GRAMMY-nominated metal band Lamb Of God and director Don Argott originally set out to make a documentary about the group's worldwide fans and what the music means to them and how it has impacted their lives. But near the end of their original trajectory in 2012, frontman Randy Blythe was arrested and held in a Prague jail after he was accused of allegedly pushing a fan offstage in 2010, ultimately resulting in the fan's death. The band subsequently became the focus of the film as Blythe coped with incarceration and a nearly year-long trial that ultimately found him not guilty, but could have resulted in a 10-year sentence.
In As The Palaces Burn, which hits theaters Feb. 27, Argott captures Blythe and his bandmates during a dark moment in their lives, while featuring in-depth commentary from the band members themselves and never-before-seen footage surrounding Blythe's legal trial. In an interview with GRAMMY.com, Argott and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler discuss how the film dispels stereotypes surrounding metal bands, what life would have been like if Blythe had been found guilty and why the documentary displays the mark of a good film.
Chris, what do you think are the biggest stereotypes that people have about Lamb Of God, and how do you think this movie will change those perceptions?
Chris Adler: I think we share the same stereotypes and difficulties that many other artists have in this kind of music. There is the obvious stereotype that we're long-haired druggies, dropouts, Satanists, [and that we] don't have any education, or know really anything about the world. When we were making this movie, we weren't trying somehow to redeem ourselves or show anybody anything about us, but I think it does show that we are mellow, humble people [who] are fortunate to be able to do something that we love. At the same time, we're taking care of families and are relatively intelligent people behind the scenes who do care about what we do and the people [who] are coming to see us.
How do you feel about all the moshing and stage diving that's been going on at Lamb Of God concerts over the years?
Adler: For me, if you can elicit any sort of physical reaction [out of] people [with] music, you've really accomplished the goal, whether that's dancing, headbanging, moshing, whatever it is. That's what always made me smile onstage, seeing that energy being returned, and I love writing music that makes people move. As far as moshing and stage diving — and I've been in a few mosh pits in my day — it's never really been the reason I would go to show. I've seen some people get hurt doing that, and we obviously had this tragedy happen in Prague with the guy who stage dived. … It's one of those things where we don't encourage it, but it's not something where we'll say "don't do it" because we came up in this. We took part in all of these activities ourselves. This is what it's all about, this idea of having a "safe place" to release this energy. It obviously isn't always safe, and that can be different people's fault, or the club or the barricade or whatever. There are a number of reasons why it may not be the best idea to do it, but in general, for me that's what makes me want to go to these hard rock and metal shows, that shared energy that takes the whole show to a different level.
You officially stopped doing the "wall of death" at concerts about 10 years ago after you saw a couple of fans backstage who had been injured during the frenzied moshing. But it's still going on at shows, even if Randy Blythe isn't encouraging it. Have you gotten to the point where you need to tell fans that they could hurt people?
Adler: It's hard because, like I said, this is where we came from and [what we] grew up doing. We realize it's very much a part of the show, but there is obviously some shared responsibility that we take as providing the soundtrack to whatever it is that's going on. Nowadays it does change up a little bit. Randy does say, "I'm not going to preach to you, but we're all here for the same reasons." If you see somebody fall down or see somebody doing something unsafe, help each other out. Let's all get through this and have a good time together. It's very different than [turning] around and [punching] the guy next to you. At the same time, we're not going to tell people to go get some chocolate milk and sit down.
After the incident in Prague, what was it like being in that kind of twilight zone when you thought your career was almost done?
Adler: I think we all have that idea in the back of our mind all the time, whether somebody quits or our audience is done with us or we've lost our relevance or whatever. Nothing lasts forever, and we're lucky we've gotten this far. It wasn't the first time we thought about it, but it was certainly the first time it was in our face. There was no way we were going to continue the band if Randy had gone to jail. It was very daunting to think that we were going to fill out applications at Barnes & Noble or set up some kind of Lamb Of God smoothie shop. We didn't know what we were going to do, but I think everybody was fine-tuning their B-plan a little bit during that time. It was very scary.
This court case has had a strong financial impact on the band. What does that mean moving forward for Lamb Of God?
Adler: We've been very smart with our business model in that as we make money on tour, which is basically the only way we make money, we don't necessarily divvy it all up. We put some in savings for a rainy day, and this was a very f***ing rainy day. It did pretty much wipe out that fund. No one had to sell their house or anything like that, but we also had to borrow from the next record fund to get through this.
How has Randy Blythe been doing?
Adler: He's doing great. He's been sober now for over three years, and thank God he was sober when this situation happened. He's really pulled himself together. He's a remarkable guy, and we're all very proud of him going over and handling it the way he did, but at the same time this was not the film we wanted to make. This was a total f***ing nightmare. … The guy spent a lot of time in jail and was on trial where he easily could've been sentenced to 10 years. The bottom line is that a fan of our band died, and it's hard to say whose fault that was, but it's still a very tragic situation and this nightmare that none of us can really wake up from. Randy obviously being the guy on trial for it, it's his nightmare every day.
Don, this documentary took a wild, unexpected turn. How invisible did you try to make yourself under such tense circumstances?
Don Argott: I think anytime anybody says that you forget the cameras are there, I don't think that's ever the case. Anybody is aware that there's a camera in the room. It's very obvious. I don't care how big of a celebrity you are, I don't think you ever get used to having a film crew following your life. But we try to make things comfortable and also nonthreatening and have there be a level of trust and respect and comfort with who we are. The best thing you can do as a documentary filmmaker is make your subjects feel comfortable and know that you respect the situation and that you treat it with respect and that you know that it's a privilege to be in that environment. I do that in every film that we've done and take that very seriously because that's the line between making a good film and not. You can't make a film like this when everyone's closing doors on you. I was fortunate enough to gain the band's trust, and I'm grateful that they trusted me with their story. … The mark of a really good film is to be able to give access to the viewer, and I think we were able to do that.
I hear they've put more fan interviews in the bonus features on the DVD, which is the original reason the film was made.
Argott: That's one of the ways that we were able to tie everything together because it was a fan-centric film, and of course [that accident] happened to a fan. There is a straight line within that. The difference is that we started out turning the cameras away from the band, and after the horrible accident happened the band got more pulled in than they ever intended to. There are definitely going to be plenty of bonus DVD features of stuff that didn't make the cut.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)