Review: DARK DAYS by D. Randall Blythe (Da Capo Press)

BlytheDR-DarkDaysUSBlythe recounts his arrest, time in a Czech prison, and offers plenty of thoughts on life, music and sobriety in the process

Lamb of god vocalist D. Randall Blythe finally tells the whole incredible story of his arrest, incarceration, trial, and acquittal for manslaughter in the Czech Republic over the tragic and accidental death of a concertgoer in this riveting, gripping, biting, bold, and brave memoir.

On June 27, 2012, the long-running, hard-touring, and world-renowned metal band lamb of god landed in Prague for their first concert there in two years. Vocalist D. Randall “Randy” Blythe was looking forward to a few hours off — a rare break from the touring grind — in which to explore the elegant, old city. However, a surreal scenario worthy of Kafka began to play out at the airport as Blythe was detained, arrested for manslaughter, and taken to Pankrác Prison — a notorious 123-year-old institution where the Nazis’ torture units had set up camp during the German occupation of then-Czechoslovakia, and where today hundreds of prisoners are housed, awaiting trial and serving sentences in claustrophobic, sweltering, nightmare-inducing conditions.

Two years prior, a 19-year-old fan died of injuries suffered at a lamb of god show in Prague, allegedly after being pushed off stage by Blythe, who had no vivid recollection of the incident. Stage-crashing and -diving being not uncommon occurrences, as any veteran of hard rock, metal, and punk shows knows, the concert that could have left him imprisoned for years was but a vague blur in Blythe’s memory, just one of the hundreds of shows his band had performed over their decades-long career…

This is a really interesting memoir. It was also not what I was expecting. I’ve been reading a fair few music biographies and memoirs, recently, and this one is a stand-out. It is by turns engaging, insightful, funny, and even heart-wrenching. I am not as familiar with lamb of god’s music as I am most of the other bands/musicians I’ve been reading about, but they have been popular so long, that to be even a little interested in metal, I’ve frequently come into contact with their albums and read stories about them in the many magazines I read. That being said, the events covered in Dark Days happened during a time when I wasn’t really following music news at all, and I only heard of his arrest and, later his release. So, I was eager to give this a read to learn the full story.

While Blythe sticks predominantly to the events in Prague, he does sprinkle relevant pieces of his history into the narrative, giving the events and his actions and mentality some welcome context. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that he is sobre, and had been for about two years before his arrest — an arrest that can only have been nerve-wracking: upon deplaning, he was confronted with an armed-to-the-teeth squad of anti-terrorism police… Given the whirlwind events of the fateful night, and the sometimes mind-fogging amounts of alcohol he would consume on tour, it is not surprising that Blythe reflects on his addiction and sobriety. While at Pankrác, he had the opportunity to pass on his experiences with getting sober to another addict desperate to get clean. It was a nice thing to learn about him, actually.

Blythe’s character comes through on every single page — his Southern manners, his near-obsession with being accountable for your actions (especially in a surprising final couple of chapters). Sometimes, yes, he lays it on a bit thick, but it’s easy to look past. Frequently, the author will write off into a tangent, covering a good number of topics with equal amounts of insight, considered opinion, and biting humour (especially about online music “journalism”). There were times when his account came across as almost cavalier, a kind of blasé disdain that seemed at odds with what he was experiencing — interestingly, in the epilogue, Blythe writes that his wife and agent pointed this out, too… At the same time, I’m glad he didn’t sugar-coat his own feelings at the time, nor manufactured some Life Changing Lesson to end the book on. The author is clearly a pretty no-nonsense kind of guy, and that comes through on every page.

Some of his observations are a bit simplistic, perhaps, but given that he was in a wholly new situation (frequently scary, by his own admission), and only there for a month, that’s hardly surprising. I would be lucky to come up with anything non-gibbering if I was unexpectedly arrested and subjected to half of the things he experienced. And who can conduct detailed anthropological and social studies when banged up in a shitty prison, waiting for a baffling legal system to get its gears moving?

I enjoyed the inclusion of mini-histories of the prison and other parts of his tale. (He has a gift for writing this type of non-fiction, actually, so I do hope he writes more in the future.) Blythe is also very good at evoking the camaraderie of the metal scene — fans and his fellow performers. This is something that always drew me to the genres, too, and I made many friends in my youth based originally solely on the fact of a shared taste in music.

Chapter Sixteen, which recounts the death of his daughter, was absolutely heart-wrenching. Details of the court case are sparser than I would have expected, but given that he couldn’t follow it all, that’s hardly surprising — it was conducted in Czech, with the help of not-always-stellar translators to relay information, questions and answers. Therefore, instead of more on the trial, what preceded it could have been tightened? The book is almost 500 pages long and, while engaging and entertaining, I think it could have been pruned by 50-100 pages without losing any of its impact.

Nitpicking aside, this is a very good memoir. Highly recommended to anyone who followed (even a little bit) the story as it happened. And, of course, it’s a must-read for fans of the band.

*

D. Randall Blythe’s Dark Days is out now, published by Da Capo Press (from whom I received the review copy). It is published in the UK by Century. You can read an excerpt at RollingStone.com.

lamb of god Discography:

  • Burn the Priest (1999) — when the band was still called Burn the Priest
  • New American Gospel (2000)
  • As the Palaces Burn (2003)
  • Ashes of the Wake (2004)
  • Sacrament (2006)
  • Wrath (2009)
  • Resolution (2012)
  • VII: Sturm und Drang (2015)

LambOfGod-Discography2015

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