As the Palaces Burn is an arresting documentary

Call it judging a book by its cover but it’s borderline shocking to discover that a band titled Lamb of God — and Burn the Priest in its previous even less diplomatic iteration — consists of six perfectly genial 40-year-old dudes. For that reason and many others As the Palaces Burn a documentary on the band is a film that consistently remains unpredictable.

“I remember the first interview that we did for the film was with Mark [Morton the band’s lead guitarist]” says director Don Argott. “He was texting me and was like ‘we’re going to barbecue are there any food restrictions?’ It was so nice that they would think about that. They’re good Southern guys. They immediately made me feel welcome in their world very quickly.”

In some respects such amicability makes sense given that Argott was hired by Lamb of God’s manager with funding from the band’s record label to create the film. But the group’s already reputed on-screen transparency — most prominently displayed during the concert film Killadelphia which featured a drunken brawl between members — was taken to a new level in As the Palaces Burn .

Originally the plan was to create a fan-oriented doc a celebration of sorts of vocalist Randy Blythe’s recently achieved sobriety and the consistent support of listeners. Argott and his team from 9.14 Pictures shot shows and interviews with Lamb of God devotees in Venezuela Columbia India and Israel. The footage was stellar and the conversations compelling.

But then disastrously Blythe was detained upon arrival in the Czech Republic for the alleged manslaughter of a concert-goer in Prague some two years prior; the singer apparently pushed a 19-year-old fan off the stage who later died of head injuries. While the event horrified the band it also presented significant disruption in the filmmaking process.

When Blythe was arrested the film — at least in its initial conception — was fully shot and in the process of being edited back in the States. But once permission was granted by the band and its management Argott launched back into action hiring a videographer in Prague to capture the initial events of the legal process and eventually returning to the country to continue the process.

“Whether we were being commissioned by the band or it was independently financed it was a decision that had to be made and people had to be comfortable with what that meant” says Argott. “As soon as everybody was on board with continuing to make the film there were zero restrictions.”

It was a tumultuous time to say the least. There was no predictability of outcome. Blythe could spend years behind bars if convicted. A $200000 bail was initially posted; a noteworthy scene in Palaces features the remaining band members selecting memorabilia to auction off to cover legal fees. Everyone lost money including Argott and his film crew.

“Basically what it came down to was we just didn’t make any money while doing it” the director says. “But we were able to wear a lot of different hats and get the job done once the film took a bit of a detour. We basically made another film as soon as this event happened. The budget did not reflect that at all. But that’s par for the course.”

Such unforeseen circumstances have indeed been a constant in Argott’s career. Rock School the first documentary he directed was released around the same time as Jack Black’s School of Rock which featured an overtly similar name and storyline. The Fukushima meltdown happened partway though the filming of The Atomic States of America an exposé on nuclear energy.

“It’s a little bit uncanny” Argott says about the coincidences laughing. “But part of it is just life happening. Every day you get up you think that you’re going to go downstairs and walk outside and get to work and then something might happen. But there is that feeling of ‘Jesus every time we seem to pick up a camera and tell a story something horrible happens.’”

The next film Argott will be working on is about legendary — and deceased — American writer Kurt Vonnegut so chances are he’ll be in the clear this time around. But Argott’s quick to mention chuckling that they’re still in the early stages of the process.