By marrying the syncopated swagger of Steve Gadd and other non-metal drummers to his uniquely staggered double bass passages and dual-ride flourishes, Hoglan introduced into metal a certain ebb-and-flow type of playing that strayed from the beaten path. His approach launched a new style of drumming that was technically demanding yet hypnotically musical.
Hoglan first caught the attention of those within the metal scene in 1986, with the L.A. thrash band Dark Angel. When he joined Death in 1993, the pioneering group had begun morphing into a more technical thrash band with smatterings of jazz in its compositions. This allowed Hoglan the opportunity to stretch beyond his metal roots. By the time Death released Symbolic in 1995, Hoglan was not only sending all the in-the-know metal drummers back to the woodshed, he was inspiring many young metalheads to expand their musical palette.
“I was so impressed with Gene’s use of multiple ride cymbals on Symbolic,” Lamb of God’s Chris Adler recalls. “That remains one of my favorite metal records. It symbolized where I wanted to go as a drummer. Gene brought a capability that showed the band could not have existed the same way without him. His playing was as important as any of the guitar riffs. It wasn’t straightforward, but it also wasn’t progressive to the point of being beyond a developing drummer’s ability to grasp. Gene wasn’t trying to show off to the point where you couldn’t bang your head to the music.”
For almost thirty years now, Hoglan, or “the Atomic Clock,” as he’s known, has been playing nonstop, either as an active member of multiple bands at once or as a session player and touring fill-in. Job for a Cowboy drummer Jon “the Charn” Rice was only a year old when Dark Angel came on the scene; the now-twenty-five-year-old extreme metal drummer recounts how he first got into Hoglan’s artistry while in high school. “After I heard Death’s Individual Thought Patterns,” Rice says, “I was hooked on Gene’s playing—his style, relaxed sound, and creativity. From there I sought out other records that he played on. This really helped me to appreciate why he is so deeply respected in the metal and extreme metal drumming communities.”
In the studio, where time is always of the essence, Hoglan earned a reputation for learning songs and coming up with drum parts on the spot and then nailing them in one or two takes. His elephant-like memory and ability to execute complex compositions with mind-boggling precision has translated into countless subbing spots for touring bands. When a group hires the Atomic Clock, it’s with the utmost confidence that even with only a few days’ notice, he can come into the situation with little or no rehearsal time and play a flawless set.
“I really enjoyed hearing about Gene being an incredible fill-in drummer,” Rice says. “His ability to learn an entire band’s set list in virtually no time at all is something I try to emulate when I do fill-in work. I’ve had the opportunity to be a touring and session drummer with a few bands that I’ve looked up to for a long time. I always try to fulfill the consistency, quickness to learn, and adaptability that Hoglan has displayed over his entire career. I hope that one day I can have even half of the rapport and demand that he has in the industry.”
Though the extreme nature of much of Hoglan’s work prevents it from crossing over, the bands Strapping Young Lad and Dethklok have introduced the drummer’s mastery to significant audiences. This is especially true of Dethklok, whose albums have broken Billboard records with no small amount of help from the animated TV series Metalocalypse, which features its music.
In Strapping Young Lad, Hoglan’s creativity and intensity caught the attention of notable drummers from outside metal. During a recent interview with MD, Gene recalled a story about how he was surprised to hear that fusion great and fellow Pearl drum endorser Dennis Chambers was a big fan of his playing on the band’s records. Chambers subsequently invited Hoglan to one of his clinics so they could meet afterward and talk drums.
Hoglan’s influence has also been recognized by one of the most influential metal drummers of all time, Bill Ward of Black Sabbath, who dubbed Gene “the new John Bonham—the leading light of a new generation.” It’s no small thing when a list of musicians like Bill Ward, Dennis Chambers, Chris Adler, and Jon Rice, who represent four distinct generations of drummers, show such respect for a fellow player. Perhaps what they all share is the recognition that Hoglan has always stayed true to himself musically and achieved success with his integrity intact. Chris Adler might put it best: “Gene’s always been more dedicated to the instrument than the industry.”
“In the backstage circles, everybody knew Gene—what bands he was playing with, what record he had just put out, because it was something we would all be looking forward to checking out and learning from.” —Chris Adler