Dave Lombardo: Metal And The Unconscious State

by Ken Micallef

When it comes to recording, sometimes less is more. And sometimes, less results in an out-of-body experience. That was the case for Dave Lombardo when recording Slayer’s new album, World Painted Blood. Paring back his Tama Artstar Custom set from eight to six toms (with his ubiquitous double bass drums below), Lombardo found childlike inspiration.

“Whenever I play my son’s five-piece kit,” he says, “I find myself being more creative with fewer drums. With minimalism you create things that you wouldn’t think of otherwise. So I removed my biggest and smallest rack toms. With the 15″ rack tom gone I could add more cymbals. I was so used to having those two toms, especially for my rolls from the 15″ tom to the 20″ floor tom. I had to think of other ways to work around the set. I found a whole different approach to the songs.”

And with more cymbals to play with, typically bashing a ninefold setup for every song, Lombardo found he could explore what jazz great Art Blakey meant when he said, “I hear violins in my cymbals.” Advertisement

drummer Dave Lombardo
“I really took Art Blakey’s comment to heart,” Lombardo says. “I used to always go to the same Paiste crash/ride for certain parts, but it wasn’t diverse enough. Even though the music we recorded for the new album was changing, the drums were staying the same. Cymbals give things a different dimension when you move from one to the other. So I would play four beats of one rhythm on one of the Rude cymbals, for example, then four of the same rhythm on a Reflector cymbal, but maybe with a different velocity. Playing with a more textural approach helped this record a lot.”

One aspect of Lombardo’s playing that’s seemingly beyond simple physical control is his propensity to literally lose his mind during exceptionally long roll patterns. He can’t control or predict when they will occur, but he’s increasingly enamored of his out-of-body drumming experiences.

“It happens when I’m engulfed in the drums,” Lombardo says. “My hands feel so connected with the drumsticks that the wood and I become one. First, I am hypnotized by the rhythm or by a really fast beat. It could be the endorphins that are released in the brain. Once I get into the beat, I go into this roll and I don’t know where it comes from. I’ll start it in an unusual place, and the band knows Dave is starting one of those weird rolls. I’ll go nuts, go everywhere on the kit. The band is praying I come down on the 1, and I always do. I get into this trancelike or hypnotic state. And I always wonder afterward, What did I just do? That was amazing. What is it? I’ll never know what it is. Advertisement

“I really can’t explain it,” Lombardo continues. “Maybe a professional will have to come in and say, ‘Dave, you are obviously feeling things behind the drums that most people don’t.’ It’s either out of body or I just become unconscious behind the drums. But everything goes blank. And the drumming is different, it’s not what I play in a conscious state. I know it comes from one of those experiences.”