One of the biggest metal bands to emerge during the ’90s, celebrated Richmond, VA-based band Lamb of God got it’s start in 1994 under the moniker Burn the Priest. Several years later after the addition of punk-influenced singer D. Randall “Randy” Blythe, the neo-thrash outfit was signed to Prosthetic Records and switched its name for their label debut, New American Gospel.
With hints of sonic brutality that recalled Pantera mixed with the technical riff construction of classic thrash-metal bands like Megadeth and Testament, Lamb of God built a fiercely loyal following with its relentless touring schedule and steady output of solid albums. The band eventually scored a major label deal with Epic and found even greater commercial and critical success with Ashes of the Wake in 2004 and their follow-up effort Sacrament.
Tabbed as one of Metallica’s favorite support acts in the past decade, Lamb of God continued it’s upward trajectory with the release of 2009’s Wrath and Resolution three years later. Hailed my many as their best album yet, Resolution found a newly sober Blythe delivering a ferocious vocal performance. However, the band suffered a huge setback when the singer was arrested when their European tour landed in Prague after charges were brought against him in connection with a fan’s death from a head injury suffered at a 2010 Lamb of God concert.
Incarcerated for almost 40 days before finally being released on bail, Blythe and the band would spend much of 2012 dealing with the singer’s legal battle instead of touring to support the album. That struggle, vividly depicted in the documentary As the Palaces Burn, eventually found Blythe acquitted of all charges, but the trial took an emotional and financial toll on the group.
The singer would write lyrics inspired by his time in a Czech Republic jail for the group’s newest album, VII: Sturm und Drang. Another triumph for the band after overcoming enormous obstacles, the effort stands as Lamb of God’s most focused and intense metal onslaught yet. Blythe would also pursue a different kind of writing, publishing his memoir Dark Days, which delved more deeply into his imprisonment and legal battle in the Czech Republic.
CBS SF recently spoke with Blythe about the group’s upcoming tour with iconic Southern punk act Corrosion of Conformity and heavy rock heroes Clutch that comes to the Fox Theater in Oakland on May 29 as well as some of the singer’s other creative projects.
CBS SF: Looking at your upcoming itinerary, it looks like you have a few festival dates mixed in with your own headlining shows. I’m always curious about what musicians think about American music festivals compared to European festivals. How has your experience been as far as the differences?
Randy Blythe: I don’t have a lot of experience comparatively between the two. This is really the first time where we’ll be doing a lot of the American festivals. I think that’s because the American festivals are a growing thing.
The festivals in Europe have been going on forever, since the Led Zeppelin days. Those are always a good time. I really enjoy the festival season there. But we did do Rock on the Range a while back, a few years ago. And I was actually thinking about that while I was there; how is this different from a European festival. And it really wasn’t, you know? [laughs]
I think the festivals that we’ve done in Europe are a little more open ended. You can go there and you’ll be playing the same day as Green Day, the Wu Tang Clan and Slayer, all on the same stage. The American festivals we’ve done seem to be a little more hard rock oriented. But overall, the way the festivals are run, it’s about the same.
CBS SF: It looks like you’re playing Bonnaroo, which isn’t a metal festival, but it is one of the bigger fests that don’t shy away from booking metal acts. I know Opeth and Slayer have played it in the past…
Randy Blythe: Yeah, we haven’t done Bonnaroo yet, but it will be interesting to see what that’s like and how the American audience takes it; if they’re open minded enough. I certainly hope so, because that’s one of the greatest things about the European festivals. Getting to see and play with such a wide variety of musical is really cool. It’s something you don’t often get to do.
CBS SF: Are you planning on heading back to Europe to do festivals again this summer? I didn’t see anything listed…
Randy Blythe: Not to my knowledge. We did a festival run last summer; we were there for over a month. A lot of times you don’t go back two years in a row.
CBS SF: I really enjoyed the Lamb of God documentary As the Palaces Burn and was struck by the opening scenes where you say without music, you’d probably be dead or in jail. As far as your formative influences, you were more into punk than metal, right?
Randy Blythe: It was and still is punk rock. I’m not a metal head. A lot of our fans seem to have a hard time wrapping their brains around that, but I am not a metal head. I listen to very little metal. Maybe it’s because that’s what I do for a living.
But the bands we’re going on tour with – Clutch and C.O.C. – C.O.C. was really one of the very first bands that I got turned onto that was from the American hardcore scene and had these kind of aggressive vocals that I was definitely influenced by. It’s super cool to have them on tour. And hopefully we’ll be able hear some of that old stuff from the Animosity era.
But their record Eye For An Eye, and particularly Animosity, that was one of the first records I had. And that came out of being a skateboarder. That’s where I got turned on to that type of music. My younger brother was much more of a metal head.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that he started turning me onto death metal stuff like Obituary – they’re one of my favorite death metal bands – and Bolt Thrower. Really extreme stuff. I was never really a metal head beyond liking Black Sabbath and some Slayer and some old Metallica. That’s about it. But I was always listening to punk rock, not metal.
CBS SF: I think one of the band’s strengths is how Lamb of God combines metal and punk. You already mentioned C.O.C., but I was kind of curious how important D.R.I. and whole crossover phenomenon of the ‘80s were to you?
Randy Blythe: Absolutely. Dealing With It! was one of my favorite records in high school. The crossover stuff that I was into – and, once again, all of this came out of being a skateboarder originally, because that was the music the skateboarders were listening to then. There weren’t a lot of hip-hop skateboarder videos. All the skateboard videos had hardcore or crossover stuff.
I was listening to the Accused from Seattle, Septic Death which was Pushead’s band, C.O.C., D.R.I., Drunk Injuns, just a bunch of different stuff. There was a tape called Skate Rock Volume 3 that really seems to encapsulate the crossover era as it was being born and it had C.O.C., Septic Death, the Accused and a bunch of other bands on it, as well as some of the more “skate rock” stuff like the Faction, Steve Caballero’s band. But all the crossover stuff was really important to me growing up. I think bands like C.O.C. and the Accused sort of primed my ear to be able to listen to things like early Napalm Death, which was about as extreme as it got back in the day.
CBS SF: Is it weird having one of your early influences like C.O.C. as your opening act for a theater tour?
Randy Blythe: I don’t think it’s going to be weird at all, because I’m good friends with Reed [Mullin, C.O.C. drummer and founder] and Mike Dean and I’ve known Pepper loosely for a while. I don’t know Woody [Weatherman, C.O.C. guitarist and founder], but from what I understand, he’s a gentleman. You know, I’ve done work with Reed before. We did a band called Teenage Time Killers. It was actually a Rudimentary Peni song is where the band’s name came from.
And I did some studio work with Mike Dean recently. I helped out with the new Sourvein record. They’re a Cape Fear, North Carolina, band that Mike Dean recorded and played some bass on. So I don’t think it’s going to be weird at all. Maybe for a second I’ll have to pause sometimes and go, “Whoa! This is really cool!” But for me, it just feels like it’s going to be more of a good time hanging out with my friends, because I’ve known them a while.
CBS SF: I guess weird was not the right choice of word; maybe “surreal” would be more accurate…
Randy Blythe: Yeah, it’s awesome, because Reed has been texting me a lot and he’s really excited. He was talking to me about maybe jumping up and busting out an old C.O.C. song onstage with them; some of the more growly, screaming stuff that’s more suited to my vocal style rather than the Pepper stuff, because Pepper sings his butt off. But I still love the Animosity era stuff, so you might see a little inter-band pollination happen on this tour.
CBS SF: Excellent! It’s a really great touring package. I’m a big Clutch fan too…
Randy Blythe: Yeah, I’m a huge Clutch fan as well. I used to go see them for five bucks in Richmond. They used to play down here it seemed like every other week at small clubs. I’ve been following them for a long time and they’re good dudes as well. We’ve known them for quite a while. So it’s just going to be a really fun time I think.
CBS SF: I was also going to ask you about some other bands that came up at the same time as Lamb of God that also mixed punk and metal, though maybe their music used the Dwarves as a jumping off point. The three bands that come to my mind are Zeke, REO Speedealer and the Hookers. The first two were a little more punk and ’70s hard rock, but the Hookers definitely had a lot of metal in their sound. Did you ever cross paths with any of those bands?
Randy Blythe: Oh yeah! I saw the Hookers at Hole in the Wall, a small club here in Richmond. It was gnarly! It was completely gnarly. Zeke I never got to see, but REO Speedealer was with one of the guys in Karma To Burn. I believe it was Rich [Mullins, who played bass] who was in that band. I saw Karma many times, but I never saw REO Speedealer.
The Hookers used to play club shows down here and there were some pretty legendary shows. As well as the Dwarves, who you mentioned. There were some problematic issues with some of their shows in Richmond I remember [laughs]. But it’s a Dwarves shows, so what do you expect?
CBS SF: Yeah, I’ve seen both the Hookers and the Dwarves open shows by throwing beer bottles into the crowd…
Randy Blythe: The Hookers show here at the Hole in the Wall, which is a tiny place we used to play at; it probably holds maybe 100 people tops. They started the show by hitting the first chord and walking into the audience — there wasn’t really a stage — and just started kicking stuff [laughs]. I don’t know, that’s good stuff. I really dig it. I haven’t thought about the Hookers in a long time. Thanks for bringing that up.
CBS SF: I wanted to touch a little bit on some of the other projects you’ve got your hand in. I haven’t read your memoir that came out last year, but I saw that you have a magazine that’s coming out with Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick, I guess it’s a quarterly?
Randy Blythe: It’s a biannual.
CBS SF: And you also are working on a novel?
Randy Blythe: Yeah, I just came back from the launch party for the magazine, which is called Unbuilt. We had that yesterday in Brooklyn at a bar called Over the Eight. It’s really cool. It features a bunch of graphic designers and I interviewed an author friend of mine Kevin Powers. There’s an interview with a renowned female architect, Maddy Samaddar, and Alex interviewed a couple of Broadway pit musicians who are playing with The Book of Mormon. And there’s a bunch of my photography.
It went really well. So that’s something to look out for. It’s coming out biannually. It’s a limited edition, really high quality magazine. And then I’ve been outlining this novel for a while, but I have so many other different things, it’s going to be a little bit before I can sit down and really grind on it. I can’t write on tour. It’s a long extended piece of work. I have to be at home in order to focus and put that much concerted, creative effort into one thing, I can’t seem to do that on tour because there’s always music [laughs] and stuff to do. But that’s something I’ll be able to do once we’re done with this tour cycle.
CBS SF: I also saw something about your involvement in a new documentary with rock photographer Rob Fenn and actor Billy Bob Thornton. Is that an outgrowth of your connection to Rob as a fellow photographer, or did it stem from the work on the Lamb of God documentary?
Randy Blythe: That’s definitely Rob and my photography connection. We met the one time we did Rock on the Range a few years ago. We met and became really good friends. We talk photography and shoot together a lot. He’s good friends with Billy Bob Thornton. He and Billy started putting this concept for this movie together. He called me and said, “Look, I’ve got this project and I want you to be involved in it and you can’t say no. I’m like, “Well, ok.” [laughs]
Billy Bob is going to narrate it. I can’t give away too much about it, but I’m going to be involved in the writing of the narration. Me and Billy Bob and Rob are going to sit down and hash it out the writing and it will be Billy Bob’s voice. So that’s another writing project that I’m involved with right now. Lots of stuff!
CBS SF: If I can squeeze it in, I did have one more question that came up doing research for our talk. This is from Wikipedia, so apologies if it’s not accurate. The article on Lamb of God talks about you saying back in January of 2014 that you were going to take an extended break from the band. It doesn’t seem like you’ve had any break at all since then, from the band or otherwise with everything going on. Do you see that finally happening at the end of this tour cycle?
Randy Blythe: Yes. Absolutely. We had to make some money due to my legal situation. We spent a lot of money due to the situation that’s addressed in my memoir. So we had to get back on the road and make some money. That’s how that happened. Now that we’ve refilled our coffers a little bit, it’s time for me to step away from those dudes for a bit at the end of this cycle, because I’m getting burned out. [laughs] You can only keep the pace up for so long before the music starts to suffer.
Lamb of God play the Fox Theater in Oakland on Sunday, May 29, at 7 p.m. with support from Clutch and Corrosion of Conformity. Find tickets and more information here.