Lombardo is known for his fast, aggressive style of play utilizing the double bass technique which has earned him the title "the godfather of double bass" by Drummerworld.
Lombardo was born in Havana, Cuba on February 16, 1965. When he was two years old, his family moved to South Gate, California. During the third grade at the age of eight, Lombardo brought in a set of bongos with a Santana record for show and tell at school and played along with the rhythm. This inspired his musical interest in drums and he joined the school band where he played the marching drum, although eventually he viewed the marching drum as "not for him." Lombardo's father saw his persistent interest in music at age ten and bought him a five-piece Maxwin drum set for $350. As Lombardo now had a drumkit, he purchased his first record, Alive! by Kiss to play along to. He taught himself the song "100,000 Years" by listening to the record repeatedly. Able to perform the drum solo on the song, word of Lombardo's ability spread.
In 1978, Lombardo returned to playing rock music and would talk with several musicians around South Gate. They would travel to Lombardo's house to play renditions of songs by Jimi Hendrix, such as "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady", and "Fire." Graduating from private school in eighth grade, Lombardo moved to Pius X High School, which had more musicians than his previous school. He signed up to the school talent show and performed "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry with a guitarist named Peter Fashing. "I'll never forget the roar of the crowd during the drum solo. We brought the house down," states Lombardo, who became known as "David the drummer" the following day.
With his new-found popularity, Lombardo formed a band in 1979 called Escape, with two guitarists. The group performed AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath songs in Lombardo's garage. After leaving Pius X school due to poor grades, Lombardo enrolled in South Gate High School where he found a vocalist to join the band. The band performed at parties under the name Sabotage, but were unsuccessful in making an impact. Lombardo's parents noticed his withdrawal from everything except music, and convinced him to quit and find a job.
Lombardo followed his parents' advice and applied as a pizza delivery boy in 1981. With money earned from the job and money loaned from his father, he purchased a TAMA Swingstar drum set and Paiste Rude cymbal package for $1,100. While making a delivery, Lombardo was told about a nearby guitarist named Kerry King. He introduced himself to King, and asked if he would like to jam with him. King agreed and offered to show Lombardo his guitar collection later that night. As King was looking for a drummer for his band, Slayer, he extended an invitation to perform drumming duties which Lombardo accepted.
With Slayer's line-up now complete, the band toured extensively in the early 1980s to promote their debut album Show No Mercy, while Lombardo continued to work at K-Mart.
During this period of touring, Lombardo formed a strong bond with drummer Gene Hoglan, who was the band's roadie. Lombardo asked Hoglan to become his drum tutor; however, Hoglan was fired as a roadie because he had no idea what to do. Lombardo felt Hoglan was a great influence to his drumming.
During Slayer's 1986 "Reign in Pain" tour to promote the album Reign in Blood, Lombardo left the band and stated "I wasn't making any money. I figured if we were gonna be doing this professionally, on a major label, I wanted my rent and utilities paid."
The band enlisted Tony Scaglione of Whiplash as his replacement; however, Lombardo returned in 1987.
Lombardo recorded drums on the Slayer albums South of Heaven (1988) and Seasons in the Abyss (1990), although in 1992, Lombardo left Slayer again due to conflicts with band members and his refusal to tour. He desired to witness the birth of his first child and gave the band members nine months notice of his wife's pregnancy and said he would be unable to tour in September.
Ten years after departing from Slayer, Lombardo received a phone call from Slayer, who asked if he would like to perform a few shows. Dave Lombardo accepted to resume drumming duties and his first show was at The 7 Flags Event Center near Des Moines, Iowa on February 2, 2002. At the beginning of the concert, vocalist Tom Araya welcomed the return of Dave Lombardo, as well as dedicating the show to Exodus vocalist Paul Baloff, who had died earlier that day. He toured with Slayer as part of Ozzfest, H82k2, Summer Tour, and the 2004 Download Festival. While preparing for the Download Festival in England, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was hospitalized for a mysterious illness. Metallica's vocalist James Hetfield searched for volunteers to replace Ulrich; Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison and Lombardo volunteered. Lombardo performed the songs "Battery" and "The Four Horsemen", whilst Jordison performed the rest of the songs.
Lombardo recorded his final album to date with Grip Inc. in 2004, Incorporated. He asserts the band is on the 'back burner,' because of time taken up touring with Slayer.
Lombardo has now also recorded Slayer's 2009 album World Painted Blood.
Lombardo states his reasons for using two bass drums: "when you hit the bass drum the head is still resonating. When you hit it in the same place right after that you kinda get a 'slapback' from the bass drum head hitting the other pedal. You're not letting them breathe." When playing the double bass, Lombardo uses the 'heel-up' technique and places his pedals at an angle.