The last Lamb of God album was 2012’s Resolution. Three years isn’t too long between records, but even those who don’t listen to metal are familiar with Blythe’s story and why fans are antsy to hear the band’s latest creation. Six months after Resolution arrived, Blythe was suddenly arrested in Prague and charged with manslaughter. A fan named Daniel Nosek had died after charging the stage and hitting his head during a Lamb of God show in 2010, and prosecutors claimed Blythe pushed Nosek after he rushed the stage. Blythe was tried and acquitted in 2013.
After that draining journey, the band is now set to release VII: Sturm Und Drang in July via Epic Records. Blythe calls it “the most cohesive record we’ve done in a long time.” He partially attributes that to himself writing “90 percent” of its lyrics. He also credits returning producer Josh Wilbur with having main songwriters/guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler working more in collaboration instead of writing complete songs on their own. “The record is much, much stronger for it,” says Blythe, who calls it less “schizophrenic” than previous Lamb of God albums.
Fans naturally wondered how much of Blythe’s experience would influence the album. Its subtitle -- which is German for “storm and stress” -- indirectly refers to it. Blythe says he and Morton were talking about how the record’s theme relates to the psychology of humans reacting under extreme conditions, and they wanted a word that encapsulated that situation. “I was like, ‘Maybe the Germans have something,’ because they’re great at cramming complex concepts into, like, one word, like ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘zeitgeist,’” observes Blythe. Morton’s mother is German, so Morton also discussed it with her while researching German vocabulary. Eventually, the band agreed to the title.
“I didn’t set out to write this record about my perception of how people handle stress and difficulties … but as I was writing, it kind of started coming to me,” recalls Blythe. It turns out Morton was essentially writing about that too. “I don’t explain his lyrics. But he kind of fell right in line with that,” says Blythe. “It’s been a stressful f---ing time for my band, the last few years, and it’s come out. Hard times make for good metal, I suppose.”
Two songs directly relate to Blythe’s imprisonment. First single “Still Echoes,” which started streaming from LambOfGodVII.com on May 15, is “a lyrical sort of history of Pankrac Prison and kind of a commentary on the state of the place right now and how it’s running,” he explains. The other “is about the extreme psychic change a person undergoes when they are incarcerated possibly for the long term, because it’s not like being in normal society at all.”
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding his time in Czechoslovakia, other songs arose from Blythe’s time there because he found “a lot to admire about some people in Czech history.” One such song is “Torches,” about national hero Jan Palach, who self-immolated in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in 1969 to protest the occupation of Soviet forces.
“This guy wasn’t mentally ill. He was just very upset that things had reached the point where he wanted to wake people out of their resignation, and it worked. He lit himself on fire, and he became a symbol of free thought and dissidence during the rest of the communist era there, which was pretty brutal on the Czechs,” says Blythe. “It made me think, ‘God, how upset do you have to be about something to set yourself on fire?’ I did some more research about politically motivated self-immolations. They’re still going on to this day, like Tibetans are doing it over their treatment [from] China. The Vietnamese monks did it during the Vietnam War. There’s a long history of it.”
“Artistically for me, once this record is done, it’s done,” he says of further addressing what happened to him in Prague. Blythe included photographs of the city at his first photo exhibition, “D Randall Blythe: Show Me What You’re Made Of” (which opened May 2 at Sacred Gallery NYC), and Da Capo Press will publish his book Dark Days: A Memoir, which recounts his entire experience, on July 14. The Prague photos “were the only ones at the exhibit that were closed edition, because once it’s done, it’s done. I want it out of my life,” he says. “So for this record, I wrote a whole book about the situation because it affected me very deeply, but also so that when people are like, ‘What was prison like?,’ I’ll be like, ‘Read the book.’ ” He laughs. “That way, there’s all the answers you need.”