The 10 Greatest Drumming Performances in Heavy Metal

Photo by Krousky Peutebatre, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons Ronan Thenadey from France, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons Valli at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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When it comes to metal, the heartbeat of the band is the product of thunderous drumming. A great percussionist isn’t just keeping time; they’re summoning primal forces from the bowels of existence itself. The precision of double bass kicks, the fury of blast beats, and the rhythmic complexity elevate the genre past the point of mere music and straight into the realm of visceral human experience.

In the symphony of aggression, the drums emerge as the primal pulse, obliterating the sonic landscape with unmitigated power.

These ten tracks encapsulate the best drumming in metal songs

Judas Priest – “Painkiller”
Just when they seemed to be running out of steam in the late ‘80s, Judas Priest blazed forth into a whole new and brutal era with their 1990 album, Painkiller. The title track stands as a quintessential anthem, a blistering juggernaut that left an indelible mark on the heavy music landscape of the 20th-century. The song launches with a mind-bending percussive onslaught led  with relentless precision by then-new drummer Scott Travis. This iconic intro exudes a level of intensity that feels like a matter of life or death… and it doesn’t fucking let up from there.

Slayer – “War Ensemble”
For many seasoned headbangers, Dave Lombardo is often hailed as the benchmark by which all thrash drummers are measured. His status as a percussive king is solidified by tracks like the Seasons In The Abyss opener, “War Ensemble.” While Slayer‘s catalog is a treasure trove of intense drumming, this song in particular stands as a prime showcase of his incomparable abilities. With its relentless pace and unyielding ferocity, “War Ensemble” showcases a performance that is both challenging and immensely gratifying. The intensity reaches its peak as the searing guitar solo tears through near the song’s conclusion, elevating the percussion to terrifying heights.

Meshuggah – “Bleed”
When extreme drumming comes up in conversation, “Bleed” invariably takes a seat at the head of the proverbial table. Although the popularity of Meshuggah’s iconic track has propelled it to meme status on the internet, it’s crucial not to write off the percussion on this song as a social media fluke. With a rhythm that revolves around hertas, intricate patterns where quick double notes on the bass drum harmonize with a fundamental 4/4 groove played by your hands, the sheer coordination required to master a piece like “Bleed” is nothing short of mind-boggling. Tomas Haake manages to execute it flawlessly every single fucking time they play it.

Gojira – “The Art Of Dying”
An entire universe of drumming in one pulverizing metal song. “The Art Of Dying” sets an ominous tone with rim clicks before Gojira‘s master percussionist Mario Duplantier delves into impossibly heavy progressive grooves, often in unconventional time signatures. Following this build-up, the track transitions into more conventional grooves during the vocal segments before introducing ferocious blast beats. As each of these sections repeat, Duplantier never loses steamEven the relatively mellow outro of the song features an astonishing rhythm. It’s an unmitigated masterpiece and ranks among Gojira’s finest work.

Slipknot – “The Blister Exists”
The late Joey Jordison was considered one of the finest drummers in the world during his lifetime, and tracks like this one show precisely why. Number 1’s performance on Slipknot‘s iconic “The Blister Exists” is nothing short of remarkable, with an incredible moment being his drum solo accompanied by two marching snares. Guitar solos might be the norm in metal, but this rare instance of percussion taking the spotlight provided a refreshing and unique experience that garnered widespread acclaim at the time of the track’s release. Beyond the solo, the drums throughout the song maintain an unrelenting sense of brutality, embodying the essence of stellar musicianship.

Tool – “Ticks & Leeches”
Kicking off with an exhilarating drum solo that gradually gains momentum as the other instruments join in, “Ticks & Leeches” stands as one of the finest Tool tracks while delving into the more robust aspects of Danny Carey‘s virtuosic abilities. As the vocals roar in, a gripping groove takes over that is bolstered by the powerful buildup. Staying true to their oddball form, the song is set in the time signature of 7/4. Something so outlandish might be expected coming from these guys, but the complex rhythm nonetheless adds an extra layer of intricacy to an already mind-boggling track.

Sepultura – “Ratamahatta”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Iggor Cavalera’s drumming when it comes to the landscape of contemporary extreme music. With relentless power and an emphasis of tom-fills, the Sepultura founder merged elements of death metal, d-beat hardcore, and Latin percussion to forge a unique style all of his own. In conjunction with then-Korn drummer David Silvera, “Ratamahatta” is an explosion of raw aggression through dense polyrhythms. As frontman Max Cavalera and Brazilian singer Carlinhos Brown trade vocal lines, the relentless drums push the listener into an ecstatic trance.

Death – “Scavenger Of Human Sorrow”
The Godfathers of Florida Death Metal, few bands have ever pushed the boundaries of extreme music quite like Death. Released in 1998, their final studio album The Sound Of Perseverance is a musical melting pot that clearly draws inspiration from bands as varied as Cynic, Dream Theater, Atheist, and Opeth. Nevertheless, their distinctive style remains profoundly ingrained throughout the record, as prominently featured in the opening gem, “Scavenger of Human Sorrow.” The song commences with an explosive drum solo courtesy of new percussionist Richard Christy, complemented by a scorching yet concise guitar solo. Subsequently, the composition unfolds as a dazzling showcase of the band’s collective talents, with a notable nod not only to virtuoso leader Chuck Schuldiner but also the now much beloved new guy behind the kit.

Suffocation – “Pierced From Within”
In the realm of brutal death metal, Suffocation‘s “Pierced From Within” stands as the gold standard of unrelenting auditory assaults. Released in 1995, the title track of their iconic album is a testament to the band’s technical prowess; and the percussion in particular is nothing short of a tour de force. Stepping into the shoes of legendary drummer Mike Smith isn’t an enviable task for anyone, but Doug Bohn’s performance on the title track showed that he was more than a worthy successor to the throne. His relentless barrage of blast beats, double bass pedal mayhem, and intricate fills that seamlessly merge with Frank Mullen’s guttural vocals and Terrance Hobbs’ intricate guitar work make for a harrowing sonic experience. Bohn’s drumming on this track has become legendary in extreme metal circles, setting a benchmark for technicality and brutality that few have equaled and none have eclipsed.

Black Sabbath – “Supernaut”
They just don’t build ‘em like Bill Ward anymore. While there are numerous instances showcasing the Black Sabbath founder’s remarkable sense of groove and innovative drumming, none quite compare to his work on “Supernaut.” From the striking solitary hi-hat intro to the relentless beat of the opening verse, Ward’s exceptional skills are on full display. That being said, “Supernaut” isn’t your run-of-the-mill head-banging track; it takes an unexpected turn with a drum solo that leans heavily into Cuban percussion, setting it apart from traditional rock and roll. Although the appeal of the track extends beyond the drumming, Bill’s performance remains the linchpin. It’s bold and unique, reaffirming his status as one of the all-time greats.