Four uninhibited metal-men talking

Bränn Dailor / Sjoerd Visch / Chris Pennie / Yuri Xul




Magazine: Slagwerkkrant / Netherlands
Article: Extreem metaldrummen

Written by: Mark van Schaik
Published: March/April 2000


hat kind of drummers are those who keep themselves busy with extreme metal in 2000? Who get pleasure by breaking the sound barrier, pushing back the pain level and performing 2/4's? How did they end up there? Read about the Dutch eye-catchers Yuri Xul from Liar Of Golgotha and Sjoerd Visch from Altar as well as the still quite unknown, but not less interesting, Americans Bränn Dailor and Chris Pennie, respectively from Today Is The Day and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

he metal musician has not made it easy on himself over the past fifteen years to get a broader recognition for his feats. After hard rock and heavy metal became considered by the average music lover as the ugly, ill-mannered stepchildren of the pop music, their deformed cousins thrash, death and black metal are being ignored totally. Just every now and then there's a guitarist, a drummer or even a single bass player floating to the surface of the swirling pool with upsetting riffs and double bass eruptions. These men (yes, they still are men) became an example either by their play in the most popular bands or they managed to distinguish themselves by clearly pushing the limits of the genre. Gene Hoglan (back then Dark Angel, later Death and Strapping Young Lad, recently touring with Fear Factory) was the last metal drummer on the cover of this magazine....... and that was in 1991.

In the 90's looking back became the big trend, also in metal. First, the big names attract attention. For the successful Black Sabbath reunion even the original drummer Bill Ward was dusted off. Judas Priest probably won't be working again with Dave Holland or, even longer back, Les Binks. But the band is with the almost mechanical pounding Scott Travis, completely back since two years. As well as Iron Maiden, with Nicko McBrain back on full war strenght again.

Young musicians interpret the early metal of Black Sabbath and call it doom metal or stoner rock. The drummers play on simple kits, hit hard and groove heavy. The 80's are coming back to power metal, with bands like Hammerfall, Iced Earth and Rhapsody. Melodic and tributary to everything from Judas Priest to Queensryche, these are the grounds of the hard working serving drummers, who show to have learned from the first generation thrash drummers (Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo) and double bass master Deen Castronovo. The same can be said for the many drummers on the edge of sympho and metal. Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater of course is the school example of this.

Death and black metal are the youngest branches, but even here is to be perceived a tendency of recycling. Hardly ten years after the first wave of death metal bands (Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel), there is already a generation inspired by those bands. Guitars are tuned extremely low, the vocals are replaced by a grunt or a stylish death rasp, and the double bass rhythms are fast and as heavy as possible. Subtlety is as rare as a bad condition among death metal drummers. Broadly speaking, the last can be said about black metal drummers as well, although basicly the most nihilistic offshoot in metal seems to be more open to influences from outside than death metal. Of course there are bands that have pride on not deviating from the course that has been set in the early 90's by the Norwegian founders (Dark Throne, Emperor), but more numerous are the bands that experiment with sounds from all possible forms of metal, folk, classical music, electronica and avant-garde. And yes, drummers in black metal hit hard, use two bass drums almost constanly, and think nothing of inhumanly fast rhythms. Thanks to black metal there's been one time rehabilitated..... the 2/4. In the metal scene this is known as the blast. From "blast speed", derived from science fiction. Not just fast, but unbelievably fast.

Slagwerkkrant's own Mark Eeftens, drum teacher and note picker extraordinaire, explains. "The essence of black metal drumming actually is nothing more than a very fast 2/4 that, by the way, is mostly written as 16's in a 4/4 time with one bass drum and ride together, or snare and ride together. You can also play two bass drum notes between every hit on the snare in 32's, but that takes speed." Yuri Xul from the Rotterdam Liar Of Golgotha has something to add to this. "You can vary a lot more in the blast than people think. The basic principle of course is tak-tak-tak and go. You can indeed hit a crash after every fourth time, but why not put in some accents? It makes it a lot more interesting, also for yourself."

How do you play fast and hard at the same time? Xul underlines the importance of a good warm up. "Take our gig on Noorderslag for example. I really messed up..... I did not have a good warm up and played the blast parts completely out of my fingers, so at a certain moment cramps came up. It kept me occupied too much and I could not hit hard any longer. When I have a good warm up, I can play full speed from the beginning. And I can especially hit the snare well. About the feet... nowadays I make it easy on myself sometimes. Then I play the blast with two feet instead of with one. I use to think that was sacrilege.... it was an unwritten rule.'If you play the blast you have to be a real man and play it with one foot.' But at a certain moment I had it. All the power is gone and even the hi-hat is sounding harder. Maybe you are a real man, but it doesn't sound good at all. Therefore, blast with two bass drums... people will at least hear you."

Sjoerd Visch from Altar has learned to restrain himself at times. "When I just got with Altar it was the same with me. The faster I went the softer I hit. Our sound guy pointed that out to me. Take care of hitting steady. Be aware of what you're doing. Don't hit the slow parts ridiculously hard because the next fast part can only collapse. It's also a matter of experience. At the end of a gig it can be hard to play another fast song. Well, then you should not have become a metal drummer, I use to say."

Mark Eeftens has some advice for learning to play blast and other fast rhythms. "Listen a lot to CD's with these kind of rhythms and try to absorb. To be able to play it, it first has to be in your head, and this way you can also get used to the enormous speed. Then practice. Work on your technique and condition and keep playing relaxed. Too much muscle tension is killing the speed. Use a metronome and take note of your speed developments in a scheme. Furthermore, try to "feel" something you play very fast as slow. For example, feel a fast 2/4 in two or maybe even one. Your touch kind of goes in a slower meter. Be patient, these kind of things cost time and lots of hours of study. See to it that you can play it slow and tight, otherwise it won't sound good on a high speed."

Yuri Xul practices mainly single strokes. "Especially for the final blast, they are extremely important. Whenever I have nothing to do, I go for it.... sticks, metronome, tik-tik-tik-tik-tik. If it's going well I put it faster, etc. I've noticed that I have been able to play a lot faster and I can keep up longer. When I'm played in well, I can blast for three minutes if I have to."

Sjoerd Visch adds, "to become tight and fast in your double bass drum play there's nothing else to do but practice a lot. I admit, it can be boring, especially the annoying cramps in your legs, but nevertheless. Build it slowly, then you will get that piece of technique. And keep up with it. When I don't play for a week I am in my own way. I am studying and can't do much at home, but if need be I sit behind my desk and trample with my feet on the ground as fast as possible. Because certainly when you look at gigs, you can compare metal drumming to a top-class sport. When I play three gigs in three days, then I am really in shape on the last evening. Everything is loose and it's hardly tiring anymore."

Chris Pennie from The Dillinger Escape Plan is very short about his approach. "I am in a constant battle with my fellow band members. I mean, they have those Marshall towers with which I have to compete. Therefore, you want to play loud, and you want to use within that loudness the necessary dynamic.... you have to practice and practice again."

Today Is The Day's Bränn Dailor sees a long road before him for that matter. "I'm hitting pretty hard now. Not that I'm proud of it or anything, but a lot of cymbals and heads go to pieces. I think I will have a better balance between power and speed within a few years. Speed you have to develop. Practice three, four hours a day, work on your condition. Can't you do it then don't play it. Every human being is different. Don't play as somebody that you are not. And think of it this way.... nobody is a drum machine."

Bands that do not bother the limits of a style have always been around. However, within metal, there are enough of those trendsetters, although not immidiately visible. Today Is The Day is one of those bands.... a trio with an opinionated view on death metal. Especially Bränn Dailor who is, so called, all over the place. About the why of his style Dailor says, "I play it the way I find it exciting. I do not drum for money. Then I would have been playing in a Korn-like band.

No, give me people doing original things. Steve, our guitaris /vocalist, always worked with uneven times. We both like death metal, but you have to look at songs from "In The Eyes Of God" as our interpretation of it. Some rhythms are based on fills. The fill gets repeated and becomes the beat. Nothing wrong with just striking the beat, but when I can play something that I haven't heard by somebody else it's way more satisfying."

Whoever sees the guys of The Dillinger Escape Plan on a picture will think, "oh, punk band." But the whirlwind that "Calculating Infinity" is outreaches every genre. The energy of punk, metal riffs, jazz schemes, feathery play next to heavy pounding -- throughout the complete album you are put on the wrong leg, that is, if you're not falling over. Chris Pennie: "In the phase of writing mainly me and guitarist Ben Weinman were together. Ben had riffs and I had rhythm ideas that I wanted to get rid of. We put them together and kept coming up with new turns. In nice pieces of 5 or 7 we added 4/4 times, so we got playing in 9 or 11. I put several parts down on paper just to be sure it turned out good in the end. Nice things to challenge the listeners as well as ourselves, of course. I think that's neccesary.... keep pushing yourself further and further."

Pennie underlines that he does not overestimate the importance of the band's material. "I also practice jazz and Latin... a lot of Latin. And I try to assimilate those styles in my play with the band. I always hung around with different musicians so I never restricted myself in my taste. I also don't limit myself to the drums. I struggled with some other instruments as well, such as the piano, for example. I think is a much more prominent instrument than drums.

Insight into other styles also has been essential in the developement of Sjoerd Visch and Yuri Xul. Visch: "I think you're talking about the difference between Dave Lombardo, pounding straight ahead, and Gene Hoglan who knows of fusion as well. The latter strikes less predictable breaks.... a bell here, a hi-hat there, a bit of a touch of jazz."

Xul, who's also a guitarplayer, is known with the "wall" a lot of autodidacts walk against in time: the temporary lack of creativity. "I think you can overcome this problem by listening to a lot of different stuff. Not just metal, which I actually don't hear to much of. Take jazz for example. My girlfriend has a few cd's from Elfferich Four, a Dutch band from Jeroen Elfferich. They are quite inspiring to me. I listen to what this bloke does and I try to use some of his stuff in my music. Maybe it's stealing, but somehow it comes out different when I play it. And furthermore, Carter Beauford from the Dave Matthews Band.... what a drummer! Somebody that gets everything out of his playing that's possible. That's how every drummer should be playing. Why always just tsk-boom?"


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Translated by YK/AS for EmptyWords-Published on May 17 2000