By Brian Ives
Sometimes you start shooting a film about one thing, and it ends up being about something else. A good example is Metallica‘s Some Kind Of Monster, originally conceived as a post-Osbournes series designed to help market the band’s next album; it famously turned into a documentary about the band’s near-implosion, complete with rehab stints, a lineup change and the hiring (and firing) of a full-time band therapist.
When Lamb Of God recruited filmmaker Don Argott to follow the band around, the idea was to turn the camera onto the band’s fan base.
As frontman Randy Blythe explained to Radio.com, “The theme of the movie was supposed to be [about] the power of music in our underground community, and my band was just the vehicle to illustrate that.” But when Lamb Of God got to the Czech Republic, the film took a dire turn. Blythe was arrested on charges of manslaughter, blamed for the death of one of their young fans in the Czech Republic at a show two years prior. The film became a document of Blythe’s legal battle to clear his name, and to avoid a decade of jail time.
The film, As The Palaces Burn, is also a portrait in courage. After spending five weeks in a Prague jail, he was released under the condition that he would return to stand trial. Although he easily could have simply decided not to do so, he did in fact return to face the family of the deceased fan.
“Nobody ever knows how they’re going to react until they’re in a situation,” he says. “Everybody says that to me: ‘I wouldn’t have gone back! You’re crazy!’ And that may be true. Of course I had thoughts: ‘Oh, I could just stay here.’ The American government was not going to extradite me. They refused to cooperate with the Czechs in the initial investigation. And neglected to let me know that there had been one. But I wouldn’t have been able to look myself in the mirror. I’m not that good at lying to myself. And to my knowledge, I was the only one who held any sort of answer — and not a very clear one, from my perspective — for those parents. They lost their kid, they have to deal with that for the rest of their life, if I can give them any sort of closure, that’s the least I could do.”
“There’s also a bit of self-preservation there. It’s no secret that I’m a rampaging alcoholic,” he says, and that point was made in the film as well. “But I haven’t had a drink in a while. If I had not done the right thing, I would have been running from my problems, and I hid from my problems in a bottle for so long. If I had come out and continued to hide from that because I was afraid of repercussions, I think I would have started drinking again and from there, eventually died.”
He doesn’t speak about his time behind bars, but there’s no doubt that it was a harrowing experience. However, he still has a great sense of humor. When asked why there’s no prison footage in the documentary, he and director Don Argott joke freely about it: “I would have loved if he came in! I would have been like, ‘Take me outta here!'”
But Blythe was allowed limited visitors, and Argott notes that he wasn’t going to take that away from Blythe’s wife and lawyers. The frontman laughs, “I would have been pretty perturbed if you had taken that away from my wife!”
Blythe says that he would return to Prague – but as a tourist, not with Lamb Of God: “You know, I would not go with my band to play a show in the Czech Republic. Because if we were to go back there and play, it would be huge news there, and the family of this young man, they’ve seen my face enough. I want them to heal. It would be all over the media there. Unless it was a benefit and it was organized with the family. I don’t want to bring any more pain to them. But as far as going back to Prague, I will. I fell in love with the city, even in the midst of the trial.”
Right now, Blythe is taking some time off from Lamb Of God, although they have a few shows booked. He has already cut vocals for his supergroup side-project called Teenage Time Killer that also includes members of Corrosion Of Conformity, Corey Taylor and Dave Grohl, among others.
And he told us about two upcoming projects, one of which is rather unexpected. “I’m just finishing my book, Dark Days. I’m trying to just relax for a minute, man! But I’m actually doing a piece of music for the Richmond Ballet, their New Works Festival, my buddy is choreographing that, he’s a professional ballet dancer, I’m composing that right now. I’m not a pianist or anything, but I have the ear to write music. I can’t play guitar or whatever, but with the way digital editing is, you can compose little tiny bits at a time. It’s a lot of fun and I think I’m going to get my buddy Alex Skolnick from Testament to lay some atmospheric guitar tracks on that, and we’ll be in the ballet world!”
As for director Argott: How do you follow-up a documentary like As The Palaces Burn? He tells Radio.com that his next film is a documentary on Kurt Vonnegut. “This filmmaker [Robert] Bob Weide was working on a film with Kurt for the past thirty-something years, and became best friends with Kurt, and he could no longer be the objective documentarian, he kind of became part of the story. He wanted his story to be a part of the film, so that’s why he asked me to come in and bring his story into it.”
As The Palaces Burn is in theaters this week. Check out to the film’s official website for theaters and times.