Six months ago, life looked pretty bleak for the technical thrash-metal band Lamb of God.
The group was wrestling with material for its fourth album, Sacrament, with producer Machine (see "Lamb Of God Ease Up On Bush But Get Deep Musically On Sacrament"), but the songs weren't coming together. No one could agree on the riff structures, singer Randy Blythe was drinking too much, and the band's deadline to finish the disc in time for its scheduled summer release was rapidly approaching.
"We were all going a little crazy," guitarist Mark Morton said. "We were on this schedule, so we always felt like we had to create something monumental by next Tuesday, and it's never easy for the five of us to come up with a batch of songs we all agree on. It's like pulling teeth."
These days, Lamb of God are a lot more relaxed. Blythe is sober, the band's summer stint on Slayer's Unholy Alliance Tour was a huge success (see "Dates Unveiled For Slayer's Unholy Alliance With Mastodon, Lamb Of God"), and Lamb of God are getting ready to take off with Megadeth's Gigantour, which begins September 6 in Idaho (see "Megadeth, Lamb Of God Reveal Plans To Shred The Road On Gigantour").
More significantly, Sacrament debuted last week at #8 on the Billboard albums chart, with sales of more than 62,000, indicating that Lamb of God aren't just music for the underground.
"Having a top-10 album really blows my mind," Morton said. "It blew my mind last time when we were in the top 30 [for 2004's Ashes of the Wake]. I mean, how can a band that sounds like us be that marketable or widely accepted?"
It's a valid question. Lots of thrash and extreme metal bands, including Megadeth, Metallica and Mudvayne, have landed commercial success only after writing songs that were more mainstream than their prior output. However, Lamb of God have become popular without sacrificing an iota of heaviness. While the riffs of Morton and fellow guitarist Will Adler are more cohesive this time, they're still utterly savage, and although Blythe's vocals are less one-dimensional, he never resorts to sing-songy choruses.
"It's not like anything else out there, but it's totally us," Morton said. "And I think it's going to reach people we haven't touched before because of the development of our songwriting abilities and Randy's improved performance. This record is definitely on another level for us."
One Reason Blythe's vocals impact so hard is because they're deeply rooted in personal trauma. Instead of shouting out against capitalism, corruption and war, as he has in the past, his screams come from within, exorcizing a litany of issues he kept bottled up for far too long.
"I've had a lot of weird, f---ed up sh-- happen to me in my life over the years, and I haven't really addressed it because we were writing about politics," he said. "So there's stuff in there about substance abuse — mine and other people's — relationships with chicks and depression. My worldview is very depressing because I think too much about how things really are. I think this place is a sh--hole, and 99 percent of the human race should be eradicated because they're completely useless."
For Blythe, expressing such sentiments was difficult, and the more he thought about the subject matter for the record, the more ghosts from the past surfaced to haunt him. To deal with the pain of revelation, the singer drank a lot, and for a long time he was creatively blocked.
"He scared the sh-- out of us because we weren't sure if he was gonna be able to deliver," Morton said. "But in the end, it's his best performance."
"This record almost f---in' killed me," Blythe admitted. "A lot of insane sh-- happened while in the midst of writing and recording, and it felt like I was being torn in 8 million pieces. And a lot of my closest friends were having horrible life crises and they were calling me and needing me to help them. Meanwhile, my life was falling apart and I was out of town in New Jersey with Machine trying to do this record. I couldn't write, so I drank to lubricate my creativity. Then I'd be drinking a lot too much. It literally drove me nuts. I felt like I was going to f---ing blow my brains out."
Like his bandmates, Blythe is thrilled by the honesty and heaviness of Sacrament and is eager to perform the new material in concert. However, for two months after the album was finished, he couldn't even listen to it.
"It was too painful, and I just wanted nothing to do with it," Blythe said. "Fortunately, my life is 110 percent better now, and I'm a much happier person. But depression and f---ed-up situations make for great records. I wouldn't write a very good Lamb of God record in the mind frame I'm in right now."
Maybe not, but he's in a great mind frame for touring, which should help Lamb of God kill on Gigantour, an outing that will likely demonstrate the breadth of their appeal. Unlike Unholy Alliance, which featured only intensely heavy bands, Gigantour is composed of technically proficient groups from all over the metal spectrum.
"We're the heaviest band on the bill, but we're just gonna beat everyone over the head with what we do," Morton said. "We've got that technical element in our sound as well, and I think fans will appreciate that."
Since Sacrament wasn't out yet when Lamb of God played Unholy Alliance, they only played one new song: the first single, "Redneck" (see "Lamb Of God Crash Kid's Birthday Bash For 'Redneck' Clip"). So for Gigantour, they're looking forward to performing six new tracks, likely including "Walk With Me in Hell" and "Again We Rise."
"We've been back in rehearsal tightening things up for the tour for the past couple weeks," Morton said. "After having played some of these songs thousands of times, we're excited to bring in some fresh, new material. So we're in a good place right now. We're stoked about the tour, and it's great that the album is doing so well. But artistically for us, it's already a success whether it sells 500 copies or 500,000. We love it, and that's the thing we're the most proud about."