As the Palaces Burn: Film Review
Don Argott's documentary recounts the harrowing legal battle faced by Lamb of God's lead singer charged with causing the death of one of their fans.
The filmmaker, if not his subject, benefits from a tragic situation in Don Argott’s documentary about the heavy metal band Lambs of God. What originally began as a cinematic paean to the veteran group’s loyal fans took on an unexpectedly dark and gripping turn midway through the filming when its front man Randy Blythe was arrested on manslaughter charges in Prague as a result of a fatal incident involving one of its fans two years earlier. Chronicling the subsequent legal battle in gripping detail, As the Palaces Burn is not your typical rock documentary.
The film begins in usual fashion, introducing us to the Virginia-based band which formed in 1999. Now in their 40s and driving Priuses, they’re an engaging, self-effacing lot, with Blythe commenting that “I fly around the world and get paid to scream” and guitarist Mark Morton admitting that their music is “unlistenable.”
Except, that is, to their devoted fans around the world. Several are profiled here, including a Columbian taxi driver who constantly plays their music in his cab and a young Indian woman who aspires to being a rock vocalist.
Everything changes when the band arrives in Prague in 2012 during an international tour, only to be greeted by a SWAT team who promptly arrests Blythe, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, for being responsible for the death of one of their fans during a club show two years earlier. The young man had rushed onto the stage and died from injuries after supposedly being pushed into the crowd by Blythe, who had absolutely no recollection of the incident.
The singer was held in prison for several weeks before finally being released on $400,000 bail. He and the group later returned to the Czech Republic for a trial in which his fate was decided not by a jury but rather by three judges. Grainy cell phone footage of the event was eventually revealed to actually involve another fan, still very much alive, who thought that the band’s reaction to his antics was entirely appropriate.
Although their fans offered unwavering support—“It’s not so metal to get emotional,” one of them admits while tearing up—the footage of the ensuing trial indicates that Blythe faced a nightmarish situation of Kafkaesque proportions. Asked at one point why he seemed so fierce during their concerts, the singer points out, “Our onstage persona is aggressive…I’m not gonna get up there like Steve Winwood and smile.”
Non-aficionados with no prior knowledge of the events depicted will be held in great suspense as the saga unfolds. But even if you already know how the case was resolved, As the Palaces Burn emerges as a gripping tale of a band whose existence was threatened by the very image they worked so hard to project.
Production: 9.14 Pictures, Epic Records
Director: Don Argott
Producer: Sheena M. Joyce
Executive producer: Larry Mazer
Directors of photography: Don Argott, Demian Fenton
Editor: Demian Fenton
Not rated, 90 min.