"You cannot have the same mentality as the normal guy living on the streets in prison," Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe says. "You undergo a radical mental and emotional shift when you go into prison."
That change in thinking is at the heart of "512," the latest song the group has shared from its upcoming album VII: Sturm und Drang, which will come out on July 24th. Stream the song below.
Amid its doomy riffing, juggernaut drums and Blythe's deep growls are lyrics about the singer's experience in a prison in the Czech Republic, where he had been charged with manslaughter for allegedly pushing a fan offstage and causing injuries that led to the fan's death. Blythe was ultimately found not guilty, but he still spent over a month incarcerated. It was during that time that he began writing "512" – in Pankrác Prison cell number 512 – and began contemplating how the experience was changing him.
"There are aspects of your personality that you could cultivate in prison that are beneficial to your survival that would be seen as psychosis or extreme paranoia," says the singer, seated in a hotel restaurant in New York City. "You have to be ready for violence at any time. Anyone who is 100 percent honest in prison will get taken advantage of, maybe by other prisoners, maybe by guards. For me, being in prison was a lot of figuring out what I could get away with, how I could work outside any set of rules in order to remain as comfortable as I could. You're cultivating your psyche in your deceit. In prison, everyone is listening all the time, and if they hear you say something that they can take, they might internalize it and be like, 'This guy is talking to someone,' and he'll wind up dead."
Much of Blythe's time in lockup – which he also chronicled in his upcoming memoir Dark Days – was spent in a dark, unsettling basement dungeon. The guards placed the singer there, he says, so they could monitor him for depression. "They stick you in the worst, dimmest, darkest place in the prison," he says. "I couldn't even see the sun to tell what part of the day it was. It was just steadily lessening levels of gloom."
Those thoughts, he says, inspired the "512" lyrics, "The time is slipping by no peace in sight/But the teeth of time still hold their bite." It's a metaphor for the one hour a day he was able to see a clock.
"I was in my cell 23 hours a day," Blythe says. "One hour a day, I would go to this little area where we would walk and, on the way out, I could see this clock that was above the courtyard. I'd check the time as I walked in and out to make sure time was still moving. I had no watch, no nothing. It's a weird mental trip."
Recalling that feeling makes him think of Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, who spent close to two decades on death row, accused of murdering children despite evidence that suggested he was not guilty. His incarceration became a cause célèbre as famous musicians, actors and directors rallied to get him freed. He was released in 2011, along with the other accused killers, on a plea bargain.
"He did the last 10 years of his prison sentence in solitary," Blythe says. "Ten years alone. Imagine your perception of time after that. It's mind-blowing. My shit is lightweight compared to that."
Blythe and Echols have since become friends; Echols even helped Blythe recently put up a photo exhibition in New York. "He's just the coolest fucking dude," Blythe says. "I remember when he was released, I went out to my backyard and just started screaming."
Lamb of God are currently heading off to Europe, where they have lined up shows throughout June and July. They will return to the States to begin a tour with Slipknot that kicks off on July 24th, the day that VII: Sturm und Drang comes out.