The metal community continues to react to Tim Lambesis' guilty plea of attempting to hire a man to murder his wife. As fans have pondered the case in recent days, peers of the As I Lay Dying frontman tell Rolling Stone that they feel deeply conflicted about supporting the fallen metal singer.
"I definitely believe in second chances, but it’s hard to say how I’ll move forward," Doc Coyle, a musician who’s known Lambesis for nearly a decade, tells Rolling Stone. "To be honest, I don’t really know."
Lambesis was arrested in San Diego’s North County last May and initially pleaded not guilty to the charges. His lawyer, Tom Warwick, has said the singer experienced brain damage after using steroids. Prosecutors argued that Lambesis was angry with his wife, Meggan — with whom he shared three children, all adopted from Ethiopia — over custody and money issues related to their divorce. They’d been married eight years, but Meggan filed to break off their marriage in September 2012.
For Coyle, a former guitarist and vocalist for the now-defunct New Jersey metal band God Forbid, what he thought he knew about Lambesis stands in stark contrast to the singer’s current legal status. Coyle says the two musicians first met around 2005 and would hang out when their respective bands were in each other’s towns. Though they had radically different beliefs — Lambesis a Christian, Coyle an atheist — they enjoyed cordial debates about faith and spirituality.
"The band as a whole had a reputation as being the nicest band in metal," Coyle says. "They were very easy-going, very welcoming."
When God Forbid and As I Lay Dying toured together in 2009, Coyle says Lambesis missed the first five days of a six-week run. But he had the noblest of excuses: He was in Africa, working out the adoption for he and Meggan’s first son, Biruk.
"You think about stuff like that and you’re like, 'Oh, they’re better than us. They’re out actually doing good things that are affecting the world,'" he recalls. "So something like this, it’s almost antithetical to your perception of the person."
Before Lambesis was arrested, Coyle recorded a guitar solo for a track by Austrian Death Machine, a side-project Lambesis founded blending metal riffs with Arnold Schwarzenegger soundbites. Coyle's track will appear on Austrian Death Machine’s new album, Triple Brutal, set for release on April 1. But even with Lambesis’ guilty plea, Coyle has no qualms about appearing on the album. "Music is music, man," he says. "The two things don’t really have anything to do with each other."
Dave Nassie, a guitarist who’s played in No Use for a Name and California metal band Bleeding Through, also doesn’t feel conflicted about appearing on the Austrian Death Machine album. He wrote the music for the song "Prepare To Be Conquered" and plays guitar and bass, and says that regardless of what’s happened, he’s happy the album will be released.
"Everybody who’s ever worked with him would be conflicted because it’s just a terribly sad situation for so many people involved," Nassie says. "But fortunately, before it all happened, I was able to work with him and do something that was cool and everybody was in a good mood at the time when I was there. From a musical point of view, that’s really important."
Lambesis faces a maximum sentence of nine years in prison and $10,000 fine. While some have responded to Tuesday’s news with sadness and shock, others have shown a disturbing lack of compassion and even outward hostility towards Meggan — as the site Metal Injection recently pointed out.
Doug Van Pelt, a longtime As I Lay Dying fan and founder of HM Magazine, a digital publication devoted to Christian metal, says he’s taken a personal lesson from Lambesis’ dramatic fall from grace. A year ago, after a 20-year marriage, Van Pelt also went through a divorce, and says the process sent him into a spiral of anxiety and despair. He’s thankful he didn’t snap in the same way Lambesis might have.
"There, but for the grace of God, go I," Van Pelt says, invoking a popular adage about holding back judgment against those beneath you. "I can’t be that arrogant and say, 'I’m better than him.' Because if some of the circumstances were different for me, maybe I could end up in the same place."
Lambesis’ legal problems aren’t limited to his criminal case. His divorce with Meggan is still going through the courts, and Meggan has also filed a civil suit against him. According to court papers, she’s suing him for more than $2 million because of emotional distress, medical expenses and other damages.
Randall Winett, Meggan’s lawyer in the civil suit, declined to make Meggan available for an interview. He said that an effort has been made to see if the family law and civil case can be resolved, but he declined to discuss further.
Coyle says he hopes Lambesis can eventually find a way to "get back on the right track." He also hopes Meggan can eventually move forward.
"It’s a lose-lose for everyone. It’s bad for the kids, bad for her, bad for him, bad for everybody. Bad for the fans, for the band," Coyle says. "At least nothing actually happened. At least no one actually was hurt."