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Cover Story: Lamb Of God

| September 1, 2015

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Not all of the good-deed-tallying ballots are in. But Randy Blythe just might be the Most Honorable Man in Rock and Roll. In June of 2012, as his heavy metal outfit Lamb of God was touching down in Prague on a European tour, he was arrested by Czech police on manslaughter charges, stemming from a local concert incident two years earlier – he had allegedly shoved 19-year-old fan Daniel Nosek offstage, resulting in fatal injuries. Denying culpability, the singer – once released on bail – theoretically never had to return. β€œThe United States has an extradition treaty with the Czech Republic, but the chances are negligible that they would have decided to extradite me if I’d decided to jump bail,” he reckons in cold, clinical retrospect. But he chose to return and defend his decent name, in a bone-chilling trial that lasted a month and ended with his acquittal.

Why did Blythe face the music? “Really, it had nothing to do with legal stuff, because I don’t care what the court system thinks,” he declares, staunchly. “It’s not the man-made laws that could tell me to go back – it’s the internal moral compass, it was the right thing to do. I don’t need a law to tell me what’s right and wrong, because I was raised by a good parent. So I just thought that it was the proper thing to do, to go back. And luckily, it all worked out.” Just leaving your fate in the hands of a foreign jury was frightening enough. But the prison itself – which was employed by Nazis during wartime – added a whole new dimension of terror, which the artist effectively captured on two new dirges on its VII: Sturm und Drang juggernaut – “Still Echoes” and “512,” the number of one of the cells where he was incarcerated.

Blythe also penned a 500-page account that details what he endured, Dark Days: A Memoir, just published by Da Capo Press. And he was actually writing songs in prison, he says. He started scribbling lyrics on toilet paper wrappers, in the same way that the Marquis De Sade inked poetry into pillow cases during his jail term. “And eventually, I got ahold of some paper, and I went in-depth about this in my book,” he sighs. “But the only reason I wrote it was to set the story straight, so when anyone asks me, ‘Hey – what was a foreign prison like?’ I can say, ‘Well, I wrote an actual book about this, and it’s super-descriptive of what the place was like. And it was not a nice place to be.'”

Some folks would chalk this all up as a classic case of tragedy once again inspiring great, compelling art. But this rocker refuses to see it that way. He was always a writer, he believes – he only recently discovered that he had the studious discipline for long-form undertakings. “Because writing a book makes writing a record look like kindergarten,” he admits. “And the worst part about it is facing the blank page every day, making yourself sit in the chair. I never wanted to do housework so badly in my life as when I was writing my book, like, ‘Oh! I’d better dust the blinds! And do the dishes!’ But I did learn a lot in the process of it, and I’m looking forward to my next one, which will more than likely be fiction.”

But two autobiographical tracks and a telling tome? “I would rather have none of that if this tragic occurrence could be taken away, because first and foremost, a person lost their life, and that’s truly terrible. So going, ‘Oh, I’m grateful that I got this out of that’? That just seems really gauche. So for me, now it’s like, ‘You went through this. But what are you going to do with it now?’ Not in an opportunistic way, but how can you do some good, even after writing a very moral book?” He took photos of his surroundings while he was awaiting trial, he adds. But exploitation is the furthest thing from his mind. “And I’m pretty careful about how I treat the whole situation,” he says, in dignified – decidedly honorable – fashion. How many less-scrupulous bands might have parlayed the same situation into an entire concept album? Perhaps an elaborate rock opera?

What, then, is Sturm und Drang about? To comprehend its stark lyrical content – delivered in Blythe’s patented lupine snarl (save one bluesy ballad, “Overlord,” that he actually croons, which still sounds feral and ferocious) – you have to have a general understanding of the man himself. Born David Randall Blythe in Fort Meade, New Jersey, the performer joined Lamb of God back in 1995, when bassist John Campbell, drummer Chris Adler, and guitarists Mark Morton and Matt Conner had been together for a year as Burn the Priest (later, Morton was replaced by Adler’s guitarist kid brother Willie). He also launched a spinoff group called Halo of Locusts, and began acting in horror films like Brian Pulido’s creepy 2009 flick “The Graves” and an upcoming feature film from Taiwanese combo Chthonic. “It’s a strange combination, a political-action-kung-fu-comedy-type of movie,” he notes. “And I played an exaggerated version of myself. I can’t say the Mandarin name for the film, and they haven’t told me the English translation for it yet. But during filming, I spoke lines in Taiwanese, Mandarin, Japanese, and English – it was all really interesting.”

But Blythe’s other interests are more revelatory. Based in Richmond, Virgina, he has undergone desert survival training with expert Cody Lundin, and he swears by his two live-through-the-Apocalypse books 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive! and its sequel, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes. He believes that mankind – in the name of corporate greed, and using any technological tools at its disposal – has systematically doomed itself to extinction, and that Mike Judge’s unusually-prescient comedy “Idiocracy” (in which Luke Wilson, playing a modern-day man of average intelligence, awakes from cryogenic slumber 500 years in the future when so many ignorant people have continued breeding that he’s the smartest man in the world) is already coming true. He’s seen his bandmates watching reality-TV shows on the tour bus, he says, and he’s reminded every time of the “Idiocracy” program everyone watches, “Ow! My Balls,” which simply depicts a man repeatedly getting racked in the nuts, nothing else. The most popular theater film of the era is “Ass” – just a giant girl’s derriere on screen for 90 knuckleheaded minutes. “”Ow! My Balls” exists,” he says, somberly. “And while you’re sitting there, your brain is turning to mush, and it’s because you’re watching it. And Lo! The Idiocracy is upon us,” he adds with a Biblical flourish. “And I was full of great fear, revulsion, and trembling!”

Something is coming, the man believes. Something horrific that we, as a species, have brought on ourselves. Extinction? Perhaps, he says, citing books like Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, which traces the cunning climate-change-denying movement to the Conservative purse strings of Big Oil and Big Coal. But he’s got a little Conservative in him, as well – in advance of whatever’s on the way, he’s purchased some firearms to protect his family from any kind of “Road Warrior” scenario. As he’s said before, “When the grid goes down, it’s just gonna be me and my guns.” Now you’re beginning to get a handle on the theories – both personal and political – discussed on Sturm und Drang. “Everyone seems to think that it would have been a prison record, right?” he asks rhetorically. “Everyone seems to think that I would get out and want to have this emotional catharsis where I write this heavy metal record about all this stuff. No, that’s not true at all. I wrote a 500-page book about all that before I went to record this album. Why would I want to write a big heavy metal record about it? It doesn’t echo the book at all. It’s not a prison record, and I’m no gangsta rapper.”

– Tom Lanham

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