Somewhere around 1994, Chris Adler and John Campbell wrote a song in the former’s apartment as Burn The Priest, years later they became Lamb of God, and the rest is history.
“As soon as we got more accomplished songwriters in the band, that song was no longer,” Campbell laughs.
The group’s newest self-titled record dropped June 19, via Nuclear Blast, and its freshness is distinct. After 26 years, this is a group still determined by its relentlessness. An eternal spirit drives a perpetual energy, pure Lamb of God.
“I think the energy is there as a result of us just being fucking fired up to be in this band,” Campbell says. “Just to do this, and to be lucky enough to do this; and coming up with an album’s worth of material that we all feel incredibly strongly about. That is, in my opinion, our best work to date. But goddamn that sounds so cliché saying that.”
Campbell laughs, but he’s on the mark. The new album is a speedball of form, with angles and propulsion that takes the best of earlier modes, and forges them with wise and grizzled totality. The new album kicks off with the circular “Memento Mori,” a chugging post-thrash number that sets the stage for songs that are hardcore and introspective; some even complex and continually transitioning. And they’re not overt. The compositions are filled with a dynamic circuitry that masks their straight-forwardness. The fusion can fly by you like a boot to the face in the pit. It’s all so quick. The songs are dense, but play like they’re simple.
“Well I think that has to do with the process that they go through, Campbell says. “But they’re also starting out coming from Mark [Morton] and Willie [Adler], who are pretty deep songwriters. As a group, we listen to many types of music, and appreciate many different art forms. And, yeah, to me it’s no doubt that Willie is going to write these uber-complicated riffs with things that will fly by one time in the song and will never repeat. And you know, that’s just sort of one of his strengths.”
What you’re left with are numbers like “Gears” and “Reality Bath,” that are punk disguised as prog-thrash, always spinning away from their centers, yet always circling back. Lamb of God knows the value of the hook, but also knows the importance of distance and traveling within a song. A journey takes you someplace, and that’s what these new songs do: they take you somewhere. At times direct, at times a maze, but always a trip, an experience of transformation. The building of this sequence can be brutal, but surely enjoyable as well.
“It can be once you nail it,” Campbell laughs. “I don’t want to go to into too much detail, but on this last record there’s a part that I just couldn’t understand what the hell Mark was playing. I had to slow it down, and I had to just form that neural network at a really slow pace, and then try and bring it up to speed and make it fit and flow in there, and until I could do that, my brain for some reason, wasn’t hooking on to this part. It really took some time, and I had to make sure I understood what he was trying to say.”
The following is the whole interview with John.
Hey John, thanks for doing this. It’s much appreciated. So, to start out: how are you making out during the pandemic? How’s the band doing? Are you guys talking together, working together in some capacity?
I’m doing well. Healthy. Locked down in my living environment. Going a little bat shit crazy at times, but everyone’s going through the same thing, and it seems to me that this sort of takes what would be a small headache and could make it a real big pain in the ass, real quick. The band, we communicate absolutely. We have things going on behind the scenes that I’m not going to comment on just yet, but we are definitely busy, and again, we’re just trying to figure this out just like everybody else. We made be old to some people, but we’ve never experienced shit like this before.
No kidding. Well, I feel like the new record has energy that is real infectious, charged, just like non-stop. Does it feel different or similar to records in the past, in terms of energy and direction?
I mean it’s kind of difficult to judge from this side of the equation. Hearing you say those words, for me is great, because one of the great things about putting out a record is to see how people respond.
Right. And you haven’t heard too many responses.
I haven’t heard too many, except for the two singles. To me, you need to digest an album. But I would say for me, it sounds like another Lamb of God record that has, you know, mixed it up a little bit; and I think the energy is there as a result of us just being fucking fired up to be in this band, to do this, and to be lucky enough to do this stuff, and coming up with an album’s worth of material that we all feel incredibly strongly about. That is in my opinion our best work to date. But goddamn that sounds so cliché saying that.
Ha. I feel like the energy is amazing. The record, I’ve just spun it over and over again. So I guess the last record you guys put out was Legion: XX (2018) as Burn the Priest, was there any sort of carry over to that, in terms of you know, like hardcore energy?
No, I don’t think so. Other than someone might argue it brought us back to our roots in some ways, but I think that might be someone looking for something that might not necessarily be there. These are parts of our roots and it’s great if people see the connections to that.
Right. So this is the first record with a new band member, was the process different in anyway, more challenging or more exciting?
Well, I think it was more exciting just because, you know, we’ve done a few of these records now, and, I don’t won’t to say it’s boring, it can actually be quite tedious, but it’s nice to see some changes here and there, but we were also in an amazing studio this time around. With the new guy it’s great, because Art had been a huge fan of the band from the get-go, so in a lot of ways he’s living his dream, he brings us infectious energy, and he’s also a little bit younger than us. It’s great man, it’s amazing, and he’s incredibly deserving; he’s worked hard his whole life, and is an accomplished and sick drummer in his own right. He fell right into the process and was equally part of it, adding ideas, expressing his opinion on things and it was great.
I actually read somewhere that Randy said that making a new record is always sort of brutal. So is that sort of the general experience, sort of grueling and difficult. Is it easier writing the music and playing it than actually recording it?
Well, I think Randy definitely comes from a different perspective on this, because he, as a writer, is being forced to come up with powerful words in a specific format. For me, the studio, preproduction and all that is a very brutal thing, it’s not my favorite part of what we do, my favorite part is going out and performing these songs live, that’s where the energy is. It’s easy when everything is working and that energy is there, it’s great, but in the studio you have to provide the energy, it’s all on you, when there’s a red light that comes on, you better nail it. So there’s a lot more pressure in the studio than there is when you’re performing.
No doubt. So, I was watching an interview you gave a while back, and you were saying when you guys started out you were an instrumental band. So do you guys write the songs instrumentally and then give that to Randy, and there’s that dichotomy, or do you sometimes write everything together?
Mark and Willie primarily write the music at this point. They bring in demoed songs and we all sort of break them down in the preproduction. Randy’s there, he hears it, he can chime in, but he kind of likes to go into his hole, and do his thing. The music definitely comes first, but we’re very aware that there’s going to be lyrics and words put over top the music, so there are times were maybe we wouldn’t have left a part going so long if there weren’t going to be lyrics on top of it. So the lyrics come second but they’re definitely thought of as the music comes together.
Cool. So in terms of bass playing when you first started playing, who were some of the musicians and bands that you were inspired by, and do you remember the first song you ever wrote on a bass?
(Laughs) Ah, no, I don’t remember the first song I ever wrote on a bass, but when Burn the Priest started, it was Chris Adler and myself in his apartment, and we wrote a song. As soon as we got more accomplished songwriters in the band that song was no longer (laughs). Black Sabbath, absolutely I would try and play along with, but also simple stuff, we’re talking the early 90s; I mean who didn’t learn a Jane’s Addiction bass line.
Absolutely. Cool. So you guys have been together a long time, do you have any tips or thoughts on keeping a band together through so many years and still being able to deliver a record like you just did. I mean, I know a lot of people haven’t listened to it, but man, it is crushing and really an amazing record.
Thank you. I’m really excited for this record to finally come out, so I can hear more people’s opinions about this, I’m very excited to hear you feel this way about it. As far as how to maintain a band like this, shit, be lucky, be incredibly lucky, because it takes a lot more than talent that’s for sure. There are a lot of very talented people sitting at home playing guitar on their couches, and they’re phenomenal players, so I don’t know, is it the luck, I don’t know.
Yeah, no doubt, probably a lot of communication and compromise too. I mean you guys have to be friends and business partners sort of.
Yeah, more than sort of; and the thing is, you start this with your friends never intending on it to become a business. Your success is playing a party and not fucking up the few songs you play before the cops step in.
Ha, no doubt. Cool. So the last one I had was, well, I talked about it earlier, just in terms of the songs, “Resurrection Man,” “Reality Bath,” there’s a lot of variety there, like there’s a lot of sort of progressive structures and there’s a hardcore energy; when you guys are writing this stuff, is that not, well I think you’ve said this before that you’re not thinking about a style and just trying to write great songs, but what makes the variety, what makes the depths of the songs you think?
Well I think that has to do with the process that they go through, but they’re also starting out coming from Mark and Willie, who are pretty deep songwriters. As a group, we listen to many types of music, and appreciate many different art forms. And, yeah, to me it’s no doubt that Willie is going to write these uber-complicated riffs with things that will fly by one time in the song and will never repeat. And you know, that’s just sort of one of his strengths.
So it’s probably a lot of fun putting baselines to that stuff?
(Laughs) It can be once you nail it. I don’t want to go to into detail, but on this last record there’s a part that I just couldn’t understand what the hell he was playing. I had to slow it down and I had to just form that neural network at a really slow pace, and then try and bring it up to speed and make it fit and flow in there, and until I could do that, my brain for some reason, wasn’t hooking on to this part. It really took some time, and I had to make sure I understood what he was trying to say.
That’s funny. Yeah, there are some sections that really transition, and the melody and the mood just switches. That’s why I though of progressive, not necessary progressive rock or metal, but just progressive in general, there are so many switches and dynamic changes in some of those songs.
Are you on Instagram or have a Twitter account?
I have an Instagram account.
Do you follow Mark Morton?
I don’t, but I should right?
You really should, he’s got some incredibly entertaining stuff. He’s doing this thing, it’s just some social media challenge, about the ten records that influenced you, and the one that he started with was this band from Richmond called Breadwinner. Which, if you want to talk about progressive, Burner is the name of the record, you can find it on You Tube if you can’t get it through the source you usually get music from, and it’s very progressive to say the least, and very influential on us, especially in the early years.
So you guys are friends with that band?
Yes. They are from Richmond, and just happen to be an amazing math metal band.
Cool. Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this and I’m glad you guys are OK, and the new record, I’ve been rocking it, it’s amazing, so congratulations.
I’m glad you dig it. You can tell I’m really excited for this record to come out and hear what people like yourself have to say, so thank you, be safe, and take care of your peoples.
Pick up a copy of Lamb of God here
Photo credit: Alan Snodgrass