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'Dark Days': Retracing The Steps Of A Heavy Metal Tragedy

D. Randall Blythe is the lead vocalist of the metal band Lamb of God.
Tim Zuchowski
Courtesy of Da Capo Press
D. Randall Blythe is the lead vocalist of the metal band Lamb of God.

Heavy metal is one music culture whose concerts can get pretty aggressive. Stage divers often try to climb up with the band then launch themselves into the awaiting arms of the audience — or that's the idea. In the city of Prague in 2010, one fan wasn't so lucky: At a particularly unruly show by the band Lamb of God, Daniel Nosek fell off the stage, hit his head and died weeks later.

Two years after that night, when Lamb of God came to play another show in Prague, Czech police arrested lead singer D. Randall Blythe — for manslaughter. They said he'd pushed the young man to his death that night.

Blythe had no memory at all of the incident. Yet incredibly, once he paid bail and returned to the U.S., Blythe voluntarily returned to the Czech Republic to stand trial. It's all told in his new memoir Dark Days -- and he joined NPR's Arun Rath to talk about it.

Arun Rath: When you were arrested in 2012, you were asked to recall a show you'd played two years earlier. What did you remember about that night? I would have to think that a lot of a tour like that would be kind of a blur.

D. Randall Blythe: I don't have a single clear memory of this man. Eventually I was shown a picture of him; he looked like any one of my fans. He could have been in my band. He looked like that — he was a kid with a black T-shirt and long hair. It was just a show like any other. There were a lot of kids with black clothes and long hair, excitedly bumping into each other.

Security was nonexistent, basically. My band has very stringent security requirements: We require security in front of the stage, security on the side of the stage, a properly placed solid barricade at least 4 to 5 feet from in front of the stage. There was security there, there was a barricade there — it wasn't the proper one. They didn't place it properly. Security did not do their job; they weren't even visible to me.

Now, the Czech police arrested you on a charge that essentially amounted to manslaughter. What did they accuse you of doing?

First of all, they said I had given the audience unclear instructions, inviting people up on stage — which is never, ever, ever the case. And they said I assaulted this young man, pushed him off of the stage with intent to harm him. They arrested me at the airport: I walked off an airplane, and at the end was a SWAT team. There were guys with body armor and masks and machine guns.

And how long were you in there before the trial?

I was incarcerated for 37 days. Three of those were in the city jail, and then they sent me to a 123-year-old prison named Pankrác Prison. It's very dilapidated, parts of it are abandoned — it's unfit for human habitation, in fact.

You seem like a fairly tall, fairly imposing guy, and you'd been to jail before — but it sounds like this was terrifying.

It was very scary, because it was a foreign prison. Almost nobody spoke English. I really had no idea of what was going on; I had no access to any kind of media or anything that I could understand. All I knew was that I was a top news story in the Czech Republic, and the news wasn't good.

I was granted bail three days after I was arrested, and my band borrowed the money — it was the equivalent of $200,000 — but unlike America, when you pay bail there, there can be objections to it. So the prosecuting attorney objected to my bail several times. It had to go through appeals court. It was doubled — it wound up being almost half a million dollars that we wound up paying. Eventually, I left the Czech Republic and came back to America for six months. At the end of six months, I returned to the Czech Republic to face trial.

I'm sure a lot of people would have never gone back. I wonder if you can explain this — can you read from page 111 in your book?

OK. "I decided I would rather die in prison — always a distinct possibility in the penal system — as a real man, than live free as a coward because I was too damn scared to face an uncertain future in an effort to find out the truth. If warranted, I would pay the price for a deadly crime I might have committed, and do so without complaint. I still believe in, and try to live by a concept that is sadly almost lost, even ridiculed at times as anachronistic in our Western society: honor."

So, I think a lot of people who were certain of their innocence would feel comfortable not returning, and not consider that dishonorable to do. Why did you go back to Prague?

Well, it really had nothing to do with the threat of extradition, or the lack thereof, because I never would have been extradited back for that. The government wouldn't even cooperate with an investigation, much less extradite me. The reason why I felt compelled to go back is because the family of this young man who died never once attacked me — either in the press, in private, in the courtroom, nothing.

The fact of the matter is that a fan of my band was dead. And even though I had very vague recollections of what happened that evening, and no recollection of this young man, I thought that perhaps, if I went back to court, I could help them find some answers. These people, their son was dead. I had a child who died due to a medical condition shortly after birth; I know that pain. These people had no answer. So I thought, if I go back, maybe I can help provide them with some answers.

And to be perfectly honest, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing anything. If there was anything that came up in the trial that was indicative that I, in fact, was guilty and should be punished for this, then I didn't want to run from that — because I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror any other way.

You were found not guilty. Do you feel, rationally or not, any sense of responsibility?

Absolutely. The court found me legally not guilty — but they found me morally responsible for the death of this young man, and that's something I have to live with for the rest of my life. And it's not because I pushed anyone offstage, but I did make a critical mistake in this situation: I should have stopped the show, from the beginning.

What would the audience have done? I don't know; maybe they would have rioted. But I would rather deal with any of that than have this fact that a fan of my band is dead. If I had, after the first couple of songs, just said, "You know what? We're done with this," and walked offstage, I think the kid would have been alive today. So that's something I have to internalize. It's something I have to carry with me everywhere I go.

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NPR Staff