PHOENIX (AP) — Randy Blythe faced up to 10 years in a foreign prison for a crime he didn’t believe he had committed. The easy road would be to never return to the Czech Republic.
Family and friends urged him to stay away. The U.S. government didn’t seem interested in cooperating with extradition.
Blythe, lead singer of the heavy metal band lamb of god, felt the pull of obligation — to himself, to justice and, most of all, to the family of the young fan who died at one of his band’s shows.
“A young man who is a fan of my band is dead. That’s the key component of the story, really. That’s the tragedy that occurred,” he said. “Me going to prison and going through all this is nothing compared to what his family went through.”
Blythe’s odyssey began at the Prague airport on June 27, 2012. Lamb of god, based in Richmond, Virginia, had a rare day off. Blythe (pronounced “Bly”) was looking forward to taking in the sights around the city.
Instead, he found himself surrounded by Czech police — five of them in full gear with loaded machine guns — within seconds of walking off the plane.
Through a swirl of confusion compounded by the language barrier, Blythe eventually learned that he was being charged in the death of a fan he allegedly shoved off the stage at a show two years earlier.
“I don’t know if surrealness is scalable, but if it was on a scale of one to 10, it was pretty 10ish,” Blythe said.
He spent the next three days in jail, 34 more at Pankrac Prison, a dilapidated facility built in the 1880s that had been used for executions by the Nazis during World War II.
Though his band and record label came up with the bail money — it eventually reached $400,000 — Blythe remained in prison as the prosecuting attorney raised one objection after another.
He was finally released after five arduous weeks and, following an emotional reunion with friends and family, went back out on the road with the band. He did it to show appreciation to the fans who supported him, and to help pay for the massive bail paid in the Czech Republic.
Six months after his release, he returned to the Czech Republic to face charges that could land him in prison for five to 10 years.
“It took a lot of courage for him to do that and I totally respect him for that,” said Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy singer Max Cavalera, who has toured with Blythe and lamb of god.
The trial wasn’t easy.
Blythe’s memory of what happened was hazy; lamb of god plays hundreds of shows during its touring cycle and the days often run together.
The prosecutor argued that he shoved the fan, Daniel Nosek, off the stage, causing a head injury that later led to the 19-year-old’s death. Despite pouring over witness testimony and his own memories, Blythe’s only recollections were of shoddy security and numerous fans climbing onto the stage. He had no memory of seeing Nosek, even after looking at photos.
The surrealness of the verdict matched Blythe’s original arrest.
His translator ran through the judge’s legal proclamations rapid-fire, then Blythe heard her say, “Charges have been removed.” After his American lawyer told him that meant total exoneration, Blythe stared in stunned silence as the judge and translator continued talking, a scene captured in the documentary “As the Palaces Burn.”
The abruptness of the verdict left him barely able to move. “It’s an impossible emotion to describe because I’ve never felt it before,” he said.
Once he returned to Virginia, Blythe agreed to meet with a publishing agent at the request of a friend. Though he didn’t really want to recount his time in prison, Blythe did want to set the record straight about misinformation that appeared during his time in prison and the trial.
He spent eight months working on the 500-page book, pouring out his thoughts and observations. The result is “Dark Days” (Da Capo Press), in which Blythe vividly and descriptively recalls the details of his arrest, incarceration, trial and longtime struggles with alcohol abuse.
Once he was done with the book, he went into the recording studio for lamb of god’s latest album, “Sturm Und Drang.” And while many expected his lyrics to center on his time in prison, two of the 10 songs were about his Czech ordeal: “512,” one of his three prison cell numbers, and “Still Echoes,” written while he was in Pankrac.
“I think artistically, it was a very valid choice to use those two songs because they come from a very real, very dark place,” said Blythe, who writes under the name D. Randall Blythe. “I write about things that are impactful for my life that stir up emotion in me, that affect me, that have some sort of impact within my life. Not that going to prison has no impact in my life, but I was out of prison and I felt it would be disingenuous to use it as a creative well to draw from.”