As the Palaces Burn, or, A Heavy Metal Documentary

I’m not completely certain why I don’t write about music on Pony Tricks. I like it. I listen to it. I go to shows. I buy CDs at a store like your dad. I spend just as much time with music as I do with movies, television, video games and comic books, if not more.

Perhaps it’s because music has become a far less socially definitive presence in my life than it once was. Where as in high school music, primarily metal, was the backbone of most of my friendships now it’s taken a backseat to other things. More likely, it’s because music, like politics and religion, can exist along dangerous fault lines lorded over by the most goddamn obnoxious snobs on the planet. I should know. I’m pretty sure I’m one of them. Sorry gang.

So I take it back. I know exactly why I don’t write about music on this blog. But maybe this post will change that.

astheplacesburns

As the Palaces Burn is a documentary that follows the Richmond, VA based death metal band Lamb of God on the tour behind their 2012 album Resolution. It’s a film that sets out with a very specific goal before getting turned wildly, abruptly off course by unpredictable circumstances.

The film is meant to be less about Lamb of God in specific and more about heavy metal and its cultural impact, as highlighted by interviews with Lamb of God fans around the globe. There are fantastic interview segments with fascinating young men and women from Columbia to India that showcase the beauty and worth of such a blatantly abrasive art form.

If ever I felt the need to explain my love of heavy metal music to the uninitiated and/or uninterested, As the Palaces Burn would be an invaluable resource. It puts unlikely and memorable faces on a genre that is usually typified by beards and black and aggression. It’s a testament to why people the world over hold such a passion for such a harsh genre.

Unfortunately the film only stays its intended course for a short time. In June 2012 Lamb of God’s lead singer, Randy Blythe, was arrested in the Czech Republic on suspicion of manslaughter. The incident in question involved the death of a fan at a 2010 Lamb of God show. At this point the film turns on a dime and whereas the first half is interesting and engaging the documentation of Randy Blythe’s trial is gut-wrenching and hard to watch.

I’m not a big documentary viewer. When I watched As the Palaces Burn my mind was still very much set in Oscar season with 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey fresh in my head. It took a minute for it to truly click in my mind that what I was seeing in As the Palaces Burn wasn’t a performance. There was no acting or writing to praise. The latter half of the film revolves around a real death and a real trial with very real consequences. Watching it feels like intruding or spying. The events that unfold don’t feel like a well-orchestrated combination of scenes, they just feel terrible.

lambofgod

The disparity between the two halves of As the Palaces Burn is jarring. Whereas the early portion of the movie is a love song to heavy metal, the latter half has little to nothing to do with music, or even Lamb of God.

It’s a murder trial.

I don’t suspect there will be another movie quite like As the Palaces Burn. It is a unique experience that not only reaffirmed my love of heavy metal, but ignited an interest in the power of the documentary. From here on out, maybe I’ll try to write a little bit more about both.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. What’s your favorite documentary?

2. Is it Blackfish?

3. Typical.

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