“Music is the only reason why I’m not prison (laughs) or dead, you know? I’m a dude who came from a little redneck town, and I didn’t fit in. It was horrible. Music definitely got me through it.” ~ D. Randall Blythe
In the opening minutes the documentary film As The Palaces Burn, Randy Blythe’s harmless musing about the course of his life was strangely prophetic. The music that got Randy through the toughest part of his young life and certainly brought him fame and glory as an adult, almost certainly cost him his freedom. Originally intended to be a look at Lamb of God fans around the world and their connection to the music, the band was turned upside-down by Randy’s June 2012 arrest and imprisonment in the Czech Republic, for the death of a fan in 2010 that the band was unaware of. As unlikely as this turn of events was for one of the biggest bands in metal, the film is an eye-opening account into the events that unfolded from the case, Randy’s personal struggles, the effect this had on the band both from the trial, and beyond.
Directed by Don Argott (Last Days Here) and produced by his 9.14 Pictures, the film first sees the band at the start of the Resolution (Epic) album cycle a touched on the last few years of the band, and the changes brought about by Randy’s (at the time) new-found sobriety. Although certainly not alone in the partying mode, Randy’s antics when drunk, seen many times in the past in the bands DVD’s, was singled out as a derisive force. On the flip side since undergoing a change in life due to sobriety, everyone one around the band marveled at the shift in his personality. Randy himself gave a confessional account of nearly having a nervous breakdown and not knowing how to deal with a sober life, until overtime he learned to cope and live his life freely. If the film stopped right there, it would still be a surprising, candid film, that few bands, metal or not, have ever made.
Early in the film the the focus was on Oscar from Columbia and Pratika from India, and the ways they connected to he bands music and a little look into the life of each fan at a LoG concert. Then the film shifts radically from Randy’s arrest at the airport in Prague, and his following imprisonment and eventual release. Band members like Mark Morton. Willie Adler, and Chris Adler talk at length about growing together, but often being at odds despite the common goals they share. Still, nothing will prepare you for seeing the band greet Randy at the the airport in Richmond, Virginia following his release from prison. It is a tear-inducing moment of anxiety and relief seen on screen by the band, and for the viewer. At the same time, some of the grief they share only intensifies throughout Randy’s voluntary return to Prague to stand trial for manslaughter. Through it all Randy was humble, and deeply stricken by the pain of the death of a fan of his, for the victim’s family, as well as himself, even though he was innocent. He still carries a heavy burden that has changed his life, even with the positive outcome of the trial.
The film’s access inside the proceedings and preparations with Blythe’s team of lawyers and the courtroom is a revealing look at legal systems abroad, and for those who deride the American system of justice, I’d say we have it pretty good here. Although Randy was exonerated of all the charges, the fact remains that Daniel Nosek, a 19-year-old fan of the band died following a Lamb of God show, and his family must cope with the loss somehow for the rest of their life. No matter how much you support the band, the film goes to great length to express the sorrow at the loss of life by this young man, and their hope is that Daniel is not forgotten through all of this.
Fans will come away from watching this film with a lot of mixed emotions about the band. To a man, the entire organization around LoG were all very supportive of their front man through his ordeal. However, the band is clearly far from close friends anymore. Certainly each member, and Randy, had to reconcile the possible loss of their careers and livelihood from the case had Randy been convicted and served any length of prison sentence. It is of note that while the film is clearly sympathetic to the plight of the singer and his band, it pulls no punches of the realty of a group of guys who have always have an uneasy alliance as friends, sober or not. Like most bands of their stature, there is a lot less of a brotherhood than the fans may want to believe. As LoG approaches middle age and veteran act status, they have grown up, and also grown apart with expanding families and other interests in their life trumping the chaos and mayhem of the killing road of metal music.
As The Palaces Burn is a film unlike any other, about a unique band who went through an experience that hopefully, never happens again. It’s a great film with some amazing cinematography and editing. Argott proves again to be a masterful story teller and the many emotional moments in the film are augmented by Mark Morton’s sparse score, full of his interesting guitar work. Those seeing the theatrical version will see a special Q & A the band did with Eddie Trunk about the film.
Keith (Keefy) Chachkes