In the liner notes for Death’s Individual Thought Patterns reissue, Gene Hoglan wrote, “I recall, as the final notes of “Cosmic Sea” faded, knowing that the bar for all drummers has just been raised, turning to whoever was sitting next to me and exclaiming, ‘Jeez, I’m glad I’ll never play for this band.’” When Gene frigging’ Hoglan, who coincidentally ended up drumming on the next two Death records, says the bar has been raised, you sit up and take notice.
Death’s Human and Cynic’s Focus are two of my favorite records of all time, so it is really difficult to be subjective about Sean Reinert. But when you note that he drummed on two records that are almost universally lauded as masterpieces that were unlike almost anything being done at the time, I’m convinced it’s more than just being a fanboy. Other than maybe Steve Flynn of Atheist, nobody was doing anything near Reinert’s work in death metal.
If he’d never done anything else, his place in the drumming pantheon might still be secure. However, his work with Gordian Knot and the revitalized Cynic show that he’s still on the cutting edge of progressive metal drumming. Cynic’s softened their edges a bit, so you won’t hear much thundering double-bass, but his drumming is still amazingly complex and precise. But having seen him with Death to All last year, I can assure you that the double-bass chops are still there.
Representative track: Death - “Flattening of Emotions”, from Human
Duplantier is another master who combines complex, progressive stylings with brutality, often switching between them in the same song. The title track from Gojira’s masterwork L’Enfant Sauvage is a case in point, starting with the polyrhythmic bass, snare and cymbal work, and then switching at the 3 minute mark to a double-bass workout that is as tight and precise as it comes.
Gojira’s songs are so well-written that it’s easy to focus on the whole and miss the individual parts, but they would be nowhere near the same band with Duplantier. Find a good set of headphones and focus on the drums… breathtaking stuff.
Representative track: Gojira - “L’Enfant Sauvage”, from L’Enfant Sauvage
The man can do just about everything. He did straight forward, double-bass metal on Remission and Leviathan, he did progressive on Crack the Skye, and he did a bit of all of it on Blood Mountain and The Hunter. As the band’s sound has evolved, Dailor has been able to handle everything thrown at him and killed it. And he’s a fill machine…
Representative track: Mastodon - “All the Heavy Lifting”, from The Hunter
6. Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) - Mayhem, Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir
From the genre’s very inception, Hellhammer’s blastbeats have provided the thunder for Norwegian black metal. Whether it’s trve kvlt Mayhem, symphonic Kovenant, or avant garde Arcturus, Hellhammer has become almost synonymous with black metal drumming.
Although his early work with Mayhem called for mostly straight blastbeats, it was evident even then that Hellhammer had more talent than the average black metal musician. As case in point, listen to “Funeral Fog” and compare his playing with what Fenriz was doing with Darkthrone.
Not content to stay in one place long, he’s used Arcturus as an outlet to show a range not often found in genre drummers. If you need further evidence that Hellhammer marches to his own rhythm, know that he served as session drummer for two records by Antestor… a Norwegian Christian black metal band. There’s nothing more black metal than that.
Representative track: Arcturus - “Shiprecked Frontier Pioneer”, from Sideshow Symphonies
7. Hannes Grossman - Obscura, Blotted Science, Necrophagist
I first became aware of Grossman’s work through Blotted Science’s ridiculously-complex The Animation of Entomology EP. Anyone who can keep up with guitar virtuoso Ron Jarzombek and bassist extraordinaire Alex Webster has to have chops, and Grossman puts on a clinic for tech-death drumming. Although he can do speed, what sets him apart is the precision with which he executes time signature and tempo changes.
His work with Obscura only solidifies his place as a genre standard-bearer, and if you need any further convincing, he also played on Necrophagist’s seminal Epitaph record. Any questions?
Representative track: Blotted Science - “Cretaceous Chasm”, from The Animation of Entomology
After starting as a straight thrash drummer, Away was part of progressive metal’s inception in the late 80’s. While Scott Rockenfield and Steve Zimmerman were defining progressive drumming for traditional prog metal, Away did the same for adding progressive sensibilities to thrash metal.
He won’t blow you away with speed, and you hardly ever find him on a list of the best drummers. But his ability to switch tempos at will and his snare fills were a huge influence on those who followed. His work on the holy trilogy of Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross, and Nothingface is above reproach.
Representative track: Voivod - “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems”, from Dimension Hatross
If I have to justify Dave Lombardo’s spot on this list, then I really don’t know why you’re here. Pretty much every drummer on this list owes a debt to him, especially in thrash. So why isn’t he higher? Well, his performances on the last couple of Slayer records haven’t been as good as years past. Maybe that’s just the material, or maybe it’s because he’s almost 50 YEARS OLD.
In any case, the man’s a living legend. Hell, even Bill Ward is impressed! His 80’s output along earns him a permanent spot in the top 10.
Representative track: Slayer - “Aggressive Perfector”, from Reign in Blood
10. Trym Torson (Kai Johnny Mosaker) - Emperor, Enslaved, Zyklon
I can pick out Trym Torson’s drumming almost immediately upon hearing it because of his toms. Whether it’s with Emperor or early Enslaved, his toms sound like a thundering herd of rampaging elephants: chaotic and crushing.
Of all of the drummers left on my list, Trym is probably the least precise of the lot. He always seems on the verge of spiraling out of control, but that air of “is he going to be able to hold this together?” gives his playing a sense of urgency that I love. And good God, that section 3 minutes into Emperor’s “Empty”…
Representative track: Emperor - “Empty”, from Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise
Totally missed the boat on this one last year! Sounds like a metal-ish Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, with everything that entails: pretention, bombast, Progressive with a capital P. For fans of old-school symphonic prog with a modern edge.