Lamb of God singer back from a long day’s journey into night
A strange feeling came over Randy Blythe of the heavy metal band Lamb of God just moments before stepping onstage last August: He got nervous.
The occasion was opening night of the Knotfest hard rock festival in Council Bluff, Iowa, another in a series of high-profile gigs for the singer. But it wasn’t the crowd or the spotlight that had him anxious. Just days earlier, Blythe was imprisoned in the Czech Republic, facing manslaughter charges and uncertain as to when or how he would be released.
“We didn’t have time to practice,” says Blythe, 41, back home in Richmond, Va. “I hadn’t sang since the day before I got arrested in Prague, so I was hoping my voice didn’t blow it. It was really, really, really intense. I’ve never felt that way onstage before.”
The worst was behind him, after five weeks of incarceration in the Czech Republic, accused of pushing a fan offstage during a performance there in 2010. That fan died from a head injury, and Blythe was facing a potential 10-year sentence — and still does if the case goes forward. He’s pledged to return if called to trial.
So as Blythe stood onstage at the Slipknot-hosted festival, facing the roar of thousands of metal fans in front of him, and with the side of the stage packed with members of other bands and their crews, he was feeling the moment. He began the set with the raging, gutteral howl of “Desolation”: “By your own admission, no one is ever above suspicion / Defenses never to be let down / the lies readily abound ...”
Now back on tour, with a performance Wednesday night at the Hollywood Palladium, Lamb of God has been working to make up for lost time. The band’s newest album, “Resolution,” was released in January.
“I have a family at home, and I’m really close to them, but I also have a family on the road,” says Blythe of his return to action. “And all of them were like, Dude, we were so worried about you.”
The touring juggernaut of Lamb of God came to an unscheduled halt on June 27, a quiet travel day for the metal quintet, flying into Prague from a festival in Oslo. There were only two more European dates ahead of them before returning home to Virginia.
“When I got to the top of the ramp there was a SWAT team there: five guys in masks with machine guns, three plainclothes officers and a female chief investigator,” says Blythe. “They looked like they were there to snatch somebody from Al Qaeda, not a member of a rock ‘n’ roll band.
“Then they handed me a piece of paper saying they were charging me with manslaughter, and I was, ‘Oh my God.’ It was a big shock.”
He was arrested and driven to a police station, where he was fingerprinted and photographed. Blythe was accused of causing the death of 19-year-old Daniel Nosek, a fan who died after allegedly being pushed from the stage by the singer. Blythe denied the charges, and says he doesn’t recall the incident.
Blythe spent the first three nights in a dimly lighted holding cell before being moved to a prison, where he shared a cell with two Mongolians. His expectations of a quick release on bail were repeatedly disappointed. The first time his bail was denied was the worst, but he soon prepared himself for a long stay.
“If I felt anxiety or fear or depression, I really quickly checked myself because that does no good,” he recalls. “I’ve been through a good bit in my life. I never ever heard anyone say when a crisis arrived that good advice was to panic.”
Inside, he was cut off from the world, with no Internet or email. Outside, he later learned, the local media demonized him and Lamb of God, who were “portrayed as looting, Viking-like savages.”
Music helped. In prison, Blythe had three songs running in endless rotation in his head: Black Flag’s “Rise Above,” the Misfits’ “London Dungeon” and Bad Brains’ “Attitude” (a.k.a. “Positive Mental Attitude”).
With most of his time confined to a cell, Blythe sat at a small table and wrote Lamb of God songs, journals, letters, some “strange black humor poetry,” outlined a novel and penned a long essay on “the nature of time and current sense of entitlement” he sees in Western society. He also wrote a country song for his friend Hank Williams III called “Six Bar Hotel.”
“I’ve been telling him I was going to write him a country song for a long time,” Blythe says. “I felt, well, if not now, when? Prison is perfect for writing a country song.”
After his 30th day, he was finally moved upstairs with the general prison population. There were language barriers, but Blythe discovered he had fans there. The prisoners who worked in the laundry room were metal heads, with Metallica, Machinehead and Zakk Wylde posters on the wall. He signed some autographs, and traded guitar picks for cigarettes, food and coffee.
His release on bail finally came on a Thursday. Blythe was on a plane the next afternoon. “I was really sweating it until that plane was in the air,” says Blythe, who was worried the prosecuting attorney would file another appeal or another charge to keep him in the country. “I kept a really low profile.”
He hopes the case can be resolved in his absence, but will return to the country for a trial if called. “Ethically it’s the right thing to do,” Blythe insists. “The charges are just groundless to me and to a lot of people. I feel obliged to go back. This young man’s family has suffered through this big media explosion and they deserve some answers. Their child is dead. That’s about as bad as it gets.”
During the band’s tour of Europe, Lamb of God was being followed by a documentary crew. The arrest has provided a twist in the film, as did an event in “Gimme Shelter,” the 1970 Rolling Stones documentary that took a left turn after arriving at Altamont, where a man was attacked on camera and later died.
“The director went to Prague with a camera, with my wife, and filmed her cruising around Prague and talked to her about what was going on,” Blythe says. “This chapter of the movie is closed — I’m back home. But we don’t know what’s going to go on with court. Hopefully it will be a happy ending.”
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