Lamb of God, Forever Invincible, Totally Nail Their Most Intimate Performance in Years (Randy Blythe Interview + Show Photos)
Lamb of God are many things to many people. With a vibrant discography and unkillable strength, the band’s stature as one of the most popular metal bands of all time has been earned, not bought or stolen. Fans have certainly come and gone as everyone’s lives have moved forward through two decades of tumult — tastes change, and so do bands, Lamb of God included. For me, personally, my heyday with the band was 2003’s As the Palaces Burn, an album I still consider indisputably flawless, even in comparison to its highly regarded follow-up Ashes of the Wake. Just because I fell out of rotation with the band post-Wrath (2009) doesn’t mean Lamb of God stopped being a kick-ass band, though; simply put, my tastes changed, the band changed, and those arrows pointed in divergent directions.
Such is life indeed.
But I remember. I remember all those times as a teenager when I blasted As the Palaces Burn through a Sony portable CD player and those crap-ass headphones they came with. Devin Townsend’s production on that album, I swear, almost seemed to take those very headphones into consideration: it sounded so good, so much better than every other metal album I had, that it became a massage for my mind. And that’s to say nothing about Lamb of God’s music itself. Just the sheer savagery of Randy Blythe’s cigarette voice sent chills down my back. The riffs were techy and catchy and god-tier, of course, and prompted me at the ripe age of 16 to buy my first guitar. There were breakdowns, but the right kind, the good kind. Lamb of God’s formula worked — it worked on me, and it worked on millions of others too. Popularity might kill some bands; others, though, it only makes them greater in every dimension.
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And the band proved themselves forever invincible, with all that history in tow, on Friday night at Chicago’s House of Vans indoor skatepark. It’s super-unusual for a band of such prominence to play an approximately 1,000-capacity venue, and sure enough, they packed the place to the maximum. Between songs, Blythe joked with the fans, “hope y’all got your money’s worth” — the show was free, and there was free beer too. Harms Ways opened. Clearly, Vans has their marketing game down to a science; if being a suckling consumer involves seeing Lamb of God play one of the most intimate shows of their later-era career, then sign me straight the hell up. We’re all going to be marketed to anyway, no matter what, so it might as well be a fuckton of fun, right?
It was. Lamb of God totally nailed their set, a mixture of old and new, a perfect amalgamation of everything the band has come to be. Even without drummer Chris Adler, the band’s headstrong attitude and gritty determination lives on. Besides, it’s those characteristics which got them to where they are now. I had the pleasure of speaking with Blythe before the set about the band’s journey, how they stay energized, and even Blythe’s photography which has taken on a life of its own.
Watch the entire show (which streamed live) in the video above, and check out my shots from the show at the top of this post. The setlist, upcoming tour dates, and my chat with Blythe follow.
Lamb of God, so that first album New American Gospel came out in what, 2000? So it’s been 20 years, two decades.
Yeah, and we were Burn the Priest for six years before that.
So if you sum up these last 20 years, how do you even put that together? As a part of your life, as a part of who you’ve become now?
I’ve been in the band, you know, half my life. I’m gonna be 49 soon, so I’ve been in the band 25 years, and it’s weird, because it hasn’t really shaped my identity, you know? I think my identity and the identities of the guys in our band shaped the band. But the band hasn’t shaped our identities. It’s never anything I thought I’d be doing professionally, for a living, I just wanted to play at CBGB — the biggest dream I ever had — and it happened, many times. It’s just been… we always say, it’s an overused word, but it’s been this “organic” process. It’s not like we suddenly got together and then there was one thing that happened and then boom, we’re a big band. It was a gradual upward incline, that somehow, against all odds, doesn’t seem to have broken down and fallen into disrepair yet [laughs].
You mention being about to hit 50 — as you age, do you see a newer generation of kids into Lamb of God, like maybe into later Lamb of God and not earlier? Do you see any differences there?
I don’t really know, this may sound strange, but I don’t really know the demographics of our fans [laughs]. In the dark, they all have long hair and black t-shirts — I meet young fans and then people in their 60s.
Maybe not just fans, but people in the scene, the scene changes, music changes, Lamb of God’s changed. Maybe as you get wiser and older, there’s something maybe you noticed about it all?
I think there are some positives and some negatives, the way things are versus the way they were when we came up. It’s a lot easier for bands to book their own tours and try to establish their own audience via social media and the Internet, whereas we did not have any of that when we started, you know? I had a talk with this band this one time — we were on tour in Australia, probably five years ago on this festival tour — and these guys were in their 20s and I was talking to them about the van days. I was like, “yeah, you know, back in the day, it was a little different touring with no cell phones no GPS,” and then one of them stopped, looked at me, and [asked]: “you didn’t have a GPS?”
I’m like, “no!” They were honestly confused, they said, “how did you figure out where you were going?” I said, “we had these things called maps made out of this stuff called paper,” [laughs]. So, there are a lot of conveniences in the modern age, and in some ways it’s easier for bands to do this stuff. But now, and with the advent of home recording technology becoming so cheap, all that’s great and the democratization of music is great, everyone should be allowed to make music. On the bad side of that, there’s a million people making music. It’s so hard to… it’s a lot rougher for young bands now.
Everyone’s gotta have that filter on, that constant stimulation overload [of new music].
Sure. I think the old adage I heard coming up, “you do it cause you love it” — you just do it whether it makes money or not. You keep grinding… people that do that, they make it.
Do you still love it?
Do I still love it? Yeah, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.
Damn right. I mean, I guess you can’t get rid of the shock sometimes that you’re here now but you weren’t here 20 years ago.
Yeah, it’s weird, sometimes it’s really weird. I think it’s good that I still feel this way often: I’ll just sit around sometimes, and be like, what the fuck am I doing here?. We were a band for ten years working straight jobs, all of us, in between tours, going out, never making money, coming home, working a straight job. I was a roofer, worked in restaurants as a cook, dishwasher, you know?
This is a quote-unquote small show for us…
I guess that’s what’s “big” about it…
Yeah, there are people who’d lose their minds to step up on stage in front of that many people, they would go crazy, that would be the highlight of their life. And I remember being that way, thinking playing in front of 250 people was a huge crowd, you know? Sometimes when we’re playing something like Download and there’s literally 100,000 people in front of us, I stop, and I’m like, “how did I get here, how in the fuck did this happen?”
Kind of just wake up into it.
It’s very strange, but I feel fortuitous. I feel lucky. We put a lot of work into it, and I think that’s good. I think it’s good to keep cognizant of the fact that not everyone gets to do this.
As a segue into your photography, then — you started your photography relatively recently, no?
I had this idea that I was going to unplug from the Internet for a year, right? I was going to do a documentary about it. So I asked a friend of mine who was a documentarian what kind of camera to get to shoot video, and also to shoot skateboarding. So I went out, got some b-reel footage of this supposed documentary I was going to make, but mostly just shooting skateboarding in the DIY parks in Richmond with my friend Josh from Cannabis Corpse [laughs].
And then, one day, I went into my kitchen, like “let me try this camera” — I was getting ready to go skate — “let me try this camera for what it’s actually supposed to be.” I put it on “dummy mode,” automatic, and pointed it at my French press. It was a domed lid, and I could see my reflection in it, and I was like click, and I looked at it, like… “I’m a genius!”
I know that exact feeling [laughs].
Right [laughs]? “I’m so good!” And it was a totally average picture, totally nothing special.
But it was yours.
It was mine. I mean, it was cool, and from there, it just became this obsession. I learned how to move from dummy mode to manual, and I started researching photographers. I particularly like Henri Cartier-Bresson: famous street photographer. I looked up what kind of camera he used: Leica. From there, I bought a Leica, after years of saving, and got into a relationship with Leica, and now I deal with them.
As a photographer now too, I never thought of myself as a visual person before. Did you?
No, see, I knew I had musical talent and I knew I could write. But I’d always wanted to be able to do something in the visual arts, and I can’t draw a stick figure.
So you started at ground zero, then, you literally picked up a camera on automatic mode — does that remind you when you started from ground zero with Lamb of God or Burn the Priest?
Hmm, yeah. But I worked a lot harder at photography learning theory and technique and stuff. Because, in Lamb of God, basically, to become a successful frontman, you really only need one characteristic. One thing, beyond being able to actually sing. And that is: you need to have the willingness to get up, in front of a bunch of people, and be really bad and make a fool out of yourself for a long time, until you get good at it. And I had that characteristic, because I’ve been making a fool out of myself for my whole life.
People love it [laughs].
So, for photography, I took a much more studied approach.
Do you focus on any particular subjects for your photography?
No, whatever there is, whatever comes around. I’m not a studio guy; I get with the world, I think of myself more as a street photographer.
Last topic: this show. Is this probably the smallest show you guys have played in a while?
Fuckin’ years [laughs]. This is like 900-cap here. And it’s free. You can’t beat it. House of Vans hooked it up. And we got new shoes too.
How does this new album culminate 20 years of Lamb of God? Did you sit down and plan this one out over a number of years, or did you sit down and hammer it out?
I mean, every album is a culmination of the band through the years, but we were very collaborative on this record. Sometimes we’ve had records where… because three people write the music: Mark, Willie, and me. We’re the guys who write. I write lyrics and vocal melodies — I even snuck a couple riffs in on this album for the first time — but Mark and Willie write the songs. And sometimes in the past, it would be Mark bringing a bunch of his songs, Willie bringing a bunch of his songs, and we’d put an album together out of that.
For [the new album], they would bring in ideas and really work together a lot more. It kinda happened with the last record a bit, but this time it’s even more collaborative. So, it’s a matter of us, over the years, learning how to work with each other.
Lamb of God will be touring Europe in late March through April this year, and then they’ll be back in North America for an absolutely massive round-up of shows featuring Megadeth, Trivium, and In Flames. Dates below:
June 12 – Bristow, VA @ Jiffy Lube Live
June 13 – Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
June 14 – Raleigh, NC @ Red Hat Amphitheater
June 16 – Virginia Beach, VA @ Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater
June 17 – Wantagh, NY @ Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater
June 18 – Camden, NJ @ BB&T Pavilion
June 20 – Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center
June 21 – Boston, MA @ Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion
June 23 – Syracuse, NY @ St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview
June 24 – Providence, RI @ Bold Point Park
June 26 – Darien Center, NY @ Darien Lake Amphitheater
June 28 – Burgettstown, PA @ S&T Bank Music Park
June 29 – Toronto, ON @ Budweiser Stage
July 1 – Detroit, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
July 2 – Mount Pleasant, MI @ Soaring Eagle Casino Amphitheatre
July 3 – Indianapolis, IN @ Ruoff Music Center
July 5 – Atlanta, GA @ Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
July 7 – Cincinnati, OH @ PNC PAVILION
July 8 – Cleveland, OH @ Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
July 10 – Chicago, IL @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
July 11 – St. Louis, MO @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
July 12 – Nashville, TN @ Nashville Municipal Auditorium
July 14 – Rogers, AR @ Walmart AMP
July 16 – Austin, TX @ Germania Insurance Amphitheater
July 17 – Houston, TX @ The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
July 18 – Irving, TX @ The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory
July 20 – Albuquerque, NM @ Isleta Amphitheater
July 21 – Phoenix, AZ @ Arizona Federal Theatre
July 23 – Irvine, CA @ FivePoint Amphitheatre
July 25 – Auburn, WA @ White River Amphitheatre
July 26 – Portland, OR @ Moda Center
July 29 – Salt Lake City, UT @ USANA Amphitheatre
July 30 – Pocatello, ID @ Portneuf Health Trust Amphitheatre
August 1 – Concord, CA @ Concord Pavilion
October 2 – West Palm Beach, FL @ iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre
October 6 – Birmingham, AL @ Oak Mountain Amphitheatre
October 7 – New Orleans, LA @ UNO Lakefront Arena
October 9 – Corpus Christi, TX @ American Bank Center Arena
October 11 – El Paso, TX @ Don Haskins Center
October 14 – Springfield, MO @ JQH Arena
October 16 – Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
October 21 – Columbus, OH @ Schottenstein Center
October 23 – Huntington, WV @ Mountain Health Arena
October 24 – Bethlehem, PA @ The Wind Creek Event Center
October 27 – Quebec City, QC @ Centre Videotron
October 28 – Laval, QC @ Place Bell
October 30 – St. Paul, MN @ Armory
October 31 – Green Bay, WI @ Resch Center
November 2 – Omaha, NE @ Baxter Arena
November 3 – Sioux Falls, SD @ Denny Sanford PREMIER Center
November 5 – Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center
November 7 – Las Vegas, NV @ Mandalay Bay Events Center
November 10 – Spokane, WA @ Spokane Arena
November 11 – Nampa, ID @ Ford Idaho Center Arena
November 13 – Reno, NV @ Reno Events Center
House of Vans Lamb of God Setlist (times match the livestream video)
29:20 – (Intro)
30:24 – Laid to Rest
34:28 – Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
38:34 – Ruin
44:30 – Walk With Me in Hell
49:38 – Set to Fail
53:40 – Hourglass
59:28 – 512
1:04:15 – Ghost Walking
1:11:20 – Checkmate
1:16:25 – Descending
1:20:45 – Contractor
1:26:12 – Omerta
1:32:00 – Redneck