The Thing About Mark Morton’s ‘Anesthetic’
Is justice dead?
The Thing About is a series of short, simple heavy metal reviews. Scroll down to the headings that interest you most or read the whole thing. The previous installment was about the album Extirpation Paradigms by Traumatomy.
My personal Approved Vendor List for long-playing records has been periodically throwing Mark Morton’s 2019 release Anesthetic at me ever since it came out, but it’s always gotten lost in the shuffle of too much music and too little time. It showed up again recently, cheaper than ever, with blood-red wax redder than ever, and more enticing than ever. Unable to fight the urge, here I am to tell you what is the thing about Mark Morton’s Anesthetic.
Mark Morton was a founding member of heavy metal band Burn the Priest in 1994. The band later took the name Lamb of God, and Morton has been a member ever since. It released its debut album New American Gospel in 2000, achieved sales glory with Ashes of the Wake (2004), and then went on to release five more albums (with another one coming next week), secure in its fanbase. I’ve always found LoG to be immediately accessible but not too tuney, reliably heavy but not extremely extreme, and a lot of that quality comes from lead guitarist and songwriter Mark Morton.
Morton’s only full-length solo album, Anesthetic, is a syncretic affair. The family of sounds on display includes alt and hard rock, metalcore, groove and death. The songwriting is always tight, guitar solos abound, and almost every track has a featured vocalist or two:
Chester Bennington (Linkin Park)
Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach)
Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees)
Chuck Billy (Testament)
Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge)
Mark Morales (Sons of Texas)
Josh Todd (Buckcherry)
Neemah Maddox (solo artist)
Randy Blythe (Lamb of God)
Alyssa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy)
Many of these vocalists share writing credits with Morton, and their styles and the styles of their bands are apparent. “Axis” features Mark Lanegan, but he sounds like Ian Astbury of The Cult to me, and it sounds like a song by The Cult. “Cross Off” features Chester Bennington and this track might as well be a Linkin Park rarity. “The Truth Is Dead” packs extra aggression due to Alyssa White-Gluz’s growls (she also does cleans on the track) and Randy Blythe’s gnarly growls, snarls and screams. Clearly, Morton was less interested in pushing a narrow vision of his own than in working with other artists to see what they could do together.
The album also brings in musicians of pedigree. A look at the drummers on Wikipedia turns up performers from bands spanning The Black Crowes to Korn. Other musicians have backgrounds with bands exhibiting a similar breadth of style, from Alice in Chains to Trivium. Anesthetic is a superband with a lineup that changes from track to track, and unlike many superbands, this one works.
Nothing beats a nice product, and this is one. The cover art is in the style of an old woodcut. It shows a statue of a robed woman, saintlike, palms upturned beneficently, standing in front of a tree. Arrows have struck all around, amid a spill of tarot cards, narrowly missing her, but pinning one card to the tree. A house is in the background, starry sky overhead. The dominant color is purple, but the arrows are as sanguine as the cover of Opeth’s Still Life (1999), which this cover closely resembles. It’s eye-catching work.
Inside the gatefold is more art in the same style, and two pockets holding a small deck of cards. They resemble tarot cards, depicting lady justice, demons, a skeletal knight, swords like grave markers, faceless sphinxes. The liner notes are on the backs of these cards: song lyrics, credits and thank-yous. No one needs a deluxe package like this, but in a world where real things are disappearing, replaced by junk and digital evaporata, it certainly is welcome to have something this crafted, this substantial.
The Thing About
The thing about Anesthetic is Alyssa White-Gluz. The former Canadian Idol contestant and The Agonist founder is known for doing a lot of guest appearances with everyone from Carnifex to Babymetal. I first heard her on Kamelot’s “Angel of Afterlife” (2012). The same year as Anesthetic, Soilwork featured her on its single “Stålfågel.” Her skills don’t always shine as a featured artist as much as with her main gig as Arch Enemy’s lead vocalist, but her appearance on Anesthetic is growing on me. She and Morton’s LoG bandmate Randy Blythe brook no argument that the truth is six feet under. It was 2019, so do the math.
For some, Anesthetic won’t be extreme enough, but that lack of extremity will be what makes this palatable for so many others. The changing vocalists bring a steady flow of new but related sounds, leaving you eager in the grooves between tracks for what comes next.
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