[Photo: Travis Shinn]

Lamb Of God frontman Randy Blythe is one of the most recognizable metal musicians of his generation. And right now, for once, he’s living just like you, sitting around his home and draining his phone battery. Granted, his life is normally more exciting. But you probably wouldn’t trade if you had to pay the price he has. 

Sure, in between gigs and recording sessions, writing and raging let him surf gnarly spots worldwide. Lamb Of God were personally tapped to support thrash icons Slayer on their protracted farewell tour. But metal also landed him in jail.

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Blythe graduated from metal-famous to internationally infamous in 2012. A tour stop in Prague landed him in a Czechoslovakian courtroom after he was arrested for an incident during a concert on a previous tour. A drawn-out trial saw him acquitted of manslaughter charges and freed from an antiquated prison. Once released, Blythe documented the ordeal in a best-selling book, Dark Days: A Memoir. And the Lamb played on.

Lamb Of God are ready to release their first album in five years. The lacerating new record was slow coming, between a lineup shuffle and touring opportunities. And now the timing could definitely be better. In the middle of a pandemic panic, the entire world is locked down. Touring is off the table. So all Blythe can do today to promote the self-titled album—the band’s eighth in a 20-plus year career—is talk about it. But he doesn’t want to…much. Blythe wants you to figure it out for yourself. You don’t become a varsity metal band playing by somebody else’s rules.

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Early in the COVID-19 lockdown, Blythe took a call from AltPress. Delivering stark pronouncements in dramatic intonations, the singer talked about philosophy keeping calm during the COVID quarantine, why he won’t explain any of his new lyrics and more.

I’m a big fan of [punk musician and controversial Zen Buddhism author] Brad Warner. You appear in one of his books.

Brad’s a buddy of mine.

The way the world is right now, his body of work makes me think of that Henry Rollins quote about Joe Strummer in the Trump era: “This is punk-rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.” With everybody quarantined and stressed out, I feel that way about Warner: “This is what Brad Warner trained us for. This is the time when you breathe in and out. You try to relax. You focus on what you can control. And you don’t worry about what you cannot control.”

Absolutely. Watching the monkey mind: These thoughts that are coming through, it’s easy to fixate on them, to think this is the end of the world. And if you attach to those thoughts, you’re going to become a panicked mess.

We’re in a very, very serious situation. But we have to look at where we are in this moment, right here, right now. You have to take care of what is in front of you. If you are washing dishes, wash the dish. That’s it.

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Is meditation part of your creative practice?

For me, a huge thing that has happened in my creativity is sobriety, which includes meditation practice. I got sober nine years ago. And that seemed to open the floodgates. That has really changed things for me. It has provided a lot of clarity. And it’s removed a lot of doorstops between me and the “muse.” I have too many ideas, too many projects I want to do. It drives me crazy.

That said, it was still five years between Lamb Of God albums.

I did a lot of other shit in between Lamb Of God albums. Lamb Of God are not my only creative outlet.

It can’t be. Albums don’t make a lot of money.

I wrote a book. And Lamb Of God are a machine with many cantankerous parts that need to be constantly adjusted. As far as making money, bands make money touring. Slayer were on their final world tour, and they kept offering us support slots. So the record cycle went a little bit longer. But what are you gonna do, say no to Slayer?

What did you take away from Slayer? You opened for them a lot over the years. A lot of bands open for them once and tap out.

They’re my friends. It wasn’t like they were some wise, unobtainable men on a mountain. I’ve been touring with them since 2004. For me, the biggest impact was Slayer going away. There was a bit of sadness: I’m not going to get to tour with my friends anymore.

Did you take anything away from them as role models?

Are Slayer role models?

They did their thing, their way, for a long time without compromising.

We do that by default.

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You grew up in Virginia, which is a huge cross-section of rural and urban and conservative and liberal. Does this polarized era of America surprise you?

No. Not at all. I remember [former Hollywood actor-turned-1980s President of the United States Ronald] Reagan, dude. I’m old. Politics moves in circles. I never thought we’d have the president that we have. But things get more and more ridiculous. If we could have Reagan, why can’t we have Trump?

On the new album, “Poison Dream” is an epic statement about the environment, but it also comes across as one of the most personal songs. Like that line, “Will you pray, or will you fight?”

The song came to me when I looked at every place I’ve ever been in my life. And I realized every place has had hideous water pollution. In one form or the other, it’s from petrochemical plants. Since birth, the place I was born, Fort Meade, Maryland. For me, it’s a matter of people working in these towns, living there, drinking this poisoned water and having birth defects show up in high rates and cancers. Are you going to talk to people in your local government and make a change?

We’re running short on time. Let’s do a speed round and make sure we cover all the songs on the album.

I’m not doing a play-by-play “This song is this. This song is that.” Because I think it kills the mystery in music. For instance, I’m a huge Misfits fan. And there’s a song called “We Are 138.” And no one really knows what 138 means. No one. No one. You hear different rumors. And [frontman/lyricist Glenn] Danzig may have said something. And Glenn’s a friend of mine. And if I caught him on a good day, I could ask him. But I would never, never do that. Because I don’t want the answer. That is the mystery. And that makes good art.

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You can tell what “Poison Dream” is about, but you wrote it in a poetic way. You’re not saying “The earth is poisoned. This is bad.”

That’s what art does. I’m writing about specific things—and things that pertain to my personal life. Because I can only write what I know…which is a bullshit statement. The reason why it’s important to use more poetic, internalized language is A, because it’s art—it’s not a technical manual.

And B, because people take your music once you put it out into the universe. And they make that song their own. We’ve all had a song that someone wrote that reminded them of an ex-girlfriend or a period of their life. And that song is of service to that person. That’s what good music does: You take it and make it your own. You don’t have much control over that. And that’s a good thing.

 How did you find Art [Cruz, Lamb Of God’s new drummer]?

We knew him for years. He was playing for Winds Of Plague [at] Mayhem [Fest].

He took the place of an irreplaceable guy.

Art is our new drummer. He brought a whole lot of new energy and different subtleties in his drumming. I’m not a drum geek—they’re probably the geekiest of musicians. And they hear these weird, different things. Even to my untrained ear, there’s a different flavor. He brought a lot of excitement and energy to it.

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On this album, it seems there weren’t so many Mark [Morton, guitarist] songs and Randy songs. Was the creative process more collaborative?

100%. The advent of home recording technology has made for the democratization of music, which is a wonderful thing. But it also means people can just isolate and work on things on their own instead of getting in a room and jamming together.

As someone who makes a living from touring, what are you thinking about when you consider not being able to tour for at least a season, maybe the summer, maybe longer?

For me, it makes me glad I’m in a successful enough band that I saved up some money. B, I live in an area that has a relatively low cost of living. C, it makes me think more about younger bands that don’t have the following we do and don’t have a record in the can. I’m trying to think about other people. Because I’m going to be all right. I’m not a millionaire or anything. But I live frugally. And I’ve been through hard times before this. Sitting inside with the internet and a cellphone and all my shit—compared to prison, it’s a breeze.

How often do you think about the Czech trial? Do you wake up at 2 in the morning in the dark and think you’re back there?

Dude, no. If I did, I’d need a shrink right now. You try and move forward in your life, the best that you can. It wasn’t easy then, but that was the reality. The one thing I took away from that is: I maintained calm and a semblance of dignity during that situation. And that’s what motherfuckers need to do right now: remain calm, retain their dignity and stay in the moment.