#5: Randy Blythe (Lamb of God)
MetalSucks recently polled its staff to determine who are The Top 25 Modern Metal Frontmen, and after an incredible amount of arguing, name calling, and physical violence, we have finalized that list! Writers were asked to consider vocal ability, lyrics, and live presence when casting their votes; the only requirements to be eligible for the list were that the musician in question had to a) play metal (duh), b) be a frontman or woman (double-duh), and c) have recorded something AND performed live in the past five years. Today we continue our countdown with Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe…
As I type this, Randy Blythe is back in the US, waiting out a delay in a manslaughter trial in the Czech Republic. [Blythe has since been acquitted. -Ed.] Nobody could have predicted that the Lamb of God frontman would be caught up in such a protracted legal circus halfway around the globe. Then again, Lamb of God’s career has taken plenty of unpredictable turns over the years. For example: isn’t it kind of amazing to think that the band didn’t even have a vocalist for the first year of its existence? That if it weren’t for ex-guitarist Abe Spear cajoling Blythe into attending a house party where Burn the Priest (LoG’s old name) were playing, Gwar might still be the best-selling metal band from Richmond, VA?
Imagining Lamb of God as an instrumental band is pretty impossible, mostly because Randy Blythe has done so much for them. And that’s not at all a knock on his bandmates – riff for riff, snare crack for snare crack, Lamb of God are arguably the tightest band in metal. But Blythe is the soul in the machine, the spark that ignites the band’s riff engine, scuffs up all that polished steel.
Blythe is one of the few vocalists in metal that you can honestly call a virtuoso non-singer. There’s depth to his growls, weight to his screams, a feral spirit to his snarls. As Lamb of God’s material has gotten slicker and more melodic over the last few albums, Blythe has added a hoarse “clean” voice to his arsenal to match. We even get Blythe the spoken word artist in songs like “Boot Scraper” and “Laid to Rest,” and far from melodrama, those moments seem of a piece with everything else. That’s one of the many unique things about Blythe’s vocals: he’s got an innate sense of cadence, an understanding of how to make a line rise and fall like you’re hearing him speak instead of hearing him develop nodules. In short, there’s honesty in that voice.
That same quality shines through in Blythe’s lyric writing. It’s full of expressive but simple language, drunk on aggressive turns-of-phrase (“You can tell the same lie a thousand times, but it never gets any more true”) and righteous self-loathing (“Drain infected brine / Sickened cesspool shell of mine”). Lamb of God songs are by turns boastful, spiteful, cathartic, self-annihilating, empowering. Blythe has been all those things. He’s lived and thought everything he’s howling, whether it’s about politics or religion, putting assholes in their places or desperately hating himself. “When I write, I have to be able to go to that darker place. I don’t have trouble getting there; the problem is not staying there,” he admitted in the January 2012 issue of Decibel. “ I have to remind myself constantly throughout the day that life is good. I lived in such a fucked-up manner for so long that my mind still looks around for those upsetting things.”
There are a lot of different components to being a great frontman in a live setting. You gotta pull everything off technically, but more importantly you gotta bring a mix of entertainment, danger and intimacy, no matter the size of your audience. Randy Blythe has all that down. He jumps off stuff and rushes around the stage, orchestrates Walls of Death and toys with his fans. I remember seeing Lamb of God playing direct support for Slayer on the Unholy Alliance tour in the summer of 2006. Blythe called us all a “herd of syphilitic pussies” when we didn’t mosh fast enough. We wouldn’t take that from just anyone. But we took it from him. Blythe’s too commanding a performer to disobey.
It takes a lot to get the metal community to rally around anything other than beer and anti-Christianity. So it’s extra-special how uniformly supportive of Blythe metal fans have been as he deals with the manslaughter charges levied against him in the death of Czech fan Daniel Nosek. There’s a sense of mystical importance hanging over the whole fiasco, as if it’s more than Blythe on trial – it’s metal itself, and Blythe its unwilling representative. But to his everlasting credit, Blythe has rejected the role of martyr, argued for a more compassionate reaction to the Czech and his accusers, and faced the trial head-on with tremendous honor and resolve. The simple human nobility he’s shown since his indictment speaks to Blythe’s worth better than any song he’s written or Grammy he’s been nominated for. The man has character. Maybe that isn’t a pre-requisite for a great modern metal frontman. But it’s turned him from a beloved performer into a bona fide role model, worthy of respect far beyond the metal realm.
The List So Far:
#6: Julie Christmas
#7: Frank Mullen (Suffocation)
#8: Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)
#9: Phil Anselmo
#10: Grace Perry (ex-Landmine Marathon)
#11: Guy Kozowyk (The Red Chord)
#12: Trevor Strnad (The Black Dahlia Murder)
#13: George “Corspegrinder” Fisher (Cannibal Corpse)
#14: Chance Garnette (Skeletonwitch)
#15: Vincent Bennet (The Acacia Strain)
#16: Mike Patton
#17: Tony Foresta (Municipal Waste)
#18: Joe Duplantier (Gojira)
#19: Oderus Urungus (Gwar)
#20: Nergal (Behemoth)
#21: Jens Kidman (Meshuggah)
#22: J.R. Hayes (Pig Destroyer)
#23: Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed)
#24: Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation, Murder Construct)
#25: Chino Moreno (Deftones)