What's In A Name: Mark Morton Recounts How Lamb of God Almost Never Was

What's In A Name: Mark Morton Recounts How Lamb of God Almost Never Was

- By Ramon Gonzales

Read the excerpt from Morton's recently released book, 'Desolation: A Heavy Metal Memoir' in which the author shares his apprehension about the Burn the Priest band name and the last minute name change that altered heavy music history. 

Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton has officially added the title of published author to his lengthly list of professional accomplishments.  DESOLATION: A Heavy Metal Memoir, is now available digitally (with hardback landing July 11th) via Hachete Books frames an important story of self-discovery amid adversity. In the pages, Morton revisits his personal and professional evolution in becoming accomplished musician and songwriter. 

Penned with co-author Ben Opiari, Morton presents the duality of his life - achieving unparalleled success with his musical brethren in the grammy-nominated collective Lamb of God, while personally confronting the grief of catastrophic loss - including the tragic passing of his newborn daughter.

Morton speaks candidly about his feeling of helplessness, how self-medicating led to addiction and the contrasting lives of earning widespread acclaim in a heavy band, while enduring the kind of personal adversity that at times would be insurmountable. The book offers a frank depiction of the highs and lows of life as a touring musician. 

“Initially, I started writing this book just to see if I could do it,” said Morton. “But as the writing process unfolded, it quickly took on much more meaning. 

Unpacking my story, I was able to observe events in my life with an objectivity that I hadn't experienced while I’d lived them in real time. Through a lens of hindsight and recovery, I made friends with my past and found value in my most difficult days."

Morton adds his intentions in sharing such a candid look at his personal journey. "I hope that by offering my experiences, I can create a point of connection and commonality. There are a lot of fun stories in here and a few really sad ones. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to share them.”



As Morton details his path of personal self-discovery, Desolation: A Heavy Metal Memoir also offers a first-hand account of some of the history and pivotal moments in the progression of Lamb of God.

Sharing an exclusive excerpt from the book, Morton recounts how one of the most exciting eras of the band was also weighed down with trepidation. Courting an important record deal with heavy music authority Prosthetic, Morton was uncertain about moving forward as Burn the Priest - the initial name of the band and a brand the five collective members had already put plenty of sweat equity into up to that point. 

Forecasting to stick around for the long haul, Morton felt a name change was vital to ensure greater viability for the band and the kind of longevity that would sustain a career. In the excerpt, Morton illuminates the inner-band dynamic that governs important decisions, the kind of foresight that has made Lamb of God such a force and the name change Hail Mary that would go down in heavy metal history. 

Read the excerpt from Desolation: A Heavy Metal Memoir below. The book is currently available via Hachette Books. Order the release - HERE


Even so, we understood that nobody was getting rich from this. It was an introductory deal for an introductory band.

Like everyone else, I understood that Prosthetic’s modest deal offer was fair considering where we were as a band. But I did have a dilemma. I was still uncomfortable with our band name. My distaste had only gotten worse as bigger opportunities arose for us. I knew that if we signed a real recording contract, we would forever be locked into the name Burn the Priest. I couldn’t reconcile working so hard at something, putting so much creative energy into it, then representing it with a band name as silly and absurd as Burn the Priest.

I lobbied my case to my bandmates. They all knew how I felt, but for me to be pushing so hard to change the name just as we were get- ting real label interest was difficult for them to swallow.

  Campbell loved the name Burn the Priest. He thought I was overthinking the whole thing. “I don’t see the big deal,” he reasoned. “Let’s face it, the music we play is pretty extreme and kind of ridic- ulous. And so is the name. It makes sense. Plus, it’s cool and people remember it.” He wasn’t wrong. And maybe I was being unnecessarily dramatic about it. But I couldn’t get past my apprehensions.

Chris wasn’t thrilled about changing the name either. His resis- tance was based on a more practical mindset. “We’re about to get signed based on the buzz we’ve created as Burn the Priest,” he pointed out. “Changing the name means starting over and rebuilding. The label may not be interested in that.” Chris had a solid point. It was risky enough for Prosthetic to invest in a relatively unknown band. That risk got even more severe if we changed the name. We’d be start- ing from zero.

Randy and Willie were on the fence. They both understood my point that our name was a potential liability. They agreed that it could limit our options from a marketing standpoint and could dictate how audiences would receive the band. But they also saw Chris and John’s points about the value of the name we’d built for ourselves as Burn the Priest. It was a lot to consider.

Over the weeks that all this debate was going on, we continued to write and rehearse. Willie and I locked into a productive songwrit- ing rhythm, churning out streams of groove-heavy riffs that the band would then collectively mold into songs. Songs like “Pariah,” “The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion,” and “In the Absence of the Sacred” flowed through our hands, feeling almost divinely inspired. We were flooded with ideas, sometimes so intensely it was difficult to keep up.

  During our creative surge, I thought about how deeply commit- ted we were to our music and how intense the writing process was for us. To me, it felt spiritual in nature, almost like a religious experience. I’d earlier stuck an American flag sticker on the 1975 Les Paul that I used as my main guitar. I liked the juxtaposition of feeling like we were counterculture and punk rock but still flying the flag. A loud and proud punk rock patriot. Those concepts coalesced for me into the phrase “New American Gospel.” I liked it so much, I suggested we use it as the new name for the band.

“I don’t know man,” Chris said. “It’s definitely cool, but it feels more like an album title than a band name.” I knew he was right. So now we had a great name for an album, but we still had a shitty band name. Fortunately, Chris was open to suggestions for a new band name. It was an idea that had been hiding in plain view. “If we’re really going to change our name, why don’t we use the name of that other band that you played in for like two seconds back when we started?” he asked.

Several years before, just as Chris, John, Matt, and I had first begun jamming together as Burn the Priest, I was also playing with couple other people. It was similar type of project, consisting of me on guitar and my friends Elisa Nader on bass and Chris Gallo on drums. True to Richmond tradition, we played heavy, original, instrumental songs. We sounded a little more math rock and slightly less thrash metal than Burn the Priest. We only lasted long enough to write a few songs and play a party or two, but we did have a band name. We had called ourselves Lamb of God.

Chris continued his pitch. “That’s a pretty great name for a metal band. Only a handful of people ever saw that band. It’s not like anyone would know. Do you think Chris and Elisa would care if we used it?”

  I loved it. Truth is, I probably would’ve loved just about anything in place of Burn the Priest. But Chris was right that Lamb of God was an awesome name for a metal band. It carried on a classic tradition of using religious iconography in a heavy metal context. Metal legends Black Sabbath and Judas Priest had juxtaposed religious concepts with dark, doomsday aesthetics to create heavy, foreboding backdrops for their music. The name Lamb of God served the same end by pairing a Christian reference to the messiah with our extreme metal music and self-destructive, apocalyptic lyrics. I loved everything about it. After a few discussions and a couple days of thinking it over, we were all in. I felt incredibly supported. Even though not everyone in the band had initially been in favor of the idea, they all knew how strongly I’d felt about it and were willing to consider it.

I nervously made a call to my friends in the “first” version of Lambof God, just to make sure they were cool with us using the name. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if they hadn’t been okay with it, but fortunately both Chris and Elisa had no problems with us adopting it. And with that, it was official. Burn the Priest would become Lamb of God.

There was, however, one final detail left in our name change saga: our recording contract. Our deal with Prosthetic Records had been moving forward. Our attorney had smoothed over a couple small points we wanted changed, and everything was just about in place. All that was left to do was for us to sign the deal. But the label was signing Burn the Priest. We still needed to find out if they were will- ing to sign Lamb of God.

We all met at Chris’s house to call EJ and Dan as a group and tell them the news. We were optimistic that they’d be willing to move forward, even though changing the band name was a big deal. We were confident and committed to our decision. “What’s up, guys!” Chris cheered into the phone, trying to mask any anxiety that EJ might notice. “We’re all here together. The contract looks cool. Our attorney has given us the go ahead to sign it and we’re all super excited to be a part of Prosthetic Records.”

  “Great! We’re thrilled to get going,” said EJ.

“There’s just one thing,” Chris continued. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“We’ve decided to change the band name!” Chris blurted out as enthusiastically as possible.

There was silence on the other end. After a pregnant pause, EJ replied as calmly as he could. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. You’ve done a whole lot of groundwork as Burn the Priest. Why would you want to erase all of that and start from scratch?”

“We just want the focus to be on the music,” Chris explained. “We don’t want to have some silly, childish band name pigeonholing us forever.”

“I don’t like this idea at all,” EJ protested. “You’re pulling the rug out from under us before we even get started. It could derail the whole plan. But just out of curiosity, what’s the new band name?” 

“Lamb of God.”

There was another long pause. We all held our breath, waiting to hear some kind of response. Finally, it came. “I fucking love it! It’s perfect! Man, you guys scared the shit out of me. But this is going to be great.”

Relief and excitement swept over us. We’d done it. We’d changed our name to something that wouldn’t narrow our possibilities. And we’d signed our first real record contract.


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