Most death-metal bands talk about how brutal they are, but in the case of Hate Eternal it’s not hyperbole. And for music this extreme you need an extreme drummer. You need Jade Simonetto.
Clean-cut and tat-free, the boyish appearance of Simonetto, a sober Canadian to the rest of the band’s sun-besotted Floridians, belies the speed demon within. Before scampering off to rehearse for an upcoming tour in support of new release Phoenix Amongst The Ashes, we picked his brain in hope of uncovering this paradox.
Unlike his overly Pro Tooled brethren, there’s no question the 27-year-old can replicate what he laid down in the studio — it’s imprinted onto his limbic system after suffering through it during drum tracking. “I know that’s what Eric [Rutan, singer/guitarist] strives for: a real performance. That’s why it took so long,” he says on the phone from Tampa, where he spent four to five weeks tracking Phoenix. “I’m trying to nail songs on my own without cleaning things up, copy-and-pasting, and all that stuff. So we’d come in every day and try it over and over again.”
Unlike 2008 album Fury And Flames and 2005’s I, Monarch (featuring Derek Roddy on drums), Phoenix showcases a far more dynamic band. Guitar passages range from weedly to art-y and textured. “The Art Of Redemption” has densely convoluted bass guitar work. A sign that Jade is up to something comes on fourth track “Haunting Abound,” juxtaposing break-neck verses with near-mid-tempo groove sections in which he samples broadly from the cymbals for a medley of accents.
Heel position is up (duh) but for a short time he was practicing heel-down because he heard that Cryptopsy’s Flo Mounier did that to increase foot speed (Mounier and Simonetto share the same rehearsal space in Montreal). An enthusiastic champion of bass drum triggers, Simonetto calls out anyone who thinks of said devices as a cheat. After all, triggers amplify the kick strokes. “So to me it’s the opposite of cheating because if you’re playing sloppy double bass … oh, bro, it will come out and everybody will be able to hear it. That’s the purpose of a trigger: It tells no lies.”
For the last five years Simonetto has built foot speed with what he calls “ladder” workouts, or incremental exercises to increase bpms. On the first day he might do just sixteenth-notes at 200 bpm and gradually work his way up to tempos of 300, “where it would be just little twitches.” The second day was devoted to consistency, breaking up the bass battery, left foot/right foot, in order to spread the workload evenly across his feet. With that locked, regular Hate Eternal gigs sufficed for stamina. “That’s what George [Kollias] from Nile used to tell me. ‘All I need to do is play Nile songs now and I get my foot workout.’ And I understand that now.”
Nuances are what make Phoenix stand out in an oftentimes same-y genre. The title track and “Death Veil” mix up several kinds of blasts. In the case of “Lake Ablaze,” staccato bursts of kick seem to defy inertia. But Simonetto is a traditionalist, preferring good ol’ bomb- and single–foot blasts. “I find those are basically the bread-and-butter of the genre,” he explains. “I did one gravity blast on Fury And Flames and it sounded pretty cool, but that’s not really my bag, man. There are so many guys out there who mastered that, and they do it so well that I find no reason for myself to try and get into that race.”
Simonetto had only been playing drums about six years before joining Hate Eternal at age 23. He had been reluctant to try out because, as he succinctly puts it, “How am I going to play Derek Roddy’s s__t?” But after a video audition, frontman Rutan had him come down to Florida and they jammed, which quickly revealed the young pup’s weaknesses. “I had to clean up my single foot; it was kind of stuck,” he says. “It wasn’t a clean roll between the foot and the hand. A lot of drummers seem to forget that. They think it’s just hit as fast as you can with both limbs and see where it goes. But that’s not what it is. It’s a science, and you have to be specific about things.”