“I figure we’re about eight records deep at this point so if I wanna try my hand at some clean singing, I can,” Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe says bluntly of “Overlord,” a moody new track the group premiered today on its website; its video is streaming below. “There are a lot of people that are gonna be mad about it, but fuck them.”
The Virginia-based metal pummelers are less than a month away from releasing their upcoming record, VII: Sturm und Drang, so they’re showing off all the ways they explored new sides of the group —most notably pointing out that Blythe can actually sing. Although the record contains plenty of the thrashing wallop that first turned headbangers’ noggins 15 years ago, it finds the band experimenting with murky doom riffs, talk-box guitar solos and guests. Deftones frontman Chino Moreno lends his distinctive pipes to the trudging steamrolling riffage of “Embers,” while Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato offers de facto screams on jittery LP closer “Torches,” and both guest spots add a new element to the group’s sound.
Blythe met with Rolling Stone at a hotel in lower Manhattan in late April to discuss the new album as well as his upcoming book, Dark Days: A Memoir, which is due out next month and chronicles his experience going to prison in the Czech Republic on charges of manslaughter for killing a fan. He was later found not guilty in that incident but, as his stories suggest, those events weighed heavily on VII: Sturm und Drang. Here, Blythe and guitarist Mark Morton, take Rolling Stone track by track through the most dynamic – and emotional – record of their career.
1. “Still Echoes”
“It is a history of Pankrác Prison and of the people who have been in control of that prison,” Blythe says of the rigid, breakneck-paced metal grinder, which he began writing while incarcerated. “The first line is, ‘A thousand heads cut clean across their necks right down the hall from me.’ There was a guillotine right down the hall from me from when the Nazis had the prison. From 1943 to ’45, they executed almost 2,000 people by the guillotine ’cause it’s cheaper than shooting and quicker than hanging. At the end of the war, the Nazis threw the guillotine into the river in order to hide what they had done at Pankrác because the SS moved in there and set up headquarters. The head of the Gestapo unit there went under intense interrogation and revealed where they had thrown it in the river. So the Czechs dredged it up and now it still sits in there, in the room where they executed all these people. They call it the Pankrác ‘saw room’ or ‘ax room.’ So there are a few different references to the history of the prison in there.”
2. “Erase This”
“Lyrically, ‘Erase This’ deals with negative people and how they can drag you down without you even necessarily realizing it,” Morton says of the grooving, riffy tune. “It’s about people you may even be close to, but who are stuck in their own self-pity and woe-is-me, kind of victim status. That kind of energy can spread like a virus. Most of us as humans have been on both the giving and receiving end of that kind of attitude, but the older I get, the more I try to focus on not allowing that type of vibe to enter my mindset. Musically, it’s pretty trademark Lamb of God riffing. It’s got that ’12 over 4′ [time signature] groove that we’ve used before in songs like ‘Laid to Rest’ and a cool talk box in the bridge. I think it’s a pretty badass track. It’s one of my favorites on the album.”
“Those are the numbers of the cell where I wrote the beginning of these lyrics in,” Blythe says of the doomy, murky track. “That song is about the radical mental and emotional shift you undergo when you go into prison. If you’re gonna survive in prison, you cannot have the same mentality as the normal guy living a normal life. The guy who lives in suburbia and goes to his job has a completely different mentality than a prisoner. There’s 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. You have to be ready for violence at any time.”
“‘Embers’ is about a relationship,” the vocalist says about the moody, quick-paced alt-metal tune. “I wrote all of Chino [Moreno]’s lyrics and they deal with how loss affects interpersonal relationships, like in a family dynamic. If a family member dies, that can really twist things up. I used a sort of ‘oceanic’ vibe in the lyrics. I’m talking about ‘I’ve been staring at her laying still for so long,’ and I’m talking about the ocean at that point. The ocean is a metaphor for life.
“When the band wrote the music to that one, there were two different endings. In one, it was ‘Lamb of God,’ like, boring, we’ve done it a million times. And then Mark wrote this other beautiful, swelling thing, and I heard it when I was still down at the beach writing my book and listening to it. I’m a huge Deftones fan, and I could hear Chino’s vocals on it. One day, during the preproduction I come in and Mark and Josh [Wilbur, producer] are sitting there and they’re like, ‘What do you think about Chino doing vocals?’ I’m like, ‘Yes!’ Chino came and he sang me the melody he had in his mind, sort of nonsense words like how we singers do. So I took some fragments I had and made it fit. He crushed it. He’s Chino. There’s no one that sounds like him.”
“I travel a lot and I was living at the beach when I was writing this record,” Blythe says of the mid-paced, intricately woven head-nodder. “I haven’t lived through a full summer of tourist season since I was a kid, and I had forgotten how fucking horrible they are. There is no reason for tourists to behave like fucking animals and children. The locals are not your goddam maids, and if you want the beach to be nice or the mountaintop to be nice or the town to remain picturesque, don’t like throw trash everywhere, don’t destroy beauty. I’d be sitting on my front porch and see people throwing shit out the window. Like, are you insane? So ‘Footprints’ is about [carbon] footprints.” He laughs. “It’s kind of an ecological song. You can party, fine. Just don’t be an asshole.”
“People think of me as a screamer dude, but all that clean singing is me,” the frontman says of the quasi-ballad, which escalates as it plays out. “What happened was Willie [Adler, guitar] was demoing stuff at his house and sending us riffs. I heard that one and I was like, ‘Holy fuck. It’s time for me to sing clean, finally.’ It just happened, completely organically and it worked out. I don’t think we, as Lamb of God, have had a song that would fit clean vocals before.”
“Have you heard of Reinhard Heydrich, the ‘Butcher of Prague’?” Blythe says when introducing the thrashy rager. “He was the architect of the Final Solution during World War II, and he was the most feared man in the Third Reich. He was brutal. When the Nazis came into Czechoslovakia, the Czechs put up some resistance. So the Nazis sent in Reinhard Heydrich, who is the ‘Young Evil God of Death,’ the ‘Blonde Beast,’ the ‘Butcher of Prague.’ As you can tell, he wasn’t a pleasant person.
“Those dudes killed the Nazi ‘Butcher of Prague.’ I consider them superior men.”
“He destroyed the people of Prague and crushed their will, except for a group of Czech-born, British-trained paratroopers who were like, ‘OK, we need to raise the morale of the Czech people,'” Blythe continues. “They carried out the only successful assassination attempt on a high-ranking Nazi Party official [Heydrich]. They fucked this dude up and then hid out in the crypt of this church in Prague, the Cathedral of Saint Cyril and the Methodius, for about a month and then somebody ratted them out. There were seven of them left, and the Nazis busted in the church and a firefight ensued. Three were killed upstairs and they retreated to the crypt for, I believe, eight hours. Four men held off 800 Nazi storm troopers and eventually when they ran out of bullets, they killed themselves in the basement of that church. You can go to the basement of that church and see where they were trying to dig out of the basement into the sewer system to escape . They fought until they were out of bullets.
“Those dudes were what I consider superior men, and I wanted to honor them with a song,” the singer says. “So that song is about them and killing the Butcher of Prague. It’s an honor.”
8. “Engage the Fear Machine”
“Obviously it’s about the media,” the growler explains about the seething, driving metal tune. “What ever happened to ebola? How long ago was that? We were all going to die, you know? The news just takes everything to the next limit, and it keeps viewers glued to the TV and it brings in advertiser dollars and it makes me so fucking mad. I was flying a lot during that time. I remember one time in an airport, every bar I’d walk past every TV was going, ‘Ebola is coming!’ Like it’s the Mongolian horde. I’m like, ‘Man, fuck you. This is complete nonsense.’ They’re using scare tactics. They’re controlling us through fear. It’s nonsense. I reject it.”
“What the fuck is an Internet meme?”
9. “Delusion Pandemic”
“The Internet is a useful tool, and you can use it to find out things, but I think it’s created a creatively stifled environment,” Blythe says of the dark-sounding, drum-kit rattling track. “I do not like mashup culture. There is nothing original about it. It’s a waste of my cerebral space. Everything’s getting shittier and shittier and shittier. I mean, I’m not Ernest Hemingway or whatever, I’m not the new greatest photographer in the world, but at least I’m writing my own stuff and I’m doing my own thing. Internet memes – what the fuck is an internet meme? Why are you paying attention to this? Why is there some stupid picture that you put some stupid little things on that say something dumb? This is cerebral garbage. You are clogging your mind.”
“There was a Czech student named Jan Palach in 1969, around when the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia because the people said, ‘We don’t want to be communist anymore and we are going to become a democratic society,'” the singer explains about the record’s chugging final track. “The Warsaw Pact forces – Russia basically – said, ‘Oh no, you’re going to stay communist,’ so they invaded. And the Czechs had already had their asses kicked by so many different groups. But right before that, the Nazis just destroyed, brutalized, Czechoslovakia. So there’s this student and he saw how the people were defeated. So he went to Wenceslas Square to the stairs of the National Museum during a busy time of the day and doused himself in fluid and caught himself on fire. And he walked down the steps in protest and then boom, hit the ground and died a few days later. He came a symbol of dissidence for the Czechs up until the rest of the brutal communist area. Learning about that while I was awaiting trial, I had a lot of respect for him, and it also made me think about what kind of mentality does a person have to be to be so upset that you burn yourself alive? That’s got to be an unpleasant way to go. ‘Torches’ was inspired by visiting Jan Palach’s grave. The other voice on the song is [Dillinger Escape Plan’s] Greg Puciato. He crushed it.”