by Ken Jobe
As guitarist and co-founder of groove metal icons Lamb of God, Mark Morton has proven himself several times over as a prolific songwriter and lyricist of some of the best songs to come out of the genre. With the release of his first solo album, Anesthetic, out March 1st, fans may wonder if the album is full of LoG-style riffage or if Morton breaks the shackles of metal and dips his toes in different musical waters. The answer, it turns out, is both.
About half of Anesthetic is filled with tunes that fall in familiar territory, with heavy rock and metal-tinged numbers that are just a bit less heavy than Morton’s primary band. It’s interesting to hear how the guest vocalists handle their respective tracks, especially when it’s from rock/metal singers who front bands that seem especially limp when compared to Lamb of God (Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, for example).
Like a renowned director pulling a good performance out of an otherwise humdrum actor, almost everyone involved in Anesthetic rises to the occasion, delivering top notch vocals that makes one wonder what else some of these singers might be capable of. Or, is it a case of riffs so strong that any passable rock/metal singer would sound good singing over them?
Maybe it’s both, but one thing is clear: there’s not a bad song on this album, though Buckcherry’s Josh Todd tries his best to ruin an otherwise good song on Back From the Dead. But what one determines as Anesthetic’s high points will be up to each individual listener. Some may only want the heavy riffs and gruff vocals of Shaddix, Testament’s Chuck Billy, Lamb of God bandmate Randy Blythe, or the late Chester Bennington of Likin Park, featured on the opening track and one of the best heavy songs on the record, Cross Off.
For those interested in Morton flexing his non-metal muscles, though, there’s plenty for them, too. Reveal, featuring Naeemah Maddox on vocals, is the biggest departure and the closest thing to a ballad, which also puts a spotlight on Morton’s tasteful guitar playing. Already known as a blues-influenced guitarist, playing songs that are slowed down a touch give Morton a chance to show just how bluesy and soulful his playing actually is.
The best track on the album (which, again, is purely subjective) is Axis, featuring vocals by Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age fame, among others. It’s a dark, moody number over which Lanegan’s trademark deep, throaty rasp works perfectly.
The penultimate track on Anesthetic is Imaginary Days, a slower heavy rock track that it’s easy to imagine hearing on the radio (terrestrial or otherwise), that in a way delivers the most surprising vocals of all: they’re sung by Morton himself. It’s unclear if he sings only the one song because he’d rather get together with others and let them take over vocal duties or because he just wanted to prove—perhaps to himself, perhaps to his fans—that he could.
Either way, the fact remains: if anything (Lamb of God forbid) should happen with his primary gig, Mark Morton will have no problem forming (or fronting) another damn good band.