This is an excerpt from The Drummer’s Toolbox: The Ultimate Guide To Learning 101 Drumming Styles. The book goes into even more detail about metal drumming!
Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a style of rock music emerged that was darker and heavier than ever before. This became known as heavy metal. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf, and Black Sabbath are considered pioneers of the heavy metal genre, influencing other early heavy metal bands like Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, and Blue Öyster Cult. Many consider Black Sabbath’s self-titled and “Paranoid” albums (both released in 1970) to be the very first heavy metal albums ever recorded.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, heavy metal had developed a massive following. Bands like Motörhead, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden had taken the world by storm creating music that was faster, louder, and more aggressive than ever before. The musicians during this era had also become more technically proficient than any other time in history. Phil Taylor (Motörhead) and Clive Burr (Iron Maiden) are two early metal drummers who are recognized for pushing the boundaries of metal drumming. Throughout the 1980s, new metal subgenres like thrash metal (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth) and death metal (Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary) also began to emerge.
Metal music in the 1990s became quite diverse. During this era, new subgenres like nu metal (Linkin Park, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit), metalcore (All that Remains, Hatebreed, Bullet for My Valentine), and groove metal (Pantera, Sepultura, Lamb of God) surfaced and attracted new metal fans from all over the world. By this point, the sound of modern metal drumming had really started to take shape. Double bass drumming, blast beats, and hand-to-foot combinations had become essential elements of metal drumming. Gene Hoglan, Chris Adler, Tomas Haake, and Joey Jordison are all pioneers of modern metal drumming who demonstrate these elements in their playing.
Over the years, countless other metal subgenres have developed around the world including progressive metal, folk metal, deathcore, doom metal, electronicore, black metal, industrial metal, and many more!
This section will dive into four of the most important types of drum beats used in metal music. You’ll learn some basic double bass beats, blast beats, odd time signature beats, and some breakdown beats.
Double bass is one of the most essential elements of metal drumming, and sets this genre apart from other music. We can play double bass with two separate single bass drum pedals attached to two separate bass drums, or with a double bass drum pedal attached to one bass drum (the most common choice). Here are some double bass grooves to get you started!
Blast beats are common in many metal subgenres like black metal, death metal, metalcore, and deathcore. Most blasts incorporate double bass; however, some can be played with only one bass drum pedal. Here are three of the most popular types of blast beats.
(Napalm Death, Morbid Angel)
(Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation)
Odd time signatures are often incorporated into metal music as well. This is especially true in progressive metal (check out “A Drummer’s Guide To Prog”), but also in other subgenres like thrash metal, groove metal, and nu metal. “Overactive Imagination” by Death and “Blackened” by Metallica are two examples of metal tracks that feature a variety of meters. Here are some metal grooves that are played in odd time signatures.
In many modern metal subgenres like metalcore and deathcore, it’s common to hear breakdowns. These sections usually feature drum beats played in a half-time feel (or even a quarter-time feel). This gives the music a very slow and heavy feel, even if the tempo remains the same. Drum beats played during these sections usually feature a basic hand pattern played together with a more intricate, syncopated bass drum pattern. Check out “Reign of Darkness” by Thy Art is Murder and “Blueprints” by Wage War for some examples.
Here are 6 incredible drummers teaching metal during their Drumeo Edge live events.
This section will introduce you to the most essential drum fills used in metal drumming: hand-to-foot combination!
When it comes to double bass drum fills, most of them are created using hand-to-foot combinations. Hand-to-foot combination fills alternate between the hands and the feet. These can be played in any subdivision and orchestrated around the kit in countless ways. Here are five hand-to-foot combination fills to introduce you to the concept. As an additional challenge, try orchestrating these drum fills around the kit to create your own unique sounds!
Drum sets used for metal are typically larger than the standard 5-piece used in rock music. Large sets were even used on early metal records by bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Mega kits have been part of the “metal sound” since the early days of metal music. Metal drummers will often use one or two bass drums (22”-24”), two or three rack toms (10”-13”), one or two floor toms (14”-18”), and a snare drum (14”). Of course, every metal drummer will have a different setup depending on their preferences and the specific music they’re playing. For example, Billy Rymer of the Dillinger Escape Plan only uses a basic 4-piece setup, while Mike Mangini of Dream Theater uses a kit with 10+ toms and four bass drums!
When it comes to snare drums, you need to choose a snare that can project through a mix of distorted guitars and screaming/growling vocals. Brass and steel snares are usually the go-to choices for metal drummers. They produce a consistent sound that projects a TON of volume. Here are some snare drums that we recommend for metal drumming:
Cymbals used for metal are often thicker than cymbals used in other styles of music. These cymbals need to be able to withstand aggressive playing styles and project through distorted guitars and powerful vocals. Metal drummers are known for incorporating many different cymbals into their setups. At the bare minimum, they will use a pair of hi-hats (14”-15”), a ride cymbal (20”-22”), a variety of crash cymbals (16”-20”), and a Chinese cymbal (18”-20”) or cymbal stack (sizes vary).
Popular cymbals used in metal are the Zildjian A Custom Series, Sabian AAX Series, Meinl Byzance Brilliant Series, and Paiste RUDE Series.
In addition to these popular metal cymbals, here are some other cymbals to check out that will work perfectly in a metal drumming context:
Both coated and clear batter heads are used for playing metal. Two-ply drumheads are most commonly used by metal drummers, specifically for their durability. Clear drumheads provide a brighter sound with more attack than coated drumheads. Using a coated batter head will provide warmth and some muffling. The choice is up to you, depending on the specific sound you’re trying to achieve. One-ply clear resonant drumheads are the most common for metal drummers. This allows for maximum resonance. Some resonant heads will feature subtle dampening to control unwanted overtones as well.
Muffling or dampening is a common technique used by metal drummers to achieve a more focused and less resonant sound. This sound can be achieved by using specific drumheads like the Evans EMAD Series and other drumheads that include dampening systems. Muffling products like Drumtacs, MoonGel, and RemOs Tone Control Rings are also commonly used by metal drummers.
Double bass drum pedals are a must-have for any metal drummer (unless you’re using two individual bass drums – then you will need two single pedals). These consist of a primary pedal that attaches to your bass drum, as well as a slave pedal that attaches to your primary pedal via a metal link system. The two main drive types (the mechanism that controls the bass drum beater) used by drum manufacturers today are direct drive and chain drive.
These pedals feature a direct link between the footboard and the bass drum beater. These pedals are ideal for a smooth feel and maximum speed.
These pedals include a chain between the footboard and the bass drum beater. These pedals are ideal for power and are the most common of the two drive types.
Metal drummers often use triggers on their toms, snare drums, and most commonly on their bass drums. When a trigger is attached to a bass drum, whenever the bass drum is struck, any sampled bass drum sound of your choice can be “triggered” from an electronic module. This allows drummers to achieve consistent sounds that cut through the mix. One of the most popular bass drum triggers is the Roland RT-30K Kick Drum Trigger which can be controlled using the Roland TM-2 Trigger Module.
Here is a list of ten drummers that have had a significant impact in the world of metal drumming. You can click on each name to watch a performance by each drummer!
Here are fifteen essential metal albums that every drummer should check out. These albums span a wide range of metal subgenres including thrash metal, death metal, nu metal, and metalcore.
Drummer: Phil Taylor
“The Number of the Beast” (1982)
Drummer: Clive Burr
“Holy Diver” (1983)
Drummer: Vinny Appice
“Ride the Lightning” (1984)
Drummer: Lars Ulrich
“Reign in Blood” (1986)
Drummer: Dave Lombardo
“Operation: Mindcrime” (1988)
Drummer: Scott Rockenfield
“Rust in Peace” (1990)
Drummer: Nick Menza
Drummer: Scott Travis
“Vulgar Display of Power” (1992)
Drummer: Vinnie Paul
Drummer: Gene Hoglan
“Blackwater Park” (2001)
Drummer: Martin Lopez
Lamb of God
“Ashes of the Wake” (2004)
Drummer: Chris Adler
Drummer: Tomas Haake
Drummer: Dan Searle
Drummer: Stephen Kluesener
Recommended tracks as curated by Brandon Toews
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