. When you enjoy the process, the outcome isn’t such a feat. The task is not so overwhelming if you enjoy the process.

My favorite thing of what we get to do is writing and recording music. I would be more than happy to be in the studio for the rest of my career basically. I miss playing right now because it’s not on my own terms.

But touring for months at a time, being away from your kids, being away from your loved ones, that’s tough.

Lamb of God has always written music that's super technically-demanding. What do you do when you have an idea you can't play yet?

I do that all the time. When I’m writing something that I can’t necessarily pull off, but I’m writing on my laptop with all by recording software on it, I’ll just kind of piece it together until I’ve got a version that sounds like I can play it. And then I learn it.

I hope this doesn’t come off [bad], but I feel like there’s not a lot that I can’t learn. I mean, I’m not as fast as a Paul Gilbert or Yngwie Malmsteen or whatever. There are certainly limits to my technical ability, in a general context of playing guitar, I can learn stuff. I just can’t necessarily execute it right away.

And then there’s also the point that if it’s really too hard to play, is that really what you want to do? Sometimes I wonder, should I just style this back? Are there too many notes, is this too extra? Maybe it would groove a little harder if I backed it down a little bit and made it a little more caveman.

…A friend of mine who loves the music hit me up about the solo on the song “Roots.” I do a cool solo. We wanted to do something different so I pulled out a guitar with a tremolo. I’m doing all these dive bombs and it’s got some fast stuff in there.

He was like, ‘How’d you do this part? How do you play this?’ I haven’t played that solo since we recorded it. I was kind of free stylin’, so if you’re gonna learn it, I’ll probably ask you what I did.

A week since the album as come out, have you come to realize anything about it that you didn’t know before?

I’ve been [in the band] for all of them. Mentally, sometimes more present than others. I’ve been there for all of them. I don’t remember any of our albums ever being this well received right out of the gate. We certainly have been fortunate…we’ve never had an album straight up panned…

We’ve just never had an album where people are like, ‘What the hell are they doing?’

Usually, the harshest criticism is, ‘More of the same.’ That’s a double-edged sword because then if you do something drastically different, they’re like, ‘What is this?’ And if you do something that sounds like your band, they’re like, ‘They’re making the same album over and over again.’

I don’t think there’s ever been a Lamb of God album that has been this well-received out of the gate. And that’s interesting to me because it’s our eighth studio album as Lamb of God and it’s 20 years into releasing albums as Lamb of God.

For people to be this excited about our new material…I’m just thrilled. I’m thrilled that I get to be part of the process, which is something I’d be doing anyway, which is writing and recording music. I get to do that with my best friends and we get to put those albums out into the world and people really cherish the songs.

Those songs become really important and valuable things to those people and they impact people’s lives and I know this because of what fans tell me. …I’m honored to be a part of making music that people cherish so much.

Next to fatherhood, it’s one of the greatest joys of my life.

I think it’s at a point now where people really appreciate what Lamb of God is.

I just know that we started in basements and backrooms in Richmond, just as some friends wanting to make noise and kill a case of beer. Every step of the way, we’ve always been stoked about each opportunity. To be here, still be here and to have the experiences and opportunities as a band…I’m just really lucky.

Photo: Getty Images

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