Published in DRUM! Magazine's July 2005 Issue
For the more erudite metalheads out there, the mere mention of Gene Hoglan’s name causes nervous chills, and – in some cases – spontaneous bruising. Anyone who has seen him with Dark Angel, Death, Testament, or extreme metallurgists Strapping Young Lad is aware of two undeniable truths: economy of motion and speed that NASA can’t track.
Strapping Young Lad is fronted by the overwhelming voice and guitar of Devin Townsend, who besides being the focal point of much of the group’s press, has also released a slew of solo albums, dropped vocal bombs on Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion, and produced for everyone from December and Soilwork to Lamb Of God. But make no mistake, because as talented as Townsend is, SYL’s musculature is dependent on the equally inhuman abilities of guitarist Jed Simon, bassist Byron Stroud, and the bionic Mr. Hoglan.
SYL’s latest release Alien is through-composed
chaos in the spirit of 2003’s SYL and City, which gave the metal world a
bloody lip in 2000. “We were just trying to carry on,” Hoglan says of
Alien. “City had a lot of crazy samples and electronics, and the last
album [SYL] didn’t, because we didn’t want to do City II. With
As freewheeling as it sounds, the recording of the drums (after about six months of rehearsing the tunes) took an astonishing day and a half. “I knew the songs really well,” he explains, “so everything was pretty much a first take. We’d do a quick run-around, and then record it. I knew the material really well, so it doesn’t take me very long. I like doing my tracks in one day. I’m all about value.”
The anthemic “Possessions” is about value as well. Rather than give you a three-minute blast fest (i.e., all thirty-second notes, no filler), we thought we’d present a Strapping song that features grooves, marching cadences, and blistering footwork that’s built up through the song in a gradual fashion.
“The one thing I like to not do is blow the wad at the first part,” he explains. “If you’re going to come back through [a passage], like two or three times, then build [fills] up as you go. That’s one thing I learned from Neil Peart. He is great at doing that. Like, say during a pre-chorus bridge, he’ll throw in a simple, tasty fill. The next time they come through it, he’ll throw in a little crazier accent. And on the last one, he’ll do something way off of everything and really let it flow that way. That’s one thing I like to do with a song like this, where, if it comes to double bass – if you know there’s a spot for it somewhere in the song, build the dynamics. You don’t have to show off through everything.”
With a Faith No More keyboard beckoning in the background, the song begins with the band launching into a unison figure (eight-bar phrases) that starts out very simply for Hoglan. The third time through, he introduces some innocent sixteenth-note kicks, and tosses in a thirty-second-note foot fill at the end of that eight-bar phrase. A tiny taste of what’s to come.
The chorus features shout vocals of “give it away,” and Hoglan builds those sections with sixteenth-note triplets on the feet, and then settles back into a swaggering march figure with offbeat accents on his China cymbal.
“I was trying to lay that heavy with the bass,” Hoglan says. “The song is in E, but it’s on E on the seven-string, so it’s kind of natural tuning, but an entire octave lower. So it has this really lugubrious feel to it. It’s like a big thing just swinging its head around, like this massive creature. That’s kind of the way I feel after the first chorus. I wanted to make it feel like this big lazy animal that’s just wandering around, and it doesn’t matter where it steps, because it’s bigger than everything else and just checking out the scenery. That’s kind of the way I see it in my head.”
At one point, Hoglan blisters an eight-bar phrase with four bars of thirty-second-note triplets on kicks, before returning to the cadence. He chuckles, “That’s a pretty tasty little spot. We put it there to make your head spin a little bit. Then we get right back into the groove after that.”
Of course, the denouement happens in furious fashion, where after one bar of rest (well, not for Townsend, who is screaming loudly enough to wake the dead), Hoglan tears into a death defying thirty-second-note hand-foot fill to end the song … that took one take. And is wrong.
“I constructed that part, and it came out wrong on the record,” he laughs. “I didn’t nail the very last [sings last figure]. Who cares? It’s just drums. It’s the end of the song, it’s the very last thing the drums do. It came out just like … screw it, you can’t tell. The vibe was there, and I’m a real vibe guy. I try to do my takes as perfect as possible, but in this day of Pro Tooling everything, I’m still a human, you know? I’m a human trying to sound like a machine with a heart. There will be human kerfuffles that work. It’s an obvious mistake to no one but the drummer, but the drummer realizes, ‘Okay, that’s a mistake, but the vibe of the song was good.’ I mentioned to Dev, ‘Did you even notice that?’ ‘Come on, man.’ So it stayed. Nobody’s going to notice that. I could have tried to Pro Tool it and fix it at the end, but like I said, who cares?”
We picked a song that’s got a good groove, and you can dance to it (perhaps, if you’re that demented), but there’s a definite aerobic workout waiting for you with “Possessions.” Just watch that ending.
Drums: Pearl SMX Session Custom In Carbon Mist
Gene Hoglan also uses Pearl hardware, Camco pedals, Pro-Mark 2B sticks, Evans heads, and Alesis triggers.