Richmond, Virginia's Lamb of God were already the talk of the metal community after releasing the one-two punch of New American Gospel and As the Palaces Burn — but it was their 2004 album, Ashes of the Wake, that advanced the conversation from Lamb of God being "one of the biggest new bands in metal" to "the next Metallica."
Their major-label debut dropped via Epic Records on August 31st and produced two massive, thrashing, groove-heavy singles for the band: "Laid to Rest" and "Now You've Got Something to Die For." Musically the album was a stunning call-to-arms, and its subject matter reflected the intensity: addressing the heavy post-9/11 themes of the Iraq War and its repercussions, loss, revolution and more.
It's hard to imagine where the metal community would be without Ashes of the Wake, and the work of Lamb of God's Randy Blythe, Mark Morton, Willie Adler, John Campbell and Chris Adler.
To celebrate Ashes' 15th anniversary, which corresponds with a new deluxe reissue, we spoke with guitarist Mark Morton about his memories around the creation of each track: from the political to the personal to what song was inspired by Nas and much more.
MARK MORTON I remember distinctively that I didn't want "Laid to Rest" to be the first song on the album, I wanted "Hourglass." I was voted out in that argument, and it's a little bit of a sore spot because I'm not sure that I was wrong ... But history proved me wrong because the song and the album both did very well.
I really didn't realize that the opening riff was so distinctly similar to "Into the Pit" by Testament. It's been pointed out to me thousands of times over the years, and it's true and it makes perfect sense – Testament was a huge influence on me, especially their late Eighties, early Nineties stuff. They've become good friends over the years, and I've definitely told [guitarist] Eric Peterson a time or two that I owe him money for that riff.
I think "Laid to Rest" is one of the earlier examples of us creating a hook and even having some melody without it coming from the singer. On this album, you can kind of hear us coalesce creatively and understand that you could become hooky and catchy without being particularly poppy.
More than anything, I think that "Hourglass" should have been the opener because of where my head was at the time. I wasn't necessarily more involved with one song or the other, I just felt like it sounded closer to an intro to me. It had more of an upbeat, fireworks display in my opinion.
Willie brought in that intro riff, but we just built around it from there. That song, like so many on this album, had a sort of political slant to it, lyrically. I had a pretty big hand in the lyrics on this one. It's been around for a while, and one we still go to live.
This was another track that had a political bent — it was talking about the Army and the Iraq War and all of that. It's an interesting song because the chorus is really just the repetition of that line, that repetitive hook. You can hear us trying to navigate this concept that we can have a hook that is not necessarily melodic or even catchy, just more repetitive and pounding.
Randy and I have joked about how a conservative regime in the White House can be great for punk and heavy metal. As a band, we aren't all on the same platform — I find that our viewpoints are differing more and more. And sometimes, even though we all have specific roles within the band, there have been times where band members have tried to keep that in check. Or my part, whenever I write lyrics I try to keep it a little vague and open to interpretation because I think that allows the listener to relate that to their own personal story. That's what resonates the strongest.
It's been some time since I've listened to some of these songs — maybe eight or even 10 years since I've heard this LP really. But one of the key things that I've heard in the time since the LP was released is that a lot of veterans have grabbed on to this album. I've had a lot of veterans from this time period come to me and say how important this album was to their time there: that this album was the soundtrack to their service. It's really one of the greatest honors for someone to say that. But this song stands out as one that I've heard about a lot in that context, probably because it's how Randy and I were perceiving the situation as outsiders.
Randy definitely wrote all of the lyrics for this one, so I don't know where his mind was when he was creating this. He's an avid reader and maybe he was reading about the Mafioso [Omerta is the Sicilian code of silence]. What I remember about the song musically was that it was very collaborative amongst the band. Willie brought in that main riff and his version was significantly faster, and for some reason we decided to play it at less than half speed. When we did that, it just kind of had a completely different kind of character all together.
Lyrically, this was all Randy. In terms of the song, compositionally it has a foot in the earlier song structure, or actually lack thereof ... It's pure, a little naive, but also fresh in some ways. Less of the conventional verse-chorus structure. Pretty sure we've never played this song live.
This is one that I kind of had the vision for. I'm not sure where I was when I came up with the riff, I think the music on it is kind of OK, maybe a little unrealized. I do think that the lyrics are definitely intense, and I took inspiration from Nas and his track "One Mic" — where he is talking about changing the world with one mic. I remember thinking, If you can change the world with one mic, you can definitely change it with one gun. It's kind of extreme, but that's us. Depending on your perspective, an assassin can be a traitor or a patriot. So I think that was the viewpoint I was going for. Looking back, the riff could have used a little more polishing but the lyrics are pretty pointed. We've also never played this live.
"Break You" is a Randy "Fuck You" song, which he's been great at producing a number of over the years. Sequencing on the record has always been really key for us, so considering how up-tempo the track is, we wanted to make sure to put it toward the end to help keep the energy up from start to finish.
This might be our first step towards leaning more on a punk-rock approach. Lyrically, it's about frustration with respect to intra-band relations — you're constantly at arms length away from each other and things can get crazy. You can hear our approach here and how it mirrors later stuff like "Contractor" [from 2009's Wrath] and other songs we wrote in this way.
We've never played this track live. When we were writing this, it definitely felt like it should be an instrumental more than anything else. But we were thinking of ways to add to this epic instrumental track, and someone came up with the idea for the interview sample. Then the idea for bringing two major figures from our influence — Alex Skolnick from Testament and Chris Poland from Megadeth — to play on a single track for our band was just sort of major for us. So it was a thrill to have them contribute to something we were working on.
A sort of melodic intro is something we've visited over the years, which we started with "Vigil" [from 2003's As the Palaces Burn] and continued here and would reappear several times throughout our years. In a way, it's sort of a great bookend to the album. Side note: the competitive side of me is always shooting to get one of my ideas as the last song on the album, because I think that's a very coveted position. I like albums that end with a strong punctuation, so that has always been very important me.