Intro: Chris Adler is busy
Chris Adler is one busy man.
In addition to his regular gig with Lamb Of God, who came roaring back in 2015 with the ferociously good Sturm und Drang, he’s beating the skins for Megadeth on their new record Dystopia.
A glutton for punishment, Adler is playing live with both bands, pulling double duty when they shared the bill on a UK tour.
It’s a daunting prospect for any musician, never mind for a drummer playing such physically demanding music. “I was very concerned the first night that I wouldn’t be able to be 100% for both acts, but it turned out really well,” says Adler.
“Just the thrill of being able to be in my band, which I’m very proud of, and then to be in my all-time favourite band on the same night across the UK was just an overwhelming adrenaline rush. It’s been the same every night. Yes, it’s exhausting but I don’t really feel it until it’s done, you just black out and go to work.”
Adler has his fingers crossed the two metal titans may team up again in 2016. “We’re trying to make things like that happen, both bands are friendly and it’s not off the table, but the current plans don’t have anything lined up,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of working around each other so if Megadeth is out, Lamb Of God gets to be home, and vice versa.
"For now, it’s a bit of a chess match although nobody is going to win or lose, we’re just all trying to make it work. I feel very, very lucky that everybody is willing to work with and around me. Again, it’s a thrill for me to have the opportunity to do it, so it’s great that everybody has been very cool about it.”
Adler may be one of the most respected drummers in modern metal but his biggest musical heroes as a youngster were typically kings of the six-string. “I’ve always been a guitar freak,” he says. “I think I’ve taken my love for the guitar and harnessed it through my inability to actually play guitar and made myself the lead drummer in the band. As odd as that is, I think it has helped me out quite a bit in doing what I do.”
1. Wrathchild America, 3D (1991)
Drummer: Shannon Larkin
“Out of everyone that we’re going to talk about, I don’t think that there is a more influential player on me than Shannon.
"I saw Wrathchild American play in Baltimore at a place called Hammerjack’s, which unfortunately no longer exists. I loved it and being from Northern Virginia that was the closest place for good rock shows. I had their previous record, Climbin’ The Walls, and was a fan but I’d never seen them before and didn’t know what to expect.
"At the time in high school I had been a guitar player, a bass player, I’d actually taken violin lessons, saxophone lessons and piano lessons and all that stuff. I was playing bass in several bands, trying to get my chops up in order to play guitar and maybe sing.
"I saw Wrathchild America and seeing the drummer, I had no idea who he was, made me wish I could do anything, anything at all in my life, as well as he was playing the drums. It absolutely blew me away.
"His showmanship, his technical ability was off the charts from what I was used to seeing and hearing. It was beyond anything I’d experienced so that’s actually what changed the whole thing. Within two weeks of that show I sold all of my bass guitar equipment and bought my first drum kit.”
2. Aerosmith, Aerosmith (1973)
Drummer: Joey Kramer
“When I first sat down to a drum kit, I learned how to play drums using the first Aerosmith record. Obviously not a very complex record, although the guy has a lot of feel and everything, but that was how I learned the basics – when to go to the ride cymbal, just learning the coordination of hands and feet.
"That first Aerosmith record, although not a very typical call for being a drum record, really helped me learn quite a bit. I read his book [Hit Hard] and that was a frustration for him because Steven [Tyler, Aerosmith frontman] is also a drum player and when they began arguably a better drum player and was very much trying to get Joey to play a certain way which was not necessarily in his comfort zone.
"For him to adapt but to keep part of his style intact is exactly what made them very special.”
3. The Police, Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
Drummer: Stewart Copeland
“When I got up to speed a bit with the drums the very first song I actually tried to learn and to be able to play on my own was Message In A Bottle, which was a massive mistake on my part because to play it as it was recorded is probably one of the most difficult drum songs of all time.
"But I think that really helped me because if you can grin and bear through the frustrations of learning something like that, it’s certainly going to help when you try normal songs.
"It’s a great, great song but once you peel back the lyrics and really start to study what’s going on with the drums, the learning curve was immediately 90 degrees straight up. Even at this point in my career after playing now for 21 years, it’s still probably one of the most difficult songs out there, other than maybe Rosanna, from Toto, which I was listening to today.
"I still, god save me, cannot get the shuffle down. My brother bet me, ‘I’ll give you the rest of your life to learn it, if you can play this I’ll give you a million dollars.’ So I’m working on that pretty hard.”
4. Strapping Young Lad, City (1997)
Drummer: Gene Hoglan
“Going back into more hard rock stuff, there was an album called City by Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend’s project after he left Steve Vai. His drummer Gene Hoglan was very influential.
"Gene took funk drum lessons as a kid and what he did, which I really liked and the same thing with me listening to Stewart Copeland and Joey Kramer and those kind of guys, he’d find these influences outside of metal and bring them in.
"So Gene was bringing funk and gospel beats into metal and speeding everything up and he sounded like no other metal drummer out there. I think that really helped the band stand out, so modelling myself after that, I love metal more than anything, but I wanted to be able to offer my metal band a unique take on what a metal drummer could or should be able to do.”
5. Mahavishnu Orchestra, Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
Drummer: Bill Cobham
“A big album for me in understanding how jamming works is Inner Mounting Flame by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Billy Cobham was the drummer on that.
"I followed Billy a little bit, picked up different things and while that kind of thing wasn’t necessarily my style it was great to see someone that masterful at that style and to try to incorporate some of that, to learn some of the things he was doing. [It’s about] thinking about things differently.
"I’ve watched a couple of clinics online and even a show I saw at one point where he came in and sat down at the kit and just decided that night he was going to take one of the toms off, so he’ll just mix things up and go from there.”
6. Megadeth, Peace Sells… But Who's Buying (1986)
Drummer: Gar Samuelson
“Megadeth has always been about the guitars and that’s why I love the band but Gar did have that jazzy feel, especially on the first record, Killing Is My Business, where everything felt like it was just a hair away from running off the tracks. It was just chaos and he had that jazzy style and sped those things way, way up.
"Peace Sells changed the whole game as far as hard rock and metal music goes. To this day I would still consider it to be Bible of all heavy metal. Gar was the guy that really made me think a little bit outside of the box because he was not a typical metal player at the time.
"There was obviously Lars [Ulrich] and Louie [Clemente] from Testament, great double bass chops, Dave Lombardo, really fast double bass stuff, but Gar was the guy shifting it up a little bit.
"I just really liked the idea that even though he was taking a backseat to the guitar players, you couldn’t replace him. He had a very unique sound within the band and so that’s what I’ve always tried to go for myself.”
7. Metallica, And Justice For All (1988)
Drummer: Lars Ulrich
“This changed a lot of things for a lot of people. The drum production was unlike anything that had been heard up until that point and the clarity was unrivalled.
"There were people certainly playing faster and more intricately but most of the time you couldn’t actually hear what the heck they were doing; this was the first time where everything was crystal clear. In fact, I don’t think there has really been that much of a revolutionary change in drum sounds since And Justice For All.
"I don’t think musically it was on par with what Megadeth was doing at the same time with Rust In Peace, but production-wise and drum-wise it was a game changer for everybody in the whole metal scene.
"I know after touring with Lars for years, he was very hands-on, he had a lot to do with that process. Hopefully maybe someday I’ll look back and see one of my albums as a game changer as well but I loved his playing on that record.
"I wanted to mimic that, I would tune my drum heads down as low as they would go, I started taping quarters and fifty cent coins onto bass drums and using plastic beaters to try to get that sound. His playing on that album was fantastic.
"I still listen to it to this day, impressed.”
8. Slayer, South Of Heaven (1988)
Drummer: Dave Lombardo
“I think this was the first time that Slayer had somehow been lassoed a little bit, slowed down and had somebody working with them, Rick Rubin, that they trusted and it wasn’t just the band basically producing their own records.
"The playing was now audible where the previous records all sounded like they had been recorded in somebody’s bathroom - you could tell what was going on but it was very punk rock production. This was the first time they had made a point of making sure that every instrument was very clear and well represented in the mix.
"We spoke about Gar earlier with Megadeth, but Dave was much faster than Gar was. Gar was more purposeful, Dave was more of an animal, incredibly fast double bass. In the previous productions to South Of Heaven you could not tell what was going on, you just heard the rumble, which I loved but I wanted to hear it as a listener.
"I loved the idea of the music being able to create that vibe in the listener - there were these scary interludes they started to introduce on that record and at the same time Dave was ploughing through it with the speed and accuracy that nobody else had at the time.”
9. Motley Crue, Too Fast For Love (1981)
Drummer: Tommy Lee
“Because I didn’t start until I was twenty-one, I didn’t have that teenage hero worship that I think a lot of us do in our teens where we find that one guy that changes the world, but as a kid, growing up listening to stuff, the next one has to be Tommy Lee.
"I think Tommy Lee made hundreds of thousands of people want to play the drums. I’m one of them. Too Fast For Love, their first record, was this sleazy, early punk/metal record that obviously set them apart from a lot of the hair metal stuff that was going on in LA.
"They had the make-up and all that stuff but they were also flirting with these occult references, everything that you want to put out there as far as an image goes to sell to teenage boys.
"With Lamb Of God and Megadeth, you realise that’s who is coming to see us. Motley Crue put out a song called Girls Girls Girls, so we have a song on the road called Dudes Dudes Dudes.
"It’s about life on the road where basically there are never any girls, it’s dudes everywhere – guys at the venue, guys in the dressing room, guys at the hotel, guys at the bar, guys at the gym. That’s our life now.”
10. Pantera, Far Beyond Driven (1994)
Drummer: Vinnie Paul Abbott
“Just being in a band I know how these things go.
"The first record everyone is just trying to play as loud as they can and show off, ‘Hey look at me, look what I can do.’
"The second record hopefully there is a little more money involved, it’s going to sound a little better.
"Your third record, if you get there, is a little bit scary.
"That’s when you have to reinvent yourself because now you’ve fired both rounds of the shotgun, so now what are you going to reload with? I think they learned a lot from those first two records and just delivered the ultimate heavy metal record probably of all time.
"Cowboys From Hell was their weird experiment between this redneck metal and hair metal but it was still really heavy. Vulgar Display was just absolutely devastating, you could tell they were pushing to just be the heaviest thing they could, and then Far Beyond Driven was somewhere in the middle.
"They took a step back, took a deep breath and said, ‘Out of the first two records, let’s pick out the things we did best and let’s do ten of those on this record.’”