Will Carroll: Death Angel’s Saving Grace
By John Payne Originally Published In DRUM! Magazine's November 2010 Issue
When San Francisco Bay Area thrash kings Death Angel found themselves in need of a new drummer, they knew just who to call. Will Carroll, longtime basher with other Bay Area metal bands and a big-time fan of Death Angel, already knew all the bands songs by heart. After a few months of intense rehearsal and writing in their Oakland studio, the band’s new album, Relentless Retribution, was recorded at Audio Hammer Studios in Sanford, Florida, with production wizardry provided by Jason Suecof (Trivium, The Black Dahlia Murder, All That Remains).
The SF-born Carroll’s initiation into Death Angel was swift and painless. He’s been drumming since he was ten, and has seen active service as a player since the late ’80s, thumping in several local bands as well as a brief stint as touring drummer with Machinehead. His own Vicious Rumors band had done several European tours with Death Angel, including the Lokken Festival in Denmark in 2001. And Carroll was more than familiar with the looming legacy of Death Angel.
Drums were the 38-year-old Carroll’s first instrument --—— though not entirely by choice. “I come from a musical family,” he says. “And when I started music lessons at school, my parents encouraged me in that direction. I was already a huge Kiss fan by then, and I really wanted to be a guitar player or lead singer. Well, I joined the school band, but the only instrument they had for me was a snare drum, so I said, ’Oh, I guess that’s what I’ll do,’” he laughs.
Carroll’s first “real” drum kit was a Pearl Export kit, and after a several-year stint experimenting with other brands, he rented a Pearl kit when Death Angel embarked on their last European tour, and fell back in love. Now he’s an endorser and is happily bashing away on a fresh set of Masters.
For the Relentless sessions, Carroll, working alone in the studio with tracks pre-arranged by lead guitarist Rob Cavestany, used a Pearl Reference kit as well, though one of the floor toms was an old Rogers that “just sounded so good we had to use it.” The Pearl high toms are all Reference, as were the kick drums, which Carroll favored for their massive low end, body, and warmth.
Carroll is a left-handed matched-grip player, and for recording used two 22" ride cymbals with his primary ride on the left side. “But sometimes it gets a little too crashy sounding, because of the way I have it positioned,” he says. The right-side ride is great to wash-busting bell work.
Despite being an unapologetic basher, for studio and live work Carroll likes Vic Firth Buddy Rich signature sticks, despite their tendency to break easily. “They just feel so right; I’m willing to pay the extra cost,” he says. On Relentless he used several different types of heads, but onstage he favors Remo pinstripes on the high toms and floor toms; on tour he changes snare heads every night, and the tom heads every three or four days.
Carroll’s something of a purist, preferring to practice (often five nights a week) and perform on real drums without the aid of electronics, although in the studio with Death Angel and practicing alone he plays with a click. “I practiced by myself a lot for the album,” he says. “Every day I’d go down to the studio for two to three hours and turn the click track on and do mostly fills, practice doing my roundhouses around the toms or double bass fills and stuff.”
Aside from the addition of a few cowbells and extra percussive instruments, his standard kit setup hasn’t altered much in the past 20 years, though his new Pearl kit will up the ante just a tad.
“I have two kicks, two floors, two toms,” he says. “That’s about as big as I usually go, but the Pearl kit I’m getting is going to have three rack toms, a 13", 16", and 18", plus two floor toms at 10"—12" or 13"—14". I wanted to give myself a bit more variety.” The kicks go between 24"s and 22"s, the latter used for extra punch.
For pedals, Carroll loves his Pearl Eliminators with square plastic beaters, favoring the oomph and speediness of their response. He plays with heels up, for the most part. “Maybe in a quieter part of the set I’ll throw my heels down, otherwise it’s heels up all the way. I’m a hard hitter, so I like the heel up to get way more power and just kick the crap out of things.”
When he was young and just starting out, Carroll liked all the classic drummers like Bonham and Moon, “but the drummer who really kicked my ass was Mickey Dee, drummer for King Diamond at the time.” A bit further down the road he discovered Stewart Copeland of The Police, who he grew to admire after breaking out of his “close-minded metal-head kid” phase, as well as Dennis Davis of David Bowie’s late ’70s bands. Right now he’s crazy about Mike Smith of death metal band Suffocation.
“When their first full-length, Effigy Of The Forgotten, came out in ’91, I’d never heard a blastbeat played that way before. Damn! Really made an impression on me.”
Carrolls’ own style has followed a pretty natural evolution that comes with age and experience. “When I was really young, I would play as many fills as possible all the time, just try and play like a maniac as much as I could. But I’ve calmed down a lot, and I listen to the other musicians a lot more, and I try to play inside the song and not shoot off and do my own thing – I’ve become more of a team player. Anyway, I don’t think Death Angel would put up with me doing a drum solo for an hour every night!”
Carroll’s first paying job as a drummer was in Machinehead, in 1995, when he was 20 years old and “really green,” he says with a laugh. “I was in over my head, and I knew it, and they knew it. But what are you gonna do?” Death Angel is, he says, by far the most professional thing he’s done – and a real education.
“I’ve been in Death Angel about a year and half now, and I’ve learned a lot from those guys. I love the music; I’ve been a fan for years; and they’re great guys to work with – they’re all a bunch of comedians, like me.” He laughs. “It’s cool, it’s really cool.”
Band Death Angel
Current Release Relentless Retribution
Birthplace San Francisco, California
Influences John Bonham, Keith Moon, Mickey Dee, Stewart Copeland, Dennis Davis, Mike Smith
Sticks Vic Firth
Will Carroll fails to astonish only once on Relentless Retribution – and that’s because “Volcanic” features just acoustic guitar and vocal. Monstrously wonderful drumming drives every other track. Carroll’s chops are world-class. More importantly, he uses them to maximum effect and always in service to the tune. He keeps his double-kick artillery in check, unleashing it in short bursts, whether as a crisp little filigree or to push a guitar lick with just the right dash of brutality. Everything Carroll does hinges on the backbeat, even when he does a rhythm switcheroo to an upbeat pattern on “This Hate.” In any event, his constant variations are contoured to each composition. On “Into The Arms Of Righteous Anger,” his floor tom thunderings become as essential a hook as the guitar’s riffs. And when he leaves the backbeat entirely on “Where They Lay” to play the snare with a jazz hipster’s spontaneity during the guitar solo, we’re left wondering why no other thrash metallurgist ever thought of doing that before.