Lamb of God's Chris Adler talks Metallica and $999 box sets

Whether musing on the future of Lamb of God or ranting about greatest hits compilations, Chris Adler shows he's one very smart and well-grounded dude.

Of bands that fall into the so-called New Wave of American Heavy Metal grouping, there’s not many that are bigger or more successful than Lamb of God – yet this is one band that has remained absolutely uncompromising to their roots. Unlike what you might expect from your successful American rock star, drummer Chris Adler is somehow simultaneously polite, humble and very pissed off. Get him started on labels, money or selling out, and he’s not scared to make his opinion known.

Lamb of God toured last in Australia late last year, with Devildriver, Shadows Fall and High On Fire in tow.

‘I think the best stories from that tour are from hanging out with locals, going to bars, and everything else around town,’ says Chris, after struggling to remember exactly when they played and who it was with – a reflection on their hectic touring schedule, no doubt. ‘But the tour was awesome, and those guys are very, very dangerous to hang out with… but we’re not exactly the straightest guys either, so I think we put the hurt on those guys every once in a while as well.’

The band reached the milestone of 15 years together this year. Looking back, Chris reflects that their initial goals were not quite as lofty as world domination.

‘We were hoping to get to play the local bar and get some free beers, and maybe play a party and meet some girls. That was it.’

Of course, there was the ubiquitous teenage rock star dream. ‘It never seemed like it was really going to be possible, especially with the kind of music that we were playing - I mean it’s a bit extreme to have done as well as it has. We’re continually surprised - shocked almost.’

The big tour news of the past few months has been the so-called Big Four – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax playing together for the first time ever at the Sonisphere festivals in Europe. Each of those bands has been around for the best part of 30 years. Chris is not so sure that Lamb of God has that kind of longevity – or even if they want it.

‘The problem with what we do is, we’re not getting any younger, doing what we do is definitely a young man’s game,’ he says. He thinks the band has at least one more really good record in them, but is cautious of pushing their luck.  ‘I don’t want to soften up, I don’t want to try different directions. I want the legacy of the band to be a solid catalogue with everything in it something that we’re all very, very proud of.’

It’s this kind of integrity that has been Lamb of God’s signature move throughout the years.

‘I think it’s dangerous to keep pushing past your prime because you end up weakening the legacy of the band,’ he continues. ‘I’d rather be able to tell my grandkids that we did it our way - we did the best we could for as long as we could but we walked away when it was time to walk.’

I suggest that this means there won’t be a Lamb of God ‘St Anger’ album, and Chris laughingly agrees.

‘Let’s hope not.’ He struggles to play politics. ‘I love the Metallica guys, but yeah they’ve made some steps that I don’t know that I would have made with our band.’ He talks about the difficulty of keeping different personalities in check in a band, keeping everyone on the same page. ‘I think right now while we are on the same page, so we’ll just keep moving forward and then when the time comes, if people want different things, maybe it’ll be time to let it go.’

To commemorate the anniversary, the Hourglass anthology has been released – a three-disc collection of early songs, classic songs and various rare or unreleased tracks. The packaging of the sets, however, is what sets them apart. There are a number of different editions at a range of prices, from just the discs themselves, to 180 gram vinyl editions, through to three levels of box set containing USB sticks of each album housed in a custom cigarette case, a linen-bound artwork book, flag, signed photo, right up to the top edition which contains a guitar in a custom coffin-shaped case and weighs in with a hefty price tag of $999.99.

We’ll get to the madness of the guitar-laden, thousand-dollar edition shortly. But first I’m intrigued by the cute USB stick album editions in the cigarette case, and wondered whose idea that was. Turns out I’m speaking to the right dude.

‘That was actually myself and our manager,’ he reveals. ‘The idea was we wanted to create as many packages as we could so that we covered everybody, from the guy who had heard our name but never heard anything to the fan that’s been with us since day one, that really doesn’t want to buy things over again, that feels like they want something unique.’

The obvious release for a band’s milestone is, of course, the greatest hits compilation, but Chris was adamant that this was not a path Lamb of God wanted to take – although their label of course suggested it.

‘We said “absolutely not”,’ he says. ‘Greatest hits are a rip-off, everybody knows it’s a rip-off, the band knows it’s a rip-off, the label knows it’s a rip-off, and the fans know it’s a rip-off.’

So, they took the 'cool packaging' approach instead.

‘When we started putting the packages together, the label got very nervous, because some of these packages were really very expensive, leaving zero profit margin for the label or the band,’ he recalls. ‘But that was the goal, for us – we didn’t care about making money on it, we just wanted to put something cool out there that people who have been with us for fifteen, sixteen years now didn’t feel like they’re getting ripped off.’

And the thousand dollar box set? I asked if the band was concerned that fans would see it as a cash grab by the label. He admits that they were, but is quick to point out just how much value is in that box for the serious collector.

‘I definitely expected them to think that, that was exactly what I was worried about. So, when we put that thousand dollar package together, we put in the linen book from our artist that includes everything that he’s ever done for the band, as well as a guitar, plus every album on 180 gram vinyl, USB stick, the pure American metal flag, to the point where the label said “this thing is going to cost us $975 to put together, how are we supposed to sell this thing?”. And all those things that I just mentioned, you can’t download. So no, it was definitely put together to not be a cash grab, we really wanted to put things in there that other bands don’t do, and to come up with something that was worth the money.’

The band is about to embark on a headlining tour of North and South America, and then later this year, they’ll be supporting Metallica on their completely sold-out 15-date tour of Australia. Given that Lamb of God is already a headline act in its own right, I wonder if it’s still a big deal to play support to such a legendary band.

‘Oh it’s huge,’ Adler says, almost gushing. ‘In the last three years we’ve spent over a year on the road with those guys and they have been to our shows before, they’ve let us know that they’re actually fans of our band, so it’s really flattering to be recognised by them and to finish our album cycle with the biggest metal band on the planet.’ The Australian angle is appealing to the band as well – after the US and Canada, Australia is their biggest market, which is amazing considering our small population.

‘There’s no better way to do it, there’s no better place to do it. It’s kind of the end of the cycle, so we’re all a little bit out of breath, but we’re all very excited that the best place in the world is having us back. We all love Australia, we can’t wait to get back.’

Given that it is the end of the touring cycle, I enquire on the planned recording schedule. We want to hear that (possibly last) great album that Chris suspects the band still have ahead of them.

‘Yeah, we’ve got about nine song ideas that the guys have put together, so I think we’ve got a really good head start,’ he says. ‘January or February we’re going to get together and see how those ideas come together, see what we can do.’ Chris suspects it will be hard to top Wrath. ‘It was probably the first time we all left the studio happy about an album, so it’s going to be hard to follow that up, but we’re gonna do our best.’

But first, they’ll be focusing on the task at hand and their forthcoming tour. The ubiquitous last words from Chris: ‘We really couldn’t be more proud to have your support, so thank you very much, we look forward to seeing you with our friends Metallica.’