Dave Lombardo “Rites Of Percussion” Album Review: 13 Tracks Of Rhythmic Ferocity!

Rites of Percussion
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The New “Rites Of Percussion” Album by ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo is dropping on May 5th. How exactly does a drummer release a “solo” album? Today we go over this incredible project, and dive into Dave’s lengthy history.

Rites of Percussion: A Little Background…

At this point, Dave Lombardo is Heavy Metal royalty. Most of us metal-heads know him from being the driving force behind the infamous Slayer. In fact, it was Dave that started the band with Kerry King, and the rest is thrash-metal history.

Dave Lombardo was born in Cuba, and his family immigrated to South Gate, California in 1967. Dave took immediate interest in percussion, playing bongos along to Santana when he was only 8 years old. He would go on to join marching band in high school, where he learned the fundamentals of drumming.

But it was during his high school talent show that he discovered rock music. He said they “brought the house down” playing Chuck Berry, with a drum solo by Lombardo to wrap up the show. It was then, that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He was going to be a drummer in a band.

Like most kids in high school that decide to take this route, you can imagine his parents were not so happy about their son joining a band. They threatened him with military school, but finally relented, asking him to at least graduate before he planned to hit the road. It was time to get a band together.

Lombardo then met Kerry King through mutual friends, and invited King over to jam. The two had a lot in common when it came to influences, and once Jeff Hanneman and Tom Araya joined the group, Slayer was formed. Lombardo drew the Slayer logo, and the band was on board for just about anything.

But things were often rocky when it came to Slayer. The band’s debut wasn’t bringing in enough money to cover the bills. Lombardo quit several times, but Rick Rubin got him back in the studio to record with Slayer for the thrash-metal classics “Seasons In The Abyss” and “South Of Heaven“.

Rick Rubin knew that Lombardo was a massive part of the Slayer sound, but touring schedules often clashed with Dave’s family functions. He was even asked to miss the birth of his child once, which lead to quitting Slayer again in 1992. By then, Lombardo had options when it came to bands, and side projects were formed.

This would be amidst the years-long, on/off relationship with Slayer for Dave Lombardo. But it also allowed him to explore tons of side projects, including ones with Mike Patton and Buzz Osborne as the super-group Fantomas.

Lombardo recorded 4 albums with Fantomas, which he describes as the “best musical experience I have ever had, much different than Slayer, we have a real connection”. In between albums with the super-group he also worked with other bands, filling in when needed.

He would also go back to Slayer several times to record albums in the 2000’s. Dave would also tour and play shows with the group, but it was a constant back and forth situation. All of that ended in 2013 due to a contact dispute, and most fans agree Slayer was not the same without Lombardo.

Slayer may be retired for now (Maybe…who knows?) and it has been years since Lombardo sat behind the kit for the band. He even missed the farewell tour for Slayer in lieu of the many other musical ventures Dave has taken on over the years. The list of contributions can get long…

  • Slayer
  • Grip Inc.
  • Fantomas
  • Dead Cross
  • The Misfits
  • Suicidal Tendencies
  • Testament
  • Apocalyptica

All of these projects may be metal/rock adjacent, but Lombardo has always wanted to expand his knowledge of percussion. Breaking out of the “metal drummer” stereotype can be difficult when that’s what you are known for, primarily. Especially when you’re regarded as a living legend in the scene.

Which brings us to now, and Rites Of Percussion is an amalgamation of over 40 years of drumming experience from a master of the art. The idea for this drum-centric style of album was planted way back in 1998 by Mike Patton.

“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.”

But it wouldn’t come to pass until 20 years later, in 2018. The idea of having an album based around the drums is actually not as weird as it sounds. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s there were tons of albums that featured percussionists as the “lead” instrument.

But that was a different time, and none of those musicians had the precision of the “King of Double Bass”. But if you think that Rites Of Percussion is strictly a metal album, you’ll be quite disappointed. Dave’s plan was to show diversity, and create a “cinematic” feel.

Dave had a vision to create something unique, a project that harkens back to those older percussion-based recordings, but with a modern twist. But just how far can you take the idea?

Building The Foundation: Behind The Scenes

Rites of percussion Dave Lombardo
Photo Credit: Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Like most of us musicians, finding the time to start and finish projects can be hectic. But the pandemic gave us working musicians a very unique opportunity to reflect and create. Time was always the factor for Dave. ““The idea behind the album is years in the making,” says Lombardo, “I just had to find the right time —for me —to do it.”

With touring grinding to a halt, Lombardo had plenty of time to finally focus on his solo project. He produced the entire project with the help of his son, David A. Lombardo, in his custom-built home studio. His son handled the final mix, and Lombardo designed two special rooms specifically for this album.

Two rooms were built for recording, one was soundproof (“very dead,” he says) and the other was more ambient, with natural reverb-a nod to the booming sounds of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Between these two custom studio rooms, you can get just about any sound from Lombardo’s massive arsenal of percussion instruments.

With two different 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, batá, wood blocks, djembes, Ibos, darbukas, octobans, cajons, 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. Lombardo wanted to create a film score-like album, with a very simple mantra attached to the process: Drums had to be drums.

Which means not adding a ton of post-production studio magic to the tracks. These days, with digital recording setups, you could technically make a drum sound like anything using VST programs. Lombardo wanted everything to be raw, and visceral. Without altering the drums in post-production.

“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.”

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). 

The result is pretty amazing, and we got to listen to Rites of Percussion in its entirety over the last week. I would recommend listeners to start at the beginning, and listen to the album in full, to get the total effect. Each track is something different, and creates an interesting flow.

Review: A Sonic Landscape…

Dave Lombardo Rites of Percussion

If you are a fan of some of Hans Zimmer’s more abstract work, then I think Rites of Percussion is going to be right up your alley. The album is just as often frantic, as it is atmospheric. The different types of percussion instruments are all used in creative ways, setting a tense vibe for the album.

If you are expecting a “metal” album, then you will be sorely disappointed, however the whole record does have a very dark ambiance. There are some instruments on this album that I have never heard before, and some familiar sounds used in a very abstract manner (like the gong).

Everything blends together throughout the 13 tracks, creating an intense flow that weaves a real avant-garde experience. You would expect Lombardo to be behind the traditional kit more often than not, but he isn’t, often opting for high speed bongos and other instruments.

But where the album really excels, is the incredibly wide atmospheric sounds. This album sounds incredibly dramatic on a good pair of headphones. Instruments blend in and out of the stereo field, creating an other-worldly experience.

The lack of traditional stringed instruments might turn some listeners off, but I think it is captivating. There is something in the human brain that reacts to rhythmic signatures, something primal inside all of us, and Rites of Percussion hits that spot.

There are a lot of peaks and valleys to explore, much like the DUNE Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Rites of Percussion kicks off with a track that has a little bit of everything, “Initiatory Madness”. This is the longest track on the album, and it features an unfathomable amount of instruments!

There are tracks like “Warpath” that sound straight out of an action movie chase scene. While other tracks like “Guerrero” are borderline industrial when it comes to the sound, almost like the breakdown of a Nine Inch Nails song.

Knowing that all of this was done with traditional percussion instruments, and not a synthesizer is what kept me listening. Lombardo really knows how to grab you with initially confusing sounds, and draw you in to the “feel” of the tracks.

Drums that were recorded in the ambient room sound huge, while other tracks have that tight, claustrophobic feel to them. Mix them together? It creates an auditory assault that keeps you engaged at all times.

I found myself listening to certain sections over and over, because the layering across the whole album is so dense. Every time I listen, it seems like I hear something new in the mix. There is something about the final track, “Animismo” really hits me in the gut. Wide cymbals fade out the track, and you start the album again!

Lombardo went out of his way to make Rites of Percussion an “experience” for the listener. I already had a ton of respect for the man, but this is really next-level. It is certainly a far cry from being Slayer, and proves that Dave has an understanding of percussion far beyond metal music.

Rites of percussion: Wrapping Up

Rites of Percussion

So, this album is certainly not going to be for everyone. In fact, it might not even be for most drummers. But as a producer, engineer, and (mediocre) drummer myself… Rites of Percussion is a very interesting project that has inspired me to use different percussion techniques in my own music.

I have always looked at drums and percussion as being the “heart” of a song, the necessary “beat” that other instruments follow. Hearing them showcased like this by a legend like Lombardo, makes me rethink how percussion should be used in music.

“So much music has moved me over the years,” he says. “Specifically, I was very inspired by albums like The Best of IrakereRhythms 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.”

That last sentence is exactly what I feel when I listen to Rites of Percussion. You feel rhythm in your primal core, whether it is an album like this, or our ancestors sitting around a fire, thousands of years ago. You really feel it in a visceral sense that is hard to describe.

So if you are a fan of cinematic, thought provoking music, I think Rites of Percussion is a must-listen album. For the uninitiated, it can be a little difficult to get into. An album that features mostly percussion instruments is not exactly accessible, and it is definitely a niche genre.

But if you are a musician, I would give Rites of Percussion at least one listen, all the way through. It has definitely made me rethink the entire role of drums and other instruments. The use of ambient sounds can change the entire mood of a piece/song, and Lombardo nails ambience.

The whole experience has been really inspiring to me, and I think I will be investing in some different percussion instruments in the near future! Rites of Percussion is a lot to take in, and I was very surprised with how diverse the album sounded from track to track.

Dave Lombardo has made something incredibly cool and unique with this album. While I am sure he will be back to touring now, I hope he continues down this path and releases some more music like this wonderful album. If not, then maybe he will work on some more movie soundtracks like he did with Dawn of The Dead and Californication.

Dave Lombardo will always be known as a metal drummer, but it was interesting to hear a totally different side of his skillset. He may be 40 years deep into his professional career, but I think Dave still has a lot to show us. Rites of Percussion is a journey, and it is certainly exhilarating.

Release Date & Album Credits

Dave Lombardo’s Rites of Percussion will be available everywhere on May 5th 2023. All platforms can be found HERE. You can preorder the limited “Purple Haze” Vinyl HERE.

Written, Recorded and Produced by Dave Lombardo
Published by Lomby Tunes (ASCAP)
Recorded at Ritmo Studio
Overdubs recorded at Studio 606
Mixed by David A. Lombardo (note: this is Dave’s son)
Mastered by John Golden at Golden Mastering 
Artwork by Luke Insect

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