Lamb Of God: Rage, sobriety and the end of the f*cking world
“I contemplate time, sometimes,” begins Randy Blythe. “The only thing that truly exists is this moment. That is an ineffable truth. My life has been one long stream of ‘this moment’, so I make the most of it.”
Randy is a man who hates wasting time. As he gets older, he says, he’s become more aware than ever of the biggest of clocks ticking away in the background. This is a man, after all, who lost nearly a year of his life battling a manslaughter case, from which he was acquitted, that could have landed him in a Czech prison for up to a decade. And yet he remains most concerned over how much he still has left to accomplish creatively.
Sitting down with Kerrang!, the frontman frequently mentions regret at how much time he has wasted getting wasted. His eagerness to make up for those lost nights and foggy days is evident – now, nearly a decade sober after 22 years struggling with alcohol – he’s finally at peace with that part of his life, and he tries to use it as a catalyst for positive change.
“I used to get upset thinking about wasting time fucking drinking, but since I got sober my brain has been on overdrive and my creative output has quintupled,” he says excitedly. “I used to get upset about that, but there’s no reason to sit in despair over things you could have done. You just have to start doing things now.”
Right now, Randy is gearing up for the release of Lamb Of God’s impending 10th studio album, on which a pocket watch adorns the artwork. Today completed by guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, touring drummer turned full-time member Art Cruz, and ever-present bassist John Campbell, since breaking onto the scene at the turn of the millennium with their New American Gospel album, the Virginia incendiaries have become one of the most vital, exciting and important bands in heavy music, effectively filling the void left by Pantera.
You might think, then, that Randy is chomping at the bit to get back into the zone. In many ways, you’d be wrong.
“I hate making records,” he says. “I hate recording. One hundred per cent, it’s my least favourite part of this job.”
This isn’t Randy being a curmudgeon as he approaches middle-age; it’s the creative process with which he holds a problem. As someone who otherwise attempts to live a blissed-out, carefree life, he admits he finds it harder and harder to put his psyche through the wringer each time, barking out hateful words in a lightless booth for days on end.
“I go in and scream for hours every day, my head fucking hurts, and at the end of the day my ears are ringing because I have to have the headphones up at atrocious levels in order for me to do my thing,” he explains. Furthermore, he says that he struggles to sleep as his mind will repeat a single phrase or lyric over and over. This exhausting, intense regime forces Randy to leave home, joking that he can’t be around his wife as he’s “not suitable for normal human company” while working.
“Doing a Lamb Of God record is not a pleasant experience for me. It’s emotionally exhausting and it takes forever,” he continues, adding that he gets much more “creative fulfilment” from his individual endeavours, such as his passion for photography.
It’s this disdain for the recording process that gives Randy a rather pragmatic approach to Lamb Of God as a whole, allowing him much more freedom to exist as a human being rather than a vocalist. As our conversation edges toward the topic of drummer Chris Adler’s departure and replacement with Winds Of Plague’s Art Cruz, for example, his get-shit-done mentality simply offers, “For me there wasn’t a lot of thought about it. It was [a case of], ‘Can he play the fucking shit?’ Yes, he can.”
Randy might not like the process, but it’s where he thrives, entering a space where he can exorcise his demons and unleash his thoughts on the state of the world. The resulting eponymous album is a 10-track takedown of modern society, dripping in piss and vinegar. We hear him tackling topics that range from the Standing Rock oil protests and humanity’s environmental impact on Routes, to the broken American political system on lead single Checkmate, a punishing track that rails against both main parties as two sides of the same coin, and bemoans how the truth has become an afterthought in people’s minds.
With it being election year in the United States, it stands to reason that Lamb Of God should return with such a resonant track. Although, in typical Randy fashion, he counters such a suggestion by saying that he doesn’t “give a fuck what song comes out first”.
“It’s the most on-the-nose track, politically, but this whole record is political,” he explains. “When we had [George W. Bush] during the [2004 album] Ashes Of The Wake era, he was a whole lot easier to write specifics about, because we had the war in Iraq and the mythical weapons of mass destruction. But right now, the political world everywhere looks like Pee-wee Herman’s Playhouse. Civility and discourse is at an all-time low, and that’s because people view political parties now not for their policies, but [as something to] support like sports teams. The lyrics reflect that. The system is a fucking fraud.”
Such heightened political awareness and increased fanatical support for the left or right could be attributed to humanity’s reliance and obsession with social media and rolling news. Now we’re all connected to the hivemind, scrolling through our echo chambers, the lines between our screens and our lives are blurring, which feeds into the album’s opening track, Memento Mori.
A Latin phrase meaning ‘Be mindful of death’, the title not only bemoans our addiction to media and political punditry, but urges us to wake up and explore the wonders that this life can bring.
“If you pay attention to the news too much, if you pay attention to the talking heads, to the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum, you will come to the conclusion that the world is about to end right fucking now,” says Randy.
Despite being plugged into the mainframe of global politics and fronting a vehicle that allows him to share his truth, Randy is just looking for simplicity; a life of zen and harmony.
“In a global sense, things are really fucked up, but in a personal sense, somewhere right now a mother is seeing her newborn child for the first time, and that’s a magical event. Someone is falling in love for the first time. An old man is sitting there remembering his wife who has passed away and he’s smiling. These are all good things.
“The song is about waking up from that [negative] mentality. It’s something I’ve been guilty of, and I found myself getting more and more fucking depressed. But then take a look at my cat, like, ‘You know what? You’re fucking awesome and it’s rad that you’re here with me. Life ain’t so bad.’”
Earlier this year, Randy Blythe celebrated his 49th birthday, a fact he reiterates many times throughout our hour-long conversation. The Big 5 – 0 “has a bit more significance in my head than 40 did”, he says. “That kind of makes me think a little bit more about my life and how it’s gone.”
In those intervening years, Randy has grown immensely as a person, not least through quitting drinking. Taking control of his alcoholism allowed the frontman to re-evaluate what was important in life and where to direct his aggression when needed.
“Justified anger is a dangerous thing depending on your personality type,” he says. “There are plenty of things you can justifiably be angry about – there’s injustice everywhere you fucking look. But you can’t maintain this state of berserker rage at all times. When I was younger I did, for a long time, and that’s one of the reasons why I drank so much – so it would turn that shit off in my head. It would calm me down some… until it stopped working and ruined my life.”
Randy has been sober for nine years, after hitting an emotional flatline while on tour in Australia. It’s a change that has not only improved his physical wellbeing, but also his mental health. It’s a life choice that has gone on to shape his worldview for the better, revealing that while drinking he used to “catastrophise everything to death”.
“The tiniest setback took on monumental significance – which is no way to live,” he says. “The past five years have been a process of learning within me what is worth getting worked up over and what is not. If anyone is experiencing personal growth in their life, I think that’s a natural progression for everyone.”
That isn’t to say the world is full of cheer and joy, but as Randy posits, it’s “just a matter of how you use that anger to not let it fucking consume you.”
These days, Randy is a man of simple pleasures. He enjoys meditation and tries to read as much as possible, but it’s his love of surfing that keeps him grounded, and acts as a metaphor for his approach to existence.
“You don’t think when you surf; everything moves so swiftly,” he begins. “When you’re surfing well, it’s like Yoda: do, or do not – there is no ‘try’. The wave might not present you with the opportunity; you have to take the opportunities that are presented to you as the wave unfolds.
“I think the urge to constantly be working and producing is instilled in us by society. We miss a lot of things because we don’t sit back and look at the world around us, and see some of its beauty.”
Growing up in the punk scene, thriving on a diet of Bad Brains and Cro-Mags, he has an inbuilt hatred of consumer culture, mass marketing and economical corruption, all of which has fed directly into Lamb Of God’s new record.
This is nothing new, of course. Randy has spent his career belting out caustic sociopolitical commentary on the state of the planet, writing about war, deception, greed and myriad other injustices that have long held humanity down. But their self-titled LP isn’t just a swift diatribe on modern society. It can’t be – time is simply moving too fast.
“I can’t write about the Trump administration because it changes so quick,” he asserts. “And if you look at the UK with Brexit, everything changes so fast it would be a fruitless exercise to try to pin a theme on one specific political topic. I wanted to look at the broader, wide-angle view of our global society, and figure out what has allowed this environment to occur.”
Instead of looking forward, then, Randy turned to the past for inspiration.
“I thought about this insane consumer culture in which the Western world lives. I thought about this crazy dependence on technology, this reverence for material possessions, this false sense of self and wellness that is put forth by the media and social media. Where did all this start?” asks Randy rhetorically.
This dissection of consumer culture is what inspired Gears, the song from which everything else on the album blossomed. It’s a ferocious track, gnashing its teeth at the state of capitalism, including the lyrics, ‘Empty actions to fill the time / Commercial gods keep you in line / Industry and empire thrive / While you’re dying for always more.’
“It’s pretty clear the song’s about materialism, but it’s about the root of materialism,” says Randy. “The Industrial Revolution started, they began to mass produce all these items for people to buy and the middle class was slowly coming into existence.”
This is about more than a history lesson or pointing fingers, though; it’s an invitation for the wider world to wake up and understand its own failings, with Randy having seen for himself that it doesn’t have to be this way.
“I’ve travelled to places where there are people who are very, very poor and do need things,” he says. “But for the most part, you see a lot more civility in these people and some genuine happiness that is not dependent on consumption of a factory-made item.”
It’s this mantra of modesty and relaxed way of living that Randy instills in himself on a daily basis.
This is not the life Randy Blythe envisioned for himself. Sure, he wanted to be happy, but being in a globally successful metal band was never on his agenda. Naturally, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that he didn’t have aspirations to be a rock star, because he to this day doesn’t live like one. No Beverly Hills mansion, no champagne baths, no driving cars into swimming pools – just a quiet life with his wife and cat, living one day at a time.
“Lamb Of God was a band for 10 years before we ever made any money,” he remembers. “We all worked straight jobs. It was something that we did because we loved it, and for me at least, it was never something that I ever thought I could make a living from.”
In fact, Randy’s biggest dream for Lamb Of God was to play New York’s iconic punk dive bar CBGB (something they did many times before its closure in 2006). Now, they’re bigger than ever, on the cusp of releasing one of 2020’s biggest and boldest metal albums.
“For me, it’s what it always was – I just don’t have to work a straight job now,” he says, considering how his band of brothers have changed over the past quarter of a decade. “I think it’s other people’s perception of what this band is and who we are as people that has probably changed. My perception is still the same. It’s very flattering that people like us. That is unbelievable to me sometimes, [that people like] a bunch of bozos from Virginia.
“I never thought I’d end up in a freakin’ metal band, because I’m not a metalhead at all,” he continues. “I thought I’d end up being the South’s version of Johnny Rotten. But that didn’t happen. I think we’re a good metal band. I think the record we’re putting out is the best we’ve done in years by far, but there doesn’t have to be a lot of thinking about it.”
It’s clear that Randy doesn’t put a lot of stock in dwelling on the past or even thinking too much about the future. When questioned about the LOG’s UK tour (before it was postponed), he instantly responds with a matter-of-fact “I hate headlining,” explaining that bands shouldn’t play for longer than 45 minutes.
“I could give you the standard band-guy interview that would be what you want to hear – ‘Oh man, we’re fucking reborn!’ and all that horse shit,” he says. “I’d love to tell you we’re coming like the phoenix out of the ashes, for some sort of soundbite. But no, I don’t fucking care. Get me on the bus, tell me where to go, and I’ll do my job.”
Coming from most mouths, such words would carry at best an air of grouchiness, and at worst the stench of disrespect. From Randy, it is simply the humble truth of a man who knows his own mind, and likes what he likes. And that certainly isn’t the “brutal and exhausting” touring lifestyle that’s taking a much heavier toll on his body as the years roll on, especially as someone who continues to belie his age and hurl himself around stages night after night.
Randy Blythe in 2020 lives in the moment and is confident in who he is, after a journey of self-discovery that he’s been on his whole life. Ultimately, as he has learned, nothing matters unless you’re happy at this particular moment in time.
But worry not: none of that means that Randy is going soft on us. The fire inside one of modern metal’s most iconic frontmen still burns brightly.
“I’m not writing a love song to make people feel good, it’s not what we do and never will as long as I’m writing the lyrics,” he says. “Sure, I’m gonna be 49 soon, but that hasn’t reduced the level of my venom at all. I don’t write about how great things are in the world – that’s not what punk rock and heavy metal are for. They’re for looking at things, seeing problems and hopefully providing some songs that people can take and use in their own lives to get through these negative situations.”
Which, whether or not he likes headlining shows or spending hours in a studio vocal booth, is the contrasting life of Randy Blythe. Away from the deep blue when surfing and his photography exhibitions, he remains the mouthpiece and figurehead of a biting, sociopolitical machine that connects with metal fans across the globe. From their Burn The Priest debut to this new self-titled, Randy’s vision and opinions are influencing generations of metalheads across the globe.
Not that it affects him in the slightest.
“I’m writing about things I care about, and I make music and write lyrics for only one person,” he asserts. “And that’s me.”
Lamb Of God’s self-titled album is out June 19 via Nuclear Blast – pre-order it now.
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