Lamb of God turns banging heads with its riffs.

Lamb Chops 

Lamb of God turns banging heads with its riffs.

Be it a rabbit's foot or a treasured guitar pick, it's not unusual for musicians to bring lucky charms and other talismans into the arena. But when Lamb of God's Chris Adler takes the stage, he's often toting his drumsticks in a barf bag.

"There's nights where nine or ten songs in, I get really dizzy because of the stage lights and everything," Adler explains. "There's been several tours in the past where I'll just pass out or throw up."

In Richmond, Virginia, where Lamb of God formed in 1994 under the decidedly more secular moniker Burn the Priest, Adler had few opportunities to build up his endurance to the spotlight's nausea-inducing glare. The quartet's hometown lived up to its rural stereotype -- there were plenty of musicians but no music scene.

"There's nobody pushing the idea of commercial success," Adler explains. "It's guys that are in bedroom bands, and they're happy to stay that way. We don't even play there more than twice a year. It's not that big of a place, and the city itself is not supportive of live music. So we knew we had to branch out of there."

The group did just that, touring regionally and making serious headway with skull-banging fans in Philadelphia and New York. In due time, labels came sniffing around and Burn the Priest secured a record deal.

Burn the Priest's debut album created a minor splash, particularly in death-metal circles. Numerous East Coast tours followed, and a split single with Agents of Satan spread the word even further. The group was enthusiastic about getting somewhere but was less excited to be pigeonholed as a death-grind act, which generally meant Burn the Priest couldn't score gigs that didn't feature other devil-horny bands. Frustrated by the demonic stereotype, the outfit changed its name to Lamb of God in early 2000.

"The original name was cool and funny at the time, but it wasn't something we could really ride out to the end," Adler explains. "It just turned into a joke. For us to be driving around selling little kids Burn the Priest T-shirts, even when they'd never heard us and just wanted to wear it to school and get kicked out, there's no satisfaction in that."

With the name change in place, the group took to the studio for a whirlwind nine-day session that spawned Lamb of God's debut, New American Gospel. Critics hailed it as a metal masterpiece and raved about its hearty collision of mosh-worthy thrash and death metal. In support of the album, the group embarked on a tour with GWAR, the highly theatrical shock-rock outfit that shares Lamb of God's Richmond roots. Though the match proved successful, the band was initially sheepish about playing in front of GWAR's unforgiving cult following.

"We had expected it to be disastrous," Adler admits. "They told us going into it, 'Bands who open up for us don't do very well, regardless of how good they are. People just want to get sprayed with blood.' We only had enough time for nine songs, so we just rolled through 'em without stopping and got the fuck offstage."

Lamb of God was less passionate about touring alongside Mushroomhead, the gas-masked percussive-metal outfit from Cleveland. Though Mushroomhead's circus-act shenanigans were light-years from Lamb of God's frill-free pummeling, Adler concedes that the pairing introduced his band to a new audience.

"We were being pushed hard by our label and our booking agent, and that was the tour that was going on at the time," he says with a sigh. "It's strange, these guys who spend all the time in the mirror with the makeup and the hairspray and the masks and all that shit. Give me a break. We gotta work on our riffs, not our hair."

Exhausted from two years of nonstop touring, the band went on sabbatical, hibernating in Richmond for months to write what became its latest opus, As the Palaces Burn.

"Toward the end of last year, we just cut off all live shows so we could really hammer it out," Adler says. "It was just really intense. We were really hard on ourselves and each other, and it paid off as far as what we're able to walk away with."

To concoct Burn, Lamb of God spent 27 days in the studio, by far the longest the band had taken to record an album. Strapping Young Lad frontman Devin Townsend handled production duties, and the sessions featured a number of special guests, including Today Is the Day's Steve Austin and former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. Townsend proved a tenacious taskmaster during Burn's difficult creation, but the results were satisfactory to all.

"Nothing really slid by," Adler says. "We had in our minds where our abilities should be, and sometimes it was harder than others to get there, but we pushed ourselves to make it as good as we could. It's important not to get too comfortable. We don't want to fall into a pattern and just do whatever's easy."

That's certainly true from a business standpoint. Despite a history of successes, Lamb of God's members never hired a manager, making all decisions at the band level and personally minding their own musical business.

"If we don't understand something, we want to understand something," Adler says. "We don't want to be led around. It's quite a headache sometimes, but when you keep your hands dirty, you know what's going on."

Lamb of God is now on tour with Chimaira, playing a monthlong round of warm-up dates to prepare for Burn's release. As for the vomiting, Adler swears he's got everything under control.

"I've built up quite an endurance to do this," he says. "So on this tour, I'll still be a mess, but I can probably get through a few more tunes if need be."

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