This story was originally published in 2006.
"Wow, what a mess!" says Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, looking back on the April 2000 recording sessions that produced the band's New American Gospel album. "We did it in, like, a week — and that's start to finish, from the first setup of the drums and the mics to the last little tweak on the mix. I remember waking up at one point under the soundboard in the studio with two pairs of feet in my face, and realizing that they were mixing the album up above me. We were all totally exhausted, and I think everybody was so spun at the end that we really had a cloudy picture of what the album was. We certainly had no idea what it was going to do for the band or the genre."
Produced by Steve Austin of Today Is the Day at his Austin Enterprises studio in Clinton, Massachusetts, New American Gospel marked a major turning point for Lamb of God — and for modern metal, as well. Working with a new guitarist (Willie Adler, younger brother of drummer Chris Adler), recording for a new label (Prosthetic), and sporting a new moniker (LoG formerly went by Burn the Priest), the Richmond, Virginia, quintet flew the flag for classic thrash at a time when nu-metal acts like Limp Bizkit and Staind were dominating the rock world. Despite a quirky, treble-heavy mix that betrayed the haste of its completion, New American Gospel was a veritable sonic feast for thrash-starved listeners around the globe. It was a crucial step on Lamb of God's long march toward worldwide recognition — which would eventually result in a deal with Epic Records — and an inspiration to like-minded young American metal bands such as Shadows Fall, God Forbid, and Killswitch Engage.
Prosthetic has reissued New American Gospel in a remastered version, complete with several bonus cuts, including "Nippon," a track the band recorded later for the album's Japanese release, and the ultra-low-budget video for "Black Label." "It's a pretty special record for us," says lead vocalist Randy Blythe. "We're hoping that some of the issues we've always had with it, like the lack of low end, can be tweaked in the remastering. But, yeah, we're all really proud of it. It's a moment in time, but it still holds up." In celebration of a modern American classic, Revolver asked Blythe and Morton to share some thoughts on the original tracks.
MARK MORTON That was actually one of the last tunes we wrote for that record. As soon as that intro riff came together, it became clear that it was going to be the intro track. It really revved you up, you know? Every now and again, we'll write a tune that kind of does everything that we do within one song — lots of gallops, lots of chunkin', a little bit of melody, a spacey part, and a breakdown, and all of those elements were in that song. And as you know, it's become a staple of the set, and it's got the whole "Wall of Death" thing associated with it.
RANDY BLYTHE I didn't like "Black Label," to tell you the truth. It was one of my least favorite songs on the record, and still is. Recording the vocal was really frustrating. I remember Steve Austin looking at me and going, "Randy, if you don't get this right this next time, I'm going to come through that window and kill you!" He threatened me with death, and I think I threatened Chris with violence at one point. It was just very, very tense. For me, I'd be happy if I never played that fucking song again. [Laughs] But I think if we stopped doing "Black Label," the kids would just start doing a cappella versions of it.
BLYTHE "A Warning" is one of my favorite tracks on that record. People forget now, but it was a little bit harder to be a fucking weirdo back then, you know what I mean? Now it's not so much of a big deal — you see frat boys with Slayer shirts or Slipknot shirts on, or whatever. But that song was about people looking at you as if you were a freak, a metalhead, a punk rocker — whatever — and them being like, "Oh, my god, what a fucking loser freak!" And you just saying, "Yes, I am, so screw you!"
BLYTHE That's a cool tune. It's actually the title of a book by a guy named Jerry Mander. The premise of the book — and it comes through in the lyrics — is that technology is advancing so rapidly it's just completely taken over our lives. I am not a Luddite by any means, but I do think sometimes that our Information Age has gotten out of control and that people have forgotten how to just live, instead of living in the virtual life.
BLYTHE That's an emotional song for me. I had a daughter, and she died. The lyrics were written before she was born, while my ex-wife was still pregnant with her. Those lyrics are just really personal to me. That's why they weren't published, and never will be.
BLYTHE It seems kind of typical for guys in bands to have a serial-killer fascination. I don't — I just thought that particular Black Dahlia murder case [the still-unsolved 1947 slaying of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short] was interesting, and it kind of panders to my film noir, romantic side. I romanticize that time a lot in my head, and I took that whole story and put it into lyrics, so I could sit around and wear a fedora and smoke unfiltered cigarettes to it later. Call women "dames" and stuff, you know? [Laughs]
BLYTHE That's another one of my favorites. It's written about an artist friend of mine named Frank Pollard. He and his girlfriend, Moose, lived in Chicago, and I met them back when I used to hop around the country on freight trains. All of his art comes from his dreams, and his dreams are like those old-time movie serials. He has these recurring characters in his dreams that actually evolve. Part of that song is references to his dreams and his art, and the other part of the song is about hanging out with him. Because whenever you go to his house, there's always something fucking weird going on.
MORTON One of my favorites on the record, and it's still in the set to this day. You can really hear my nerves in cutting the guitar intro to that song — so much so that I think we actually had to fade it up a little bit. [Laughs] It was a real new piece for me, and it's pretty difficult to play. It's imperfect, but it came out really cool.
BLYTHE "Pariah" was written about a certain individual who used to live in my beloved city, the former capital of the Confederacy, who I did not get along with too well. He was a fucking heroin junkie and was just an awful person. I had a couple of unpleasant run-ins with him, and he was just a real shitbag, basically. I despised him so much that I wrote a song about him.
MORTON That was the first time Randy and I wrote lyrics together, and I think it helped pave the way for how much we work together now. We were on the same roofing crew at that point. We both did roofing and construction, and we were out of town on a job for a week. We were talking about the record and ideas, and we thought, Yeah, let's write some shit for this song! I think you can hear a certain amount of youth in Randy's vocals on this record — in a good way — especially on that song. He's definitely more professional now, more accurate and consistent and all those things that make a pro vocalist. But there's a bit of wildness [on Gospel] that's not there anymore because of his wisdom as a vocalist, and that's neat to hear. You go back and listen to his early work, and you go, "Wow, man — this kid was nuts!"
BLYTHE This is definitely my favorite song on the record. Mark came up with the title of that song — "Officer Dick Head Gets a Black Fucking Eye" — and I was like, "Wow, that's perfect!" So I wrote lyrics to fit the title. One time I was out in the Bay Area, in San Francisco, and it was raining. A bunch of us were squatting in the Lower Haight in this house, just trying to get out of the rain. We weren't partying or anything — we were just trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night. But the cops came and busted it and threw us in a paddy wagon, then maced the paddy wagon and drove us around San Francisco for about an hour. We got to the precinct, they yanked me out of the paddy wagon onto the concrete, and then five or six cops just started kicking the living shit out of me. I was so scared that I just started laughing. I was like, This is insane! This is hilarious! I'm gonna die! It's either that, or you just fall to pieces and cry. They're kicking me in the head, kicking me in the fucking ribs — cracked a couple of ribs. And I was just laughing, which pissed them off even more. Then, when they yanked me up, I remember looking at this one female officer — because she was the worst, just laying into me and cussing and shit — and I remember reading her name and badge number out loud to her, and saying, "I remember you. I remember your face. I'm gonna find you." They threw us in a cell for a while, then let us go. But that song is basically about getting the shit kicked out of you by the cops for trying to get out of the rain. So, thank you very much, San Francisco Police!
Below, watch Randy Blythe pay tribute to Slayer and reveal "a secret" about the thrash OGs: