With Ozzfest a distant memory, the Rockstar Mayhem Tour is the new yardstick by which today’s young metal fans measure all that is loud, fast, and aggressive. Except for the fact that all three headlining bands are anchored by kit-dominating badasses, Godsmack, Disturbed, and Megadeth don’t have much in common.
In truth, the energy drink–sponsored festival is merely an excuse for DRUM! to pick the brains of three key witnesses to the genre’s evolution over the last decade and what it all means for aspiring bashers.
With Mayhem’s kick-off still a week away, we rang Shannon Larkin in New Orleans, where he had been catching a few z’s in his hotel room after a night of recording with Ugly Kid Joe for the band’s first new record in 15 years. It’s a homecoming of sorts for the Godsmack skinsman who played with the MTV staples in the ’90s. Larkin has seen both sides of the mountain, which perhaps explains his combination of nostalgia and amusement when surveying changes in metal drumming over the years. “Topically, it’s not all about Satan and doom and death anymore, you know,” he says, still groggy. “Take a band like Megadeth, or even Disturbed. David Draiman [singer, Disturbed] writes some really prolific lyrics on different issues. Some of the black metal bands, Dimmu Borgir and stuff, started putting more atmosphere on their records — keyboards and stuff like that. I watched it evolve in that way, too.”
Metal drumming’s learning curve has gotten shorter and shorter: Today’s players get better exponentially faster. “Twenty years ago I was in my garage trying to learn [Slayer’s] ‘Angel Of Death,’” he continues. “I’ve seen some monster drummers over the last few years like Moose from Bullet For My Valentine and The Rev,” he says referring to the A7X’s Jimmy Sullivan, who died in late 2009.
Still, it’s as if metal drumming hit its high point around 1989, Larkin implies. “Dave Lombardo, Gene Hoglan … how can you get any better than those guys?”
When we finally caught up with Shawn Drover, who less than 24 hours ago was in San Diego recording Megadeth’s new album, he did not seem the least bit jet-lagged. The 45-year-old has way too much energy for someone this early in the morning, and the vibe is like he’s wearing a Bluetooth during a conference call while practicing tai chi. As basher extraordinaire for one of thrash metal’s Big Four (the other three being Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax), Drover has a privileged vantage from which to assess the evolution of metal drumming. “You still try to nail your performances as well as possible,” he says in a business-like clip from home in Atlanta. “I can’t speak for anybody else, but I don’t take any approach to anything differently than I would six, seven, eight years ago.”
At 39, Mike Wengren is the youngest of our panelists, and yet he feels like a dinosaur in the crop of blazing new extreme-metal drummers — and he’s okay with that. “To a certain extent you’re almost trying to create your own identity,” says Wengren on the horn from Milwaukee while tending to 14-month-old daughter Eva. “I guess as the years progress and more bands come out, it’s gotten a bit diluted. There are not as many standout artists.”
Easy for him to say. When Disturbed dropped debut album The Sickness in 2000 it was the last nail in nü-metal’s coffin. Wengren dispensed with faux hip-hop-isms and reintroduced the metallic basics of power, precision, and speed. “I’m not patting myself on the back,” he continues. “Some of the newer drummers can run circles around me, but to me a lot of the playing sounds very similar.”
The idea that modern metal has gotten same-y is indisputable. Always one to see the bright side, Larkin argues that showmanship is one of the things that drummers can do to make up for it. “I remember seeing tons of the early first-wave thrash bands and a lot of drummers back then it was just, put your head down and go,” he says. “If you see me play, man, I’ll be throwing sticks left and right, trying to put on a show also, and make people not just watch the singer the whole show.”