Chris Adler: Working Man’s Metal

Chris Adler

He’s Been To The Mountaintop

The themes on Wrath range from the soul-sapping force of the rat race to humankind’s parasitic treatment of our planet. “Our lyrics on every album have never been putting us on a soapbox or telling people what to do or think,” he says. “If this wakes anybody up or has even one kid wonder what the world’s going to be like when he has kids, it’s cool that we helped somebody think for themselves.”

Taking in everything from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Norah Jones helps the drummer to expand his horizons, which on some subconscious level makes its way into the Lamb of God vision (nope, Norah Jones wasn’t a misprint). Grandiose as the ideas on Wrath can be, Adler admits that it’s the concrete experiences on tour that stay with him, like the last time he was in Japan.

“As soon as you walk off the plane the people are so gracious and welcoming and extremely hospitable and there’s a level of respect I think they have for each other and others that is lost in a lot of cultures, especially here in the U.S., and it’s humbling to see it. Now maybe that’s easy for me to say because I’m in a rock band that people want to see and they’re nice to me, but I don’t think it was just me. I saw it in the way they treated each other.”

At 36, Adler’s hardly old, but doing the band thing for 15 years straight would take a toll on anyone. Last time DRUM! spoke with him he was on a fitness kick. But last summer, after he and his wife had a baby girl, McKenzie, he put his workout regimen on the backburner: “The last thing I wanted to do was go to the gym and spend a minute away from her when I didn’t have to.”

Before, when Chris’ wife would come out on tour with the band, it was worth the effort because she enjoyed herself. “Now we’re definitely entering a new chapter of how were going to continue to do this,” Adler worries. “I’m sure the shows will go well but, emotionally, I definitely think this is going to be the beginning of a much more difficult process for me. I’ve seen guys out here with their families and I’ve seen them do it well. There’s a few role models – not many – but I’m going to do my best.”

Never Let ’Em See You Sweat

For live performances, Lamb Of God has always been firmly anti-metronome. For the first few runs on the warm-up slot for Metallica, however, the lanky Virginian wanted the security of a click. “That’ll probably fade away, but normally in the live show we refuse to do it because we really want that kind of ’who-knows-what’s-gonna-happen’ feel when we go into it. I enjoy playing songs faster or slower depending on how that part strikes me that night, and as a band we seem to function better when we’re not confined by the idea of playing with clicks.”

The amazing thing about a player like Adler is that the stronger and faster he gets behind the kit, the more at ease he looks. His abundant grace was on full display a few weeks later at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. On a small riser at the center of the 20,000-seat venue, he’s all control and composure, sticks arcing backwards in an S shape before wrists snap them forward for the down stroke. For this fan, the pock-y sound of his bass beaters diminishes the pleasing thud of the toms, but these jumbo venues have a way of diluting sound, so this was probably the engineer’s call.

The older tunes showcased the busy-footed player who can do the parts in his sleep, but on the tracks from Wrath it’s as if you’re watching a different drummer: He smacks the shine off those crashes, the toms are carved up like a shank of London broil, and his torso bobs back and forth while the billy goat beard and ponytail sway in counterpoint.

Five or six tunes and they’re gone. Maybe it was lost on the Metallica faithful, but it’s enough of the Wrath aesthetic to pique the curiosity of younger heshers hungering for that new next thing.

United States Of Thrash

In a genre that is notoriously clannish, macho, and prone to backlashes, Adler prefers to emphasize the positive, such as the way technology has democratized music. “There’s 14-year-olds in their basement making records with GarageBand that sound way better than our first record, and we did that in a full studio,” he laughs. “It’s exciting for me to watch. That’s not something I’d ever want to be in the way of.”

That isn’t to say he hasn’t spotted worrisome patterns. The copycat trend, where a novel sound is forged and then a zillion other bands follow suit, is particularly irksome. “Sooner or later the house of cards falls down,” he says. “I just hope that we are one of the bands that maintain our integrity so that we can withstand any kind of storm like that.”

First Drum Kit

Chris Adler is at a level in his career where choice drum gear is well within his reach. Funny then that the proverbial first kit, those no-name joke setups that most drummers are only too willing to forget, is indelibly etched into the man’s memory.

“It was an MX 100 bought out of the Trading Post,” he recalls. “The bass drum legs were different lengths so they wouldn’t touch the ground at the same time. Every time I would hit it, it would wobble from left to right. The cymbal stands were duct taped together, and I think after two or three times playing the kit, the pedalboard actually broke in half because it was made of that crappy old fake metal.

“It was a student’s nightmare, but I played away on this thing to try to learn how to play drums. I wanted that ability far worse than any drum kit could hold me back from. But it was kind of fitting that my first drum kit was almost impossible to play because it definitely made me a better player.”

Manufacturing quality aside, there were other impediments to practice in those lean years. “I didn’t have enough money to heat the house,” he recalls. “So we had this kerosene heater and we were huffing this black smoke coming out of this thing, trying to stay warm. I remember playing in a coat and gloves as I learned to play this kit in the dark.”

The cymbals were even more horrific. “I don’t know if they even had names,” he says. “They were the kind that sounded good the first time you hit them and then they never sounded good again. I do remember they bent – they were like hitting a stick of butter.”

More unbelievable still, the MX 100 is still in service. “My youngest brother James lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and for a while he expressed some interest in playing some drums, so I said, ’Man, if you can play these I’ll buy you a new kit.’ He’s got that set up in his basement right now and I’m waiting for the call.”

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