Inside the ‘Very Live Pulse’ of Lamb of God’s New Album ‘Omens’
The five members of Lamb of God are certainly aware of expectations — from within and from outside — as the Virginia heavy rock troupe brings out its ninth studio album, Omens, on Friday (Oct. 7).
After all, Lamb of God’s last five albums have debuted in the top 20 of the Billboard 200, three of them in the top 5. The group has been nominated for five Grammy Awards along the way, and despite an inability to tour in support of 2020’s Lamb of God, the album still managed to send two tracks into the top 40 of the Hot & Alternative Songs chart with “Checkmate” and “Memento Mori.”
More than the statistics, however, Lamb of God has connected in the most visceral way possible — on stage, where frontman Randy Blythe’s bellows and growls are more ferocious and corrosive than they are on record. Lamb of God shakes the Earth when it cranks up, and the size of the devoted audience for it has caught the band just a bit off guard.
“Given the nature of the band and the type of band we are and the type of music we play, I never at any step of the way imagined any of the music we were doing to be mainstream and appeal to such broad audience,” guitarist Mark Morton tells Billboard from one of Lamb of God’s tour stops last month.
“I’ve always been surprised every step of the way at how big it is and how large it’s gotten and how much of an audience we have, well, all over the world. It still blows my mind, and I’m very grateful.” Morton and his mates — Blythe, guitarist Willie Adler, bassist John Campbell and drummer (since 2019) Art Cruz — are gratified that the success has come on the band’s own terms.
“We’ve never chased any trends,” notes Morton, who co-founded the band with bassist John Campbell as Burn the Priest in 1994, switching the moniker to Lamb of God five years later. “We’ve never dialed in what we were doing to try to catch some wave. We’ve just always done what we do and have been fortunate enough to find a lot of people that like to listen.”
The 10-track Omens is very much a product of its time, after the Lamb of God album’s release in June of 2020 could not be supported by a tour during the pandemic lockdown. “It feels like the record that disappeared,” frontman Blythe says, “which is very strange for me because almost my entire adult life it’s been write, record, tour. That sort of routine was interrupted. Some of my guys were like, ‘Oh, we should write a new record since we aren’t touring,’ so that’s how it started.”
Morton, however, adds that, “Willie and I always write music, anyway. We don’t really stop just because we released an album. So it felt very natural to go in and make a record because we couldn’t tour — we’re musicians, so what are we gonna do? If we can’t tour, we’ll write music. We wouldn’t have made a record if we weren’t ready to, but it came naturally and very organically.”
And somewhat differently. After gathering material, Lamb of God headed to Henson Studios on the Jim Henson Company lot in Hollywood, with Josh Wilbur producing for a fifth consecutive time. Blythe acknowledged a degree of trepidation — “I’m not a big fan of the studio,” he notes — but the band entered the room with a plan to record basic tracks live from the floor, which made the frontman more comfortable with the process.
“Obviously there were overdubs on it,” Blythe says, “but we ran through all the songs 100 percent live, and there’s an energy you get when you do that — playing with your guys and you’re all together — that you just don’t get when you record to tape or a digital file these days.” Morton confirms that the rest of the band was fueled by the approach as well.
“I think that worked in everyone’s favor,” the guitarist recalls. “Recording simultaneously with the band, Randy felt a little more in his element. Before there were any vocals or any lyrics flying around, Randy was in the room writing in a notebook. He could just be himself and go for it. Well over half the vocals you hear on the actual record are from those live performances. It was a very, very collaborative album, more so I’d say than normal.”
That, in turn, distinguishes Omens from its predecessors.
“What’s unique about this album is the feel,” he says. “I think it’s about the vibe and the energy this time. Look, we’re Lamb of God. It’s our ninth record so it sounds like us, but it’s a very contemporary, a very modern-sounding version of us. It’s got a very, very live pulse because of the way we recorded it, and because of everyone’s input.” That extends to “new guy” Cruz, according to Morton, who made an even more significant contribution on Omens.
“(Lamb of God) being his first record, I think we all might have taken a little bit of a conservative strategy with the drums, ’cause it was a transition,” Morton says. “We didn’t want things to be shockingly, glaringly different. Now with Art being firmly entrenched and very much a part of the band, he could really stretch his wings on this album, and that’s fun to see happen.”
Blythe and Morton both feel the charged times, between the pandemic and social and political issues, inspired Omens‘ lyrical bent. The songs are largely couched in general emotions and observations, though the first single, “Nevermore,” is explicitly about some of what Blythe calls the “unsavory history” of the band’s hometown, with its avenue of monuments to principals of the Confederacy. “Every Lamb of God record has been an angry record, every single one,” Blythe explains. “This one happens to have a slight more degree of pissed-offedness. I feel as if there’s an acceleration of chaos in our culture, so it’s a reaction to that.”
Morton adds that, “It’s hard to be in a metal band and not write about the events of the day, ’cause these days everything’s so dramatic and it’s so marketed to us that, like, the sky is falling and the world is over. Whether that’s true or not, it makes for great heavy metal lyrics.”
Lamb of God will celebrate Omens‘ release with a performance at the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, Calif., and will be on the road in the U.S. and Europe through Dec. 21. The group has released videos for “Nevermore” and “Grayscale,” as well as The Making Of: Omens, a documentary that can be accessed here. The guitarist says that “we’ve got a got lot stuff coming together” for 2023, but nothing ready to be divulged just yet.
Blythe, meanwhile, is also spending time developing a reforesting project in Ecuador. Introduced to the land several years ago by a surfing friend, he was shocked that Ecuador had the highest deforestation rate of any country in the Western hemisphere. As the pandemic began a significant amount of acreage became available, which Blythe and his friend’s family purchased “sight unseen,” the rocker funding his portion via income from Cameo messages.
“If we can get a hold of this (land) and funding to buy it and start returning it to its natural state, I’ll just be super excited,” says Blythe, who’s looking at purchasing even more land in the area. “We need trees for oxygen, in case anybody didn’t know that, and I like to preserve wild places. It was a little scary for me, but it felt good enough to where I was like, ‘Well, screw it. What am I gonna do with this money — hoard it or buy another camera or whatever?’ This was something concretely good I could do during a very unsettled time. It was good for me emotionally and mentally and spiritually, and it’s good for the world. There’s a bigger picture here that I hope people can start to see.”