by Jeff Niesel
Rather than make a stereotypical rock movie about a band, director Don Argott (Art of the Steal) originally intended to make his new film, As the Palaces Burn, about the fans of the metal band Lamb of God. The movie makes its local debut tonight at 7 at Digiplex Solon Cinema 16 (and if you miss it, it’ll screen there again on March 17 and will also show as part of the Cleveland International Film Festival).
“I knew of Lamb of God, but wasn’t necessarily a fan,” he explains when asked about how he first came to the project. “That’s not because I don’t like their music but because they’re a later band. I was listening more to ’80s thrash and speed metal like Slayer and Anthrax and all that stuff. Lamb of God came out a little later and I had moved into the grunge scene but always loved heavy metal and punk rock. I consider myself a metal head from Jersey from the age of 14. I loved the concept of turning the cameras away from the band and focusing more on their fan base. We were going to unique and interesting places and I thought that was a good opportunity to tell the story from the fans’ perspective.”
Argott and his film crew traveled the world to interview the band’s most extreme fans. They found fans in Venezuela, Colombia and Israel. And they taped some amazing testimonials. They also devoted some of the footage to interviews with frontman Randy Blythe, who had recently embraced sobriety.
“We had found and identified 94 percent of the stories that were going to be featured,” Argott says. “We were going to shoot more with the band once they were done with the tour. The original idea was to shoot for six months and edit for a couple of months and be done in 8 or 9 months total time.”
But then Blythe was arrested in 2012 while on the band was on the European leg of its Resolution tour. Unbeknownst to the band, a Czech fan had died during the band’s performance in 2010 and Czech authorities charged Blythe with manslaughter. Argott couldn’t ignore the situation and began following the preparation for the trial, scrapping most of the footage he already had.
“It’s part of the process of making a documentary,” he says. “We’ve been doing this long enough that we know that this is what happens when you’re following real life. You have to be ready to adapt to the situation, which is what we did.”
The film features incredible behind-the-scenes footage of Blythe and the band as they try to deal with the fact that Blythe might well end up in prison. It’s a fascinating account of an unprecedented event.
“Gimme Shelter has a tragedy that happened at a concert. But no one was putting the Rolling Stones on trial. The only thing that was close to that was maybe the Judas Priest backward message trial in the late 80s and they did bring Judas Priest in for the trial. Those were similar on one respect but this is unprecedented on other levels. We’re getting into uncharted territory. We have to keep reminding ourselves that this isn’t normal. This doesn’t happen all the time. You have to maintain perspective.”
The film is certainly a departure from Art of the Steal, a documentary about the Barnes foundation and the controversy surrounding who should control the incredible collection of art. But Argott says every movie he makes is slightly different from the previous one.
“They all present their own set of challenges and obstacles that you have to overcome,” he says. “We approached it the same way we approached the film about the Barnes foundation or the film about atomic energy. We always want to get a lot of layers deeper and get into the human side. There’s humanity in the films we make and we try really hard. At the end of the day, if you don’t care about the people, you don’t care about the story. That’s like storytelling 101. If you don’t give a shit about heavy metal, then you need another reason to give a shit. We wanted to show their stories and the stories of their fans from around the world from a human perspective. That’s what we tried to do.”