Randy Blythe always knew the world was going to end. Born in 1971, he was too young to remember much about the Vietnam War, but acutely felt the scars it left on his country’s psyche, with a brew of paranoia and hostility constantly threatening to boil over into total nuclear annihilation.
“Even as a young child, I had the knowledge – in fact, the certainty – that one day I was going to die in a fiery nuclear explosion,” he says today. “The Russians – these people I didn’t even know – were going to bomb us, because that’s what the media was saying. Luckily, with the fall of the Soviet Union, that whole angst between these two superpowers calmed down. But the nukes never went away. At any point, we could eradicate all life on Earth. The tensions in the world feel like the Cold War firing up again. The angst is back.”
That angst is present on Omens, Lamb Of God’s ninth album. It’s another savage assault that lashes out at the indignities perpetrated against us by corrupt leaders, not to mention the poor decisions we’re making as a human race – ‘plastic in your bloodstream, plastic in your brain’, Randy laments on Denial Mechanism, referring to the scientific studies that prove the material is showing up in our bodies, and even the placentas of our unborn children. If you thought Lamb Of God’s songs were bleak before, this is a whole other level.
“If there’s a unifying theme of Omens, it’s to pay attention to what’s happened in the past, because it’s happening now,” Randy says. In other words, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’ “Authoritarian tendencies are rising up again – especially on the far right – and we have to pay attention to that so we don’t let the fucking demagogues have their way. We just don’t seem to be learning – motherfuckers, pay attention!”
Despite predicting the end times, Randy remains remarkably chipper as we catch up before his band’s headlining slot at Bloodstock festival. Frontman of Lamb Of God for almost 30 years, Randy’s core trade has long been angst, outrage, and every shade of apoplexy in between.
But when he’s not onstage howling like a wounded beast, Randy thrums with a quiet energy that animates him in spurts – jolts of lightning that betray the ferocious physicality that’s made him one of metal’s most formidable frontmen. Still, we feel like we should ask him if he’s OK...
“I’m personally OK,” he replies. “The album is a reflection of two things: it’s a reflection of the current state of the world and people’s reaction to that, and it’s a reflection of my mind state when processing issues. My mind state is not a static thing, and it changes. In this band, I’ve always written about things that concern me, and I’m not going to sit down and write a song for Lamb Of God about some perfect afternoon I had with a lady!”
Aside from being in Randy’s good-humoured presence this afternoon, much of what we’ve learned about his mind state in recent months has come from his Instagram presence. There, he’s posted about events like accompanying a fan while they donated bone marrow (thanks to LOG’s awareness-raising single The Duke, which honoured a fan who passed away from leukaemia), and kept people up to date on his recent project to rewild some land in Ecuador (more on that later).
It all seems indicative of a man who’s determined to do some good in the world, who’s carving out meaning for himself where there isn’t immediately a sense of it. Is that the case? “I have no choice other than to do that,” he states. “Otherwise I’d blow my fucking brains out.”
If there’s one word that’s been annoying Randy Blythe recently, it’s ‘unprecedented’. Do not, under any circumstances, utter it in his presence.
“During the pandemic, I was about to pull my hair out if I heard the term ‘unprecedented’ on the news one more time,” he says. "None of it is unprecedented. Since the dawn of time we have had plagues, civil unrest, economic ups and downs… the only thing that is remotely unprecedented is our capability to destroy the planet, or to make it uninhabitable for human beings.”
It’s something that’s been on Randy’s mind a lot lately. He grew up learning to skate but, about a decade ago, he switched to surfing when he found himself living on the beach in a cheap rental house. Not only has it become something of a physical and mental refuge, it’s allowed him to connect with new people – one of whom is Carlos Odeja, from Ecuador.
Carlos had long been distressed about deforestation in Ecuador. So, when he let on to Randy at the beginning of the pandemic that there was some cattle-land for sale near his family’s farm, the frontman was quick to act – he bought it, with a view to planting indigenous trees, hoping to make the money back from touring.
When Covid put an end to that idea, he instead turned to Cameo, the service that allows fans to pay for video messages from their favourite celebrities. While initially reluctant, he realised he could use his platform as Randy From Lamb Of God to do some good.
“Cameo had been asking me for a while to do one, but punk rock guilt kept me from doing it,” he explains. “I realise I’m in a band and to a degree famous or whatever, but I didn’t want to charge people for videos of me. But then I realised I could take the money and put it towards this environmental project.”
He’s done Happy Birthday messages, along with more “intense” ones for those who have terminal cancer. “People’s friends and family have reached out afterwards saying, ‘That message meant so much to them’,” he says.
“It’s been an interesting thing. I’m not allergic to making money, because my friend [Guns N’ Roses bassist] Duff McKagan told me that, ‘It’s not the money you make, but what you do with it that matters.’ I’m not saying I’m 100% altruistic – I’m not Gandhi or anything – but I try to do some good at least.”
One of the other causes Randy was vocal about during the pandemic period related to the West Memphis Three – three men who were wrongly convicted as teenagers, in 1994, of the murders of three boys in West Memphis. One of the men, Damien Echols, was put on death row. They were released in 2011 after signing an Alford plea, which allowed them to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty.
In June, Randy travelled to Arkansas to support Damien as he petitioned the court for new DNA testing of evidence, in the hope it could potentially identify the killer(s) and bring justice to the case (though the request was denied).
“I felt strongly about the Damien Echols situation long before I ever got locked up, because I thought that could have been me,” Randy explains. “At Bloodstock, you have the Sophie Lancaster Stage – that could have been me. I was that weird fucking kid, and that weird kid got killed for nothing. That [other] weird kid went to death row for years. Beyond the fact Damien is my friend, but generally now because I’m sober 11 years now, whenever I see things that are just so blatantly wrong, I want to do something.”
That period of being “locked up” came in 2012 in the Czech Republic, when he was accused of pushing fan Daniel Nosek off the stage during a show in the country, leading to fatal injuries. Randy stood trial for manslaughter and was acquitted. During the ordeal, he presented himself sincerely, saying in a statement: “I am a man. I was raised to face my problems head on, not run from them like a petulant child.”
Documented further in his book, Dark Days, it was an undeniably traumatic time for everyone involved. In July of this year, Lamb Of God played at Inkcarceration festival, which takes place at the now-disused Ohio State Reformatory. The facility admitted its first inmates in 1896 and remained in operation until 1990, and The Shawshank Redemption was filmed there. Randy watched the movie the night before going, and the band had a private tour. He took his camera along to document it.
“I had not been in a correctional facility since I got out of the Czech Republic, so it’s not a place I was rushing to go see, you know?” he explains. “As a photographer, it was awesome, it gave me a level of emotional remove, because I’m looking through the eyes of a photographer rather than a guy who’s been in a prison. But I did end up making a lot of comparisons.”
“The prison I was in [Pankrác] is actually two years older than the one used for Inkcarceration, and as I was walking around, it just felt utterly crazy that the place could have stayed open until 1990,” he continues. “Utterly inhumane conditions there, but it wasn’t intended to be a prison – it was a reformatory type place where they had a very low rate of recidivism [reoffending]. Before the Depression, they’d been teaching people a trade, shoring them up morally and showing them there were other viewpoints, but once that hit, people were turning to crime to eat and it became a nightmarish place. To quote ourselves, there were still echoes.”
It’s easy to wonder if, 10 years on from his arrest, Randy’s experiences still weigh on his mind. It’s also perhaps too flippant a question, given the complexities of the situation – something that he politely but firmly acknowledges.
“That’s a question that you and a bunch of other fuckin’ journalists ask! Ha ha! It’s not the anniversary of a record I’m celebrating or whatever – it’s just something that happened,” he says. “If anyone wants answers on how I feel about that… I wrote a 500-page book. That details it pretty well!"
Randy Blythe has a dream. Standing on a beach, the sounds of surf filling the air and the sun beaming on his face, a long-haired kid in a black t-shirt will approach him. “Aren’t you Randy from Lamb Of God?” he’ll ask. “Not anymore,” he’ll reply, with a serene smile. We’re paraphrasing, but the scenario is one he fondly shares in Dark Days, painting a picture of a man who has a clear vision of an ending, content to ride out into the sunset once he's achieved everything he set out to. At the age of 51, we wonder how close Randy is to that day.
“I haven’t seen that exit ramp yet,” Randy says, smiling like he’s just figured out the punchline to a killer joke. “That’s very specific to Lamb Of God, too – not to music in general, as I plan on making music for as long as I possibly can. But nobody needs to see 70-year-old Randy Blythe jumping around and yelling, ‘This is a motherfucking invitation.’ I don’t think my body would be able to do that!”
But what about Ozzy Osbourne? He’s 73 and has just been onstage playing Paranoid at Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games closing ceremony…
“But Ozzy doesn’t do what I do! Ha ha ha! I love Ozzy to death, but because I’m such a physical performer, that’s what it is for me. Total physical immersion in our music. Sometimes I go onstage and think, ‘I’m gonna take it easy tonight, I’m not gonna jump off shit, I’m not gonna run around as much’, and then I’ll do it anyway. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do that. I know for a fact that, unless something horrible happens, if we make it to 2025, that’ll be 30 years of the band. I gotta make it to 30 years, and I think my body can take that.”
Though he’s fronted Lamb Of God for almost three decades, Randy will be the first to tell you that being a lead singer isn’t the sum of his identity. When the world shut down and his band were unable to tour, Randy, unlike some musicians, didn’t panic.
“What kept me going was knowing that [the lockdown situation] wasn’t that bad, because I have previous experience which is much, much worse! Ha ha!” he explains. “When you’ve been locked up in a foreign country, being locked up at home was, like, ‘This isn’t so bad – I’m at home, I have a computer, instruments… I can go out for a walk at night by myself, I can eat what I want…’”
He got really into historical drama The Crown and became “obsessed” with the royal family, yelling at the TV and talking to himself with his British alter ego, ‘Roger Brilliant’ (Roger later makes a brief appearance during the band’s Bloodstock set). During the rest of his spare time, he simply pivoted to one of his other passions: photography.
“I was on the streets all summer of 2020 [during the Black Lives Matter protests], getting teargassed and shot at with rubber bullets,” he says. “A good photograph can change the course of history. It’s my way of interfacing and making sense of the world – looking at photographs later, it helps me to realise why I chose to look at a certain subject or follow it in a certain way. It’s as much a document of my mental state as it is a document of what you can see.”
He’s also been steadily working on two books. The first is a long-term project he calls ‘Frontman’, which, as its title suggests, is a depiction of other people that do his job. Today at Bloodstock, he’ll take a portrait of iconic Killing Joke man Jaz Coleman. The second – and more immediate – is a sort-of sequel to Dark Days.
“The last book was about personal accountability,” he explains. “The vehicle to that was the story about me getting arrested and going to trial. This book is about perspective – the core theme is perspective and changing it to a healthy one. In recent years, I’ve been listening to other people’s perspectives rather than just trying to figure out everything myself, because I’m not going to! The book is a collection of stories about different experiences I’ve had with people and what I’ve taken away from those experiences.”
One-to-one conversations are increasingly important to Randy. When we last spoke to him, ahead of the release of 2020’s self-titled album, he made no secret of the fact he hates the two-party political system in the US – that the Democrats and Republicans are like opposing sports teams – and today he sees change as something that can only happen on a more local level.
“I’ve given up on there being mass social change one way or another; the only change comes with individual conversations,” he says today. “I can talk to anyone, as long as they aren’t a frothing lunatic. We can find some way to meet in the middle and find some semblance of sanity. But if you put people in these boxes like, ‘You are a Republican and you are a Democrat’, or ‘You are a Nazi right-winger and you are a whiny, whingy liberal libtard’, then you just dehumanise people.
They become part of a group identity and groupthink sets in. That’s not how progress is made. “The best I can do is try to do the right thing in my own life, try not to let my prejudices seep into my own interactions with other people. It would behove us all to act better towards each other. I sound like a total fucking hippy…”
Randy’s good humour seldom slips in conversation, even when difficult subjects are broached. Every answer is thoughtfully considered. He might scream about everything being doomed to fail, but it hasn’t stopped him from exploring many interests, or from trying to effect change.
Ask bandmate/guitarist Mark Morton what changes he’s seen in Randy in the past decade, and he’ll simply say, affectionately, “He’s just grown, as people are supposed to. The amount of passion he has for others, and the care he takes in the things he does, they show that he’s a wonderful human being. That’s what happens when you do things right – you grow and get better.”
With LOG, Randy’s ambitions are to play Vietnam (to learn about its history – and great food), go back to Africa, and do a gig on Antarctica (“Metallica are the only band that have done that – damn you, Lars Ulrich!”), which would mean the band had played on every continent. But personally? He doesn’t want anything from the world.
“As [Roman Emperor] Marcus Aurelius said – and I’m paraphrasing here – ‘The only reward for our efforts in life are charitable deeds and unstained character.’ That’s all I can hope to get as a reward. Trying to make things somewhat better, and not make too much of a mess of my character. As far as my personal wants? I just want to go surfing, dude! I want to go chill out! I want to hang out with my friends, write books. I don’t need anything else.”
And with that, we bid farewell to Randy Blythe, and good ’ol Roger Brilliant, and cross our fingers they’ll be blowing out 30 candles on a birthday cake in 2025.
Omens is out now via Nuclear Blast. Lamb Of God's UK tour is due to take place in March 2023.