Chris Adler: New Rules Of Metal
In addition to the right bass-ic training, Adler had the latent talent and dedication to fight through a tough break-in period and be up and running quickly on his new instrument. “The learning curve was brutal,” he admits of the intensive early period where he was making himself proficient on the drums. “It was so steep, but the band didn’t have to wait for me. In fact, I think I excelled a little faster than they did, because I was so motivated to be good at this instrument. I was spending all kinds of time learning how to do this. That’s something that’s stuck with me now — if we’re rehearsing at home, I’ll stick around and rehearse for another four hours on my own. It’s not something that’s gone away. From the beginning, I’d want to be better every day.
“I feel like having started kind of later and having not started with drums, I never really considered myself a drummer in my own head. I’m also trying to win myself over by being the best I can be. Thinking of what I did, being proud of it, and knowing how much more I have to learn, the instrument is far beyond me. I just look forward to getting to know it better.”
A Blank Slate
As a latecomer to the drums who was suddenly engulfed in their study, Adler is an interesting study for his relative lack of drumming influences, which might help explain why his performances on Ashes are so uniquely exhilarating. “I think the key was that there was no particular band or person or sound that I wanted to be,” says Adler. “It was really important to me to do this in a way that I hadn’t necessarily heard it done before. I’m not saying I’m trying to reinvent the wheel, but I’m trying to leave a stamp on it that isn’t typical. Particularly on this progressive record, it was me pushing the envelope, finding a way to do things that were interesting. Me practicing, not settling on anything, waking up in middle of the night with an idea for a riff that was in my head, running down to the basement and trying it out. I was just really driven to make this happen and be the best I could be for me and the band.
“Again, there’s not really guys that I go out and buy their records and try to copy their riffs. I don’t know any covers by any other band — there’s not a song outside of the 40 or 50 Lamb Of God songs I know in any way. When I first started, I used to learn to play drums with the first Aerosmith record, trying to copy that. I’m a huge Aerosmith fan and Joey Kramer, while not very eclectic in his playing, is a very steady, awesome rock drummer. That was a great way for me to pick up the basics. As I progressed, I realized more and more that besides me wanting or not wanting to sound like other people there were others that influenced me, like Shannon Larkin and Gar Samuelson of Megadeth, who had that kind of speed and ability to do that kind of crazy finesse progressive stuff.”
Although the years of intensive training have led to a mastery of control, speed, and fluid agility that is clearly on display everywhere on Ashes Of The Wake, Adler refuses to believe that he’s arrived. He may be in love with the drums, but even to simply state that he’s confident in his abilities takes things too far for him. “I hope I can say I feel confident after tonight’s show!” he says brightly. “I’m still not able to think of myself as a drummer. There’s still too many obstacles I want to face and defeat before I could do that. Of course there’s a level of confidence that I bring something to the table for the band, but it’s not a level where I can stop trying to be better. I’ll never get to that point where I can say I’m confident as a drummer. There’s always stuff to learn, but that in itself keeps me motivated.”
A Band By Any Other Name
Before releasing 2000’s New American Gospel and 2003’s As The Palaces Burn as Lamb Of God, the group recorded its debut in 1998 as Burn The Priest, an extra-nasty name that managed to open and shut doors for them at the same time. “The problem with Burn The Priest ended up being exactly what we thought was great about Burn The Priest,” he laments. “The name itself — which was great for five drinking buddies playing around the country — was perfect for shock value, but never intended to be anything serious. We had been putting our music up on mp3.com, and we became the most downloaded metal band in their history. Seeing that, a lot of labels came to talk to us, and we blew them off because it wasn’t about the idea of a label or us making a ton of money. It was about us having fun.
“That didn’t make any sense as we were getting older. We enjoyed this so much — we realized we needed to take this a little more seriously. Because of that, we let go of the guitar player, brought in my younger brother, and changed the name of the band. Realizing that you put your all into something, at the end of the day it had to be something you believe in, and the name had pigeonholed us into this underground metal band. We knew we could be a lot more than that.”
After the name change, there are a lot of factors that helped catapult Lamb Of God into international recognition, like the razor-sharp guitar attack from Willie Adler and Morton, and the smart lyrics that Blythe delivers in his distinctly menacing vocal style. From a beat perspective, Adler spearheads a distinctive rhythmic system that could only stem from someone breaking long-established rules. “There’s a couple of things that fed into making my playing a little different,” he says. “Number one is when I first got the kit together, I was so out of the loop that even though I’m lefty I set it up right, and that’s how I continue to play. I may lead from my left foot sometimes, but I can switch that night-to-night. I’m able to do a lot of things that aren’t typical, schooled right-hand moves.
“That’s the physical, but there’s also the mental aspect of me not wanting to be just another metal drummer, to really add different thoughts and styles into what we do as a band and what metal is typically expecting.”
That mental outlook meshes well with his bandmates, who seem to have figured out how to consistently make songs that are addictively different. “I think we are a bit more progressive than our contemporaries in what we do,” comments Adler. “We don’t go with the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus song structure. Several songs were written for this album as 11-minute instrumentals, and there was no way to put the vocals in there. I like pieces with no repeating parts and strange interludes. My brother and I have a great connection, and the rest of the guys reel us back in so we can get words and messages in. I’m still coming from getting progressive parts into these songs, and not just dumbing it down to make it work. We want to challenge ourselves, we want to challenge the listener, but we understand what’s most important for the song to get the point across.”