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The March of Sergeant Dan: Essential Cuts from the Dan Lilker Discography

Dan Lilker with Brutal Truth, 2012 (photo by Greg Cristman)

Last week, Dan Lilker announced that as of his 50th birthday (October 14th), he will retire from full-time touring and recording. Brutal Truth will similarly cease to be at that date. On the one hand, this is probably for the best on his part, as Lilker has been living the metal lifestyle for thirty years and, for a man nearing 50, that has to be exhausting. Likewise, not one person with even the smallest knowledge of Lilker’s discography can claim he hasn’t earned such a retirement. However, this does mean that we will be hearing considerably less from Dan Lilker in years to come, although he has promised to keep playing in his current projects Blurring and Nokturnal Hellstorm. Considering the sheer scope of Lilker’s contribution to extreme metal and the excellence of his playing, it will be a bittersweet adjustment for us in the underground, to say the least. In celebration of this upcoming retirement, we present a selection of tracks from some of Lilker’s bands that best exemplify his style and virtuosity. Here’s to a happy retirement and hoping that this is not the end but a new beginning.

— Rhys Williams

Anthrax: “Deathrider” (from Fistful of Metal)

Dan Lilker was only in Anthrax for one album, but his style remains distinctive even behind the classic Ian/Benante guitar assault. It’s a somewhat humble start for a man whose name would become synonymous with bass for extreme metal itself, but all the groundwork is there: the snaking scale runs, the pounding chunk on the lower E string, all can be heard here. Lilker’s finding his voice, and is on the cusp of spreading his wings.

Stormtroopers of Death: “Speak English or Die” (from Speak English Or Die)

This track is where I was first introduced to Lilker’s bass skills, and it is an excellent introduction to some of the more recognizable features of his style. The fast, chunky rhythm prefigured his later work with Nuclear Assault, and the pure speed of the track foreshadows the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it assault of Brutal Truth. The impact is undeniable, and the bass fill at 1:58 is perfect.

Stormtroopers of Death: “Milk” (from Speak English Or Die)

The opening bass riff to this song is, in my opinion, on par with such tracks as “N.I.B.” in terms of “this is so simple that it would take true skill to think of it first.” The slow build would be far, far less effective if Dan weren’t there, ominously pounding out each note until Scott and Charlie burst in. If “Speak English…” showed Lilker becoming more technically proficient, “Milk” shows him becoming more stylistically refined.

Nuclear Assault: “Hang the Pope” (from Game Over)

Lilker bring his SOD rapid-fire attack to Nuclear Assault and the results are crushing. Even Agoraphobic Nosebleed, when they covered it, couldn’t play it that much faster than Dan does here. Without that shred-tastic bass intro, the song loses half of its forward momentum.

Nuclear Assault: “Rise From The Ashes” (from Survive )

Nuclear Assault arguably straddled the middle ground of crossover thrash, and as a result was somewhere between Anthrax and SOD aesthetically. Thus, on tracks such as this one, you hear both the snaking, steady bass rumble over the thrashier bits but also a jazzy breakdown at 1:40, in a superfast galloping cadence that hearkens back to “Speak English…” This is Dan Lilker at the height of his thrash metal playing.

Brutal Truth: “Stench of Profit” (from Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses)

Lilker can be a technical player at the drop of his hat, but like any bass player worth his salt, he also knows how to drop a groove with the best of them. Other Brutal Truth tracks underscore his technical ability, but “Stench…” shows him popping the bounce before shifting into a blitzkrieg grind blur, utilizing the entirety of his playing ability in holding together a track that sounds as though it’s one step from going entirely off the rails. Lilker has seamlessly transitioned from thrash to grind, and the results still sound fresh over 20 years later.

Brutal Truth: “Godplayer” (from Need To Control)

I’ve previously mentioned the almost jazz-like quality of some of Lilker’s work, particularly on tracks where speed is not necessarily of the essence. On “Godplayer,” he takes advantage of Brutal Truth’s expanding musical palette to craft a simple yet tricky bassline around an odd time signature. Here is a metal bass player playing under the sound of a didgeridoo in an off-kilter signature and making it sound organic and primal. It’s a testament to a unique, accomplished talent.

Exit-13: “Societally Provoked Genocidal Contemplation” (from Ethos Musick)

Sometimes Lilker was best when not demonstrating his skill but instead when holding the line. So often in the music of all of these bands, the bass is not particularly noticeable. Like any great musician, Lilker could show off but also had a canny sense of when to step back and let the songs themselves take precedence. As undoubtedly one of the slowest, heaviest, and most bass-heavy tracks in his discography, “Socially Provoked…” is the ur-example of this under-appreciated talent.

Crucifist: “Putrid Mother Lode” (from Demon Haunted World)

The bottom line on Dan Lilker is both his technical prowess and his versatility. Here is a man who has played thrash metal, grindcore, death metal, black metal, and sludge, and provided classic examples of each subgenre while still bringing his idiosyncratic style to the fold time and time again. This track, with its harsh black metal roar over Lilker’s soupy, charging bass rumble, shows his ability to make his style fit wherever it is needed. It’s the mark of a truly skilled artist.

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