Writing a list of top drummers is like choosing your favorite child. You love them all, and sometimes you love them for different reasons.
We asked Ash Pearson, drummer for Revocation and former drummer of 3 Inches Of Blood, to put together his list of the top 50 metal drummers of all time.
He’s included old-school legends and modern drummers across sub-genres and a brief explanation for each choice. He knows how tough it is to choose between thousands of incredible people, and says:
“I couldn’t possibly include all the rad players out there, but these are my top 50.”
You might agree with all of them, or you might think this list missed some of your personal favorites. But one thing’s for sure: these are all drummers who have left a lasting impact on the genre, whether they’ve played on one record or 50, and whether you know their name or not.
And we’ll say it before you think it: the list is exclusively comprised of dudes. The nature of the heavy drumming world has historically been male-dominated, and the most influential metal drummers are largely the ones on this page. We suspect the list may start to look different in the next decade or so.
Here are Ash’s top 50 metal drummers, starting with his ultimate faves.
Dave Lombardo is one of the most emulated drummers in heavy metal, and for good reason. He was one of the prime pioneers of thrash and speed metal drumming. His bombastic fills on “War Ensemble”, frenzied double bass on “Angel of Death”, and hyper fast drumming were a giant upgrade for heavy metal and showed the possibilities of what the genre could and would become. Lombardo is destined to forever be one of the greats.
Gene Hoglan’s resume is that of an ever evolving, world class, prime mover of the heavy metal genre. Talk to most of the top metal drummers today, and the large percentage will cite Gene Hoglan as a major influence in their development.
Whether it’s his early days with Dark Angel in 1984, his amazing work on his records with Death, or his boundary-pushing drumming with Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory, Dethklok, Devin Townsend and Testament (the list goes on!), Gene has written some of the most iconic drum parts in heavy metal and shows no signs of stopping.
Nick was best known for his work with Megadeth. His drumming on Rust in Peace is still widely regarded as some of the best ever in the thrash metal genre and remains one of Megadeth’s most popular albums. Nick was a big-time pusher of thrash metal drumming throughout the 90s.
Dirk Verbeuren didn’t simply win the lottery and land the Megadeth gig. Dirk has been drumming his ass off for years, making albums, doing session work and touring. His drumming with Scarve and Soilwork put him on the map. But his work with artists such as Devin Townsend, Jeff Loomis and Aborted really shows his ability to jump into a situation and elevate the music.
Check out his grindcore project Bent Sea where he plays guitar and drums. It’s excellent.
Brann is the drummer and one of the vocalists of the band Mastodon. Brann’s drumming is truly high level. Even in the band’s early days (check out Call Of The Mastodon and Remission), his drumming identity already seemed fully formed. His beats and drum fills could be be described as unique, but also ’spastic’ and ’heroic’.
Brann has shown himself to be constantly evolving in his musicianship. His drum parts always seem to be exactly what the song needs and his vocal style is a melodically driving force behind the band’s music. He’s a consummate musician.
Dave Witte is popular among many different subgenres in heavy metal. He was a trailblazing grindcore drummer in his early days with bands including Discordance Axis and Human Remains. His band Burnt By the Sun put out several legendary albums in their time. PhantomSmasher, Publicist U.K., East West Blast Test, and Brain Tentacles are a few of his many excellent side bands.
Witte has made significant waves with his main project Municipal Waste, which is constantly releasing new music and touring around the world.
Jon is the go-to guy for excellence. Whether filling in for legendary metal bands 1349 and Behemoth, or touring stadiums with his band Uncle Acid, Jon can do it all. He first got people’s attention with the band Job For a Cowboy, when at only age 19 was doing insanely complex and athletic death metal drumming. A truly accomplished and adaptive drummer.
Lars has influenced a ton of drummers in rock, pop, and even the most brutal death metal. He’s helped craft some of the most iconic heavy metal arrangements/drum parts ever and inspired many drummers to pick up sticks and start playing.
For those of you who only know Paul Bostaph as the former drummer of Slayer, he’s much more. Paul has spent time on the throne live and in studio for other legacy metal bands including Exodus, Forbidden and Testament. Paul has shown us album after album, show after show, that he is an enduring drumming force to be reckoned with.
Tom has proven himself as one of the innovators of thrash metal drumming in his time with Exodus. 1985’s Bonded by Blood remains a heavy metal classic, and he’s been continually pushing the envelope ever since. His beats and fills are innovative and appropriate, not to mention his precision and power, making him one of the long lasting powerhouse drummers of metal.
Adam is one of those rare drummers who can actually pull off the things that ambitious guitarists program on the drums. Look no further than his time with Pig Destroyer and Misery Index. Adam’s drumming in those bands both live and in studio are jaw-droppingly fast and complex. He toes the line of being able to play near the apex of human ability. Go, Adam, go.
Chris essentially invented a style of drumming during his time in the Dillinger Escape Plan. His detailed adoption of rhythmic concepts from such luminaries as Gary Chaffee made his drumming in DEP sound alien to most listeners. His experimentation took a blend of ideas from jazz, latin, metal and linear drumming. Along with Ben Weinman, he successfully incorporated these influences into DEP’s songwriting. Approaching metal music from a place foreign to most songwriters, his drumming and production remains a benchmark classic among musicians.
Elliot Hoffman is one of those drummers you know is the real deal the moment you hear him play. His work in Car Bomb is a masterclass in polyrhythms, compound time signatures and note value groupings played in the context of a brutally heavy band.
Car Bomb is raw but tight, dissonant but pleasant, and always inspires the stank face when you hear those crunchy parts. Check out some of his drum cams and lessons; you’ll see what I mean.
Matt barely needs an introduction, but he’s arguably one of the most influential drummers in the past 10 years with his work in Animals as Leaders. A Berklee graduate, Matt has dedicated his life to pushing the envelope of drumming. From his soloing chops, blending of styles, and razor tight precision in all things drums, he remains on the cutting edge of modern music.
Tomas Haake is another one of those rare drummers who effectively helped invent a style of drumming – and for Tomas, it’s been during his time with Meshuggah. Over 30+ years of making albums, he and his bandmates have continued to evolve their sound into what it is today.
From their early thrash-influenced albums to their most current release Immutable, their trajectory as a band has everyone paying attention. Haake also doubles as the band’s primary lyricist and continues to find ways to push his drumming style.
Charlie’s long time career in Anthrax has been filled with many classic performances, both live and on albums. A real thrash metal powerhouse, Charlie’s speed and power has influenced even the most brutal black metal drummers. He’s one of the great drummers of the thrash metal genre and beyond.
The late, great Joey Jordison was a hero to a whole generation of drummers. Not only did he contribute many guitar riffs to Slipknot’s music, but his larger than life image/personality and drumming style inspired countless drummers to pick up the sticks. His legacy will live on through his music and the disciples of his drumming for ages to come.
Alex is a shining example of a drummer with a steadfast work ethic. His coordination, speed and precision is unmatched by most drummers. He has played with many great bands including The Faceless, Conquering Dystopia, Intronaut and Whitechapel. He produces lots of great content including playthroughs, books and video lessons, all available on his website. We expect many more great things from Alex.
Nick set the standard for next level extreme black metal drumming back in the mid 90s/early 2000s with Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. He’s since played on albums by Lock Up, Old Man’s Child and Brujeria.
His fills and beats are unique and his blast beats are razor tight. Listen to his albums and you’ll see what I mean. He’s one of the best.
Chris is one of the founding members of Lamb of God. His drumming style is groove-oriented, with intricate double bass grooves that match the guitar parts. He influenced a ton of drummers to apply feel, precision, and an out-of-the-box approach to their metal playing. He has contributed a cool style of drumming to the genre. Chris has also done session work with other bands including Megadeth.
John Longstreth is a true technician of drums. He’s played on many albums, toured all over the world and achieved a level of facility reserved only for drummers who obsess over the craft. His main band, Origin writes some of the most technically aggressive metal out there, and his drumming on the Gorguts album Colored Sands is widely recognized as a masterful display of versatility.
The late, great Sean Reinert was a true hero to the progressive metal drumming community. Perhaps his most well-known album performances are Human by Death and Focus by Cynic. Sean was a student of jazz and latin as well as metal, and cited books like The New Breed as an open palette approach to his drumming.
He’s also been featured on Toontrack MIDI packs where musicians can examine and use his beats as a writing tool. We’re grateful for the impact Sean has made in metal and miss him dearly.
Derek ‘One Take’ Roddy first got his nickname from Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel). Derek became known for being able to go into the studio and play a song virtually without error. Though we’re all human and make mistakes, Derek’s precision and stamina have built a well deserved reputation.
His drumming on death metal albums by Malevolent Creation, Hate Eternal, and Nile remains legendary to this day.
George is the benchmark for extreme metal drumming. His playing with Nile is about as fast and vicious as it gets. He’s a sight to behold live.
Beside extreme metal, he’s got great jazz and fusion chops, is an excellent educator, and has his own solo music/drum education DVDs. George continues to contribute stellar performances to the craft.
German-born progressive technical death metal drummer Hannes Grossman has made his mark on the heavy metal genre over his many years of playing. He first caught people’s attention on the Necrophagist album Epitaph and has since gone on to play on other amazing releases by Hate Eternal, Obscura, Blotted Science and Triptykon, to name a few.
He also has an educational DVD – Progressive Concepts for the Modern Metal Drummer – which is excellent. Hannes is a prolific musician and continues to contribute stellar drumming to the genre.
Paul has been playing death metal for over 35 years. His drumming in Cannibal Corpse is vicious, imaginative, and fits the music perfectly. He toes a magical line between looseness and tightness. He also shows his range as a drummer with his band Umbilicus. A truly unique player.
Flo has been a major influence in death metal drumming. Based out of Quebec, Canada, Flo and his band Cryptopsy have written some of the most brutal and unusual death metal riffs, arrangements and drum parts.
Flo’s drumming is fast, clean and powerful with just a little bit of ‘dirt’ for good measure. It feels as if the wheels are about to fall off, yet every change is nailed with utter precision. It’s hypnotic to watch and listen to.
Arguably the first metal drummer, we all have many things to thank Bill Ward for. If you haven’t listened to Black Sabbath, what are you waiting for? True to his era, Bill had one foot in the older realms of jazz and classic rock, with the other foot moving toward the future of what would become heavy metal.
A trailblazer of the genre, Bill’s drumming is classic. It’s technically proficient yet unhinged, something you would expect from a player creating a new style of drumming.
In his short time on this earth, Witold ‘Vitek’ Kieltyka showed people the lengths of his passion and discipline toward the drums. He and his band Decapitated were making music at the caliber of a lifelong professional by the age of 16.
His time was cut short at 23, but his contributions and love for metal still resonate to this day. Go check out his discography.
Much like the rest of the players in Between the Buried and Me, Blake is at the top of his field. He’s become one of the foremost players in the progressive metal genre. He’s found a way to blend fusion, jazz, death metal, latin and so much more into his playing, resulting in a well rounded and versatile sound.
Pete Sandoval remains one of the most stellar drummers to ever grace the death metal genre. His drumming in Morbid Angel is still something that drummers aspire to – not only for his speed and brutality, but creativity as well.
Pete and Trey Azagthoth make up one of the best guitar/drummer duos in death metal, and if you haven’t heard them before, do yourself a favor.
Gojira has emerged as one of the most relevant metal bands of the last 20 years. If their riffs weren’t also fantastic, Mario would steal the show entirely. He has a certain flair to his playing: immense feel, dynamic control, speed and a style that clearly draws on other music besides heavy metal.
Mario has become a hero to a generation of drummers. He can hang with the best of them.
Eloy is a drummer who is scary to watch. He has an impeccable feel and hits harder than almost anyone. He won Modern Drummer’s ‘Undiscovered Drummer’ Contest in 2006 at the age of 15 and 5 years later went on to become Sepultura’s drummer.
Eloy is clearly influenced by many styles of drumming and puts them into a single stream of intensity when you watch him play. Vicious player.
Igor’s influence of metal drumming can’t be discounted. As Sepultura’s original drummer, he played on such classics as Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos AD, and Roots to name a few. His groove and intensity helped define the sound of that band alongside his brother Max.
He’s gone on to play in Cavalera Conspiracy with Max since leaving Sepultura and has been consistently putting out albums since the 80s.
Ray has been working at the craft of drumming nearly his entire life. His music education at the Percussion Institute, session work, live gigs and work with David Lee Roth had him primed to nail his audition for Korn back in 2007.
Ray has a groove, flow, and snap to his playing that fits well with any musical situation he touches.
Travis is one of those drummers at the top rung on the evolutionary ladder of drumming. He’s ambidextrous, fast, groovy, controlled and capable of playing high level Zappa-esque rhythms and patterns. He’s been drumming with Darkest Hour since 2013 and has released many of his own solo albums. Travis is not just a drummer, but a true musician.
Bobby is a powerhouse drummer with a career spanning decades. He has played with Rob Halford of Judas Priest on his solo music, as well as Fates Warning, Riot, Sebastian Bach and Spastic Inc. Another ambidextrous player, Bobby has also been known to put cymbals behind his head and hit them with expert precision and power.
His drum parts are fitting for the music, but when the time is right, he’s capable of unleashing a fury of complex drumming all over a track.
Nick has been killing it on the drums (and guitar!) from a very young age. His old band, A Textbook Tragedy made waves with their take on metal, hardcore, and mathy jazz music. Nick went on to play in the band Baptists and is currently drumming in Sumac with Aaron Turner (Isis).
Nick garnered much-deserved attention when Dave Grohl shouted out his drumming on social media. He has a keen sense of feel, groove, chops, improvisation and power and is a well-rounded and dangerously good player.
The late great Vinnie Paul Abbott and his brother Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott are one of the most legendary guitar/drum duos in metal. Jamming together and learning their respective instruments since they were just young kids, Vinnie and Dime evolved their sound to a point where they broke into a whole new level of heavy metal songwriting.
With the addition of Phil on vocals and Rex on bass, Vinnie’s drumming became something entirely new. His work on the Pantera records was simultaneously aggressive, creative, dynamic and groovy. With his big drums and playing style, he influenced many generations of drummers and helped carry the heavy metal flag throughout the 90s.
Ex-Fear Factory drummer Raymond Herrera’s style of drumming is on the level of a great guitar player in the sense that his kick drums mimicked the precise picking of a razor-tight guitar player. His drumming in Fear Factory matched the rhythmic role of the guitar and bass, which added an extra heavy element to their sound. He hit hard and played solid, making it look easy and driving a new heavy metal sound.
Abe is the drummer for Deftones, and his many years in the band have seen a real evolution in his sound. You can tell it’s him when you hear him play, but you don’t really hear him repeat himself. He has a great knack for coming up with uniquely cool, groovy drum parts and has his drum tones and sounds dialed in. Abe has many standout performances, but White Pony in particular is a classic for those who are looking to get into the band.
Matt is the longtime drummer for the band Hatebreed and is a quintessential musician. His practice extends well beyond the normal hardcore vocabulary. His linear patterns and studies of jazz, Latin, rock and metal keep him equipped to write fresh-sounding drum parts in a rhythmically-driven style of music. Cool beats, cool fills, bad ass drummer.
Dale has proven his versatility over and over. His band The Melvins have been constantly putting out music since 1984. Dale has impeccable groove, is a hard hitter, and is always trying out new beats, sounds and textures on the kit. He’s one of the undisputed kings of heavy drumming.
Hailing from Brazil, Max is one of three brothers that make up the band Krisiun. Max’s drumming is unrelentingly brutal and very fast. He can play bomb blasts and double bass at hyper speeds like he’s taking a brisk walk through the park. Over Krisiun’s 30+ years of playing, Max and his brothers have crafted a uniquely heavy sound. He’s one of the greats.
Napalm Death…sometimes a band name describes the music perfectly. Danny is the driving force behind one of the best and longest-lasting grindcore bands ever. With excellent lyrics on top of killer riffs, Napalm Death – and Danny’s drumming – are as relevant and heavy as they’ve ever been.
Ginger Fish (Kenneth Wilson) has played with many different artists over the years including Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. He’s a solid drummer with a versatile and interesting style who still plays true to the records during live shows. Super solid and creative drummer.
Ken was the original drummer for the band Carcass. He played on some fantastic albums in the early days of the grindcore genre and is known for his single foot blasts, atypical drum beats and cool fills. Like Bill Ward, his early work had the sound of someone doing something new, like the wheels were about to fall off; this added to the honest nature of the music.
Ben is the drummer of Converge and his explosive drumming blew people’s minds with their album Jane Doe. His drumming is utterly frantic sounding and it’s hard to pin down one particular strength. His fills are fast and precise, his groove is deep, his beats fit the music, and he gets a huge sound out of a fairly pared down drum set. Check out Ben’s drumming not only in Converge, but in his other projects like Mutoid Man and All Pigs Must Die.
Damon’s drumming in Don Caballero was one of the first glimpses people had in the ‘math rock’ genre. No one comes close to being able to emulate his unique sound. The ethereal nature of his playing is more like the drum parts out of a psychedelic dreamscape. American Don, What Burns Never Returns, and World Class Listening Problem are some excellent records to listen to. He’s one of a kind.
In terms of metal drummers who have played on some of the most iconic heavy metal/rock recordings and are still at the height of their power, look no further than Vinny Appice. Vinny has played with many recording artists, though most famously with Black Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio. His drumming is rock solid and features tasty licks, great drum tones, and powerful beats and fills.
Vinny has played with some of the coolest artists in the metal genre and continues to be a consummate performer and artist.
We wanted to highlight a few lesser-known metal drummers to watch for. Are they criminally underrated? Check out some live drum cams and playthroughs from these up-and-comers and decide for yourself.
Zev’s drumming with Spiritbox and earth7 has established him as a rock solid metal drummer who plays with great feel and precision. Zev will surely continue to stay busy and should be on everyone’s radar.
Brody is only 24 years old but plays with the discipline and maturity of a well-seasoned, lifelong professional. Keep an ear open for his bands Exist and Satyr. Go check out Brody live if he’s ever coming to your town, and definitely follow him online.
Hailing from Houston, Texas, Mike is a sheer death metal drumming force behind the kit. He played drums with Rings of Saturn for a couple of years (no easy feat) and is currently playing with Brand of Sacrifice. Watch him slay.
While she’s relatively well-known on social media, this drummer is still underrated in the traditional metal world. Excellent control, double bass work and precise playing make Anastasia – and her band Invertor – one to look out for.
Bryce is still young but has been at it for many years. He’s done a ton of touring and session work and is a consummate professional. His love for drumming is infectious to watch and his actual drumming is just nasty. His dynamic control, spacing, technique and speed is next level and definitely worth keeping an eye out for. You can currently catch Bryce on tour with Shadow of Intent.
Hailing from NYC, James is a session wizard and hard working drummer. You can check out his playing on recordings by bands such as Gargoyl and Aviations. James is also active on Twitch and Youtube – go check him out there. Whether it’s his jazz chops, prog chops or blistering heavy metal chops, everyone should get on board with James’ drumming.
This Brazilian drummer has come a long way the last few years, between her previous work with Nervosa and current position in death metal act Crypta. Her creative fills and effortless blasting help her stand out among other metal drummers and she has a huge career ahead of her.
This 13-year-old from Russia has started building an online following with his flawless covers of difficult metal songs. Give him a few years – he’s going to be unstoppable.
We hope you enjoyed reading up on these drummers. Of course, there are thousands more people who deserve to be mentioned. So who else would you add?
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