By Brian Ives
Whether or not you enjoy Lamb Of God‘s brutal form of metal/hardcore crossover, their frontman D. Randall Blythe is a fascinating guy. He’s also a photographer (his first exhibition, “Show Me What You’re Made Of,” was in New York earlier this summer), and he’s composed a ballet.
He’s also had a rather insane experience that few have endured, and he’s survived it with grace and strength.
In June of 2012, as Lamb of God arrived in Prague for a concert, Blythe was detained and arrested for manslaughter, and taken to Pankrác Prison—a 123-year-old institution where the Nazis’ torture units had set up camp during the German occupation of then-Czechoslovakia, and where today hundreds of prisoners are housed, awaiting trial and serving sentences in claustrophobic, sweltering, nightmare-inducing conditions. He was being accused of murder of a 19 year old fan who died at a Lamb of God show there two years prior. He was released on bail, but returned to Prague to stand trial. The court ultimately ruled that he was not criminally liable for the death of the fan, even though he had the moral responsibility for it; he then returned home.
Lamb of God has just released their latest album, VII: Sturm Und Drang, with lyrics inspired by the ordeal, and Blythe has released his memoirs, Dark Days, which looks at his time in prison and the trial with great detail.
Blythe is pretty humble about his fame and all that he’s been through, and is always a fascinating guy to speak with. In this conversation, he discussed why surviving alcoholism is tougher than surviving jail, why singing for the first time on the new Lamb of God album is a non-story, and his thoughts on the Confederate flag.
How long did it take you to readjust to coming home after you got out of prison? Do you think you have post traumatic stress syndrome?
A lot of people have asked me very specifically, they’re like, “Are you suffering from PTSD?” And I have to say no. I did 37 days incarcerated in a foreign country, and it was not fun, and it was very, very scary.
But you know, I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t shot at, nobody beat me up, and it’s not the first difficult thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. I was an alcoholic. Well, I still am an alcoholic. I drank for 22 years. And when I came out of that, when I finally got sober about five years ago, I had a big boomerang effect from that. You know, after I’d been sober a little bit, it gave me almost a nervous breakdown.
But for me, it was a rather unique situation when I got out of prison. Most people who go through war or go to prison—and I know guys who live good lives today who’ve done both of those things, who have done long stretches and periods in prison and have gone and served a few tours of combat duty overseas. They’re able to live happy, normal lives, but some of them pretty damaged, you know. But they weren’t a public people. I’m a public person.
So when I got out of prison and came home to America, and I’m on stage nine days later in Iowa, and then in Wisconsin, and then back at home, and then we went out on tour before the trial, every single person I met was like, “Dude, I’m so glad you’re out of prison.” In my hometown of Richmond, walking down the street, people of all different backgrounds, economic backgrounds, race, different social classes, whatever, age groups, old, black, white, yellow, young, old, babies, whatever, they’re all like “Hey!” talking to me in public like, “I’m so glad you’re out.” And it was like this massive expression of support.
Which was great, and it really made me feel loved. It was, however, after awhile, extremely overwhelming, and it made me wanna hide. And to this day when I meet fans, and sometimes people who aren’t even fans of my band who were just aware of my situation, when I meet them, they’ll say like, “Dude, I’m so glad you got out of prison; you’re out of prison.” But I got out of prison three years ago. It’s like this constant feeling like I just got out of prison.
[pauses] I’d probably be dead right now if I hadn’t gone back to face trial, you know what I mean? Because inside me, it felt this is the right thing. I have to do this. I really have to do this. And that would’ve eaten at me and eaten at me and eaten at me. But you know, it was scary, but I did the right thing. Life isn’t easy sometimes. It would’ve hurt me a lot worse to not do the right thing, according to my inner moral compass.
(Maria Ives for Radio.com)
A lot of people wouldn’t have had the courage to go back and stand trial, particularly if they knew they hadn’t done anything wrong.
A lot of people will say, “I wouldn’t do that. You’re a better man than me, I would never go back” and all that stuff. And at first that kind of disappointed me; it gave me this feeling of disappointment in people, and I’m like “Really?”
But they’re speaking in hypotheticals. They’re saying “I would never do this if I was in your shoes.” The fact of the matter is, you don’t know what you’d do if you were in my shoes. It was a very specific situation, and I think people sell themselves short. I do. I think that there are people who think, “I would never have done that,” but had they been in my shoes and known the things I’d known, then I think a lot more people would have done what I would have done.
At least that’s my optimistic sort of viewpoint. You don’t know what you’re gonna do until you’re in someone’s shoes. And I can say, “Oh, if I got put in combat I wouldn’t run away. I wouldn’t desert my friends, I wouldn’t be—I wouldn’t cry, I wouldn’t freeze up.” You don’t know. You don’t know until you’re in that situation.