Some people love it. Some people hate it. Ask Chris Adler how he feels about recording a live album, and he lands somewhere in the middle: “I get a hundred chances to do it in the studio for the album, and only one of them really needs to be right. But I get that moment live to get it right on stage, and it’s not going to happen every night.”
Believe me, we couldn’t locate a stanza on Lamb Of God’s new live album, Killadelphia, where Adler’s drumming isn’t spot on and crisp. Admittedly, we understand how different it is when the role is reversed and it’s your drumming being scrutinized under the microscope. Plus there’s some history here. Adler has been his own worst critic, whose self-analysis became an outright obsession that almost drove him to drastic measures a couple years ago.
“I was a mess,” he confesses. “I wanted to quit the band because I wasn’t the machine that I wanted to be. That had everything to do with my stress. I would know this part is coming up. I would know it’s a difficult part. And because I was so focused on it I would blow it every single time. I should be able to just laugh it off and know, ’Hey, I wrote it. I’ll nail it tomorrow.’ I really had to reinvent the way that I thought about it, where being on tour and playing drums and playing in a relatively successful band is a dream. This is fun.”
You can’t miss his exuberance on Killadelphia, a live album recorded in Philadelphia at the Trocadero, an old movie theater converted to a hard rock club that has long held a special place close to the band’s black, black heart. “We built it up pretty big in Philadelphia and played everything from basements to the arenas there now,” Adler says. “As we struggled to come up in the scene in Philadelphia, the Trocadero was the place where the real heavy hitters were playing. That’s where we wanted to play the whole time we were there.”
The symbolism speaks volumes, but talk about flying by the seat of your pants — Killadelphia was recorded in one pass in one night. What they played is what you get. “We purposefully didn’t go back and fix anything,” Adler says proudly. “There was no fixing of guitar solos or drum parts or anything like that. There’s a lot in there that’s really good, and we’re really proud of it, but knowing what we do inside and out and going back and watching some of that, you can hear some of the little flubs that happened.”
Like what? We had to ask this percussive perfectionist to show us precisely what he flubbed while recording the live version of “Ruin,” this month’s featured drum part. We simply couldn’t hear it. “Several times there’s a part during the section where the verse kicks in and all the guitars come in, where it’s kind of a downbeat followed by a quad, and then a snare immediately after the quad with a kick [see bar 33 on page 119]. Because of the way I’m playing, often I miss the downbeat,” he stops to correct himself. “It’s not that I miss it, but it’s not strong enough to register.”
Oh brother! It’s barely the slightest dynamic variation. And he has only himself to blame, since Adler’s double kick part was actually simpler on the studio version of the song from Lamb Of God’s second album, As the Palaces Burn. “When I wrote that part, it was the downbeat followed by three kicks and then the snare,” he explains. “Over time in the live setting, that has evolved into the downbeat followed by four kicks and then the snare because I think it sounds better. I think it drives the song a little bit harder to have the four instead of the three.
“But that’s made it more difficult to hit that downbeat with my main foot. So I use one of those Axis Longboard pedals, and I’m able to whip my foot so that my heel comes down on the downbeat, and my toes drop down kind of like a whipping action with my foot and hit a double. A lot of the times when I whip my heel into the pedal, I don’t get quite as much action off of it as if I was playing heel-up.”
Turn to bars 20 and 21, and you will understand why we had to ask him about the fill. It’s a doozy. Three quarters of the way through the song, long after the hypnotic 12/8 pulse has been set in stone, the entire band slams to an abrupt halt except Adler, who punches you in the stomach with an avalanche of notes that employs all four limbs. It not only smartly bridges the difference between 12/8 and 4/4 time signatures but also establishes a whole new tempo with authority. It’s cool.
“We had these great parts, and we just had to have this kind of Band Aid to get them together,” Adler remembers. “Everybody was looking at me in the rehearsal space like, ’Why don’t you do a little drum break there? Figure it out.’ So I had to come up with something, and that’s certainly not my expertise. Soloing is not my thing, so that break was odd. It doesn’t sound like it flows at all. It sounds like somebody is falling down the stairs. But to me, it makes a lot of sense, and I guess the guys got used to it after a while. At first it took a good couple weeks for them to understand where that count was and what I was doing.”
So don’t beat yourself up if everything doesn’t just fall into place the first time you try to hammer through the following transcription of “Ruin.” Even Adler needed to practice the drum part awhile before taking it to the stage. “Looking at it from front to back, it can be relatively overwhelming,” he admits. “I think taking it part by part you can really break it down into very simple structures. The verse might be initially difficult to play, but once that kind of muscle memory kicks in, it’s really kind of a simple thing that just repeats.”
Drums Mapex Orion
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 12" x 5.5" Snare
3 10" x 9" Tom
4 12" x 9" Tom
5 16" x 16" Floor Tom
6 18" x 16" Floor Tom
A 14" Generation X Filter China
B 14" Hi-Hats (Soundcaster top, Byzance Dark bottom)
C 8" Candela Bell
D 8" Candela High Bell
E 14" Soundcaster Medium Crash
F 16" Amun Thin Crash
G 18" Byzance Medium Crash
H 24" Signature Pure Metal Ride
I 17" Signature Custom China
J 16" Signature Custom China
Chris Adler also uses Pro-Mark sticks, Aquarian heads, Axis pedals, and a Gibraltar rack.