The more thought that goes into Mark Morton’s Anesthetic, the more it feels like the promotion has been completely mismanaged. On paper, an album like this could easily sell itself, taking the Lamb Of God guitarist and pairing him with a multitude of hard rock and metal musicians for a string of collaborations to potentially show a versatility unexplored in his dayjob. It operates in the same way as Slash’s 2010 debut, unashamed about its status as a vanity project and a vehicle to show off Morton’s list of famous friends, but with the potential to result in a more interesting, diverse set of songs. And yet, everything tied to Anesthetic has almost always circled back to Cross Off, the collaboration with the late Chester Bennington that, at the moment, is proving to be the lynchpin for the hype surrounding the album. In any other context, that would largely be fine – it’s a good song with Bennington in a stronger place vocally than in his last years with Linkin Park – but when it’s receiving this much push over everything else, it can be difficult not to believe that Cross Off is the engine room powering an album that doesn’t have to amount to much, and can easily achieve success through inertia alone.
Thankfully that’s not the case, but it doesn’t stop Anesthetic from having numerous issues that really can’t be escaped, nor can it be reasoned that Morton isn’t at the centre of the vast majority of them. After all, this is his album, and while that might initially seem like palming the blame off on the easiest target, you’d presume he’d be the one mapping out where each creative decision goes. But going back to Slash again and how, for as widespread and diverse as his guest stars were, he was still able to bend them around his own sound and fit his own vision; here, Morton seems to be unwaveringly conforming to his collaborators, and not only does that make him seem increasingly anonymous as a presence on his own album, but in turn makes each individual track lack a certain spark when they could easily just been deep cuts in any of the featured bands’ catalogues. At least having Imaginary Days as a solo cut brings the sphere of influence in closer to zero in on a brand of hard rock / trad-metal that isn’t particularly inspired but has his distinct fingerprints on it; elsewhere, Sworn Apart with Jacoby Shaddix and Save Defiance with Myles Kennedy are morphed effectively wholesale into Papa Roach and Alter Bridge tracks respectively, lyrics and all, and the honking vocals from Buckcherry’s Josh Todd on Back From The Dead seem like enough on their own to shunt it into the role of tired sleaze-rock. If nothing else, having Truth Is Dead as the final song is as big a slap in the face as any, not only being the only track pit two distinct personalities against each other in Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, but being the only example of this album really taking a chance as far as artist distribution goes.
That’s not to say that playing it safe can’t work though, and while a lot of Anesthetic is easy enough to link back to the main work of its featuring credit, there’s enough quality for the most part in the same way that even the most basic hard rock and metal can work when given enough volume and pulse. The clear standout is Axis, turned down to a haunting grunge lament with Mark Lanegan’s gravelled rasp and dusty storytelling to make it even more enrapturing, while Reveal also gets a lot right as another sharp left turn, taking cues from jazz and groove-driven ‘90s alt-rock while Naeemah Maddox stands as the album’s most commanding and unique presence in her effortless flows. Even when keeping it simple, Morton can deliver enough quality riffage to hit that big, bombastic metal watermark with relative ease, like on Cross Off or the bellydragging southern metal of Blur aided by Sons Of Texas’ Mark Morales. It’s true that a number of these would struggle to stand up against much competition – or indeed, a lot of the material from each artists’ own bands – but in the context of this, put together as a side-project that isn’t presumably supposed to lead to much more, Anesthetic is pretty much fine across the board.
That’s probably the safest presumption to make through, especially when Morton’s mileage when it comes to collaborations like this doesn’t look to be too high. It’s disappointing that this is as safe a listen as it is; the main thrill of albums like this tends to come in plucking various artists out of their comfort zones to bounce off each other and see what happens, and when that happens so minimally here, it’s easy to contemplate whether it was worth it in the first place. At least the resultant songs are pretty good for the most part, and as a fairly easy, uncomplicated listen, Anesthetic goes down smoothly enough, but it could’ve been a lot more than that, and those preconceptions hanging over it don’t help things one bit.
For fans of: Lamb Of God, Alter Bridge, Papa Roach
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Anesthetic’ by Mark Morton is released on 1st March on Spinefarm Records.