In most genres, drummers rarely get any of the musical glory.
Typically relegated to the back (literally), they are often almost entirely forgotten in lieu of the frontman/frontwoman (or guitarist). But in heavy metal, we generally respect and properly revere drumming talent.
When we talk about Max Cavalera and the glory days of Sepultura, Igor’s legendary contributions are always top of mind. When we talk about Tool, Danny Carey is arguably the star of the show. Gojira? Mario Duplantier is god. You get the idea.
So while drummers do get a lot of love in metal, we’re of the mindset that drummers can never be too celebrated. Some of the most important and coolest metal songs of all time wouldn’t be what they are without key drum moments. So with that in mind, here are our picks for ten of the most iconic heavy metal drum parts of all time (each video below is timed to the drum part in question for ease).
Black Sabbath: War Pigs
How much fun did Bill Ward have while recording Sabbath’s legendary War Pigs, ay? Dude got to lay down a conversational drum solo on repeat for minutes, effortlessly calling and responding to the groove of the music. Maybe the most fun metal song ever to air drum along to, so on the list it must go.
Not much needs to be said about this one. The machine-gun-like double bass syncopated breakdown led by Lars halfway through this Metallica opus is one of the coolest parts in metal history and easily one of the most iconic double kick drum moments in the genre, period. How many kids every year still buy an Iron Cobra double pedal after hearing this jam for the first time? Classic.
Few drum parts on their own can whip grown men into a mosh pit frenzy within 15 seconds. But Igor Cavalera’s opening tribal tom drum fury on Territory is one of those parts. A legendary opening to a legendary song, on a legendary album.
Meshuggah: Future Breed Machine
Tomas Haake might be more machine than human. The guy is essentially the T-1000 in drumming form. In 1995, the double bass syncopated breakdown in Future Human Machine at 3:42 launched a legion of copycat metalcore breakdowns. And bands are still ripping the part off to this very day.
Vinnie Paul’s double kick solo work has to be in the hall of fame for the greatest use of double kick in a metal song. Like ever. Super producer and long-time Pantera creative partner Terry Date once said that he heard Vinnie Paul mucking around with this part in the studio, just practicing and thinking nothing of it. Date said he freaked out and made Vinnie turn it into a part. When he marveled at how Vinnie was able to pull it off, the man shrugged and said it was easy, anyone could do it (not true). Thankfully, there’s actual foot POV footage of Vinnie recording this beast in the studio, which you can marvel at below.
Slayer: Angel Of Death
Not much to say about this one that hasn’t been said a million times. It’s Slayer. It’s Dave Lombardo. It’s the legendary double-kick solo you know and love. All hail Slayer.
So simple, yet SO iconic, David Silveria’s sixteenth note ride pattern at the beginning of Blind is arguably one of the most memorable drum parts of the 90s. You’d be hard-pressed to play that for a heavy music fan the world over who couldn’t instantly identify the song based on those ride-hits alone. An iconic intro to the literal birth of nu-metal.
We probably spent more time trying to decide which Joey Jordison song to include than it took us to write this article. The guy, rest his soul, was an absolute juggernaut behind the kit. While no easy task, we’re going with Eyeless here because it was the world’s first real, proper introduction to the 9-headed serpent from Iowa. Not any particular part- the whole damn thing. By the end of this song, there wasn’t a heavy metal fan alive in 1999 who didn’t think Joey was the new best metal drummer on the planet. R.I.P. legend.
Deftones: My Own Summer
Abe Cunningham is a beast on the kit. He has true finesse, style, and power without being overtly flashy or show-offy. And like Blind the incredibly simple two-note snare-tom hit that opens Deftones’ My Own Summer might be one of the most recognizable drum intros in heavy music of the past few decades.
Tool: Forty Six & 2
Danny Carey’s drumming on “Opiate” and “Undertow” is nothing to scoff at. But Aenima is really where he showed the world that he’s more octopus than man. While it was nearly impossible to pick one iconic Carey part for this list, we’re choosing Forty Six & 2 because it’s really the single that made the world collectively realize that Carey was one of the true drumming greats. Starting around the 4:30 mark, he goes full-on octopus solo for the remainder of the track, ending with those also iconic stop-on-a-dime unison hits that make you feel like you’re about to fall out of a moving vehicle.