Chris Adler


Known for his extraordinary skill, surgical precision and relentless speed, Chris Adler has been driving the songs of the Grammy-nominated heavy metal band, Lamb of God, for two decades. An artist who grew up in a very musical household, Adler studied as a singer, pianist, saxophonist, violinist, guitarist and bassist—all before the age of 21, and all before he ever sat behind his first drum set.

“I went and saw a band called Wrathchild America play in Baltimore …” says Adler, recalling the first time he was inspired to pick up a pair of sticks. “I was playing bass at the time … and I saw Shannon Larkin play the drums … I realized that I couldn’t do anything in my life as well as this guy was playing the drums, and I just wanted to stop pretending with all this other stuff and learn how to do what he was doing.” He continues, “For me, there’s a lot more freedom in drums … the idea of really being able to release a lot of the energy inside me into an instrument that provided that same kind of energy for somebody else was really very appealing. And I got to hit stuff.”

While many players start their training relatively early, Adler believes that beginning his drum career somewhat late offered certain advantages. “There’s kind of this—I think, in most teenagers’ lives—there’s this kind of ‘hero worship’ period … for me, during those kind of ‘hero’ times, I was a guitar freak. I was listening to Yngwie Malmsteen, all the Megadeth stuff, all the shredder guitar players … [and so, when I started drumming] at 21, that period of my life was gone. So I didn’t have this ‘hero worship’—there wasn’t one drummer that I wanted to be like, I was listening to all kinds of different music. The first song I ever tried to learn on drums was ‘Message in a Bottle’ by The Police—and I was a huge metalhead at the time, but I knew that Stewart Copeland was a very special drummer … I wanted to have a voice like that, where the drummer was [as] important as the singer, as the guitar player, as the bass player. I wanted to be able to offer something more than just a backbeat to a shredding guitar player.”

Adler certainly does offer far more than your average backbeat, though he asserts that the aggressive and complex writing affords him a place of relaxation. “A lot of my playing is, I guess what some people might call technical, or fast, or something like that, but to me, it’s very much a Zen moment … it’s the only time in the day where I can turn off everything else … it’s almost like meditation,” he says. “I’m totally lost and at peace with myself, and I only really get that during those, you know, 90 minutes, two hours that we get to play everyday.”

Since 2004, Adler has endorsed Mapex drums—a relationship that began with a simple invitation to visit the company’s Nashville warehouse. “I went in, met a guy named Joe Hibbs who sent me upstairs in the warehouse and said, ‘Open up whatever you want, just jam it out and see what you like,’” says Adler. “There was something called a Deep Forest kit, and it said ‘walnut,’ and I had never heard of walnut being used in drums before—it’s always maple … out of the box, with no tuning whatsoever, this thing sounded amazing. It was, by far, the best-sounding drum kit that I’d ever played … Joe just said, ‘Hey, you know what? Take it. Try it out, and let’s keep in touch … you don’t have to burn any bridges yet. [Let’s just] see what happens.’ At the same time, we were just offered Ozzfest 2004, and it was a co-headlining slot … it was Hatebreed, us and Slipknot … and several of the drum techs—including Joey from Slipknot at the time—came up and said, ‘What is with this drum kit? What is going on? Obviously, you have no idea what you’re doing, putting it together, so who makes this drum kit? Where did this come from?’ So that’s kind of when I knew that I had picked the right kit.”

Nowadays, Adler’s kit of choice is the Mapex Saturn—a kit that blends maple with Adler’s preferred tonewood, walnut. “What I love about the Saturn kit, and the sizes that I use, because it includes that walnut wood, the tonality is very dark—you can tune down the drums very far without it being, kind of, just that papery drum head sound. They still hold a tone at a very, kind of low pitch, which for me, and what I’m doing in metal, is great. They’re also very fast … I’ve found that the Saturn kit, with that walnut wood in it, is capable of producing really quick, really dark notes all the way around, without kind of overloading the whole band.”

A unique ingredient to Adler’s kit is his signature 12-inch snare drum, which he developed with Mapex. “[My snare] is pretty unusual. A lot of gospel players use [a 12-inch snare], but I really like the sound and pitch that a 12-inch can [produce], that even a piccolo—or certainly a 14 can’t do. And we did a custom one with Mapex—again, it’s a walnut drum … [and] all the big tours that we do, everybody comes to check out this snare. It’s the loudest thing in the building—most of the time, our tour sound guy doesn’t even turn the mics on. It’ll just ring throughout the whole building all night.”

Lamb of God formed in 1994, and have since released seven studio albums, received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance, and toured with such acts as Slayer, Korn, Mastodon, Megadeth and Metallica. But according to Adler, the goal is to always keep moving forward. “I put all that stuff—all of the awards that I have, and magazine covers and all that stuff—it’s all in a box in my basement. ’Cause I don’t really want any of that stuff up in my house to remind me of any kind of success. I really want to continue pushing, and to continue feeling hungry to be better than what I am.” He adds, “One of the things that I’ll always remember was we played a club in New York City called CBGB’s, and that, to me at the time, was the greatest thing that a band like us could ever possibly do … still, to this day, even though we’ve played enormous stadiums all around the world, that was a very, very special moment.”

And as any player who’s spent even a small amount of time behind the kit knows, drumming is a skill that requires persistence, dedication, and most importantly, time—something for which today’s world of instant gratification may not have the patience. According to Adler, it’s worth it. “Drums especially, it’s really very hard because you’re going to loudly suck for a very long time, and a lot of people are going to know that you are terrible at your instrument,” says Adler. “So it’s tough to go down that road with drums. But for me, that was certainly a hurdle, and it was frustrating at times, but the reason I didn’t give up was because I loved it. I loved playing—I didn’t like messing up or sounding like crap—I loved the challenge of messing up and pushing myself in that direction … [it can] be frustrating, but because you love it, you don’t turn your back on it, you just keep trying … my advice to anybody is, on any instrument, you know, try a few, find the one that makes you feel like you’re able to express yourself, and you’ll fall in love with that feeling and you won’t stop.”

Written by Brian Ruppenkamp / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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