Fine Arts and Fest

As The Palace Burns

A Review

Lisa Sanchez
Music documentaries are nothing new, but it is a rare occurrence that any film, documentary or otherwise, truly captures the essence and effect of its subjects. The Lamb of God documentary, "As the Palaces Burn", accomplishes just that and adds a human element to a genre and sub-culture that some people may find unapproachable. The scope of the documentary is diverse, focusing both on the motivations and evolutions of the band members as well as the global community Lamb of God's music has helped cultivate.

When Lamb of God first set out to make "As the Palaces Burn" it was originally slotted to be a fan-based documentary detailing the touching stories of die-hard, heavy-metal kids from around the world who are influenced by Lamb of God's music. However, the band was sent spiraling when they were detained in the Prague airport in June 2012. Lead singer Randy Blythe was arrested in connection with the death of a fan, which had occurred two years earlier at one of the band's shows. The film shows real footage from Blythe's trial, the support of the metal community, and the band's personal struggles trying to raise money for Blythe's bail as well as coming to terms with the idea that the trial in the Czech Republic could end Lamb of God's career.

Directed by Don Argott, "As the Palaces Burn" opens with a candid conversation with Blythe about how music saved his life and how within the last year and a half Blythe had overcome the substance abuse problems that had plagued both his personal life and band persona. Throughout the introduction of the film, the guys of Lamb of God are brought to a human level. They may be world-known musicians, but they are also modest husbands and fathers, "Real metalheads drive Priuses" said drummer Chris Adler while loading up his gas-saving car.

It's very clear that Lamb of God are not cruising the world in a private jet powered by expensive champagne and the tears of dumped groupies. They're down to Earth guys and the magnitude of their own influence is not lost on them, "I get paid to scream" chuckled Blythe discussing the upcoming tour "I'm always afraid someone's going to find out."

The first thirty minutes of the documentary show the band's fan base in Columbia, Venezuela, Israel, and India, and how heavy music influences people who live in turbulent countries. Their fans discuss how metal is an outlet for them, and has evolved into a lifestyle that helps them deal with their anger or non-conformist beliefs in oppressive countries. Also, metal heads in India are totally out of their mind. The concert footage from overseas shows some of the most brutal depictions of live concerts I've ever seen. Many of the fans traveled for days via train to see Lamb of God perform, so I can't blame them for wanting to tear it up, but at one point Blythe points out "We don't want people to get hurt."

When the main subject of the documentary appears, the death of fan Daniel Nosek, "As the Palaces Burn" reveals an unflinching presentation of the band's sorrow over the event as well as the tragic loss of Daniel's life. The incident happened at a 2010 show, but the band nor their manager had heard anything from the Czech authorities until Blythe's arrest in Prague in 2012. Considering the amount of time that had passed, witness testimony was spotty and none of the band members could remember anything unusual about the show in question. At one point guitarist Mark Morton compared it to someone being asked what they ate for dinner three years ago.

Daniel Nosek sustained a head injury at Lamb of God's 2010 show in Prague's Club Abaton. He was taken to a hospital, slipped into a coma, and subsequently died a few months later. There was no clear evidence whether Blythe, who witnesses allege pushed Daniel off of the stage, caused the injury. However, there was some amateur video of the night in question, but no recording exists of Daniel at the show. Considering the information presented, it was up to three judges and the Czech judicial system to decide Blythe's fate on manslaughter and neglect charges, which could have carried up to a 10-year sentence.

Seeing the inner workings of an event that was not only huge news in the metal community, but in the mainstream media as well, was eye opening and humbling. There is a point where Blythe has to try and defend the atmosphere of a metal concert and explain that there is no malice present in any of the interactions witnessed in the amateur recordings of the show. The whole scenario puts the identity and landscape of heavy music into perspective. Just how do you define the motives behind an entire cultural way of being? That is the truly fascinating core of "As the Palaces Burn" and it is presented with enthralling intermingled commentary from the band members, fans, and the metal elite, including Slash, Oderus Urungus, and Corey Taylor.

As the world knows, Randy Blythe was totally exonerated of all charges. But, at the moment the decision was translated to the lead singer, Blythe looked physically weakened. All of the members of Lamb of God expressed living with the knowledge of Daniel's death weighs on them and has since they found out; Blythe himself referred to the feeling "...like walking around with a lead helmet on all the time." In a documentary, which could have only celebrated Blythe's exoneration, the director humanized and memorialized Daniel in a way that accurately represented the impact of his death.

"As the Palaces Burn" was more touching and heart-felt than I bargained for. The documentary represented the strength and influence of music, devotion of fans, and the steadfastness to stand by one's principals and staunchly do what's right. Although Blythe consistently affirmed his innocence, he still went back to face trial in the Czech Republic in hopes of giving Daniel's family some closure. "As the Palaces Burn" is not a morality tale, it's just a humanity tale, as Blythe put it, "It's not a story I can write it's just a story I can live and hope for the best."