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A Drummer’s Guide To Metal

Brandon Toews  /  Mar 14, 2019

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!

Metal: A brief introduction to the genre

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!

Learn Metal Drum Beats

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 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

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.

The Traditional Blast

(Napalm Death, Morbid Angel)

The Hammer Blast


The Bomb Blast

(Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation)

Odd Time Signature Beats

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.

Breakdown Beats

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.

Drumeo Live – Metal Lessons

Here are 6 incredible drummers teaching metal during their Drumeo Edge live events.

10 Metal Drumming Tips
Gene Hoglan (Death, Dark Angel, Testament, Strapping Young Lad, Dethklok)

The 5 Building Blocks Of Extreme Metal
Dan Wilding (Carcass, Aborted, Trigger the Bloodshed)

Metal Fundamentals
Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, Flotsam and Jetsam)

Utilizing Systems & Methods For Efficient Practice
Matt Garstka (Animals as Leaders)

The Rhythm Creation Formula
Billy Rymer (The Dillinger Escape Plan, Glassjaw)

The Truth About Developing Speed
Derek Roddy (Hate Eternal, Nile, Today is the Day)


Learn Metal Drum Fills

This section will introduce you to the most essential drum fills used in metal drumming: hand-to-foot combination!

Hand-To-Foot Combinations

When it comes to double bass drum fills, most of them are created using hand-to-foot combinations (a type of linear pattern). 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!

The Equipment

The Drums

Types & Sizes

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!

  • Drum Workshop Design Series (Tobacco Burst)

Snare 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:

DW Steel Collector’s Series


Tama Starphonic Steel


Pearl Reference Brass


Ludwig Hammered Brass


The Cymbals

Types & Sizes

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:

Ride Cymbals

Sabian 22” HH Power Bell Dry Ride


Zildjian 21” A Mega Bell Ride


Paiste 20” Signature Precision Heavy Ride


Meinl 20” Classics Custom Powerful Ride



Sabian 14” HHX Groove Hats


Zildjian 14” A Rock Hi-Hats


Paiste 14” Signature Precision Sound Edge Hi-Hats


Meinl 14” Byzance Brilliant Heavy Hammered Hi-Hats


Crash Cymbals

Sabian 19” Artisan Crash


Zildjian 20” A Custom Projection Crash


Paiste 20” 2002 Power Crash


Meinl 18” Byzance Brilliant Heavy Hammered Crash


Chinese Cymbals

Sabian 19” Paragon Chinese


Zildjian 18” Oriental China “Trash”


Paiste 18” Signature Heavy China


Meinl 20” Byzance Brilliant Hammered China


Cymbal Stacks

Sabian 18” AAX O-Zone Crash


Sabian 19” Paragon Chinese


Zildjian 14” FX Trashformer


Zildjian 18” K EFX


Paiste 14” PSTX Swiss Flanger Stack


Meinl 18”/16” Matt Garstka Fat Stack


The Drumheads

Material & Thickness

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.

Bass Drum:

Evans EMAD Onyx


Evans REMAD Resonant


Remo Powerstroke P4 Clear


Remo Powerstroke P3 Ebony


Aquarian Impact II Double Ply


Aquarian Regulator Ported


Snare Drum:

Evans Heavyweight Coated


Evans Clear 500 Snare Side


Remo Powerstroke 77 Coated


Remo Ambassador Hazy Snare Side


Aquarian Triple Threat


Aquarian Hi-Performance Snare Side



Evans EC2, Clear


Evans Onyx 2-Ply, Coated


Remo Emperor, Clear


Remo Pinstripe, Clear


Aquarian Super-2, Clear


Aquarian Performance II, Clear


Muffling & Dampening

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 Remo’s Tone Control Rings are also commonly used by metal drummers.

The Pedals

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.

Direct 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.


Pearl P-3002D


DW Machined Direct Drive


Yamaha DFP9500D


Chain Drive

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.


Pearl P-2002C


Tama HP900PWN


Yamaha DFP9500C



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.

The Greats

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!

Clive Burr

Gene Hoglan

Dave Lombardo

Scott Rockenfield

Vinnie Paul

Nick Menza

Lars Ulrich

Vinnie Appice

Chris Adler

Tomas Haake

The Records

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.

Motörhead - Overkill (1979)

“Overkill” (1979)
Drummer: Phil Taylor

Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast (1982)

Iron Maiden
“The Number of the Beast” (1982)
Drummer: Clive Burr

Dio - Holy Diver (1983)

“Holy Diver” (1983)
Drummer: Vinny Appice

Metallica - Ride the Lightning (1984)

“Ride the Lightning” (1984)
Drummer: Lars Ulrich

Slayer - Reign in Blood (1986)

“Reign in Blood” (1986)
Drummer: Dave Lombardo

Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime (1988)

“Operation: Mindcrime” (1988)
Drummer: Scott Rockenfield

Megadeth - Rust in Peace (1990)

“Rust in Peace” (1990)
Drummer: Nick Menza

Judas Priest - Painkiller (1990)

Judas Priest
“Painkiller” (1990)
Drummer: Scott Travis

Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

“Vulgar Display of Power” (1992)
Drummer: Vinnie Paul

Death - Symbolic (1995)

“Symbolic” (1995)
Drummer: Gene Hoglan

Opeth - Blackwater Park (2001)

“Blackwater Park” (2001)
Drummer: Martin Lopez

Lamb of God - Ashes of the Wake (2004)

Lamb of God
“Ashes of the Wake” (2004)
Drummer: Chris Adler

Meshuggah - obZen (2008)

“obZen” (2008)
Drummer: Tomas Haake

Architects - Daybreaker (2012)

“Daybreaker” (2012)
Drummer: Dan Searle

Wage War - Blueprints (2015)

Wage War
“Blueprints” (2015)
Drummer: Stephen Kluesener

Metal Listening List

Recommended tracks as curated by Brandon Toews

Wow! You made it to the end!

While it may be the end of the article, it’s not the end of the great content we have available. If you want to become the best drummer you can be, check out Drumeo Edge.

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Includes song breakdowns for:

  • Pantera – Walk
  • Meshuggah – Bleed
  • System of a Down – Chop Suey
  • Metallica – Master of Puppets
  • Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills
  • Van Halen – Hot for Teacher
  • Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train

Drumeo Edge exclusive courses by:

  • Gene Hoglan
  • Billy Rymer
  • Gavin Harrison
  • Derek Roddy
  • Matt Garstka
  • Jason Bittner

Check out Drumeo Edge »

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Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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