At the start of the millennium, metal was changing shape. The nu metal era was about to be put out of its misery, and the rise of more traditional-sounding metal was starting to form in the underground. “There was a real feeling of camaraderie between a lot of bands from that era,” says Lamb Of God vocalist Randy Blythe of the time. “We didn’t necessarily sound like them, but we had all come through the punk scene and were playing metal. I guess you’d call it the start of metalcore. So it was a really cool community.”
“We went out on the Headbangers Ball tour in 2003,” guitarist Mark Morton remembers. “It was us, Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Shadows Fall and God Forbid. We would even swap the bill around every night, because at that point all of us were in very similar positions in our career; there was no real stand-out ‘huge’ band. It felt like we were all coming up together. There was the sense that something was happening, which was exciting.”
What was happening was bigger than even the band themselves realised. With two albums under their belt and an ever-swelling fanbase, major labels began to circle around Lamb Of God and the scene around them, leading to the Virginians signing to Epic ahead of their imminent third record – to their own surprise.
“We all had day jobs; we’d go off on tour and come back and have to work in construction or whatever,” Randy chuckles. “We decided that if we were going to take the band seriously then we needed to be able to really commit to it. There aren’t many jobs that will go, ‘Sure, take six months off and your job will be waiting for you when you get back.’ So, we decided to go with Epic because the advance meant we could all quit our jobs. But the punk rocker in me did feel pretty weird about it. I was suspicious because it was so far away from where I came from. I thought we’d follow the Sex Pistols model – one album and out. We were this disgusting-sounding metal band, I never thought that it could last.”
“I remember feeling an immense amount of pressure when we went to write and record Ashes Of The Wake,” adds Mark, “because it was this new chapter for our career. And it’s not enough to just do as well as you had done before on records like this; you can’t stand still, you have to surpass your previous material.”
The song that came to define the new Lamb Of God era, and open Ashes Of The Wake, was the monstrous Laid To Rest – a song that was built on Mark’s new approach to songwriting at the time.
“I came in with the opening riff and it just built from there,” Mark tells us. “But, in my head, I knew we had to try and do something that we hadn’t done before. So that’s when I started to experiment with melody. I thought that if we could have Randy do these really brutal vocals there was a way that you could infuse the guitar parts with a sense of melody. That’s really why that song works: it’s still as brutal as our older stuff, but it was catchy as well.”
Randy, though, credits the lyrics, written by Mark, as one of the main reasons that the song struck a chord with metal fans so quickly.
“If you look at any of the really big Lamb Of God songs, the lyrics are usually written by Mark Morton,” he says. “And I’ll tell you why: he loves to stick a curse word in there! So, Laid To Rest has got a big ‘Say who gives a FUCK!’, Redneck is ‘a MOTHERFUCKING invitation’ and there’s ‘Walk with me in HELL.’ Metal fans love to scream a curse word! I’ve lost count of the amount of people that have come up and screamed that in my face. It’s like, ‘Dude, I’m doing my grocery shopping.’ and they’re shouting ‘Who gives a fuck!’ at me. I just want to say, for the record, I’m not giving you a motherfucking invitation to anything, Mark Morton is. So, go shout it at him!”
Despite its irresistible melody, stomping groove and quotable, profanity-ridden chorus, Laid To Rest wasn’t initially a song that jumped out at either Mark or Randy as the hallmark anthem it has become over the years.
“Is it the first song on the album?” Randy asks. “I genuinely can’t remember the track listing off the top of my head. I don’t really remember it particularly standing out from the other songs we were writing at the time.”
“You write a bunch of songs and that was just one of them,” Mark concurs. “In fact, I actually wanted Hourglass to open the album. I have to say that I’ve conceded that I got that one wrong now.”
Mark also believes that, as much as Laid To Rest represented the start of something new for the band, it was the end of something as well. Namely, their more overtly political lyrical content.
“It was the time of war and the Bush administration,” he says. “I think a lot of the themes that we covered on that record are still relevant today. I’m not sure they ever went away really but, actually, Laid To Rest is really a song about some personal stuff that I was going through at the time. It was cloaked in a lot of metaphor, so there’s a duality to it, meaning people could interpret it to be about what was happening in the world at the time. It was quite soon after that Randy and I had a conversation where we decided that it would be the way for us to go: more personal and introspective. So, this is the time when we stepped off our soapbox, essentially.”
Ashes Of The Wake was released on August 31, 2004 and, with Laid To Rest as its opening track and lead single, turned Lamb Of God from underground heroes to true modern metal heavyweights. To this day it remains their biggest-selling album, with Laid To Rest still their most well-known single, racking up more than 43 million streams on Spotify.
“We were doing the Ozzfest in 2004 when the album was actually released, I believe,” Randy says. “We were one of three non-rotating bands on the second stage along with Slipknot and Hatebreed. We were going out in front of crowds of tens of thousands of people all of a sudden, and they all knew the words to this song, and they were going crazy. It was certainly an odd feeling; when I joined the band, I just wanted to play [iconic New York club] CBGB’s. That was the height of my ambition, so this was a really unusual feeling.”
Like many rock and metal acts of the time, the song was given a huge commercial shot in the arm due to its inclusion in the immensely popular Guitar Hero game series. Although it was a boost for record sales, Randy wasn’t entirely happy with the song’s inclusion.
“We went to Australia and had this amazing tour,” He begins. “And one day we get invited down to our label’s Australian offices to play the new Guitar Hero, because Laid To Rest was on it. We all thought that was pretty cool, so we head down there and put the song on, and I’m playing away… then the vocals come in. And I was like, ‘Did they get the wrong song? Is this an outtake from the studio when I was drunk?’ it sounded terrible! Turns out they had got a band to cover it to save on royalties, and the band sounded like Lamb Of God, but the vocalist was horrible! I was like, ‘Dude! You should have called me and I’d have come down and recorded it for $100!’ It’s pretty ironic that so many people were turned on to our band by hearing that version of our song… and it isn’t even us.”
Regardless, the true version has more than stood the test of time. Laid To Rest has become a staple of the Lamb Of God back catalogue and one of the songs that has come to define a very specific period in their illustrious career.
“I don’t know if it defines us,” shrugs Randy. “But I know we still play it at every show. It moves around the setlist a lot, but it always gets played.”
“I can’t see us ever dropping it from the set,” Mark adds. “I think people would be really bummed out if we did. It was a huge moment for us as a band: our first song on our first major label album. There are a few songs that we’ve written from back then where you go, ‘Hmm, yeah, it’s fine’ but it hasn’t really stood up to what we’re doing now. I think we’ve continued to improve as a band, but that song still holds its own alongside the best of what we do now.”
We’re sure most heavy metal fans would agree with him. Fifteen years on from first hearing Laid To Rest, we still give a fuck.