Adjusting a cymbal stand, Dave Lombardo is juiced by the sight of the dozen vintage motorcycles surrounding him. We’re in an L.A. photo studio that doubles as a garage, and the two-wheel toys belong to the photographer, currently snapping away at the 44-year-old Slayer drummer. The gleaming machines remind Lombardo, an avid dirt bike rider, of a horrific wreck in 2004 at Dumont Dunes. “I couldn’t close my jaw,” he says, lightly touching the right side of his face. “I approach motocross with the same intensity as my drums.”
An assistant pumps dry ice from the left of the kit, behind which Lombardo is now seated, peering through an array of bronze discs. The veil of white smoke, combined with a red filter over the klieg lights, calls to mind a vampire emerging from the mist. Though people seem to pull him in six different directions, he is in a reflective mood, in particular regarding his contributions to one of the most iconic metal bands of all time. “If you listen back to the recordings, I’ll think, ‘Man, why didn’t I do something else there?’ It’s so plain. Why was it so bland on so many old recordings? I was not impressed.” Most drummers would think Lombardo’s beats are anything but plain. “There’s a lot of things metal drummers do today that I don’t approve of,” he says, tapping out different beats as the camera shutter clicks away. “I don’t know what it is.”
If there’s any truth to the old cliché that art is born from pain, then Lombardo is the Van Gogh of metal, facial lacerations and all. It started about a year ago when he returned home from tour and found that his 20-year marriage had fallen apart and he was no longer welcome in the beautifully furnished home with his family. “This record breathes my pain — what I went through,” he says. “Everything that was going on during those months, the guys didn’t know. I kept it from them. I go, ‘Guys, I’ve been living in an apartment for the last two months.’”
Those who crave sordid details should stop reading now. Suffice it to say, Lombardo has made a 180 degree turnaround from where he was at this time last year. It’s as though he found renewal only after braving the gauntlet of betrayal and loss. He now lives simply, safely, and sanely. Part of the reason is a new girlfriend, who shall go nameless, but comes from heavy-metal royalty. “I’d rather be in a little box knowing that I’m happy, than having all this stuff and being miserable. I’m a peaceful, life-enjoying human being, and I don’t need to be around things that are going to bring me down or bum me out or make me angry.”
Cymbalic Changes. If Lombardo is dubious about today’s metal scene, the 44-year-old drummer is doing everything in his power to change it. Whether it was such recent experiments as adding Slayeresque drums to a cover of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, doing a shuffle beat to a cover of classic tune “Stand By Me” with Lemmy Killmister for a skateboard clothing line, or simply meeting new people like he did on last year’s Rockstar-Mayhem tour (“Moose! I gotta text him,” he says referring to the Bullet For My Valentine drummer), something got him thinking about drums on Slayer’s new release, World Painted Blood, in ways he hadn’t before.
On this recording, Lombardo employed a technique he calls crescendos, an idea he got after reading an article on Art Blakey. “Let’s say I’m on the ride and I need to crescendo it, so I would hit harder, you know, with the body of the stick. And then let’s say the next part of the lead I will go into the crash/ride, so that’s the second part of it. And then the third part of the lead I’ll go to another crash/ride, you know, like that, that’s what I would do.”
Instead of always transitioning to another cymbal, sometimes he’ll simply increase the power behind his stroke on a single cymbal to create a swelling effect. “I stay on the ride, I start hitting harder — then really hard. And it builds until it can’t build anymore, then maybe I’ll change to another cymbal, given that it’s the right section of the song to make that change.”
When the band entered The Pass, a storied recording studio in the annals of L.A. rock lore, half of World Painted Blood was still unwritten. Guitarist Kerry King and Lombardo would occasionally break off from the group to hash stuff out on the fly. At other times the whole band would sit down to listen to guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s demo to get on the same page. Yet make no mistake about who laid the groundwork. “They need to follow me,” Lombardo says with crystal clarity. “I set the tempo. I create the foundation. They’re just guiding me through the songs.”
To build that framework, Lombardo credits producer Greg Fidelman with bringing out his best. “We’d bounce things off of each other: ‘Hey, I have five or six drum beats. Which one do you think is the one that delivers the most for the guitar riff?’ I did so many takes, but he went, ‘Come on, give me another one.’” Not that Lombardo needed anyone to push him. “There were times when I wasn’t satisfied and he would be, ‘No, dude — you got it.’ I go, ‘Are you sure?’”
Then there was that always frustrating experience of letting fly a brilliant lick, only to lose it to the ether. “It was a lot of ‘Do that again!’ It’s like, ‘What did I do?’ Sometimes I get so deep into the performing zone that I really don’t know what’s going on outside of me. It’s very odd, but it’s way cool.”
More important than dispensing advice or playing the role of enabler was the fact that Fidelman instinctively grasped the Slayer sound. Rather than heading into the glass booth right off the bat, he hung around the band’s practice space in the early stages of the writing process to soak up the vibe. “He sat at rehearsal with us, like, every day, and recorded us, and we went home with the CD. So he was able to hear us in a small tiny room and know what this band was really about, how we express our energy with our instruments. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a punk band almost.’”
Word on the street is that World Painted Blood is the band’s best record since ’80s hallmarks Seasons In The Abyss and Reign In Blood. The verdict is still out on that one, but Lombardo knows for sure that his drumming isn’t what it was in those days. “It’s better,” he says. “I can listen to it over and over again, where before I would never really be able to listen to a Slayer record.”
Dave Lombardo’s Thirst For Speed
Slayer began as a heavy metal cover band in the early ’80s that quickly adopted the velocity and fury of punk, as well as lyrics with violent and satanic imagery, and alongside peers like Metallica and Anthrax helped establish thrash metal as a viable subgenre. It’s been nearly three decades since the band’s inception, and drummer Dave Lombardo and his bandmates still haven’t slowed down. Here are a couple of prime cuts off their most recent release, World Painted Blood.
In this snippet we see the speedy fill Lombardo uses to transition from the intro to the verse. The song begins with a quick thrash/blastbeat played on his crash cymbal. Lombardo plays a rapid combination of accented sixteenth- and eighth-notes to set up the next section. If a blastbeat is just a fast punk beat, and a punk beat is just a sped up polka, does that mean speed metal drummers should wear lederhosen and felt hats? Personal preference, I suppose.
“Not Of This God”
Here’s another scorcher. Lombardo begins with fast sixteenths on his hi-hat before tearing into another fast up-tempo thrash beat for the verse. If you haven’t seen multiple repeat endings notated before (fourth line), this means that each time you repeat the verse you play a different ending. Next, Lombardo changes the feel by switching to a slamming downbeat double bass blastbeat for the last line of the transcription.
“Beauty Through Order”
This track shows a slower and moodier rhythmic side of Lombardo. The intro uses cymbal crashes, crescendo cymbal rolls, and tom fills played over his bass drum to set the dramatic and dark tone of this track. The verse has a half-time feel with a slow groove that Lombardo makes funkier by displacing the snare hits in the fourth bar of line four, and a tasty triplet snare fill seen in the last line.