Thomas Lang, Mark Zonder, Bobby Jarzombek

Three metal and session powerhouses serve up a drumming feast on the revered prog duo’s newest effort.

Winter EtherealIn 1982, along with guitarist Victor Arduini, bassist Joe DiBiase, and drummer Steve Zimmerman, vocalist John Arch and guitarist Jim Matheos cofounded the venerated prog-metal group Fates Warning. And although the band enjoyed success and established their rightful place among other genre heavyweights such as Dream Theater and Queensrÿche throughout the ensuing years, Arch parted ways with the group in 1987.

In 2010, Arch and Matheos reunited under the Arch/Matheos moniker for their debut record, Sympathetic Resonance. And this past May 10, the duo released their explosive second full-length, Winter Ethereal. For the effort, the two recruited three drummers: previous Fates Warning collaborators Bobby Jarzombek and Mark Zonder, and the monster player and educator Thomas Lang.

Each drummer on Winter Ethereal received stems, click tracks, and suggested programmed drums from Matheos. And from their own home studios—and drawing from their past experience—the three worked on their tunes separately with Matheos and Arch to create an album stuffed with blistering yet carefully placed chops, tasty personal takes on the duo’s material, and a veritable heap of prog-drumming bliss. We spoke to Jarzombek, Zonder, and Lang about their contributions.

MD: What was the recording process like for Winter Ethereal?

Mark: Since I’ve worked with Jim for years in Fates Warning and other side projects, it was like going home. Jim is very organized, and all the files he sent loaded perfectly. I’d work up a part and send him an MP3 to check out. He’d have a couple small fixes, and that was it.

Bobby: I recorded “Wrath of the Universe” and “Straight and Narrow.” Being that “Wrath” is over eight minutes long, I probably spent two weeks creating the parts. Jim and I went back and forth with the sections until everything was good. The verses were interesting because they’re lengthy. I demoed six different ideas for the verses, and Jim placed them how he wanted within those sections.

MD: How did you approach your parts?

Bobby: After working on two Fates Warning albums and Sympathetic Resonance, I’m used to how Jim works. Depending on what I’m hearing with his drum programming, I either stay close to his ideas or try something different. But it’s up to Jim whether my parts work.

Thomas: The songs are very well composed, very riff-driven and melodic, and they immediately inspired specific ideas. I like to record full takes of songs to create a fl ow that feels organic. I usually play along to the song several times and jam over it along with any demo drum programming. I record these jams, listen back to my spontaneous ideas, and select the ones that I think are appropriate. Especially with progressive music, I think it’s important not to overthink parts on paper before recording. Whenever I do that, the parts may be more complex and impressive drumming-wise, but they often feel detached from the music. When I listen back to my first instinctive ideas, I find that the parts sound more emotional and more like they were created together with the band as if we’d been in the same room writing the material.

MD: Were there any influences you had in mind when recording?

Bobby: When Jim sent me the song “Straight and Narrow,” to me the drum intro he programmed was reminiscent of “Exciter” by Judas Priest. Of course, Les Binks was amazing on that classic. I thought that was interesting, so I did my own take on that and busied it up a little with occasional triplet flurries on the bass drums and toms. We released a video for “Straight and Narrow,” but I haven’t seen any comments about any “Exciter” comparisons. So maybe it was just me who heard it that way. [laughs]

Thomas: I only let myself be influenced by the music, the vibe and energy of the songs, and the programed drum demo. I do have a specific sound in mind, though, which may be inspired by a recording of another drummer who I admire. In this case I went for a classic rock sound, hopefully reminiscent of Cozy Powell, Tommy Aldridge, and Bill Ward, all with a twenty-first century approach.

MD: What do you practice for technique to play this material?

Mark: I practice groupings of three and four with one foot. I try to get away from double bass as much as possible, as I love the hi-hat and don’t want to sacrifice it. I’ve found many ways to use one foot playing three or four 16th notes while incorporating the toms to give it that thunderous sound that two kicks give.

Thomas: I try to keep my hands and feet nimble and able to execute more demanding drum parts like these by practicing standard hand and foot exercises and rudiments. The challenges with this kind of material are not physical or technical for me—it’s more about knowing the material and remembering parts and arrangements. I’ve learned to navigate these kinds of songs efficiently by transcribing key sections and making charts. Take your time with the material, be creative, and infuse the songs with your personality and energy.

Bobby Jarzombek endorses DW, Paiste, Evans, Vic Firth, Kelly SHU, and Samson Technologies products.

Thomas Lang endorses DW, Meinl, Vic Firth, Remo, Audix, Roland, and Ahead Armor gear.

Mark Zonder endorses DW, Zildjian, Remo, Vater, Lauten Audio, Steinberg, Own Fidelity, and Eventide equipment.

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