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Chris Adler: Writing New Rules With Lamb of God

Replace the bass. Chris Adler of Lamb Of God was hugging a four-string guitar for a long time before he picked up a pair of drumsticks, but you’d never know that he’s been playing the skins a mere ten years by listening to his fast, flexible work on Lamb Of God’s intriguingly tough CD, Ashes Of The Wake.

Now 32, Adler has more than made up for his late start, surrounded as he is by a five-man band that is fiercely devoted to pushing the envelope. “We always raise the bar on everything we do,” he states. “There’s always a better opportunity tomorrow for us to be better players and as a band, with that attitude, I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do. Ten years ago, no one would have thought that we’d be playing an arena, or be on a two-month U.S. tour of arenas. To have come to this is already mind-blowing for all of us, and there’s nothing stopping us from continuing to be the best band that we can be.”

On Ashes, Adler makes a strong case for being one of the best young metal drummers on the scene. His double-bass kick strokes are extremely strong and quick, with an uncommon smoothness that makes his patterns seem to fly even faster. Zero in on his work on songs like “The Faded Line” [transcribed in #102], “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For,” and “Laid to Rest,” and you’re in for a major thrill ride.

“There’s so much fun stuff to play in each one of those songs,” he says. “I’d much rather challenge myself and fail every night than sit back there bored when we go out and play this stuff for a year. Songs like the instrumental title track, ’Ashes of the Wake,’ and ’Hourglass’ came together as intense, challenging, and interesting drum parts that help accentuate what the guitars are doing. I’m not taking away from the song, but adding something overall other than just the backbeat.

“My ability to balance chops and space comes from the bass playing that I did. You realize how much more you have to offer when you’re not doing anything. Keep it simple, not playing a part when you don’t need it. When putting a song into perspective, how important is it for you to show off right there, or how important is it to just get by? Those dynamics in metal are hard to come by, because everyone wants to blow your head off every time. So give your ear a break, you can pummel it later. I think it’s really important to find those playing dynamics. You have to know that you could be doing more, and understand then why it’s better not to.”

That Little Devil

Before Adler helped found Lamb Of God under its original eye-opening moniker, Burn The Priest, he was just a kid in Woodbridge, Virginia with a piano teacher mother. Early on, Adler became familiar with piano and guitar, dabbled on drums, and entered Virginia Commonwealth University extremely proficient on the bass, playing on records and touring.

“My first year of college was 1990, and that’s where I met John [Campbell] and Mark [Morton], our current bass player and guitar player in the band. We just became buddies drinking and listening to metal and everything else. After that year, we parted ways and didn’t see each other around anymore. I played bass for three more years, and then John called and said, ’Let’s start a band.’

“I was looking to move away from bass. In high school, I had seen Wrathchild America with Shannon Larkin, and that was where it started. Then I got to the call to join the band, but they said, ’Hey, we already have a bass player.’ I said, ’What the hell, let’s take this on full time.’ So I picked up the drums.”

While a relatively rare switch, Adler thinks the move from bass to drums makes a ton of sense. “I think it’s probably the best possible kind of transfer. The bass players I was into were like John Entwistle and the guy in Yes [Chris Squire], who knew when not to play. It wasn’t about showing off all the time. That’s translated to what I like doing with the drums — I try to keep an angle to keep it interesting, but I don’t want to overplay for the song. Having that rhythmic background, trying to lock in with the drummer while I was playing bass, automatically I was in tune with the rhythmic ideas. I know what’s possible with those two instruments, and with our bass player we find those grooves that are under the surface of what our guitar players are doing.

“I think drums and bass are far more the same than they are different. The idea is to provide that backbone. In our music it’s almost a mechanical backbone, and that’s one of the things we try to breathe a little life into. The guys I mentioned, they had tons of life in what they were doing, instead of stand-in studio guys just throwing in on the downbeat. In what we’re playing, the bass player and the drummer are basically doing the same job. So, again, the transition made sense in my mind: I understood the way a band worked and what a rhythm section was responsible for. I would bet that most drummers could pick up a bass and do fairly well with it.”

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