Review: Dave Lombardo ‘Rites Of Percussion’

Good things being borne out of the COVID lockdown has been a bit of a recurring theme in some of the albums I’ve reviewed recently and it was indeed the thing that spurred thrash metal legend and the godfather of double bass himself to finally get to grips with a solo album – an idea he’d had floating around for years: ‘When the pandemic hit, I thought, ‘Well, I can’t tour now. I immediately started working on the record’ he explains.

Dave Lombardo 'Rites of Percussion'
Dave Lombardo ‘Rites of Percussion’ Artwork

As a drummer myself, I grew up on Lombardo and was listening to tons of Slayer when I first started playing, so naturally, he’s been my biggest influence over the years. I immediately started flailing about and trying to play as fast as possible with varying degrees of success and though I recognised his speed and power, I didn’t really notice the flair and subtle touches that have always been there if you look for them. On Rites Of Percussion, Dave Lombardo has set about harnessing these touches, throwing all his creative energy into what feels like an album that’s been begging to be made for a long time.

OK disclaimer time. I’m mostly a kit-only player with a limited knowledge of percussion, but if you’re more well up, alongside the two kits on this album, you’ll pick out everything from shakers, maracas and congas to the more exotic timbales to djembes and darbukas, and of course a couple of mighty gongs. Please excuse my inability to identify them all!

Initiatory Madness sets the whole thing off in an ominous, rather than bombastic style – an atmospheric intro giving way to Lombardo testing his toms out before dropping into a beat. It doesn’t take long before the reverb and multi-tracking kicks in, with some trademark lightening tom rolls interspersed with more percussive workouts and precision snare-work. Clearly then, this is an album for drummers and not a thrash-by-numbers supergroup outing to please metal fans. Indeed, Separation From The Sacred continues in a similar vein, proving that this is a drum album with a capital D, though still leaving time for a little burst of almost Squarepusher-esque jarring electro towards the end – a hint of what’s to follow? Unsurprisingly not a Celtic Frost cover, Inner Sanctum brings more beats and more menace too, with some of the backing tracks reminiscent of Mr. Bungle and Fantômas.

Journey Of The Host starts with a beat, soon overlaid with congas or timbales and some of Lombardo’s trademark snare-cymbal-snare-cymbal fills before dropping into a jazzy groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on Lalo Schifrin’s Dirty Harry Soundtrack. Indeed, a few of the tracks on this album bring that composer to mind and more precisely, the stick work of LA session great John Guerin. Schifrin was never shy of using drums prominently and musically in his scores. Similarly, there’s a touch of John Carpenter Band’s most recent work too – perhaps when things are a little more laid-back. Lombardo also finds time to throw in some more of his signature kit-only fills into the track, making it one of my favourites.

a thoughtful and imaginative instrumental album full of atmosphere and inventive composition…

Maunder In Liminality continues the cinematic vibe, creating a deep jungle soundscape. But just before things get too ‘80s film soundtrack and The Predator pops up to blow a hole through Jesse Ventura, a beat and some brooding synth emerge, along with numerous percussive tracks to give it some real depth. Despojo is heavy on the reverb, giving Lombardo time to concentrate on some kit work, and though the synth is still present, it takes on a more electro path as he himself turns his attention to the snare drum, and to devastating effect.

Widely regarded as the greatest thrash drummer of all time, Lombardo is a busy journeyman – plying his trade in other leading lights of the genre such as Suicidal Tendencies and Testament, as well as Misfits, Dead Cross, Mr. Bungle and Fantômas. It’s in the latter that we perhaps first got wind of his versatility as a musician – that band’s film score-centric work is an influence that I think resonates in some of this album’s most atmospheric and ambient tracks. It’s an aspect of this record that really comes to the fore on one of my favourites, Interfearium, which holds an ambient menace throughout, as well as some nice piano flourishes. In contrast, the brief Blood Let is the only track on the album that relies solely on percussion, giving Dave some space to concentrate on his extra instruments.

As you might imagine, the drumming on Warpath is pretty tribal, complemented by some tasteful synth to boot. Guerrero continues this theme with an appropriately Mexican feel, while Vicissitude brings things back a more electro vibe in places while showcasing more of Lombardo’s impressive array of percussive instruments. Closing track Animismo has a truly epic feel and appropriately, there’s a real sense of all the album’s previous elements being drawn together, as percussion clatters and synth hums away under what has to be a conscious nod to the memorable bass drum/tom work of the Hell Awaits intro. There are more jazz touches too, before things are drawn to a close with a flurry of shakers.

Rites Of Percussion isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, but it’s far from a vanity project. What it is, is a thoughtful and imaginative instrumental album full of atmosphere and inventive composition.

Label: Ipecac Recordings
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Scribed by: Simon Brotherton