Dave Lombardo

Dave Lombardo needs no introduction. His reputation as a drum innovator and musical bellwether is unsurpassed. Whether it was his decades-long tenure with thrash metal titans Slayer, his four-album stint with influential experimentalists Fantômas, or his work with prestigious composer/saxophonist John Zorn, Lombardo’s passion for, and spiritual connection to, sound transcends all boundaries. His long-awaited solo album Rites of Percussion is instinctual and cinematic. It’s not entirely a drum album, but it’s a drum album, the culmination of Lombardo’s experience, ambition, and tenacity.

“The songs on this album invoke imagery,” says Lombardo. “I write from wherever my mind travels. I write how I think. I want the songs to conjure emotion. There are no lyrics, but there are many levels of intensity. In a way, I think I’ve found a hidden talent. That is, taking mental images and putting those images to music.”

Born in Havana, Cuba, Lombardo’s ear for music developed at an early age. He was as fascinated by Santana and Tito Puente as he was by Led Zeppelin and KISS. Like all teenagers eager to make their mark, Lombardo formed several rock bands before co-founding Slayer in 1981. The rest, they say, is history. Not only did he reshape the landscape of heavy metal drumming during his tenure in Slayer, but he also dared to brave a wider musical world when not behind the kit as “the godfather of double bass.”

Throughout Lombardo’s 40-year career, he’s been foundational to, performed with, and been respected by artists from all walks of musical life. His stretches with Fantômas, Suicidal Tendencies, Testament, The Misfits, Grip Inc., Mr. Bungle, Dead Cross, and recently Venamoris (with his wife Paula) have earned him accolades. Certainly, the Recording Academy has also recognized Lombardo, awarding him two GRAMMY-Award wins and four nominations. Finally, Lombardo has Rites of Percussion, an expression entirely of his own vision and design.

“It’s a combination of improvisational and composed music,” he says. “My ideas start freeform and as I develop them, they seemingly take on a life of their own. During the writing process for Rites of Percussion, everything developed slowly with layered instrumentation until I had a song that, in essence, spoke to me.”

Lombardo’s heavy metal criticality is also complemented by his innate curiosity for sound. In 1999, he partnered with Italian classical musician Lorenzo Arruga. He appeared on two critically-acclaimed John Zorn albums, Taboo & Exile (1999) and Xu Feng (2000). He was featured as a co-conspirator with experimental hip-hop artist DJ Spooky on Drums of Death (2005). And he collaborated with visual artists SceneFour on an art exhibition called “Rhythm Mysterium,” unveiled at the Outré Galleries in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, in 2015. Between creative stints in music, film, and television, he authored Power Grooves (1999) and LOMBARDO (2016), the latter the physical manifestation of his “Rhythm Mysterium” performance. In a way, Rites of Percussion is the logical vector to all of this, but it wasn’t predicated on any of it.
“[Mike] Patton originally gave me the idea as far back as 1998,” explains Lombardo. “He introduced me to Tito Puente’s Top Percussion album. I was already familiar with Tito and was a bit shocked that Patton was so musically diverse, and that he surrounded himself with musicians of the same mindset. That inspired me. I have had ideas that I’ve recorded on cassette over the years, but Patton kept insisting that I had to do a ‘drum album.’ So, the idea behind the album is years in the making. I just had to find the right time—for me—to do it.”

In 2018, Lombardo eventually came around to what would be the spark that lit the fire of Rites of Percussion. In his home set up, he built a studio with two very different rooms, one soundproof (“very dead,” he says) and one roomy and ambient, a love letter to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. As much as the pandemic hindered everyone, he found the downtime intensely productive. With two drum sets (single and double bass kits), a large concert bass drum, a timpani, a grand piano, and a flock of shakers, maracas, Chinese and symphonic gongs, Native American drums, congas, timbales, bongos, batás, wood blocks, djembes, ibos, darbukas, octobans, cajóns, and cymbals, he set to work on Rites of Percussion.

“When the pandemic hit, I thought, ‘Well, I can’t tour now,’“ he says. “I immediately started working on the record. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I had my studio, all my drums. Nothing was in storage for once! My home became a place where I could be free and creative. On the one hand, the touring part of my livelihood had been taken away, but on the other, I finally had the time to educate myself on different software and recording techniques. It was a very educational and gratifying experience.”

Rites of Percussion was recorded at Lombardo’s home and Studio 606 between 2020 and 2021. The recording process of the film score-like album had a simple mantra: drums had to be drums. It was mixed in early 2022 by Lombardo’s son David A. Lombardo, who also does sound engineering and design for the television and movie industries. The mastering of Rites of Percussion was handled by studio wizard John Golden at Golden Mastering (Melvins, Mike Patton).

“I recorded the majority at home,” says Lombardo. “Some of the overdubs were recorded at Studio 606. The piano piece, kettledrums, some drum set overdubs, concert bass drum overdubs— anything that I felt needed more depth—were done there. I wanted the drums to be drums. I’m anti-quantization. It’s an absolute turn-off when I hear processed, sterile drums. When there’s no dynamic or variation in intensity, it doesn’t speak to me.”

Rites of Percussion is a 13-song, 35-minute mind’s-eye reflection artfully crafted into wild rhythms, electrifying vibrations, and mesmeric soundscapes. In a way, it’s humbly of the same lineage as Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, Tito Puente’s Top Percussion, and childhood favorite “Bonzo’s Montreux” by John Bonham. But it’s all distinctly Lombardo. Songs like “Initiatory Madness,” “Inner Sanctum,” “Maunder in Liminality,” and “Omiero” have a suspenseful air yet are always rife with expressive possibility. They’re verifiably kinetic.

“So much music has moved me over the years,” he says. “Specifically, I was very inspired by albums like The Best of Irakere, Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Music of Haitian Vodou, Raul J. Canizares’ Sacred Sounds of Santeria and Yoruba Drums from Benin, West Africa. When the spiritual state of mind meets rhythm, it feels much deeper than just a beat. It taps into the very core of us.”

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