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Sweet Feet: Dave Lombardo And Double Bass-Drum Domination

Slayer's Dave Lombardo is destroying a couple of bass drums just out of frame.
Slayer's Dave Lombardo is destroying a couple of bass drums just out of frame.

Forty-seven years ago today, drummer Dave Lombardo was born in Havana, Cuba. Never heard of Dave? That's okay. If you've listened to any heavy metal in the past 25 years, you've definitely heard his influence. Round about the release of Reign In Blood in 1986, Dave Lombardo became the new measuring stick for metal drummers the world over.

The reason was simple: Lombardo played heavier, more aggressively and flat-out faster than pretty much anyone had even conceived of previously. Most ear-popping of all were his trademark machine-gun bass drums.

Hard-rock drummers had been adding a second bass drum to their kits since the '60s, but Lombardo was a different beast altogether. On tracks like "Angel of Death," he rode those pedals like he was Lance Armstrong -- a pure natural that the competition just couldn't catch.

Suddenly, it wasn't good enough to just slap an extra bass drum on your kit if you wanted to play metal. Thanks to Lombardo, you had to be able to kick those suckers like you were starting a fire in your jockeys. But while Lombardo may have elevated double bass to a new prominence in music, he wasn't the first to get sick with the kicks -- or the best.

As with many musical innovations, the story of the double bass-drum set begins not with rock but with jazz. Big-band prodigy Louie Bellson first conceived of a kit with two bass drums while sketching in his high-school art class. By 1946, Bellson was playing a dual-kick set with Duke Ellington, but his double-bass licks were largely limited to his flashy solos.

Swing isn't quite as heavy-footed as, say, grindcore.

It would be a couple of decades before the world was truly ready for huge, heavy bass drum fills. It would be the ultimate hard-rock innovators -- Cream -- who finally brought out the potential of the double-bass setup in rock and roll. When Ginger Baker started blasting out alternating left-right bass drum patterns, particularly in the drum feature "Toad," it blew people's minds.

Before long, heavy drummers like Keith Moon of The Who and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge were adding a second kick to their kits. Moon, in particular, popularized incredibly large, outsized drumsets that came in handy filling up the stage as rock moved into its arena phase. When lame-asses like Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and Peter Criss of KISS added a second bass, it was more for show than musical utility.

By the late '70s, guys like Terry Bozzio from Frank Zappa's band and Neil Peart of Rush were moving a second bass drum away from a novelty toward a fully integrated part of their drumsets. Some of the sickest double-bass drumming, though, was being performed by fusion players. Musicians like Billy Cobham of the Mahavishnu Orchestra seemed to open up another half of their body by adding a second kick drum.

Up until the end of the decade, though, double bass was being used mainly for solos and flourishes, nothing like what kids are practicing with ankle weights in their garage at this very moment. Double-bass sixteenth notes of the kind that would power 1,000 metal songs in the '80s, '90s and beyond didn't exist yet. Then, as if by decree of the devil himself, Motorhead appeared.

 

Motorhead drummer "Philthy Animal" Taylor was simply practicing his newly acquired double-bass kit when his bandmates realized that the simple, alternating stomp could add incredible punch to the kind of uptempo rock tune that sounds great on large quantities of amphetamines. "Overkill" was born, a song that practically initiated speed metal.

The rapid-fire approach caught on with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and one of the first drummers to bring the style across the pond was Metallica's Lars Ulrich. The diminutive Dane gets shit on these days for all sorts of reasons -- many of them deserved. But he was one of the first guys in the thrash-metal scene to adopt the machine-gun bass-drum riffs that became synonymous with the genre in the mid-'80s.

Plus, if you can't bang your head to the breakdown in "One," you've managed to repress yourself in a way we find quite sad and unhealthy. Seek counseling.

Lars was soon overshadowed by the incredible speed and dexterity of Dave Lombardo, and he wasn't alone. As we said, Lombardo became the new measuring stick for metal drummers, and there was no shortage of longhairs ready to take up the challenge. In fact, his game-changing, aggressive style would play a major role in the development of a new kind of music: death metal.

One of the best death-metal drummers ever played a role in tutoring Lombardo in Slayer's early days. Gene Hoglan is a true freak of nature. Standing well more than six feet tall and weighing well more than a metric shit-ton, Hoglan plays some of the fastest double-bass beats imaginable wearing motorcycle boots, and he makes it look effortless.

After beginning his career as a Slayer roadie, Hoglan made quite a rep for himself playing with groups like Death and Strapping Young Lad, but he's perhaps best known these days as the man behind Dethklok's hyperspeed blasts. That's right, you only thought that was a drum machine. He's that good.

Lombardo's influence isn't just limited to speed, though. The power of his playing helped make Slayer one of the heaviest bands of all time. When power-chord riffage is backed by soul-swallowing double-bass licks, the result is sheer musical brutality. Perhaps no one captures this better than Meshuggah's Tomas Haake.

On songs like "New Millenium Cyanide Christ," Haake literally doubles every note that the guitarists play on his bass drums -- no small feat, given Meshuggah's propensity for over-the-bar phrasing. The result is a percussive, polyrhythmic apocalypse that has taken Lombardo's ball and run away with it.

So, happy 47th birthday Dave. Thirty-plus years into your career, you can sit contented in the knowledge that your groundbreaking style has pushed metal (and rock as a whole) in a direction that even you couldn't have foreseen.

Slay on, sir. And whatever you do, don't slow down.


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