Four uninhibited metal-men talking
Bränn Dailor / Sjoerd
Visch / Chris Pennie / Yuri Xul
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.
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?"