New Lamb Of God Documentary Out This Month
Bassist John Campbell and documentary filmmaker Don Argott on how ‘As The Palaces Burn’, which follows the American metal band across the world including India, began as a film about the band’s fans but turned into a turbulent account of Randy Blythe’s manslaughter trial
In their career spanning over two decades, the members of American groove metal band Lamb of God have had cameras trained on them for four separate DVD movies. But none of them will match up to As The Palaces Burn, the 90-minute documentary directed by American filmmaker Don Argott. But what can top that infamous drunken brawl between vocalist Randy Blythe and guitarist Mark Morton from the 2005 live album Killadelphia? Something as grim as a manslaughter trial which had vocalist Blythe remanded in a Czech Republic jail for five weeks.
Argott’s documentary takes its name from the band’s 2003 album As The Palaces Burn, which was reissued last November to mark its 10th anniversary. The original concept of the documentary, pitched by the band’s manager Larry Mazer, was to follow Lamb of God fans around the world, including India, Israel and Colombia. Says bassist John Campbell in a video interview, “We were trying to shoot a movie about our fans, basically trying to shy the camera away from us, but the course of events did not allow that.” Argott followed Lamb of God on their world tour through early 2012 until May, when the band took a break and headed back home to Virginia. Argott recounts, “Everything up to the Israel show was how much we originally intended to film.” But on June 27th, a day ahead of Lamb of God’s show in Prague promoting their sixth album Resolution, Blythe was arrested on manslaughter charges which dated back to a 2010 concert in the same city, where he pushed a 19-year-old fan, Daniel Nosek, off stage. Nosek fell head first, resulting in a coma that led to his death weeks later.
The metal community was in shock and debates about stage diving and on-stage security arose, but Argott realized the story had changed. Following remand in July, Blythe was released from prison in August, vowing to return to the country for a trial. Says Argott, “Initially, when everything happened, it was all on the table – we were in a space thinking, ‘Are we going to make the film or are we not going to make the film?’ It wasn’t an opportunistic or exploitative thing. It never felt like that for me. It was a crazy thing that happened. I was there with a camera. Nobody ever asked me to stop rolling or anything.”
Members of Lamb of God were traumatized by the death of Nosek and the arrest of Blythe at the time. Says Campbell, “They [Argott and colleague Demian Fenton] called for us and said, ‘Hey, we’re still doing this movie. Is it okay if we come film you guys?’ For about a month, we said, ‘Not right now, please give us some distance.’ And they respected that. But they were filmmakers and they needed to be where the story was. Eventually, it was settled down enough to bring them in.”
Argott, who has previously directed Last Days Here, focusing on American heavy metal band Pentagram’s vocalist Bobby Liebling, spent over a year on As The Palaces Burn as opposed to his original timeline of four months. On the editing table, Argott had two different films – one about fans and how Lamb of God inspires them and the other about the death of a fan. Says Argott, “It definitely starts as one film and becomes another – we tried to embrace that. We tried different cuts. The trial just overshadowed everything. We had to figure out the structure the film – so we started out the film as we intended (with the fans) and then brought in the trial. If you don’t know the story, you’re totally taken off guard.”
Campbell justifies the mainstream cinema release given to As The Palaces Burn, saying there’s a bigger story of interest to bring in more than just the fans to watch the documentary, which almost becomes a legal thriller at times. Says Campbell, “It’s not just your typical heavy metal ding dongs running around being brutal death metal.” The bassist goes on to recall a particularly emotional scene from the documentary, shot during Blythe’s trial. “Don asked me a question and it really hit hard and I started to tear up. I had to stop the interview and wipe the tear away. After the shot, I went to Don and Demian and said, ‘If that’s in the movie, I better watch the movie and think that it needed to be in there.’” One of the strongest scenes, it even made it to the trailer, which Campbell feels deserves an award in itself, “Do they give out awards for trailers?”
A year on after the trial and Blythe’s acquittal, Campbell says returning to tour has been difficult, “from everything that’s happened to Randy to family emergencies sprouting up.” The bassist adds that guitarists Morton and Willie Adler are writing new material, which they hope to release by the end of the year. Says Campbell, “We are still focused on being a band. The train is rolling and we are riding it on as far as we go.”
This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.
Watch the trailer for As The Palaces Burn below