Lamb of God are one of the best metal bands inAmerica, and drummer Chris Adler is one of their strongest not-so-secret weapons. Their latest album, Resolution, retains all the thrashing fury of early-2000s classics like As the Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake, but expands the group’s range with bluesy acoustic guitar, lush strings and a female opera singer.
Somewhat surprisingly, Adler, who’s long been an advocate for the band to focus on its hardest, heaviest side, is a vocal champion of this new direction – and his own deft playing, which synthesizes generations of hard rock and heavy metal styles into a polyrhythmic and instantly recognizable sound of his own, is crucial to the album’s success. So when it came time to interview Adler, we decided to ask him about the rock and metal drummers he admires, from legends whose innovations he borrowed, to peers who keep him on his toes even today.
You have a reputation for being a fan of the band’s most aggressive material, so tell me how you approached the song “King Me,” which features strings and an opera singer.
I love that song, and I was actually one of the champions of pushing that production element. I’ve wanted to do that since Ashes of the Wake. One of my favorite records of all time is Operation: Mindcrime from Queensryche; the production made the hair on my neck stand up, and I’ve always wanted to do something like that. I didn’t necessarily think it would fit into Lamb of God, but it’s been in the back of my head. Knowing that’s not metal doesn’t mean the song in general isn’t gonna fit or that we can’t make a song out of it. I think probably on Wrath that wouldn’t have worked…but because we have created so many aggressive moments, I think all my favorite bands, even the most brutal bands out there, the thing I love about most music is the dynamics of it. So it’s always good to be able to catch your breath.
I’d like to talk to you about some other drummers, and if you could tell me what you took from them, or what about their playing inspired you.
John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
A lot of the single right foot, being able to get my single speeds up to par, yeah. I think there’s a shuffle that he does as well that is particularly – it’s just nasty the way he does it. You can tell the drums were just in his blood. But as a metal guy, the thing that turned me on was the stuff he did with one foot that most guys would need two feet to do.
Stewart Copeland (The Police)
When I got my very first kit, that was what I was trying to play, was Police songs. I’m still a big Police fan. The very first song I ever sat down and tried to learn how to play drums and play the song was “Message in a Bottle.” Which is an incredibly difficult song to play, and I absolutely tortured myself for weeks and weeks to learn it. I don’t think I ever quite got it right, but it definitely got my chops up to speed very, very fast.
Dave’s the guy that made me want to go fast. There’s so much power in what he does – both him and Gar Samuelson, who was the original drummer from Megadeth. I think Gar was a little more jazzy, which I really liked, and I probably spent more time trying to emulate Gar than Dave, but both those guys were the guys who made me want to get faster. Now I realize that’s kind of a fickle goal, but he was obviously one of the innovators, one of the first to do what metal is kind of known for now, with double kicks, and he’s still absolutely one of the best.
Lars Ulrich (Metallica)
You know what? Everywhere I went [when we toured with Metallica], people would come up to me and say “Did you hear Lars messed that up?” or “What do you think of Lars?” and all this stuff. I think it’s real easy to pick on the king, and for me there was a particular sound that happened on the And Justice For All record that made me want to tune my drums that way. And that almost defined what metal drums are supposed to sound like, at least as I was coming up. And then seeing him live, he made fewer mistakes than I did. There’s never a perfect night, but I think people give him much too hard a time. I think he’s a great drummer. In talking to him and getting to know him a little bit, I think there’s a point – and I’ve recently reached it in my playing as well – where if you are constantly absorbed with performance and making sure every night is perfect and every song is played perfectly, if and when mistakes come about, they generally turn into much larger issues because of the focus that you give them. As opposed to it being, “Ah, it was an off night.” And Lars, in my opinion after talking to him, he’s gotten to the point where he’s not overanalyzing himself, he’s not critiquing every night’s performance, he’s not going to bed wishing he had hit one of the double bass runs harder or more specifically than he did. Every night’s a new chance to do it right, and that’s how he approaches it. And seeing that and getting that through my own head, I’ve definitely had much better performances since then.
Brann Dailor (Mastodon)
Brann was actually living on the couch in the drum room when we did the Burn the Priest record, and I was a fan of his band in Rochester at the time called Lethargy. They had put out this album called It’s Hard To Write With a Small Hand, and it was this crazy super-prog metal, almost grind-y speed metal kind of stuff. And I didn’t know that was who he was while we were recording, and then at the end he told me he had just gotten into this band Today is the Day and that’s why he was in the studio with Steve Austin, who was recording us, and that he had come from this band Lethargy. And I was almost embarrassed that I had played this whole album in front of him, ’cause I just thought the world of him as a drummer and still do. I think his hands are just untouchable. The time he’s spent perfecting his rolls and that kind of stuff is undeniable. He’s a great guy and a great player.
I have borrowed so much from Gene that it’s almost silly. He and I became friends when Devin Townsend did our Palaces record in 2003, and I remember sitting with him on the bus and talking to him about Individual Thought Patterns and Symbolic, the two Death albums he appeared on, which were my favorite records at the time, and just being in awe of how he had come up with these parts. And the same way that I was such a fan of Stewart Copeland creating a voice in the music he was creating, I think Gene has done that in metal, and I was very, very curious as to how he had come up with that. And he told me straight away, it wasn’t a mystery. He said, “I learned how to play drums taking funk records and [speeding] all that stuff up and now I’m in a metal band.” So that really opened my eyes very quickly to making sure that I spend time listening to other kinds of music. I went out and got tab books like David Garibaldi’s Groove Exercises and stuff like that, and spent some time getting out of my little metal box so that I can bring other things back into it and kind of redefine what it’s supposed to be about, in the hopes of furthering and creating my own signature and style.