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Lamb of God | New American Gospel | interview | Chris Adler | metal | Lollipop
Lamb of God
New American Gospel (Prosthetic)
An interview with drummer Chris Adler
by Martin Popoff
Pure American Metal. That's what drummer for hot Metal Blade futurists Lamb Of God calls the special thing that they do so well. And if you think that's a little Mellencamp rootsy for a sound that is a jarring, expert maelstrom of extreme flights of razorblade fancy, then, well, listen to the explanation.
"I think that's really the only way I can describe it," offers Chris Adler, drummer, conceptualist and much more for the band. "There're so many different influences in there. We borrow so many different things in so many different ways from so many different types of extreme music, to pinpoint what it is is hard. But it's completely natural to us."
The key word here is extreme. Through the band's own well-mapped thought processes (beginning in '94 under a variety of names, biggest being Burn The Priest under which the debut record was burned), Lamb Of God have become the biggest buzz of a buzz band since Machine Head crushed our skulls, then broke our hearts and went baggy. The band's first album under this deceptively docile name is called New American Gospel, and it's an immediately gratifying wringing of all that is pure and good (and way heavy) from both the old school and the new. By old, we might mean speed metal and thrash, and by new, we might include progressive hardcore (check out Adler's tight, high snare) and its still-pulsing brother grind.
It's all seen as a continuum for these metal thinkers, one that starts with (just for example) Slayer and moves through the band's next album. Again, we'll let Chris explain. "That's an interesting question. I was actually thinking about the next album the other day. I think we're going to keep the same feel. We're really just a straight-up metal band. There's no gags or make-up and I think that's the way we want to be. The production is not a million-dollar production. It's 'turn the amps on, put a mic in front of them and let's go, there's the song.' It's probably going to be very similar to that. As we grow, I think it'll be little heavier than this record. Like when South Of Heaven came out, it was an amazingly heavy record. Now that we look back on it, of course, it's a classic, but as far as heavy goes, there's been a lot on top of that since then. As time goes on, our tastes move further in that direction, so I think it's just a natural progression that it get heavier."
Which all ties in with this concept of "pure American metal," if you think about it. You listen to New American Gospel and there's something strangely universal, definitely genre-straddling and special in a stadium rock way about it, even if it sounds like a nasty vortex of death metal, Pantera, Brutal Truth and, well, even bands like Overkill and Testament. It's this bridging and fusing of metal's history that is perhaps the force behind the record's rave reviews and the high regard for Burn The Priest, a name that had to go, says Chris, for obvious reasons.
"Yes, we kind of flipped the coin to the opposite side. Almost the exact same time we released the Burn The Priest album, we let go one of our guitarists. We were going in different directions musically and with our careers, and we really wanted to take the band to the next level. When we did that, the new guy we brought in happened to be my younger brother who I'd been playing music with for probably 10 years. When he stepped in, the potential and the momentum of the band really took off. We had a new focus, and we wanted to symbolize that with a new name. It was a real rebirth for the band. Another reason we did it was because of the name itself. We really got pigeonholed into this Satanic metal thing that had absolutely nothing to do with what we were after. It wasn't how we wanted to be perceived. For all the energy and the blood, sweat and tears we put into it, to get that negative connotation... We worked that name for a long time and kicked a lot of ass, but it kind of started to turn on us."
So what does this new name, Lamb Of God, mean to you?
It means exactly the same thing. It was never a religious thing. Burn The Priest was our way of saying 'fuck the system, don't always believe what you see and hear.' With the lyrics and both names of the band, what we're really trying to get across is: Don't always take things at surface level. Lyrically and musically, this band is bringing a few of those things to the surface.
With a name like Lamb Of God, have the boys been invited to play at the annual church picnic?
Yeah, we've been mistaken for a Christian band, but not as much as we were mistaken for a Satanic band as Burn The Priest. I'd much rather deal with people thinking we're a Christian band than a Satanic band, even though we're neither.
And what about the title of the album, New American Gospel?
The reason we called it that, and the reason we started this band in the first place back in 1994, was that it was impossible to find a record we wanted to listen to. We were all into heavy stuff, and it seemed like metal was taking a bad turn. So we sat down and said, 'Let's see if we can make the music it seems nobody can make for us.' This is exactly what we wanted to hear, and I get that same feeling when I listen to it. It's one of my favorite records to listen to because it's exactly what I want. I think the name reflects that. We set a new standard for ourselves to be able to live up to, including any recordings in the future. I mean, I love the new Nevermore and Haunted records, but that's the heavy stuff. But I go all over the place... I listen to Mahavishnu Orchestra a lot, and real techy stuff, Liquid Tension Experiment. It's hard for me to list what I listen to because I think I'm neglecting the other guys in the band who listen to way different stuff: Country, jazz, bluegrass, everything under the sun.
You're more than just the drummer, your musical theories and practices run deep, something that enriches the album immeasurably.
My musical background is pretty extensive, I guess. I took about eight years of piano, violin, saxophone, guitar, bass, and then moved into drums. I think that most of my ability to drum just comes from sheer determination to want to do this. I love playing the drums, but I never really spent too much time in standardized practice. One of the things on my list at this point is to work in some of those different styles of music. As I get better as a player, I'm able to find new things to do.
Today Is The Day's Steve Austin was brought in again to knob-twiddle. What is working with him like?
He's awesome, totally intense. I really didn't think that Steve would have the ear for what we were going after. I wanted to be this kind of tight, progressive metal band, and I thought he was wrapped up with a lot of noise stuff, stuff that I didn't really like. But our budget was tiny, and when we put out the word to several producers we thought of working with, he immediately got back to us. He was a fan of the band and he loved the shows we'd played together. Whatever it took, he wanted the project and wanted to make it happen. I think at this point he's irreplaceable. We work really well together. Steve is kind of the honorary member of this band. He really gave it his all to make it happen and he wanted to make us happy. There's no way we would've left that studio if he didn't think we were happy with what we had. And he's very proud of that, as are we.
So there you have it, the creation of a harsh record for metal fans who will find themselves learning about harsh from their less extreme, more comfortable vantage point, tugged in a direction and finding themselves enjoying it. The creators are guys who feel the same way, or at least know all the ways, and most of the pathways. And they have scattered crumbs along the yellow brick-to-the-head road to bring all metal campers to the bonfire.
Given the sober rage all over this record, one wonders if the lives coursing through the record's construction have been happy ones. "Again, I think it varies according to which person in the band you're talking about," reflects Adler. "We've all had different positions. I wouldn't say it's necessarily bleak for any one of us. We love and live this music and when we all get together, we're the happiest five guys on the planet."