The State of Double-kick Drumming?


First off, I don’t have anything against double-kick drumming in and of itself. If I did, I don’t think I could be a metal fan in general. But I digress… is it me, or do a lot of metal bands seem to be relying on intense, near-constant double-kick drumming over the last few years to somehow seem heavier or more intense? Everyone from modern power metal bands to deathcore bands to newer so-called traditional heavy metal bands. The drumming is just so over the top.

by Shawn Pelata

Now, I recognize the skill it takes to pull this off. I’m not knocking anyone who likes it or who can do it. I surely could not even begin to play drums w/ that kind of rolling double-kick ferocity. It just seems like, over the last 10 years, it’s become a little monotonous. I remember when I was a teenager and heard the older generation of Zeppelin and Skynyrd fans deride my music (80’s metal and hard rock) because, in their opinion, “it all sounds the same” and “it’s just a bunch of noise”. I shot back with “you just don’t get it” and “these bands all sound totally different” with my rebellious little mullet and denim jacket, clutching my cassette copy of Bark At The Moon. Looking back, those old guys may have had a certain, ridiculously tiny version of a point. So, hopefully, the current generation of Vans’ wearing, Skinny-jeaned deathcore fanatics can look back on this in, oh, twenty or so years and not want to hit me with a brick.

Back in the late-80’s, early-90’s, the first bands I can recall using a LOT of sustained double-kick speed and in longer parts of songs were death metal bands (pre-core infusion). What made this so impressive is that A) I had never heard a drummer use their feet so much and B) looking back, this is pre-Pro-Tools, non-quantized drumming. The kick drum tracks were not loaded into, or recorded on, a computer where they could be lined up in perfect synchronicity to a computerized click track. No individual kick-drum notes were moved any closer to others to make the drummer appear to be faster or tighter. The kicks may have been triggered for the sake of getting tones, but the drummers were PLAYING those parts; not having the engineer piece them together in a studio. When my friends and I heard this kick-drum style begin to take hold of metal and creep into other genres, we thought it was the coolest thing ever. I remember hearing Judas Priest‘s song “Painkiller” for the first time and being blown away by Scott Travis’ drumming, which was loaded down with sustained double-kick drumming. Bands wanted to emulate it, drummers wanted to do it, and fans wanted to headbang to it.

Fast forward to 2005 and beyond; fast, relentless double-kick drumming is all over the place. From power metal band Dragonforce to the perpetually annoying Avenged Sevenfold to pig-squealing deathcore peddlers Job For A Cowboy. Even more “traditional” bands like Primal Fear and Iced Earth use it too much sometimes. The vast ocean of screamo bands like The Devil Wears Prada and Parkway Drive use it to intensely irritating results. Is it impressive? On a technical and stamina level, yes it can be. But it’s also becoming quite boring and stale. Especially when you take into account how much of it is honed to it’s laser-like precision with software. Someone had mentioned on a message board I frequent about how a LOT of albums all sound the same nowadays because the engineers and producers are all using the same Pro-Tools plug-ins and patches to get the drum tones and then line them up with auto-correction and editing. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. When everyone is triggering the drums with the same triggers and downloaded tones, then auto-correcting the time to, literally, machine-like precision, it does all sound the same. It’s all beginning to bleed together into one big BBBZZZZZZZZBBBBBBBZZZZZZZZBBBBBBBZZZZZZZ. Add that to the already flooded metal scene (thank you internet) and it’s enough to make a person consider giving up and listening to New Country radio… at least they don’t really try to hide how manufactured their music is.

Pre-Painkiller, none of my favorite bands ever relied on massive amounts of sustained double-kick drumming. Nicko McBrain, Scott Rockenfield, Dave Holland, Larry Howe, Vinny Appice, Neil Peart, Bill Ward, Mark Zonder, Kirk Arrington, Lars Ulrich; none of these drummers leaned on their ability to maintain a blistering double-kick pattern for four minutes, let alone any digital enhancement. They may have used a triplet or two, or short double-kick patterns or passages here and there in the context of the song, but it wasn’t the very foundation of their style. Arguably, these drummers all have distinctive sounds and styles of their own (Neil Peart sounds like Neil Peart, Scott Rockenfield sounds like Scott Rockenfield, etc). Whereas today it’s hard to tell one double-kick beast from another. Every new band that pops up seems to have the “best drummer ever” behind the kit with songs literally gushing over with speedy, sustained double-kick drums and equally insane tom work and blast beats. It’s near-impossible to distinguish an indiviual drummer’s own personality amongst the triggering, sound-replacement, auto-correcting and whatever else the engineers prop them up with. It makes all these records sound like popcorn popping in a microwave with guitars recorded over it. Some will argue that the only reason modern metal drummers do it so much these days is to mask the fact that they’re maybe not all that good. While I think that may be a small part of it, I think some people genuinely just like it. It makes them feel good and more power to them. I just find myself getting into fewer and fewer new bands and, aside from simple aging, this overwrought use of the double-kick pedal is part of the reason.

Don’t get me wrong… again, I do like double-kick drumming and think when used as a piece of the overall puzzle it’s quite enjoyable. I get why younger generations of drummers come up wanting to out-drum the next guy. I mean, how much more badass can a 19 year-old kid be than when he’s behind the drum kit playing tornadic, blast-beat ridden, furious double-kick drum patterns? I get it, I understand the why’s of it. But, and you can call me old-fashioned if you want, I’d rather hear someone playing their drums, having interesting fills or patterns or hi-hat work (fast, slow, or otherwise), than someone just running wind-sprints on their kick pedals.

 

Comments

  1. Commented by: faust666

    3 cheers for Double Kicks… me likey !!! Although I do get your point about every single modern metal band, especially deathcore\DM band, trying to outdo the others by using a constant barrage of over the top blastbeats and double kicks.


  2. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    Like I said, I do like it. I also like key lime pie, but I don’t want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.


  3. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    well stated.

    I remember the first time I heard Emperor’s Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. Trym’s drumming on that is superhuman, and his blasting is still, 10 years later, among the fastest I’ve heard. but today, double bass is often just really dull if it’s not being played by someone with real character, like a Gene Hoglan or a Horgh. I think some of the kids need to do some shit that’s less trite.


  4. Commented by: faust666

    I think you’re a Key Lime Pie Shawn….


  5. Commented by: faust666

    sorry, that was me being random. Good write-up btw. Cheers!!


  6. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    Thanks guys…


  7. Commented by: AARONIUS

    Well said sir. I love hearing ridiculous speed on the kick drums, but it’s true after a while it’s just too much.

    Of course I feel that way in general for most metal these days. Eveyone is trying so hard to be sooooooo brooootal, and yeah it’s nearly impossible to recognize a drummers playing these days.

    “Hey is that the dude from Job for Cowboy?” “Or wait, maybe that’s homeboy from Whitechapel”. “No no man that’s the guy from Danza”.

    If you can pick out a current drummer by his style in this day and age I salute you.


  8. Commented by: Reignman35

    Being a drummer and realizing how hard it is being able to play fast was one of the reasons I picked up sticks and was drawn to metal in the first place; you did a good job showing respect in that area. As someone who listens to a lot of death (brutal death) metal in particular, it does start to bleed together.

    That is where guys like Inferno from Behemoth and others have learned if you syncopate and break up a double kick pattern you can come up with some amazing shit. Jason Bittner is a great example… not the fastest but dude’s control and ability to drop in a double kick part at will and back off of it just as fast is just downright sick. Hoglan is also a control master but can also flat out fly if need be.

    If you want to hear some creative kick work check out an album by Deamon called “Descend Dethrone”. Been jamming the hell out of that after discovering it recently and for brutal death metal there are some really interesting kick patterns going on; not just straight 32nds at 220 beats per minute. Good article overall.


  9. Commented by: mike

    Weren’t Fear Factory/Raymond on Demanufacture one of the fist bands to pioneer and influence a lot of newer bands with the rapid fire double kick stuff?


  10. Commented by: appollyonx

    Really good article. Double bass rolls do add the spice that makes Death and Black Metal what they are, and within those sub-genres of Metal the drummer is really what makes the band so punishing. But if double bass is getting over-used, what about the all important blast beat? Is it as important as it’s become? Early on it was rare to hear it in a Death Metal release. Death didn’t need it, Massacre didn’t,neither did Obituary. Its worth contemplating.


  11. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    Yeah, I briefly mentioned blast-beats in there, but being as I’m not a drummer I felt that if I tried to get too deep into drumming itself, I’d be in over my head. I approached it from a listeners point of view…


  12. Commented by: vugelnox

    I think the concept of dynamics plays into this discussion too. Double bass can bring power and extra oomph to a song when used appropriately but you need that context of fast/slow, tension and release…etc to achieve that effect. If you come flying out of the gate with the foot on the accelerator and maintain that without any change for damn near the entire song then you lose this shift in intensity and end up in the land of washing machines, blenders and garbage disposals. This fact isn’t lost on a good drummer and gives extra merit to your statement that all these super-click teenage drumming sensations really aren’t that good behind all the studio trickery. Hence me being very confident in saying Vinny Appice > whoever mans the kit for Brain Drill


  13. Commented by: DK777

    Gotta second the words of reignman35: break up the beat, syncopate it, and you’re in a much better space–musically–than folks who can blast out a gazillion bass drum beats per minute.

    Want to hear tasty double bass drums? Check out Ihsahn’s latest, AFTER, with the drummer from Spiral Architect, Asgeir Mickelson. I mean, blasting at full tempo is great, but this guy plays around with the beat, cuts it to shreds, shuffles it like a deck of cards, and throws it back at you in ways that are both confounding and totally grooving. Tell me there’s been a better metal drumming performance in the past year. I’ll argue all day with you.

    The players who can go at near-300 beats per minute are commendable, but they’re not necessarily musical. I’d rather hear a drummer who looks at the kit–bass drums included–like an artist’s palette and throws colors into his metal playing: “here, there’s very little bottom end; there, I’ll bury you in bass drum notes!” To me, that’s music.

    And I concur: good write-up, brother!


  14. Commented by: Drew

    Very good piece and comments. On a slight tangent, you could apply all the same statements to the guitar playing of the technical death metal scene of today. It is no coincidence that bands became more and more technical as recording techniques made it easier to do. I am not at all a Korn fan, but their latest album was apparently recorded on analog equipment. Can multiple punch-ins be done on analog…sure (view “a year and a half” Metallica doc) but it is by far harder to accomplish. I would challenge all tech death metal bands of today to try an full analog recording. Bet they sound a bit different.


  15. Commented by: noe,lvis txdm

    “Descend Dethrone” is an amazing album. i recently discovered them one late december night trolling through ebay auctions for rare shirts…


  16. Commented by: Reignman35

    Yeah dude that albums slays… I found them and should have that cd in the mail this week. If you like that one also check out Acephala’s new one “Division By Zero”.


  17. Commented by: Dimaension X

    I remember hearing Ray Herrera and his amazing double-kick work on “Demanufacture” – it’s almost never constant 16ths running all the time – he breaks it up, syncopates it, and Dino Cazares played the same “beat” in unison on guitar – that’s what really made them stand out.


  18. Commented by: Dimaension X

    …hey, remember that Nicko McBrain does use double kicks at all – strictly a single bass drum player, like John Bonham – no doubles at all.


  19. Commented by: Jose

    Lars Ulrich maintaining a double-kick pattern for 4 minutes.

    HAHA


  20. Commented by: Anders Kobro

    Very good article, and I could not agree more! And this comes from me, a metaldrummer from Norway playing in several bands with international recognition. I have never in a studio recording session used triggers, nor do I allow the technicians to do any quantanizing or use sample layer from a plug-in. I am as fortunate that I did my 2 first albums in the early 90`s when the recording industry still was analouge using 2″ magnet tapes, all mixing had to be done manually (no automation then) etc.. I am a double kickdrummer by all means, but as you state in the article here. The main problem is the use of quantanizing, the same samples (toontrack superior drummer to be exact) and the mentalaty amongst younger musicians that more is better, and the faster the better drummer. Its a very frustrating issue since the instrument drums is so much more than fast drumming.
    Ofcourse if a song has a parts and arrangements that fast drumming enhance the aggression then ofcourse its what I do. It is more a misunderstood conseption of the instrument today (specially amongst metalfans) that the faster drummer is the better they are. Maybe one day people will understand how wrong that is. You also mentioned first time you heard Painkiller with Scott Travis and how mindblowing that was. I was there too, and those days never come back unfortunally.
    If younger drummers ask me of advice of how to play faster my answer are that they need to learn to play slow first, wich maybe take up to 5-8 years to master. 3 most important tasks for a drummer.

    1 Make the rest of the band better
    2 Its more important what a drummer dont play, than what he plays.
    3 Disiplin and accuracy.

    I have a rule on myself saying that if I get noticed on a album, then I have done it wrong.!
    Cheers from Norway.

    Kobro


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