Cinemetal Reviews

Cinemetal Review: Don Argott’s Lamb of God Documentary As the Palaces Burn is Reiteration, Not Education

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As the Palaces Burn PosterAs the Palaces Burn, the new documentary about Lamb of God, is an oddly schizophrenic film. See, director Don Argott was already working with the band on a documentary about their relationship with their fans when vocalist Randy Blythe was arrested in the Czech Republic on manslaughter charges in the summer of 2012. As a result, Argott was granted a lot of access to the band throughout this very difficult time. And since it was a fan, Daniel Nosek, that Blythe was accused of accidentally killing at 2010 concert, there was already a thematic link between these unfortunate circumstances and the film Argott was in the middle of making. The two pieces should have blended together rather naturally.

And yet, somehow, they don’t. As the Palaces Burn spends too much time being the movie about the fans, and not enough time being the movie about Blythe’s waking nightmare. It isn’t boring, but it’s also not particularly insightful and, for too much of its running time, is oddly lacking in drama.

The first thirty minutes of Palaces seems to be an abbreviated version of the film as it might have been had Blythe never been arrested. It concentrates a lot on the fact that the band’s members are not rich rockstars but, rather, humble family men, and it concentrates a lot on the fans, focusing in particular on admirers from Colombia and India. This section of the film’s purpose is to establish the link between Lamb of God and their fans so that the eventual news of Nosek’s death will register as an emotional event for the viewer, and avoid the trap of making Palaces purely a portrait of how Blythe was unfairly forced to undergo this horrific ordeal. That’s a fair enough reason to include some of this footage, but, honestly, it’s not interesting enough to hold the viewer’s attention for a third of the documentary, because it’s completely conflict-free. This section of the film probably could have been half as long as still served the same purpose.

And things don’t even really start to pick up when Blythe is arrested half an hour into the movie. Argott captured some very earnest moments which are bound to put a lump in your throat (a scene in which bassist John Campbell starts to cry while discussing Nosek’s death is particularly moving), but since the director obviously was not able to film or interview Blythe while he was in prison, and the other members of Lamb of God were more or less condemned to just sit and wait for the situation to be resolved, Palaces still feels dramatically inert. (I suspect that Blythe’s upcoming memoirs will prove to be a far more interesting account of the entire debacle, given Blythe’s considerably more direct involvement with the proceedings.) There isn’t really any information set forth in this section of the movie which Lamb of God fans didn’t already know. Even interviews with other musicians, such as Slash and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, basically amount to “This is insane and we hope Randy makes it out okay.” Which is what anyone could have told you they were gonna say.

As the Palaces Burn doesn’t really feel like it’s taking off until Blythe’s trial begins… by which point the film is two-thirds over. Scenes with Blythe discussing his travails (and remaining astoundingly calm about the whole situation), working on his defense with his team of attorneys, and going through the actual trial itself are, unsurprisingly, by far the most engaging part of Palaces, providing the audience with a fantastic and highly emotional real life legal thriller to observe. (Even knowing the eventual outcome of the trial, I was on the edge of my seat for the entirety of this section of the film.) This really should have been the meat the movie, and the fact that there’s relatively little of it feels like a squandered opportunity.

And so As the Palaces Burn is documentary which which will probably appeal to casual fans, or even non-fans, more than Lamb of God diehards. Perhaps those who didn’t follow this story closely as it was developing, or are for whatever reason under the impression that all metal musicians are knuckle-dragging heathens, would find the entirety of As the Palaces Burn to be fascinating. Alas, for the rest of us, it’s mostly reiteration, not education.

As the Palaces Burn opens internationally on February 27. Get a complete list of theaters showing the film, as well as ticketing information, here.

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