Shannon Lucas sits slump-shouldered behind the cluttered counter at one of the thousands of identical Guitar Center stores peppered throughout America. The fluorescent lighting is nauseating. The greasy-faced kid testing out 129 different crash cymbals is more nauseating. But neither is as nauseating as the empty space burning in Lucas’ chest. The space that used to hold hope, glory, and metal.
Then, in the far distance, beyond the rack of overpriced percussion accessories, beyond the dusty stack of overlooked method books, in walk four misfit scoundrels known as the death metal group, The Black Dahlia Murder. They knew Lucas from the metal circuit and knew just where to find him. It was a drummer they sought, and a drummer they found.
“I was kind of musically homeless for a while,” recalls Lucas. “I left All That Remains, because it just wasn’t a good fit, and ended up moving to Michigan, coincidentally. BDM wanted me to come try out but I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit to anything. So I was working at Guitar Center for a few months, selling drums to people, and really hating it. ‘This can’t be what I’m going to do for the rest of my life’. I didn’t want to be a has-been.
“They ended up coming down to my work one day, and I wasn’t even prepared or anything, and asked me to play on one of the showroom kits. I had Trevor [Strnad, vocals] and Bart [Williams, bass] watch for my boss to make sure I wouldn’t get reamed out or anything. It was really awkward because they were just standing around watching me. So I sat down and played ‘A Vulgar Picture’ for them, and they were digging it, but they didn’t let on too much. Then they got back to me and I played with them as a band and showed them I could play to a click. I got the job.”
Goodbye Guitar Center.
Lucas got straight to work memorizing the BDM catalog note-for-note, as well as helping to create new material for the band’s third studio release, Nocturnal. The album sets the mark high. It’s some wicked death metal blasting, but also holds a melodic undertone, without wimping out. The drumming, although often superhumanly fast, isn’t the fastest out there, but is still some of the best and most original.
“With metal, too many songs sound the same. And a lot of times it comes down to the drums. You can play the same guitar riff 1,000 times, but if you change the drum pattern enough it can change the entire dynamics of the song. I think the drums can really make each song stand out individually so I try to think about that. But I don’t want to stray too far away from what the kids think the BDM sound is like.
“Some of the songs are very tough, but that’s a good thing. It’s good for people to push themselves. You have to try to progress and push the envelope and do things you haven’t done before. It takes a lot of work to get this music down and it’s always a challenge. I push myself super-hard and I’m doing things on this record that I couldn’t have done a year ago. So I’m pretty pumped on it.”
The level of drumming ferocity on Nocturnal is staggering. Just listening to it makes any mortal drummer’s forearms and calves lock up in painful cramps. Lucas is a speedy, heavy hitter, but his body did require some tuning up for the BDM gig.
“Playing this kind of music is very physical, and after a while it wears you out,” he says. “I get physically drained every night and my body aches, but you just push yourself to keep going. With All That Remains, there were only a couple blast-beats in their whole catalog so a lot of the drumming wasn’t that demanding. So I could play blast-beats but not with the endurance I need with this band. I had to build stamina and endurance in my hands and my feet, everything.”
The physical test is just one of many challenges Lucas must face. While the loyal fans put the food on his plate, other prickly little metal maniacs out there have a way of crawling under Lucas’ skin. “Honestly, and it might sound stupid, but one of the toughest parts of doing this is dealing with the elitist kids who want to criticize everything,” he moans. “Drumming stands out so much in metal and some kids get online and just rip stuff apart. It makes it hard for a lot of drummers because no matter what they do it’s never good enough – unless they’re blasting with double kicks at 250 bpm for ten straight minutes.
“And if you don’t have long hair they call you a poser, all that. I got it all when I joined this band. I know it shouldn’t matter but it does get to you. But the same kid who [complains] online about my hair is probably the same kid who stopped listening to Metallica because they cut their hair, not because they started writing [crappy] music.”
So to hell with the critics. Shannon Lucas is the real deal and his work with BDM is the perfect showcase not only for his blazing speed, but also his feel and musical sensibility. “Extreme music is kind of on the rise lately,” he says. “Working at Guitar Center I noticed a lot of the younger kids are listening to this crazy fast stuff and instead of learning the basics and learning about drums themselves, they just sit down and try to play fast. The first thing I tell them is to sit down and learn about drums. Not just how to play them, but how they’re made and why they’re made that way. Learn how to tune them and learn what types of head combinations work best.
“There’s so much to learn. It’s cool to be fast, but that doesn’t make the drummer. You have to be able to play other stuff and have feel and heart, otherwise there’s just nothing there.”