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It’s the morning of May 30. It’s been five days since George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, and for the last four nights people across the United States have taken to the streets. To protest, to demand justice, to vent their anger at a system that has been broken for a very long time. Randy Blythe, singer for the metal band Lamb of God, spent the previous night photographing the situation in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The topic of our conversation is supposed to be the band’s self-titled eighth album scheduled for release in early June, but who can think of anything else at this pivotal moment in history?

“Hopefully we get a little more empathy out of this whole fucking clusterfuck,” an exasperated Blythe says. “I don’t condone violence, but I understand why people are upset right now. You have to try and put some perspective on things. People aren’t out in the streets for no fucking reason, you know?

“I mentioned the word empathy,” Blythe continues. “I think that is pretty fucking key right now. It’s something that needs to be developed very fucking swiftly because shit is not good right now. People are already tense because everybody’s going bonkers from being locked indoors. [The killing of Floyd] was such an egregious and obvious abuse of power, but I think [lockdown] accelerated the process.”

Photo by Travis Shinn

Photo by Travis Shinn

Throughout the hour-long conversation, empathy comes up time and time again. Blythe jokes about a “kinder, gentler Lamb of God,” but there is also some truth to that. While the album is definitely aggressive—it is a Lamb of God album, after all—the rage comes from a place of compassion. This isn’t anger for the sake of anger, it’s an embittered cry for people to start taking care of each other.

In an America where the divide has turned even the simplest issues—like wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a virus—into a political issue, it’s refreshing to hear Blythe hold all parties accountable.

“Whenever Congress manages to actually do something, they’re like, ‘This is a great bipartisan victory,’” Blythe says. “You work for the good of the American people, it should not have to be couched in terms of bipartisanship. You guys did your fucking job, this isn’t something to give yourself a cookie over. People are fucking broke, people are losing their homes, their jobs. Get it fucking done.”

Despite its many flaws, Blythe believes in the core values America was founded on. It’s an imperfect system, but it can be fixed. This can be difficult to see when one is constantly bombarded by negative news, which we all are thanks to our phones. With a wealth of information at his fingertips, Blythe couldn’t help but constantly read up on the news of the day, from every possible viewpoint. He saw the toll it was taking on his mental health. As an alcoholic, he recognized the addictive behavior his phone brought out in him. He went as far as getting a VPN blocker to prevent himself from constantly going down that rabbit hole.

Blythe examines the subject further in the single “Memento Mori:”     A depression fed by overload    False perceptions, the weight of the world    A universe in the palm of your hand    The artifice of endless strands    Distraction flows down an obsessive stream    Rejection grows into oppressive screams

“I realized that if I’m living through this cell phone and constantly looking at this stuff, all I’m going to do is stay in a negative headspace,” Blythe shares. “I’m going to miss the real world. When I’m laying on my deathbed, I doubt I will say, ‘I really wish I looked at my cell phone a little bit more.’”

Life isn’t about screens, it’s about experiences and connections. In the midst of a global pandemic it’s easy to forget this, particularly as beloved rituals are put on hold. And for the first time in their more than 25year history, Lamb of God can’t hit the road to support their album.

As a grizzled veteran of the metal scene, Blythe often dreads going on tour. He hates being away from home, being unable to go surfing, and the inevitable gastrointestinal distress from the weird food. Now that it’s all been taken away from him, he’s singing a different tune.

“I’m ready to fucking go on tour,” Blythe says. “I’m ready for the shits, no problem. I want to get on the bus, I want to be with my dudes. I want to fucking get in front of the people and I want to feel that exchange of energy.

“I cannot wait to get in front of people,” Blythe continues. “I am ready. I know that at that first show, from the first note, everybody in the fucking venue, the crowd, staff, band, crew—everybody is going to have a full-body orgasm. It’s going to go the fuck off because everybody needs it.”

Like many musicians, Blythe has some crazy tattoo-related stories from the road. His best one comes from a simple conversation backstage while on tour with Hatebreed.

Photo by Travis Shinn

Photo by Travis Shinn

“Number one, I’m an aquatic dude,” Blythe says. “The ocean is my home and I love seahorses. I was standing in a hallway backstage and talking to this drum tech, Saul, about keeping aquariums and seahorses came up. Seahorses are so rad-looking, I’ve always thought they were magical.

“We’re talking about seahorses for about 10 minutes,” Blythe continues. “All of a sudden, Hatebreed’s fucking door opens and out bursts Jamey Josta looking like a fucking crazy man. He yells at me, ‘Are you talking about seahorses? They are the most enchanting, magical little creatures!’”

Since that moment seahorses have become a running joke between the two, as they often send photos of the diminutive fish to each other out of the blue. Naturally, to take the joke even further, Blythe went and got a tattoo of a seahorse with a banner underneath, in cursive, reading “Enchanting.”

Over the years, Blythe has had plenty of Lamb of God fans rush up to show him their tattoos. He’s seen some portraits that are astonishingly good, but what really gets him is when he sees tattoos of his lyrics.

“It’s super intense and it’s really humbling to me,” Blythe explains. “Those are words I sat down in my shed, or in my backyard, and wrote in a cheap spiral-bound notebook late at night, trying to get those feelings out of me. I put these words out into the world and they mean so much to someone that they’re going to have them inked into their skin permanently.”

It may seem trivial, especially with all of the madness going on in the world, but music can be staggeringly important to people. The messages within a song can connect people from completely disparate backgrounds. One theme Blythe sees throughout the new album is the “unsustainability of the nature of modern life.” We need to confront the idea that our society can’t keep on going the way we have been forever without some dire consequences.

“There’s a war in my head, there really is,” Blythe says. “One half of me is this fucking hippie that just loves everyone, even though I don’t like hippies. The other half of me says, ‘It’s too late, we need to drop the bomb, eradicate everything and let the planet start over.’ I try to pay attention to the good side of me as I get older, I don’t want to be this gnarly negative dude.”

Which brings us all back to where we began.

“So… empathy,” Blythe says. “Empathy. If I could just fucking summarize this whole article for you right now, it’s that we need empathy.”

He’s not wrong.