Chris Adler: New Rules Of Metal
Helping the band to get their intensive point across was the producer known as Machine, whose experience with groups like Prodigy and inexperience in metal were equally attractive to Adler and the rest of Lamb Of God. “There’s so many great metal producers out now — it’s almost obvious who everybody is going to go with. They do such a great job of making today’s metal sounds almost crystal, better than how speed metal has ever sounded. We understood that, but as a band we’re not interested in sounding like everybody else. We wanted to push the boundaries of what the band could do and what the genre could handle.
“It was about taking a little bit of a risk, so when I heard about this guy Machine — I’m kind of the guy who ends up doing a lot of the business in the band — and how he did a lot of King Crimson, Prodigy, and rave stuff, I knew he could bring a production level that no one else has. It wasn’t about trying to beat everybody out, but separate us. At first it was awkward — some of his ideas in pre-pro were a little strange, but once we got in and turned knobs, he blew the doors off this whole project. He made this band sound like what we’ve heard it sound like in our heads for the last ten years.”
Working at the famed Water Music recording studios in Hoboken, New Jersey, Adler found out the meaning of the word meticulous as they worked on the drum sounds. Fortunately, good things come to drummers who wait. “They have such a beautiful room, and we took three days just getting sounds out of the drums,” he recalls. “They have different snare drums, mike angles — these guys were in there with protractors with the mikes inside of the kick drums! As boring as it was for me to sit around and just hit a tom every ten minutes, I learned that to do it right, you have to take the time to get the sickest sound.
“Whereas As The Palaces Burn had a very mechanical kind of sampled drum sound, I think this brought in much more of the organic but very metal-sounding drums, and I think it lent itself to the flow that we were talking about earlier, having some humanity involved in what we were doing. It’s not just binary code drums, there’s really a lot of life in them.”
The key was capturing Adler’s kick drums and their often-intricate patterns. On Ashes, Machine and Adler favored a cleaner, kick-drum-articulating approach over ear-whomping power, a relaxed effect that seems to reduce listener fatigue and spread the goodness efficiently throughout the entire album. For Adler, one of the keys to his sound is the use of two bass drums, instead of a double pedal on one kick. “There’s two reasons for that,” he says. “First and foremost, chicks dig two kick drums! The second reason is that although two drums are a hassle to carry around, besides Axis, which makes an amazing double kick pedal, I’ve never found one I liked.
“With one kick drum you have one sound. With two kicks, although the idea is to tune them similarly, the fact that they’re off allows you not only to hear it yourself, but give the listener a little of the tick tock tick tock that allows the bass drums to come through without pushing the volume of them. So doing that allows it to come through, instead of a lot of it coming from one drum that you’d have to push the volume up in order to get those sounds separated.”
While his outstanding double bass work is central to his signature sound, the decidedly un-analytical Adler can offer up only a few scant clues towards achieving his level of proficiency. “I never thought, ’The faster I do it the better I am.’ It’s more about how tasty to make the chops that no one can think of. There’s actually not a whole lot of double kick stuff going on, but when it happens you notice it. It’s not the straightforward, follow-the-beat kind of thing. It’s find the rhythm and use your feet to accent it in a different way. If you’re blasting through with doubles all the time, it doesn’t make the same point. As a player, it doesn’t matter to me if I can do doubles at 200 bpm for four minutes.
“People ask me every night, ’How do you get so fast and precise?’ I wish I could answer that question. I play the Axis longboard pedals — a lot of drummers spend all day tweaking their pedals so they’re exactly the same. But my legs are different, and my right pedal is completely different from my left pedal. Guys go at it and get frustrated because the speed doesn’t happen. Start slow at 130 bpm and work up. In practice, I can never throw down the way I do in the band onstage. It’s not always perfect for me, and it’s not about being perfect. If I got bummed out every night it wasn’t perfect I’d kill myself. The thing that got me where I am is being in love with the drums.
“A good example of what I do is on ’Hourglass,’ where I switch up the parts a little bit. I try to take away the pulse, and put a little bit of style into it instead of plowing through with standard doubles. In the live setting it changes all the time. There’s a lot of stuff I’m playing now that I didn’t play on the records. It doesn’t change how the song goes, and if I grow creatively and can add something while not taking away from the song, I’m going to do it.”
Adler is equally exacting when it comes to his cymbals. “Definitely, they’re important. From the beginning, my idea was to find interesting sounds and interesting ways to do things. On the new album, you’ll find me riding a splash instead of a hi-hat on almost all the tracks. In ’Laid to Rest,’ that’s all splash — not a hi-hat. Cymbals are so versatile, there’s so many choices of what you can do, and so many interesting ways to use them.
“Meinl’s done some custom stuff for me, even flown me to Germany to make prototype 24" rides because I’ll say, ’I need one to sound like it does in my head.’ It’s almost a bell sound in what we’re doing. When I’m sitting behind my kit, I want to know that I’ve hit it. That comes from playing those old Aerosmith records. When Joey Kramer hit the ride it took up almost half the mix of the band, and I love that.”