Chris Adler: Working Man’s Metal

Chris Adler

From the tour bus in Seattle, Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler phones the offices of DRUM! a full half hour before our scheduled interview. But that’s Adler for you: all business.

After the band toured nonstop for the last three years, the rest of the guys were finally getting reacquainted with a life that didn’t involve 6:00 A.M. bus calls and stale cold cut platters. Not Adler. He spent his time doing clinics across Germany, dazzling the masses with his fancy footwork.

“For me, personally, I think I maybe I had a bit harder of a time than some of the guys,” says the lanky Virginian of the post-tour break. “I’m not real good when I don’t have a whole lot to do. I’m somewhat of a workaholic.”

The Seventh Daily Sin

Lamb Of God has had its share of stylistic shifts over the years. There’s the dogged ferocity of New American Gospel, the prolonged snarl of Ashes Of The Wake, sporting riffs as thick and sweet as Appalachian sorghum. 2006’s Sacrament, the band’s most “digestible” record, was still plenty heavy, but it was about as commercial as they were willing to go. With new release Wrath, the band has distilled every idea over the last decade into something uniformly devastating, or as Adler describes it, “The kind of stuff that makes you feel like punching a wall and driving fast.”

Not a half-bad description of Wrath’s overall fierceness: Adler’s four-limb rumble never loses its Swiss watch precision; brother Willie’s guitar lines and John Campbell’s liquid bass are woven into a rhythmic core; Mark Morton’s technical yet unwanky solos are relentless (especially on the wigged-out “Fake Messiah”); while Randy Blythe’s rabid bark is the melodic and rhythmic equal of any of the instruments.

“Not to say that I wasn’t happy about the last records,” Adler says. “But I’m really the guy in the band pushing for more aggression, more speed, and I kind of got my wish on this one.”

Lamb Of God also wiped the slate clean by parting with their longtime producer, Machine, and going with Josh Wilbur, who recently won a Grammy for his work with Steve Earl. “He’s not much of a metal guy,” Adler says with ironic glee. “We wanted that guy who could bring a different world into what we do, and give us ideas that we wouldn’t think of because we’re so cooped up in this little metal cage all the time.

“The past couple years the producer, I think, was more interested in getting me out of the way for the vocals. [Wilbur] was more, ’I don’t think that fill is crazy enough. Come on, you’re Chris Adler: You can do something cooler than that.’”

Wilbur, a drummer himself, matched Adler’s thoroughness take for take, and the pair ended up spending 11 days tracking drums at Electric Lady Studios, Hendrix’s legendary recording spot in Manhattan. “It was a dream come true for me,” Adler says. “To be in the middle of the city and to do it with a place with that kind of history.”

Planning + Spontaneity + Brutality

Wrath marks the first time Adler and the rest of Lamb had their respective parts mapped out in their heads before entering the studio. In the past it’s all been live takes and hoping that somebody knows his way around Pro Tools. Time constraints still existed but at least the band didn’t feel like they were totally flying blind.

“The goal really was to just go in and go nuts and see what happens,” he says. “And we’ll go nuts as many times as we want to go nuts, and then we’ll piece together the energy of what’s there and not try to get just one take and sterilize it by chopping it up and quantizing everything but try to capture the little nuances and stay within the limitations of these grids that have been created for the song itself.”

As any drummer will tell you, drum parts can often sound very different when they’re framed in the context of a finished master. “It’s funny because I was listening to the mixes before I called you and I’m like, ’Oh, wow, that part sounds great. I’ve got to go learn how to play that now because I’ve totally forgotten.’ [laughs] You get in the mode in the studio and you’re just, ’Here comes that cool part, let’s see what happens this time,’ and just let your body do what it knows how to do, which is kind of how I play.”

Wrath is not a “drum” album by any means, but there were a few instances where a beat was the germ of a song instead of a guitar riff. Oftentimes this came about while the drummer was killing time in the studio by himself waiting for the others to show. “It’s normally nothing special,” he admits. “Just kind of a weird polyrhythm or something unique that I just happened to dream up the night before, and Willie will lock into that. Then our guitar player will walk in and say, ’Oh, that rhythm is pretty cool. Let me put this melody on top of it.’ On this record there’s two or three songs that have sections within the song that were grown directly from that kind of process.”

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