2020 has already thrown us a lot of curveballs, but “Lamb of God Guitarist Records Acoustic EP” was still unexpected. Mark Morton’s first solo record, last year’s Anesthetic, was well-received for its meaty groove riffs and stellar guest lineup. Morton's new EP, Ether, keeps the guests but ditches the riffs for acoustic strumming. Buckle up, bucko. It’s time for a trip to country town.
Actually, that’s unfair. Even though it’s all acoustic, Ether isn’t country. It skirts the line between indie, folk-rock, and (okay, fine) outlaw country. No seriously. If it didn’t have Mark Morton’s name attached to it, you might mistake this for the new Lucero record. Not bad, but a jarring shift in tone, sound, image and…well, just about everything.
Lzzy Hale shines a bright light on “She Talks To Angels,” Ether’s first cover courtesy of The Black Crowes. Hale has always had a hell of a voice, and it’s a treat to hear her belt it out over something that isn’t a hard rock song. Elsewhere, Moon Tooth’s John Carbone, collaborator Mark Morales, and ex-Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones all make appearances on Ether. Of all these, Lzzy and Jones seem the most in their element. Always able to balance the best of both worlds, Howard Jones nails the croon-to-power mix that it takes to lift up Morton’s strumming into a truly engaging experience on “Love My Enemy”.
The question we must ask is “Why?” According to Mark Morton:
“(I was) inspired by the acoustic sets I had the opportunity to perform last spring and summer in support of 'Anesthetic,'…I began writing some new songs to reflect that more mellow vibe. I’m stoked with the results and I can’t wait for everyone to hear what we’ve been putting together.”
But is anyone else this enthusiastic? Lamb of God showed themselves to be much more then meat-headed metal mongers with “Overlord,” their first foray into acoustic on 2015’s VII: Sturm Und Drang. It was cool, but an anomaly. Have any of the rabid fans been desperately awaiting more acoustic songs?
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Lamb of God have already announced a new album and Mark Morton is doing whatever he wants until then. It’s refreshing to hear this versatile musician sit down and play straight from the heart with no obligations to hold him back. Usually—99 times out of 100—the dude playing acoustic guitar at a party doesn't work. But every once in a while, the whole party stops to listen. Mark Morton achieves this a couple of times on Ether, which already puts him head and shoulders above the many other metal acts who have dipped their toes into the "acoustic covers album" swamp. It isn't Lamb of God. It isn't even Anesthetic, but it’s a decent prelude for the metal storm that is undoubtedly about to break this year.