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Drums of Doom

1, 2, 3, 4.

Anyone with functioning limbs (and lungs and digits, where applicable) can master an instrument. True musicianship nirvana is achieved when you play with virtuosity, creativity, smarts, and beauty. You don’t necessarily need neck-breaking speed and high agility to be the best – – if that were the case, then everyone’s favorite guitarist would be Michael Angelo Batio.*

Metal defies parameters and rules, but it’s an accepted foundational tenet that a Heavy band is guitar(s), bass, drums, and vocals.** It’s technically possible to do Metal minus the other 3 main components – – vox, guitars, bass – – but without someone thundering the beat against the heavens, then it just ain’t Metal. Drummers provide the rib-rattling, tachycardia pulse that pumps the blood through the veins of the music. It’s the sound of the approaching army. Some do it behind kits with more pieces and doo-dads than a 777 cockpit, others get the same effect on a plastic paint carton. It’s all about what’s best for the music.

Great drums are near and dear to the Metal Hall of Fame; it’s the chosen instrument of its founder, Pat Gesualdo. Through his personal efforts and his Drums and Disabilities (D.A.D.) program, he’s used the instrument as a force for good and healing. Drummers are good people and fully equal musicians in their own right, not (only) maniacs who like to hit things.

What follows is my list of my own personal favorite Metal skins players. I’m not speaking on behalf of the Hall or Pat or anyone else. I’ve kept the top of the list to 3, because there’s no way you can boil down any one position to a manageable summary. I’ve kept it to Metal and Hard Rock drummers, because this is the Metal Hall of Fame. An all-genre list would be even more difficult, and would include such icons as Buddy Rich, Stewart Copeland, Billy Cobham, Animal, Nick Mason, Terry Bozzio, Bill Bruford, Clyde Stubblefield, and Ringo Starr.***

Even with the “Also” list, I’ve left off literally hundreds of auteurs, likely including your own favorite. There’s no way an article like this can please everyone, so I clearly must have written so you all would yell at me. Go for it.

In no particular order:

Bill Ward: Metal Hall of Fame inductee. He just gets it. Every single Black Sabbath drum part that he created is just perfect. He was never an acrobat back there, but he delivered power, grace, funk, charm, cleverness, playfulness, and thunder as needed on every goddamn song. Other players might also have done great things in his role, but no one would have surpassed what he did. Never a wrong note.

Listen to: “Hand of Doom,” “War Pigs,” “Into the Void, “Black Sabbath,” “Hole in the Sky,” “Never Say Die,” Electric Funeral,” “Supernaut,” and his subtle touches on “Planet Caravan.”

Lars Ulrich: OK. . . OK. . . . Get it out of your system now. Done? Let’s continue.****

I’ve heard all of the complaints about his poor timing, how the click track walked out of the studio rather than work with him. I don’t care. His rhythm is good or good enough on the studio tapes. The drum parts he wrote on those formative Metallica albums were ambitious, meticulous, obsessive, brilliant, and they served the songs perfectly. Lars was not just a time-keeper, he was an active, thoughtful songwriter behind the kit. “Call of Ktulu” may be my favorite Metal drum song of all time.

Listen to: “Call of Ktulu,” “Disposable Heroes,” “Am I Evil?” “Fight Fire With Fire,” “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)/Whiplash,” “One,” “To Live is to Die,” “The Thing That Should Not Be,” “. . . And Justice For All,” “To Live is to Die,” “The Day That Never Comes,” “My Apocalypse.”

Don’t listen to: “St. Anger.” Not his best drum work. . .

Mike Bordin: Best known as the dreadlock guy from Faith No More. The original “Puffy” in the music biz is not as high-profile as Bill Ward or Lars, but he’s also played with Ozzy and just about everyone else. People sometimes forget just how pivotal and impactful Faith No More were. Distinct, odd, unique, personalities and mega-talents at every position, they were a whole lot more than “Epic” and a flopping fish.

Throw out the click track, we don’t need it. Not only is Bordin’s timing impeccable, but it’s also creative and effective AF, full of groove and all kinds of different sounds and tricks. He could step into any band, anywhere, of any genre, and immediately improve the situation.

Listen to: “Mid-Life Crisis,” “Introduce Yourself,” “The Real Thing,” “Stripsearch,” “Epic.”

Also, obviously:

Neil Peart: The Professor. A literal genius. Everyone’s go-to answer for “greatest drummer of all time,” and for good reason. He had 45,000 pieces surrounding him on his drum riser, but he had a use for each of them. Rush (The Presto tour –  – my first) was the first concert I’d ever seen where there were more air-drummers in the crowd than air guitarists. I’m a guitarist, but I’ve been air-drumming along with him for years, and I can never ever get all the intricacies, even on the songs I know by heart.

John Bonham: We’d all be listening to recorder flutes and slide whistles if it weren’t for John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. He changed the game forever for Heavy Music. Kudos to Jason Bonham for keeping his dad’s banner flying.

Dave Lombardo. Athleticism, diversity, skyscraper drum IQ – – the guy is a legend. Not just with Slayer, although that’s obviously his most iconic work. Animal of the Muppets in human form. If you claim he’s the greatest drummer of all time. . . well, you’re not wrong.

Mario Duplantier. Athleticism, diversity, skyscraper drum IQ – – Wait, I just said all that about Dave Lombardo. Well, if the double-bass pedal fits. . . Seriously, Super Mario’s work with Gojira is jaw-dropping. One of the 21s-century’s great talents and innovators. His snare drum is the Heaviest Matter of the Universe.

Rat Skates. Those early Overkill records were the products of 4 incredible individuals. Rat Skates pushed them over the top. “Hammerhead,” “Feel the Fire,” “Powersurge,” “Fear His Name,” Overkill II (The Nightmare Continues).” (Make no mistake. Overkill have been blessed with many incredible drummers.)

Nicko McBrain. Everyone’s favorite drum madman. His brilliant drum parts should earn him songwriting credits on every post-NotB Iron Maiden song. “Where Eagles Dare.”

Clive Burr. “Run to the Hills.” “Killers.” ‘Nuff said. RIP.

Kirk Arrington***** – early Metal Church. That hi-hat on their eponymous song! chef’s kiss

Dobber Beverly – You could buy a larger drumkit from Target, but he gets more sounds out of it than the Phantom Drum Corp Regiment. Dobber bangs away for a number of Death and Black Metal bands, notably Necrofier, but primarily backstops his main project, Oceans of Slumber – – while also serving as primary songwriter.

Martin Lopez – Opeth/Soen. My god, the brilliant drums behind “Blackwater Park.” The song, the album. My god.

Ingo Schwichtenberg. Pioneer. His work on the early Helloween albums molded the Power Metal template.

Cozy Powell. Who DIDN’T he play with?

Ian Paice. Deep Purple’s iron man. Best sideburns of all time.

Mitch Mitchell. Not Metal. Without Jimi – – and also Mitch Mitchell’s drumming on those Jimi Hendrix Experience records – – Heavy Metal would be very different.

Keith Moon. Also Not Metal, but his influence is all over the genre. He smashed the hell out of those things for The Who.

Tommy Lee. Iconic, influential – – and a hell of a showman, in and out of Motley Crue. Boy, does he love that cowbell.

Carmine Appice / Vinny Appice. These guys are the Esposito Brothers of Metal. (Hockey reference. See also: the Manning Brothers, Mario Brothers, Smothers Brothers, Property Brothers.) The drums on the “Blue Murder” album measure on the Richter scale.

Rick Allen. Points for persistence, resilience, and innovation. (If you don’t know, he’s played the latter 3/4 of his career with only one arm, never missing a beat. Literally.) And how incredible are the drums on Def Leppard albums – – especially those first four??

Jurgen “Ventor” Riel. The double-bass heartbeat of Kreator. Time to raise the “Flag of Hate.”

Gar Samuelsson. Gone too soon. Possibly the most gifted Thrash drummer of all time. The things he did on those first two Megadeth albums still don’t seem possible. He’d have changed the drum world if he’d had a few more years. Nick Menza was no slouch replacing him, by the way.

Raymond Herrerra. Maximum Effective Pulse Generator for Fear Factory. Not their only drummer, but the things he did still seem impossible for humans, almost 30 years later.

Scott Rockenfeld. He absolutely elevated Queensryche’s classic era.

AJ Pero. Yes, yes, the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” opening is instantly recognizable, but he also had a career full of amazing drum parts – – for Twisted Sister and his lesser-known band, Cities.

Alex Van Halen. Yes, yes, the “Hot For Teacher” opening is instantly recognizable, but he also had a career full of amazing drum parts – – for every iteration of Van Halen.

Lee Kerslake. Rightfully inducted in the MHOF. His playing on the early Ozzy records is superb – – not to mention his tenure with Uriah Heep.

Nick Menza. A remarkable body of work, but his playing on Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace” album will last forever.

Iggor Cavalera. How do you rattle off great Heavy Metal drummers and exclude Iggor? You don’t. Another incredible career, but Sepultura’s “Chaos AD” was his gold medal performance. War for Terry Toryyyeeeaahhh.

Scott Columbus. Unsubtle. Underappreciated. Hell, we named this column after one of his songs with Manowar. Per Wikipedia: “Columbus played the so-called “Drums of Doom”, a kit made of stainless steel, because his drumming technique was too rough on standard kits which had to be replaced too regularly.”******

Mike Portnoy. Last, but not least. No one else makes it look as easy and effortless. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him checking his phone in the middle of a complex fill.

To no one’s surprise, this article has become an overly long drum solo. Who would you add to the list?


Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel, as a journalist with and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.


*Let no one diss Michael Angelo Batio. His guitar god schtick is way over-the-top, but that’s the entire point. He’s a joy to listen to and a blast to watch, and he also gives spotlights to lesser-known shredders.


**Keys, horns, strings, folk instruments, hurdy-gurdies, and everything else are discretionary add-ons in Heavy Metal.


***Yes, fucking Ringo Starr. Check out this video essay from George Hrab (a great drummer in his own right) on the genius of Ringo Starr:


****I’m going to catch hell about this one, but I don’t care. If you don’t enjoy his playing on those first five Metallica albums, then we disagree. If you hate him because of his haircut, then your argument is invalid. I say this as someone who also has a bad haircut.


*****This article was written before his untimely 2023 passing. Rest In Power, Kirk. We’ll see you on that distant shore.


1st Photo by Shawn Sim on Unsplash

2nd Photo by ASBA Drums on Unsplash

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