A foundational element of extreme music, the primal force of a well executed blast-beat is as integral to certain genres as screaming, power chords, or tremolo picking. While it might be impossible for modern metal and punk drummers to envision a world where it wasn’t part of a natural sonic repertoire, in reality it took a long time for that deceptively simple kick-snare-cymbal syncopation to evolve from atonal brutality to a precise timekeeping tool.
The term “blast-beat” was first used to describe the style of Mick “The Human Tornado” Harris. Having replaced founding Napalm Death drummer Miles “The Rat” Ratledge behind the kit, the young Harris brought a unique brand of speed and kinetic energy to the pioneering grindcore band (oh yeah, he coined the term “grindcore” as well). While a word for this type of playing might not have existed before Harris, the technique itself had been used by extreme contemporaries D.R.I., Beastie Boys, Sepultura, S.O.D., Sarcófago, and Repulsion.
While hardcore punk might have popularized the sound, there are multiple instances of jazz and progressive rock drummers using variations of the beat from the 1960s onward. It is this merging of jazz skill and punk fury that makes Pete Sandoval the father of the modern blast beat. Through Sandoval’s work in Terrorizer and early Morbid Angel, the blast beat changed sonic context from a chaotic blitzkrieg to a precision-based rapid fire assault.
In a 2018 interview, Sandoval spoke of developing his brand of blast beat with Drumtalk (as transcribed by Blabbermouth.net):
“I love drumming for the speed and you know, drums are the backbone of the music. The foundation. I’ve been into this style of music that I’ve been playing for — you guys know since when — that’s why I love it because it’s challenging. Back in those days, there was no death metal. I didn’t know death metal; I only knew hardcore, the hardest bands were like Master, Repulsion and I guess Napalm Death was around, too, but I didn’t hear from them until we had the ‘World Downfall’ album. It was natural for me, to be honest, before back in ’85, ’84, sometime in ’84 or ’85, I tried to play guitar. I even have some pictures from back then when I’m just trying to be a guitar player, but it didn’t work for me after a few months. Then, I started to realize that drums were the thing. Every time I hear it, even if I heard bands like Judas Priest, let’s say, Van Halen, you know, it was the drums that I felt. I just decided, ‘Hey, I want it.’ It came to me like ‘I want to play drums.’ You know, I would practice without drums, of course, in my house, on the chair, pillows, I used to put a pillow and just pretend like I’m playing, so everything was by ear. I never learned how to play drums. I didn’t go to school, I didn’t have a teacher. I taught myself and eventually, after I knew that the drums were my thing, I was already seeking for new bands that were more heavy, more extreme than the previous bands. Then, I found Hellhammer back in those days, Sentence Of Death, Destruction, that was ‘Wow!’ [Metallica’s] Kill ‘Em All, that album, is history for me, [Slayer’s] Show No Mercy, of course. When I heard this kind of thrash, I went ‘No, no, no. I love this. I love speed.’ Speed was natural for me. I learned the skank beat which was popular back then, the Slayer beat, then I thought, ‘Hey, I want to do double the speed.’ But remember, I never played double-bass before I joined Morbid Angel. It was only one kick-drum. It was one-footed blast beats, that’s why they call me [the inventor] of one-footed blast-beats. This is how I felt. I felt I wanted to double the speed. That’s how everything started. Speed. I just wanted to make things faster, somehow. There was not this kind of music in ’86. Come on. That was when I started with Terrorizer. ’87, we made some demos. So, that was the beginning for me. I wanted to take things to the next level as far as speed. That was the logical way.”