This story was originally published in August 2015.
It's a Tuesday morning in May, and Randy Blythe is, well, busy. When Revolver phones him at his home in Richmond, Virginia, and asks how he's doing, the 44-year-old Lamb of God frontman responds with an elongated "Aaaaargghhh!" But even this is delivered more in the manner of an exasperated sigh than a scream. "Ahh, I'm alright," Blythe adds reassuringly. "It's just that it's early, I leave for tour soon and there's a zillion things to do…"
Indeed, Blythe has working off a full schedule, and for a while now. Since Lamb of God wrapped up touring for their last album, Resolution, in early 2014 — a trek that was extended due to Blythe's 2012 imprisonment, and later acquittal, on a manslaughter charge in the Czech Republic — he has, in no particular order, authored a book, Dark Days, which chronicles his five weeks in Prague's Pankrác Prison; composed music for the Richmond Ballet; presented a collection of his photography at a gallery showing in New York City (in an exhibition titled D Randall Blythe: Show Me What You're Made of); guested on albums by North Carolina-based sludgesters Sourvein and the Corrosion of Conformity-associated supergroup Teenage Time Killers; starred in a "Taiwanese political-comedic kung fu" movie conceived by the Taipei-based activist metal band Chthonic; and written a country song for Hank Williams III. "I've got too many things going on," he says. "So one thing I was trying not to think about as much as possible was Lamb of God."
This, of course, hasn't worked out too well for him. Because while outwardly, at least, all has been relatively quiet on the LOG front over the past few months, in mid-May the band announced, seemingly out of nowhere, that a new record titled VII: Sturm und Drang, had been recorded and mixed and was scheduled for release. Lamb of God fans were caught off-guard by the sudden news, which Blythe acknowledges came quickly — perhaps even too quickly for him. "You know, some of the guys in the band, like Chris [Adler, drummer] will say some shit like, 'We couldn't wait to get back in the practice space,'" he says. "That's a bunch of fucking horseshit. He couldn't wait to get back in the practice space. I was fine with not getting back in the practice space. I wanted some time off. But that hasn't happened. So you know, not my choice. But that's the way it goes."
All of which doesn't mean that Blythe isn't excited about the new record ("our most cohesive yet") or Lamb of God's upcoming joint tour with Slipknot ("I've been wanting to get back out on the road with those guys for a long time"). In fact, as evidenced by VII: Sturm und Drang, Lamb of God — Blythe, Adler, guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler and bassist John Campbell — are still the most vicious unit going in heavy metal today. Tracks like "Still Echoes," "Footprints" and "Anthropoid" explode with the type of serrated, post-thrash riffing and throttling rhythms that the band have built their legacy on, while Blythe's vocals are as caustic and cutting as ever. But VII: Sturm und Drang also finds them pushing their boundaries, in particular on songs like the moody "Overlord," which features clean guitars and bluesy soloing, as well as a surprisingly tuneful vocal turn from Blythe.
"That song happened very organically," Blythe says of "Overlord." "Willie wrote all the verses and the basic song structure, and he sent it to me and I was like, 'Holy cow — I could sing over this.' I was in my truck and I just started singing. Once that was in place and we started preproduction, Mark came in with the chorus riff and we put it all together. But it wasn't premeditated. It's not like we sat down and tried to write a song like that. It's not a departure in intention. We were just writing a record. It's just what happens with us."
"The melodic vocal, Randy was very much the catalyst for that," adds Morton. "It wasn't something we were prodding him to do. And when we heard the demo for his idea we were blown away. We were all like, 'Wow, we're really gonna do this...' And it's gonna be pretty fun to see how people react to it. I'm expecting a bit of backlash but that's okay. I would much rather people be up in arms about us doing something different than about us doing the same old thing."
Guitarists Adler and Morton collaborated to a high degree on the music on VII: Sturm und Drang — "most of these songs are co-writes between the two of us," Morton says, "whereas in the past it was usually one of us or the other bringing something in." Additionally, Blythe says that he wrote about 90 percent of the lyrics — more than usual — on his own. As for why that was, he recalls, "Mark mentioned me to at one point, 'You probably have a lot to say right now…' "
It's understandable why Morton would have felt that way. VII: Sturm und Drang constitutes Lamb of God's first new music since Blythe's arrest and imprisonment, an incident that has been widely reported on since its occurrence. In a nutshell: While touring overseas in support of Resolution in June, 2012, the members of Lamb of God were detained after touching down at Prague's Ruzyně Airport. "We were met by a SWAT team, which is something none of us will ever forget," Chris Adler recalls. "We were all taken to a holding cell and later released — except for Randy." Blythe was summarily charged with manslaughter in the death of a fan, 19-year-old Daniel Nosek, who had suffered fatal injuries after, authorities claimed, the singer pushed him from the stage during a 2010 Lamb of God concert at the Prague club Abaton. Blythe spent five weeks at Pankrác Prison before being released on bail. He later returned to the Czech Republic to stand trial, and was acquitted of all charges.
The incident, as would be expected, heavily impacted everyone involved.
"During that time frame my primary concern — besides the sadness and the shock and the gravity of what had happened to Daniel — was for my friend, Randy," Morton says. "Not for 'my singer,' or for 'that guy in my band.' Just for my friend. We wanted to make sure he was gonna be okay. All the band stuff came after that."
Adds Chris Adler, "There was just a large amount of emotion and feeling going through all of us at that time. To hear that sort of news, like, oh my god, you're telling me someone died at our show? That changed us in ways that I don't think any of us were prepared for.
"And I think it had an effect on the new album, too, in terms of some of the different directions the music goes in," Adler continues. "Because the past few years haven't been all about piss and venom. We were dealing with real life and death situations. There were times where we had to hunker down and do what was right for Randy, or what was right for Daniel's family. Or we just needed to be home with our own families. It wasn't about being 21 and drunk and trying to write the heaviest thing you can write. And all of that influenced the record."
And yet, when it came time to compose lyrics, Blythe made a conscious decision not to focus too heavily on the events of the past few years. Two tracks — first single "Still Echoes" and the roiling "512" — address his time in Pankrác in very different ways. But otherwise, he says, VII: Sturm und Drang is not a "prison record."
"I didn't want to do that," Blythe says. "And for several reasons — the main one being, it would be opportunistic, you know? And that would have been a really shitty move. I mean, we're not a gangsta rap band. I'm not a thug. So I'm not gonna sit there and endlessly beat people over the head with this tragic subject. But what I did was, I finished a couple things I had actually started in prison. 'Still Echoes,' that's my version of the Misfits' 'London Dungeon.' It's a history of Pankrác, and I already had that set of lyrics about 80 percent done long before the record was started. And '512,' that was the number of one of the cells I was in, and I started writing the words when I was there. The song is about the internal changes that occur when you get locked up.
"So those are two pretty powerful things to write about. And I thought it was an artistically valid thing to bring to this record," he continues. "I also wrote a country song while I was there for Hank Willliams III because I figured, 'Hey, man, a country song about being in prison? I'm actually in prison. If there was ever a time to do it, it's now.' But we wrote 14 songs for this record, and only two were about that subject. Beyond that, it's just not what I felt like writing."
The project into which Blythe ultimately did channel most of his thoughts on the incident was the Dark Days book. But even there, he says, "The only reason I wrote a book is because I got convinced to do so by my literary agent. I said, 'I'm not ready to do this.' But my agent said, 'Well your memory's going to fade…' And it's like, 'You know, you're right.' So I wrote the book, and then I had a couple photos that I took in the Czech Republic while I was over there for the trial that I put in my exhibition. And that's it. There's nothing else to add. It's covered. Done. You know what I mean? Now, when someone asks me, 'What was prison like?' I'll say, 'I wrote a book! Read it and it will answer all your questions.' Because it was three years ago that I got out, you know? I'm not in this constant state of getting out of prison. Other things have happened since then."
Another thing about the book, according to Blythe: "I think that maybe it can help some people. Because there's a big message in there about personal accountability." This is a subject that is of utmost importance to the singer. In fact, when he was first released on bail from Pankrác, Blythe was adamant that, if summoned to stand trial, he would return to the Czech Republic — even though doing so could have resulted in a five to 10 year prison sentence. In a 2012 statement, he wrote, "While I maintain my innocence 100 percent, and will do so steadfastly. I will not hide in the United States, safe from extradition and possible prosecution." He added, "I feel very strongly that as an adult, it would be both irresponsible and immoral for me not to return to Prague if I am summoned."
The idea of personal accountability is touched on throughout the lyrics on VII: Sturm und Drang, in lines like "I live/I fight /I die" ("Anthropoid") and, most explicitly, in "Delusion Pandemic," where Blythe recites, "You are completely responsible for your own life/No one is going to save you from yourself / So stop blaming your problems on any and everything else/It does not matter one tiny fucking bit how unfair you think the world is."
The latter song also finds the singer opining at length on modern culture, in particular on how people attack one another anonymously on the internet. When asked to delve further into the topic, Blythe is only too happy to oblige. "I'm not a luddite," he says, "but at this point I don't believe technology is changing the way people view the world — it's warping it. What people accept as normal about life these days fucking blows my mind. If you think about the type of shit you can talk on the Internet anonymously, this would never, ever happen 30 years ago."
But he's just getting warmed up. "I mean, this will sound funny, but think about Justin Bieber. I want you to think about the Bieb, OK? Now, I can't name a single Justin Bieber song. I don't really know what his music sounds like. But I'm sure it's not good. He's not writing anything life-changing. But if you Google 'I hate Justin Bieber,' or 'Kill Justin Bieber' — and I did this one time — there's thousands of hits that come up. So I went down the rabbit hole. I spent a little while looking at 'Kill Justin Bieber.' And I read all these comments from anonymous people, some of whom are probably 14-year-old kids. And they're writing stuff like, 'I hope he dies.' 'I wish he'd catch on fire.' 'Someone should murder him.' They're doing this in a public forum, and this is the norm. There are no repercussions. So, yes, Justin Bieber probably sucks. But does he deserve to die? Dude, he's a fucking Canadian pop singer! When I was a kid, if I had a problem with someone I'd go to his fucking face and deal with it. It's insane to me that this type of shit is accepted now. It's fucking nuts."
Another aspect of the online world that Blythe takes issue with is what he calls "mob mentality." "People are so dumbed down now that they see something is on a bazillion different news sites and they assume it's the truth," he says. "Like, when I was arrested, a lot of the stuff that was coming out online was from Czech news sites, and then it went through Google Translate. But critical nuances in words are completely lost by Google Translate. Why? Because it's a fucking computer program. But once it's out there, people start internalizing it. Then they start accepting it as fact. That's a problem."
In a different way, online culture is also partly the reason why Lamb of God kept the recording of VII: Sturm und Drang under wraps, not even announcing they were working on a record until the whole thing was done and ready to go. "Because as soon as it's known, more than likely people are gonna try and start looking for it, and it'll leak," Blythe says. "Also, there's no mystique or mystery to anything anymore. Not everything has to be in a constant process of documentation, you know?"
So instead, the band opted to drop the news when they felt they were ready. "We all agreed there would be less distractions if we weren't talking about it, if we weren't answering questions about it, if we weren't hyping it," Morton says.
"We decided, 'We'll talk about it when we want to talk about it.' And that's the way it is," adds Blythe.
Once the announcement was made, the cycle, as Blythe puts it, had begun. "Now I leave in five days for Europe, then we come back and do the Slipknot tour, then we hit some festivals overseas … and before you know it, there goes 18 months."
As for whether he still enjoys being on the road as much as he did the earlier days of Lamb of God, Blythe is once again brutally honest. "I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings, but I'm also not trying to sell anyone a fantasy," he says. "We're old men at this point. It was fun back in the day when we were young and we were drinking and we were partying and all that stuff. But now I just wanna go to bed at the end of the night. So when we pull into a town at 10 in the morning and I get off the bus and go into a coffee shop, and a kid that's maybe going to the show that night recognizes me and says, 'Are you excited?' I'll look at him and say, 'Do you want me to tell you the truth or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?' And if he says he wants me to tell him the truth — and most of the time people do, because they're dummies — I'll do it. I'll be like, 'Fuck no, I'm not excited. I don't even know where I am. I've only been up for 30 minutes. I'd rather chew glass than get onstage right now.' And then he looks at me like I just pooped on his living room carpet. But I told him the truth. Don't ask for the truth if you don't want it."
And if someone doesn't want the truth?
He laughs. "Oh, if they say, 'Just tell me what I want to hear,' then I will go the fuck off. I'll be like, 'Dude! I am stoked as shit! I haven't slept for a week. I cannot fucking wait to rock tonight! In fact, let's just start right now…' And I'll just start yelling right there, in public. But then they get freaked out by that, too."
All that said, Blythe is quick to add, "I do enjoy playing live. But that doesn't mean I enjoy every single second of it. You can't live in this perpetual state of ecstasy just because you're in a band, you know?"
Which begs the question: Can Blythe envision a time when he is no longer in a band? Or, at least, in a band called Lamb of God?
His answer comes quickly. "Yes. Of course. I'm not gonna be doing this when I'm fucking 60. No fucking way. We're not the Rolling Stones. I'm always gonna be doing music, but not something quite so aggressive, I'm sure. But, I don't think Lamb of God ever has to break up. I think we can, like, gracefully move out to pasture…"
But this is all still way off in the future. "I know I'm lucky to be able to do this for a living. I'm blessed," Blythe says. "And when I'm onstage, I do my fucking job. We're gonna give you a good fucking show. We're gonna kick ass."