Recording of July 2023: Rites of Percussion

Dave Lombardo: Rites of Percussion
Ipecac IPC-265 (Auditioned as LP). 2023. Lombardo, prod.; Lombardo, David A. Lombardo, John Golden, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

In Greek cosmology, the ancient philosophers theorized that the universe is comprised of four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. As these elements interact, matter and life are created. Dave Lombardo, though, needs only himself and some drums to construct fully articulated worlds.

Lombardo is, without hyperbole, one of the most accomplished drummers ever to sit behind a kit. He marries superlative technique with an uncommon ability to make the technical musical. His precision has an open quality, a transparent multilayeredness. His presence elevates everyone and everything around him. He also has a refreshingly open mind when it comes to music. Lombardo is best known as an architect of thrash metal, with Slayer and, more recently, Suicidal Tendencies, Annihilator, and Testament. (Testament was always a great band, but with Lombardo they are transcendent.) He has also played punk with The Misfits, a sort of cinematic avant-garde with Fantmas, free skronk with John Zorn, postmodern hip-hop with DJ Spooky, experimental hardcore with Dead Cross, and almost traditional piano jazz with the acoustic version of his erstwhile project Philm.

In 2014, Lombardo paired with visual arts company SceneFour to create Rhythm Mysterium, a series of abstract images captured by Lombardo, based on his drumming. Along with the canvases (I have one), a book was published; it came with a 7" vinyl record containing the musical pieces. Those musical works were purely in service to the artwork. Eleven years later, Lombardo has released a solo record that demonstrates his expansive musical vision.

Rites of Percussion was recorded during the pandemic. It represents concepts Lombardo has wanted to explore for decades but never could due to his relentless schedule. It was recorded mostly in his home studio, with two rooms designed for vastly different sonic response, with his whole instrumental arsenal, from straight drumkits of varying complexity to a United Nations' worth of World percussion.

The 13 pieces—improvisations based on broad concepts and fleshed out over time with overdubs—draw from the many realms in which Lombardo has worked. His heritage, though, is vital to the music. Lombardo was born in Havana, raised in southern California. His native country's rhythms are the foundation for all his playing, audible even on his most breakneck forays. Many indigenous instruments figure prominently here. Woe is the record-store clerk who has to decide which bin Rites of Percussion belongs in: Metal? Afro-Cuban? Modern Classical? Soundtrack? Those labels all apply, and they all fall short. Fans of both Candido and Cannibal Corpse will be entranced.

The album is short, just a hair under 35 minutes, but it feels complete in a way many longer albums do not. Much of that comes from Lombardo's experience delivering brutality in short, affecting spurts—Slayer's Reign in Blood presented 10 tracks in half an hour—but it also arises from his goal of invoking specific imagery in each piece, opposite to Rhythm Mysterium, which aimed to capture movement in a static image. The music (mixed by his son, David) is replete with overdubs. This manicured aural landscape is the point. This is not a project that could be performed live. Like a painter, Lombardo was free to decide when a piece had succeeded in its intent.

The longest track, "Initiatory Madness," which presents throbbing tribal rhythms under cosmic washes, could be the soundtrack for H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones as they hurtled toward Earth eons ago. The album's closer and second-longest track, "Animismo," is monumental. It's one of the slowest pieces and one of the most densely layered. In between those bookends are a moment's glance into a chittering insect hive ("Blood Let"), then master classes on drumkit then percussion ("Journey of the Host" and "Vicissitude"). Students could spend a lifetime decoding how Lombardo generates his rhythmic substrata; his abstractions conjure a vengeful demon ("Omiero") and dark ritual ("Maunder in Liminality"). "Interfearium," which opens the B-side of the LP, features grand piano, used as a percussion instrument and a tolling bell; drums enter only toward the end of the song's (if song is the right word) three-plus minutes.

For an album like this, quality sonics are crucial. Credit must be given to the Lombardos' (father and son) attention to detail but also the efforts of legendary mastering engineer John Golden. "Invites Repeated Listening" is an old music critic cliché, but it is renewed here. As with all of Dave Lombardo's playing over a career that began 40 years ago, there is no way to process the subtleties and dimensions in one sitting.—Andrey Henkin

13stoploss's picture

I know that this may be unacceptable'ish... but the appropriate (social) response for mention of one of Lombardo's band's is as exclamation: "(Four-word)'ING SLAYER!"

It's even a hashtag.

When Slayer and ISIS (the band) appear in the same issue of Stereophile, you can say that the times, yeah, they maybe/are a changing. In my mind, for the better. :P

Thanks to Andrey for bringin' the goods on Lombardo. \m/\m/