The Return Of Dave Lombardo

My favourite rock drummer is, without question, Dave Lombardo.

He is quite the versatile musician; collaborations with the outstanding composer and jazz artist John Zorn, the experimental group Fantomas and the 1999 album, ‘Vivaldi: The Meeting’ by Lorenzo Arruga, Dave Lombardo & Friends (Luca Avanzi (oboe), Mauro Scappini (flute) and Ottavio Dantone (harpsichord)) clearly showcase his multitalented abilities. Lombardo also formed his own group called Grip Inc. who released four albums from 1995 to 2004.

However, the musical faction that he is most famously, or should that be infamously, associated with is the thrash-metal group Slayer. Even now after approximately 23 years of recorded output, and in their mid-forties, Slayer remain continually extreme in music, lyrics and sound and will never be considered palatable within the everyday thinking of mainstream music.

What Slayer does with thrash-metal, is the same thing that AC/DC do to hard rock – where you get relentless, technical consistency and little deviation from a passionately winning musical formula. Slayer’s music is the distilled fusion of pile-driver heavy-rock driven by the ferocious speed of punk. Apparently, to their initial bemusement and subsequent approval; ‘Raining Blood’ from ‘Reign In Blood’ was covered by the piano-playing singer-songwriter Tori Amos for her conceptual covers album ‘Strange Little Girls’ in 2001 - for basic details, use this link as a starting point:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_Little_Girls.

Slayer’s music is routinely derided as too extreme to be taken seriously and is thus dismissed by the majority of conservative music listeners. Additionally, their finest album, ‘Reign In Blood’ is sometimes found in unlikely music collections, where its inclusion is usually a hackneyed attempt to show-off without really appreciating it – as an isolated example of ‘extreme’ music like Stockhausen or Ligeti. This kind of behaviour is usually nothing more than an arbitrary bit of tokenism amongst a sea of musical mediocrity.

At a recent hi-fi show I was having an entertaining conversation with exhibitor Phil Tindale of Tindale Marketing, about the music he uses to purge people out of the demo room so others waiting outside can take their turn. And he said his preferred method was ‘Je t'aime…’ by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg as that usually cleared a room pretty fast. In reply I said ‘Reign In Blood’ by Slayer always works at parties when I want to get-rid of certain people...

Around a million or so fans including myself however really enjoy listening to Slayer’s particular method-in-the-madness of precision-tight musicianship and ridiculously exciting delivery. Unlike most of their die-hard devotees though, I do not head-bang, or have long hair, or even a mullet hairstyle; I don’t have any tattoos either or ride a proper motorcycle - the ones that are dirty, oily & blackened, and without a hint of middle-aged, male-menopause shiny chrome in sight.

However, though I am missing these traditional thrash-metal accoutrements, I nonetheless liken the music on the finest Slayer albums to a life-affirming and unselfconsciously thrilling shot of adrenaline straight into the primordial vein of the human psyche - and believe it or not, I know some non-tattooed females who also like Slayer for the same reasons.

Slayer is ......

controversial and continues to be topical within their song lyrics. I am not interested in regurgitating these issues here as they have been extensively documented elsewhere for about twenty years now. However, an initial research pointer, if you are interested in the band and/or their controversy, is via this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slayer where you can also find biographical information regarding the multicultural background of the band members and specific album details including ‘Reign In Blood’ and the latest ‘Christ Illusion’.

In the Saturday Magazine supplement from The Times, published on September 23rd 2006, Amber Cowan interviewed the band and here is an excerpt:

“…Slayer are the first to admit that they are not quite as nasty as their lyrics suggest. While their music may have the highest body count in metal, off stage they are just four middle-aged men with happy marriages and children. (Tom) Araya believes in God, while the guitarist Kerry King has enjoyed a successful career as a breeder of prize-winning akita dogs. “…We just like to sing about dark stuff because that’s more interesting,” says the 42-year-old guitarist Jeff Hanneman. “Anyone who knows us knows we’re not evil. We don’t go around kicking over baby carriages.

Use this link:

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14932-2365231.html to read the complete Times article.

‘Reign In Blood’

1986 I stayed away from ‘Reign In Blood’ for four years until 1990 when I finally listened to its entirety consisting of ten tracks and about 29 blisteringly fast minutes. I had avoided it for so long because everyone and their mother sexed-it-up as the ‘heaviest’ album in the world, etc. And as such, I found these accolades and the trite, mascot-like popularity heaped on it by the bandwagon jumpers to be really off-putting.

Signed to the hugely successful and influential rap music label Def Jam, (which later split into two, where Slayer went with the Def American splinter, which has itself subsequently become American Recordings), ‘Reign In Blood’ was Slayer’s dramatic result. It was produced by the brilliant and versatile Rick Rubin (and Slayer) who has worked with so many great groups and artists; notably for me, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash and Danzig (Glen Danzig was formerly vocalist with the punk group Misfits). And as a result, ‘Reign In Blood’ has a superbly clear and free-flowing sound-quality that remains just as fresh and powerfully dynamic today.

Thus, the blueprint of hyper-tempos; the screaming, growling vocals of singer and bassist Tom Araya; the crunching and rhythmical high-speed guitar assault of main songwriters Kerry King & Jeff Hanneman, and the peerless rock drumming of Dave Lombardo combined with a Rick Rubin production is distilled thrash-metal perfection.

What attracted me most to ‘Reign In Blood’ however was not just the sheer hyper-energised thrill of these pieces, most of which are only about two minutes long, but it was of course the maniacally-driven rhythm-thrust of the drumming by Lombardo; who as a musician, at his best, can literally take your breath away with his speed, technique and fantastic, well-rounded drum tone. When Lombardo plays you instantly know it is the quintessence of what makes rock & roll alive, anti-establishment and exciting – and it is attributable to both Slayer’s strength and weakness where their extremely aggressive music has made it difficult for mainstream audiences and critics to really appreciate his ability.

It isn’t just the superhuman speed that Lombardo exorcises from his Tama drum kit but also the deep timbral power he generates. While trying to keep up with his ferocious speed, and after a few listens, you can also discern the skill and three-dimensional timbre from the drum tracks within songs like ‘Angel Of Death’, ‘Piece By Piece’ and ‘Raining Blood’. Thus, the drum-fills are deep yet extremely tight; never plodding or boringly repetitive.

Even high-frequency cymbal textures from the opening of ‘Criminally Insane’, in the middle of ‘Jesus Saves’, during ‘Epidemic’ and on ‘Angel Of Death’ are used to create stunning timbral contrasts which embody deft tonal shading that enhances the brute aggression by lifting the emphasis of an already adrenaline-fuelled piece to another, more sophisticated level of musicianship.

‘Christ Illusion’ 2006

After their superb ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ album in 1990, Lombardo left Slayer and concentrated on his various other musical projects. And now in 2006, after some Slayer live concerts, he is back with his old cohorts on their new studio release ‘Christ Illusion’ which is a ferocious album and at ten tracks and around 35 minutes long, it is a short, sharp and disciplined one also. Lombardo’s drumming skill has not diminished in the last twenty years and really lifts the spirit of the music.

The controversy-baiting lyrics remain incisive and clever; they are even sharper now and just as focussed on world current affairs. ‘Christ Illusion’ is an almost perfect Slayer album in that it features Araya on bass and vocals, King & Hanneman on guitars, Lombardo on drums and the bleak cover artwork of Larry Carroll. There are also precision power chords & pristine riffs as well as some clever new guitar textures which means it isn’t a carbon copy of their older works; however Rick Rubin is credited as being only executive producer this time around.

A great Slayer album will always embody the true spirit of rock music - where their thrilling, extreme and thought-provoking delivery still has the power to annoy almost any parent, at any age – which is always a good thing.

Epilogue

Hi. I'm Tony Andrews and I am Contributing Editor / Jazz here. I hope you found the above interesting. If you want anything jazz-related published here (free of charge) then please email me at tonya.balgores@talktalk.net and/or you can leave a message on +44(0) 7734 816 345 and I'll see if it fits.  Thank you.