In the new Lamb of God song “Still Echoes,” frontman Randy Blythe sings, “A thousand heads cut clean across their necks / Right down the hall from me / The Reich’s relentless blade / Thirsty and shining red.”
For most metal bands, such intense lyrics would be the product of a vivid imagination. Not so for Blythe. The lyrics were inspired by a guillotine near his cell during a five-week prison stay in the Czech Republic in 2012, where Blythe was incarcerated on manslaughter charges stemming from a 2010 Lamb of God concert in Prague where a teen fan suffered fatal injuries.
That harrowing incident — and more — are extensively chronicled in fluid, literary prose in Blythe’s new book, the aptly if understatedly titled Dark Days: A Memoir, by D. Randall Blythe. “I probably thought one day I’d write a book about jail and my trial,” says the singer, via phone from a Lamb of God tour date in Copenhagen. “But when I was older and hopefully a bit wiser and resting on my creaky laurels.”
Within a month of his trial and acquittal, agents were clamoring for the story. Blythe’s response? “Right now I’m just not ready. I have a pretty in-depth diary I kept when I was locked up. I have these memories — it’s not been long ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. Sometimes I can still smell the place.”
Yet it took one sentence from an agent to convince Blythe: “Those memories are gonna fade.” “I was like, ‘You’re right.’” His contract with Da Capo Press called for 82,000 words. He turned in closer to 247,000, all penned sans a co-writer . Pages and words were excised, and Dark Days saw the light.
Memory is a key element of the book, as it was in the trial. “Human memory is a tricky thing,” Blythe muses. “People think that we’re like a hard drive where everything we see and experience is stored and all you need is the right key, like a hypnotist or something, to unlock it. And that’s not truth. I’ve found, according to a lot of scientific studies, that recalling memories are much more like putting together a puzzle out of the pieces you have in your mind. Anything that’s not consciously reviewed all the time tends to fade.
“The widely varying testimonies were huge part of my trial,” he continues. “Nobody could seem to really agree on much of anything.” Then there was Blythe’s own memory of the night in question — in fact, the frontman didn’t even know the concertgoer had died until he returned to Prague two years after the incident, and was arrested getting off the plane.
“The truth isn’t malleable. It’s not. The truth is the truth. But do you know the truth?” he pontificates. “Your perception is your perception of the truth. It’s very, very tricky. When I was interrogated, when they locked me up, they asked me for really in-depth recollections of seventy minutes of one day two years previously. Do you remember what you did between 7 and 8:10 p.m. two years ago? Probably not. No. For me, [the concert] was another day at work.”
When he was finally released on bail, the Richmond, Virginia native was advised not to return for the trial, advice Blythe chose to ignore based on his credo of personal responsibility. Upon his acquittal, following a six-day trial, the financial, physical and emotional tolls hit hard. And now, he notes: “I’m always gonna be known as this dude who went to prison in the Czech Republic when this tragedy occurred.”
He hopes his intensely detailed memoir will satiate the curious: “I wrote almost 500 pages that will answer every question you have; and some you didn’t even know you had,” he attests. “The plot of my book is me going to prison. But the theme is personal accountability; the story of me going to prison is just a framework to illustrate the theme I want to get across.”
The concurrent release of VII: Sturm Und Drang is a wise business move, but Blythe stresses the two are by no means companion pieces, and that only two songs on the 10-song album — “512” (one of his cell numbers) and the aforementioned “Still Echoes” — are about his time behind bars.
With the story of his life — and fraught last five years — now on paper, he is looking at a second book, a novel. “I kinda have this — and it’s entirely stereotypical — male American macho desire to write like Hemingway. Because he’s short and he’s concise and manly and to the point and very sturdy with his words.”
That said, he also realizes that as the frontman of an influential metal band since 1994, the jump to novelist might be viewed as dilettantish. But the well-spoken singer is hardly short on life experience, as evidenced both in Lamb of God’s lyrics and the frank memoir that addresses suicide attempts and “winding up in the looney bin.”
“It’s no big secret that I’ve had a 22-year bout of hard drinking and I’ve been sober now for about five years. Like every other stereotypical wannabe writer, love Bukowski. And I love Hunter S. Thompson — the hard-drinking hard-writing macho kind of dude. I always fancied myself a writer, and I did everything the great writers did. I drank, I could go out and fight. I had terrible girlfriends. I did everything the great writers did… except for write,” he says with a laugh.
But that’s changed, as have many things in his life. As for the subject of his next book, there’s one thing he’s sure of: “If something bad is going to happen [in the book], it’s going to be happening to someone else, preferably a fictional character, not me. ‘Cause I’ve written about the worst things in my life in Dark Days, the worst things that have ever happened to me. It’s like kicking your own ass after a while,” he concludes. “And I’m tired of being beat up by myself.”
Randy Blythe will read and sign at the Strand’s Rare Book Room on July 13; to attend, purchase a copy of Dark Days or a $15 Strand gift card.