Lamb of God is ready to deliver its thunderous metal revelations to fans at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion this weekend and, it seems, even a pestilence over the land can’t stop it — at least as of this writing.
Things change fast in the COVID concert era but for now the veteran heavy metal act is headed to Houston to co-headline the “Metal Tour of the Year” with Megadeath and special guests Trivium and Hatebreed. The August 22 show was originally slated for July 2020 and is now set for this Sunday at The Woodlands-area venue which crowded news cycles last week. The Houston Press spoke with John Campbell, bassist and a founding member of Lamb of God, ahead of those events. He discussed the band’s latest, lauded album, answered a couple of questions posed by fans and, of course, tackled touring during a global pandemic.
“We’re well on our way, the wheels are greased, we’re moving that direction, it’s incredibly exciting to finally be going back to work,” Campbell said. “Not that the world is back to what it was before, but it feels like it’s at a point where the proper precautions can be taken and live music can happen again which is insanely important for human existence.
“It’s something we’ve all missed, performing and just taking it in, and I think it’s really important for us to have these moments because they’re really fulfilling, they’re really satisfying,” he added.
Our interview preceded last weekend’s news that concert giant Live Nation will require artists, crews and audience members to show proof of vaccination or test negative for COVID-19 at their approaching shows. That news was preceded by events involving Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and singer-songwriter Jason Isbell. Isbell requested these precautions ahead of his scheduled August 11 date in The Woodlands. The venue claimed it couldn’t accommodate on short notice. Isbell said the venue wouldn’t even attempt to put the measures in place and he declined to perform the show. It was a first salvo in potential battles of this nature, between artists, venues and promoters.
We did ask Campbell whether it seemed odd to see rock stars turn public health advocates during the pandemic.
“No, I don’t think so at all. I think that’s kind of been a common thing for quite some time, I don’t know how far back it goes but you know, the hippies had their message that they were putting in their music. Back in the ‘80s, all the PSAs on MTV — ‘crack is wack’ — I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary,” Campbell said. “People always look to musicians and these public figures who are remarkable for whatever reason for guidance. We’re a herd animal, we’re looking for where the herd’s going. You look at the pretty successful people to tell you which way the herd’s going.”
Lamb of God is an act known to take definitive stands on social issues. We asked Campbell if the band plans to sermonize on COVID safety from its pulpit. He said its outspoken vocalist Randy Blythe will likely take the lead on any such action.
“You know, I don’t know that we’ve gotten that far yet. We are about to begin the real, real rehearsals very soon here and I imagine that topic will come up. Generally speaking, Randy speaks his mind up there and if he’s drawn to address that I imagine he will in some fashion.”
“It’s unfortunate that something like science is being ignored,” Campbell did offer. “For me to even say that becomes a political statement and that sucks so bad.”
“We’ll see what Randy strings together," he continued. "I will definitely be playing my bass and throwing out the vibe to please get vaccinated and wear a mask.”
Moving onto music, we discussed how the band created the energy necessary to pull off some of the best-received livestream concerts of the lockdown last year, no small feat if you consider metal a genre which really thrives with live audience feedback.
“The livestreams were something we undertook because what else can you do in that situation and they went really well,” Campbell said. “We tried to make them really special by doing full records front to back, but it was weird doing that without the live interaction and I think you’re absolutely right that metal especially thrives in a live setting when there’s energy going back and forth between the band and the crowd and the lights and the PA. It’s something that, when taken altogether, it’s bigger than just a bunch of noise.”
Campbell likened those streaming shows to shooting a video “except you had to play the songs right,” he laughed. “That was the challenge of that, to maintain the excitement and energy which, when you play in front of a crowd, it’s there. You feel it. You walk out onstage and it’s in the air. It’s amazing. I look very much forward to getting back to that.”
When they do, they’ll be offering songs from one of the best reviewed albums of their career, their self-titled record released in June 2020. It was one of the best selling metal albums of the year and got an expanded re-release this March, which included a director’s cut of some of its those livestream lockdown shows. Recently, the band announced its pivotal album Sacrament - which earned a Grammy nod and went gold - would get similar treatment. Its expanded re-release drops digitally on August 20, nearly 15 years to the date of its debut.
We asked how the band continues to one-up itself, especially knowing its metal legacy is already secured. For the record, Campbell said he does feel like Lamb of God takes strides with each new release.
“How we do that is probably out-of-control egos in some way,” he suggested with a laugh. “We have to be better. We have no choice.”
“We never intended to be successful,” he added. “This was never supposed to be our job. This was supposed to be what made us cool, that we could go play these parties and have fun doing it. When this band started it was very much about being in the moment. We’re going to go to this party and jaws are going to hit the floor. It’s gonna be great. And then we’re going to hang out and drink beer and talk to people.”
The people’s jaws did hit the floor all those years ago, back in the 1990s when the band sent metal into a new millennium. It’s sold more than 2.5 million albums worldwide and garnered over 400 million streams. Houston fans were stoked to offer a couple of questions for our chat and Campbell was stoked to field them.
“That’s great, that’s wonderful, I absolutely love connecting with the fans and it’s been quite some time, so I appreciate this opportunity,” he said, then answered a question from Matt, a longtime fan who asked how Lamb of God sees today’s metal landscape.
“That’s a great question and I am probably one of the least to dive into that,” he noted, but gamely added, “Gojira just put out a great record. Slipknot continues to be a great band. There’s bands like Trivium and Hatebreed. The scene is strong, there’s great music coming out. I think the pandemic, the lockdown situation, created opportunities for these established acts to push what they’re doing really well and it’s coming out as great music.”
One fan, Elliot, noted that Lamb of God’s great music is made even greater by the sound equipment it chooses. He hinted that he’d be interested in any MESA/Boogie heads Lamb of God might have retired.
“Oh, absolutely we still all play MESA/Boogie amplifications, I just was on the phone with MESA/Boogie yesterday getting some stuff straight for what’s going on,” Campbell said. “MESA makes some incredible stuff, they make it here in the United States in Petaluma, California, they make great equipment. There’s a lot of time and energy put into that and thank you Elliot for noticing.”
Campbell seemed to revel in this connection to the fans, hearing their thoughts and responding to their questions. That connection is the reason he and his bandmates are eager to see fans on the tour’s 28 scheduled dates, which are slated to begin Friday in Austin and wrap in Canada in October. When we spoke, he was hopeful about the shows and the idea that they could be done safely.
“We’re incredibly lucky, it’s silly that the lighting struck in the way that it did. But I try to be grateful and respectful of the situation,” he said. “We are so grateful to be able to get down there and play a show down in Houston. Let’s try to keep the weather bearable, everybody come out and have a safe, good time.”
Lamb of God co-headlines the Metal Tour of the Year, with Megadeath and special guests Trivium and Hatebreed, 6:30 p.m. Sunday August 22, 2021 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. $29.50-$114.50. Tickets purchased for the show's original July 17, 2020 date will be honored.