Trendkillers #2: Blast Beats Must Die!

The blast beat has had a very unlikely journey through its relatively young lifespan in music.  Rooted in a jazz technique of an alternating bass drum/hi-hat and snare 16th note pattern (though played at much slower tempo in jazz music), it found a unique identity in the early 1980s when underground hardcore punk bands like Siege and Asocial began using it at aggressive speeds to enhance their violent bursts of rebellion.  This made it a close friend of metal when the middle of the decade saw a fledgling death metal movement getting its hands dirty with hardcore punk speed and sound in an effort to push its own extremity.  Over the next 15 years, several drummers would rise to prominence with their clever use of the blast beat to either push these combinations to extreme speeds or to utilize them enduringly for an effect similar to trance music.  Suddenly, every metal band that wanted to play fast or play simplistically HAD to play blast beats, and we eventually reached a point where blast beats were the most dominant part of every death and black metal song’s drum composition.

For the future of death and black metal to establish themselves distinctively, they must abandon what has become routine and keep only what is necessary to preserve their underlying spirit.  And with this understanding comes an unfortunate truth- the beloved blast beat must be laid to rest, so that new life in metal can grow.

Blast beats first found their way into metal in the mid 80’s as proto-death/black metal bands like Hellhammer and Sepultura were using punk rock drumming to blend with the atnoal/minor power chord-heavy guitar riffs.  The first metal band to utilize it was probably Repulsion, who’s use of the technique on the band’s Slaughter of the Innocent demo (above, blast beats at 1 minute in) set the standard for the speed it would be used on in the 80s.  It was with repulsion that we saw it as a common technique that could replace the common thrash kick+snare+kick+snare that was being played on 8th notes rather than 16th notes.  Now having been decisively claimed by death metal and grindcore, a number of bands would interpret different uses of the blast beat.  Cannibal Corpse’s Paul Mazurkiewicz would place the snare drum selectively while hitting the 16th notes consistently on the kick and hi-hat, Morbid Angel’s Pete Sandoval would use craftier footwork while maintaining the tempo with the hands, and gore/brutal death metal bands introduced more nimble 16th note count of the snare (in place of or in conjunction with the hi-hat) via the “gravity blast” technique.

Meanwhile in Norway, a completely new and different use of the blast beat emerged.  While bands such as Mayhem and Burzum used a very basic blast beat mixed with tom fills and other change ups, Darkthrone’s Fenriz made a bold and creative new use for the technique- by slowing down its tempo slightly, removing all fills and variation, and allowing a minimalist variant to carry the drumming of the entire song.  This was no accident- Fenriz, an admitted fan of techno and electronic music– had cleverly devised a way to replicate trance music’s transcendental properties in metal by using a similar formula:  basic and repetitive drum beat, textures of ambient melody (in this case, played entirely on guitars), and minimal variation of movements.  The drum beat Fenriz would use is a blast beat played between 140 and 170 beats per minute with little or no fills.  Though the untrained ear would see no difference, as trance and metal cultures were greatly alienated from one and other (despite Mayhem, Burzum, and Emperor members all being great fans of electronic music and techno nightclubs), Darkthrone’s minimalist Transilvanian hunger was essentially a trance album played on guitars, with the kick snare quarter notes of trance music being replaced by Fenriz’s minimalist blast beats.  Legions of Darkthrone clones would follow suit, having no idea they were playing what was (in spirit) trance drumming, but effectively laying a drum foundation that supported their minimal riffing capacity.

By the late 90’s and early 2000’s, bands of both black and death metal were ramping up the intensity of the blast beat.  It was getting more and more extreme, with tempos now often reaching tempos of over 200 beats per minute.  There was even new genre term called “Norsecore” for Nordic bands with a blizzard of power chords and blasts were esentially playing hardcore punk in double time (e.g., Marduk’s Panzer division Marduk).  There were all kinds of blast beat variants, more bands were using them, it was vicious and assaulting and savage and bands were doing it everywhere.  What could possibly go wrong?

Blast beats went mainstream.  And not Whitechapel or Deafheaven mainstream (though that’s pretty mainstream by metal standards and both those bands use blast beats exclusively) no- I’m talking System of a Down and Slipknot mainstream.  Every drummer in metal was playing them.  It was no longer an impressive feat of drumming mastery to hear at a climactic moment in a song- no, it was the WHOLE SONG, EVERY SONG, EVERY BAND.  It surpassed being trendy- it became systematic conditioning enslaving the heart, spirit, and soul of every metal drummer to ever pick up a pair of sticks in the last decade.  They were everything everywhere, they replaced drums, they replaced music, most metal shows I went to in the mid 2000s had only blast beats in the mix, only blast, blast, blast, blast, blast, blast, blast…….

I’m old enough to remember (though I am barely older than this site itself) a time when hearing blast beats would be exciting and refreshing.  I recall my teenage years when one of my drummer friend told me that he would go see bands he didn’t like just to hear them play blast beats (e.g. Nile or The Black Dahlia Murder).  I remember when it was a challenge to find a drummer who could play blast beats at metal tempos.

But those days are far behind us, and blast beats have since lost their purpose.  Originally owned by death/black metal, and grindcore as something that separated them from thrash and nu metal and all of the popular metal genres of that age, blast beats are now in ALL modern metal genres- underground or not.  They are no longer the statement they used to be, and instead are a routine pill that we take over and over again without questioning what is in it.

The next great movement in metal will have to break the shackles of the last twenty years.  It will have shed the chains that have enslaved underground metal to mediocrity for decades.  To do this, and do this effectively, the next generation must leave blast beats behind.  I recognize their impact in metal and appreciate the role they served as a best friend to metal music for many years.  But sometimes that best friend gets ill, can’t function, doesn’t remember who it is, and loses it’s whole personality and identity.  And sometimes that day comes, where one has to man up and to take that friend to the barn, load up his trusty rifle, and do what hast to be done.

Blast beats, you’ll never be forgotten, but it’s time to put you down.

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40 thoughts on “Trendkillers #2: Blast Beats Must Die!”

  1. matters says:

    Even thrash/speed metal bands like Testament used the technique. Also proto nu metal band like Fear Factory used them in their earlier stuff.

  2. the brack pirr says:

    Death metal has no future, nor a present. Pack up. Go home.

    1. Metal4thelobotomized says:

      Walk on home, boi!

  3. cornrose says:

    There’s a tasteful way to use the blast but it needs to be applied minimally. U couldn’t be more correct with this. Thanks

  4. Black Commentary says:

    If I follow your train of thot thus far then the ultimate conclusion is that metal should basically be instrumental guitar music. Hey while we are at it, metal should drop chromaticism too.

    Vocals? That offends orchestra going normie boomers and retards in academia who think stockhausen is good.
    Rhythm? That’s just too low on my platonic hierarchy of taste as it corresponds with blacks twerking even though Nietzsche who I probably sieg heil nightly disagreed.
    Drums? Keeping the primal pulse of a blastbeat in the background to maintain a feral character while enabling guitar melodies to reach ethereality is still too negroid for me and gosh it just isn’t novel enough anymore.
    Bass guitar? Sheesh man Schopenhauer said the low notes correspond with the body; we can’t have none of that base level instinct stuff interfering with my noetic purity of chromatic variations.

    Do you like metal for what it actually is?

    1. S.C. says:

      I think the point is metal affectively reached it’s logical conclusion in the mid 90’s and now is the time for trying to establish what can be risen from those ashes while continuing some resemblance of what came before. Modern metal is beating a dead horse. So we need something new and living. But hopefully whatever comes next isn’t pandering, trying to broaden it’s appeal. Hopefully it will usher in a return to it’s true anti-social underground nature, though it is doubtful it will be through the means that have been recently suggested here.

      1. Black Commentary says:

        What does any of what you wrote have to do with the use of musical techniques in metal? Canned musings? So basically nothing? Ok

        1. S.C. says:

          Just because the connections might be a bit vague do not mean they are not there. I am speaking on the bigger picture of what this article is addressing: namely that metal has pigeonholed itself so it needs to redefine. Everything else is just details. And perhaps my sentiments are a bit derivative, but truth often bares repeating. The fact that metal has been distilled down to mere technique and only conversations about such are regarded as legitimate (particularly here) is a huge reason it has stagnated and is prone to appropriation by slimy opportunists. Metal has no autonomy anymore. It has become slave to that which it should be master. Good art always begins with genuine intent and spirit. Everything else follows. Technique is the tool used for manifesting art. Art should not be defined by technique, but the other way around.

          Also, perhaps there could be actual developments towards something better in metal if there was a greater inclination towards conversation rather than prosecution and the constant competition of attempting to derail everyone else's opinion.

        2. fried gold says:

          Modern metal, or otherwise extreme rock n roll music, is just overpopulated, oversaturated, full of egocentristic tired-ass musicians, who learned how to copy/paste/record at home before they figured out how to write a decent original idea. “There’s a tasteful way to use the blast but it needs to be applied minimally.” – golden. Add the importance of placing an instrument in the mix, making it sound not too big yet tasteful, both on tape and live, and we’re talking art here.

    2. cornrose says:

      Oh wow! Look it here everyone, it’s clever boy!! Schipplehymenclit says rocknrolla my Victrola!!! Behold, blast beating gurgling vocalfry my detuna gitfiddled buttfuck$
      Stfu

      1. Black Commentary says:

        The smell of fermenting yeast breath bread boys is intoxicating.

    3. Rainer Weikusat eater of Somalian dicks says:

      I second this. ↑

      I believe tiny midget made the same point with less finesse albeit in a cuter manner on Cullen’s last article.

      Metal is physical sensual music, even S.R. Prozak suggested something in the lines of: “the best metal has dancelike rhythms” somewhere in the old Anus. Rainer enjoys licking the anus of men.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        Metal is physical sensual music,

        Not even “dance music” is (which is actually pretty close to metal when it’s good as both use [real or synthetic] drums as ‘real’ instrument). You’re suffering from a ‘normie’ deficiency of perspective, the inability to get beyond you’re “very much fascinating” (to you at least) elementary body functions.

        1. Rainer Weikusat blower of trannies says:

          I find fascinating your bodily functions. Your rectum feels so tight and throbbing

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            You’re obviously ‘fascinated’ by talking/ writing about this topic in imagined safety in public. Or whatever public still remains where these legally risky and commerically damaging antics your comrades-in-diapers would award you Brownie points for are still tolerated.

            Whatever.

            1. Levy Spearmen says:

              Worry not Rainer, I can be your boyfriend. You frot?

  5. Teutonick says:

    Is it also time to do away with distorted guitars? Because…like.. all metal bands…even mainstream bands… use them.

    Seriously though, I’m not a contrarian, nor do I feel the need to show that I’m an “individual”.

    I like the music that I like because of the sound, not because it’s considered extreme or unusual. I’m not going to stop liking a sound just because it gets popular.

  6. Svmmoned says:

    Some Norwegian blastbeats almost sound more like a result of taking some notes on heavy metal drumming than harder, “binary” technique inherited from grind through death.

  7. atonalistic moshing says:

    Do you think “Here in After” is better than “Onward to Golgotha”

    1. Rainer Weikusat says:

      Both albums are shitty noise garbage. If you want to listen to some true death metal gem, listen to Cannibal Corpse´s first album…

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        Cannibal Corpse was close to the point where I stopped listening to metal (for external reasons) some time ago because they whole concept is simply beyond silly, cf Brett Stevens on the same topic.

    2. Rainer Weikusat says:

      Chances are good that the Incantation debut is better than anything Immolation ever released.

      Not that it would be particularly likely that you care.

  8. mlotek says:

    I agree Cullen, I have been sick of hearing blast beats for decades.
    You are probably the first or one of the first writers to recognize they mean nothing anymore (just like when everybody who wasn’t true metal started throwing up the devilhorns handsign).

    It takes REAL talent for a metal band to prove how good and heavy and catchy they are by using only a single kick/bass drum.

  9. Chad shilldinger says:

    Ok… I understand the desire to help metal grow, but the whole “x is bad, remove it” approach isn’t quite helpful. It’s not how artists think.

    1. S.C. says:

      It is a bit reductionist thinking. It isn’t that the elements themselves are what’s wrong, it’s how they are utilized. But perhaps these elements have been exhausted. I think that new music with the true spirit of metal will, on certain levels, be abstractly different. However I don’t think it is realistic to try and predict and control the movements of art/creativity. That would eliminate good art’s most exciting aspects: namely spontaneity and a defying of expectations. The best art I have experienced has always done what I wouldn’t have expected. But I do agree with Toner that traditions do need to be left in the past. This is definitely a time for big change and letting go of nostalgia, however intoxicating it may be.

  10. Claudia Soulroth says:

    This article misses the point and comes across as the ramblings of a drunk teenager. It also misses the chance to talk about the finer mechanics of using the blastbeat and why it worked so well as utilized by primitive early Napalm Death, Repulsion, Bolt Thrower, Blood, and so on… which as always comes down to songwriting. The blastbeat variations such as the triplet blast, diarrhae blast or using the bell are actually great in order to add character to the music as can be studied in Immolation, Demilich or Incantation just to name the most obvious examples. Blastbeats that sound like a metronome exercise with drum triggers are the cancer. Finally, there is no talk about what underground metal without the good ol blasts could sound like, altough we already have Soulside Journey, early Autopsy, the more recent Condor, some Morbid Angel songs or pretty much the entirety of first wave black metal/extreme metal to look at.

    1. Cullen Toner says:

      Sounds like you’ve got a compelling followup article on the drawing board. Send to Editor@deathmetal.org

  11. Rainer Weikusat says:

    I second what Teutonick wrote above: Blast beats are an integral feature of certain music I like. Even bands where the drummer plays almost nothing but blasts, eg, Blessmon or Human Serpent. I don’t care if they’re “an impressive feat of drumming mastery” or if the Slipknot drummer plays them unless Slipknot would suddenly start to create stuff I’d consider music (and if they did, I’d certainly welcome it because of the music, but that’s not going to happen as they address a different audience).

    It’s not about being hardcore different for the sake of being different or extreme for the sake of being extreme. I don’t anxiously try to avoid fashion, I simply don’t care about it.

  12. Darkthrone 90's, Demilich, and Burzum's 3rd says:

    Transilvanian Hunger drumming was influenced by Bathory and Von, and alternating hits aren’t blast beats either. Dave Lombardo approximates that tempo during the end of Raining Blood (Slayer fast rhythm, played at a faster tempo). Musically, it’s also different from the electronic “trance” genre besides instrumentation.

  13. Grond says:

    May I add that the first examples you gave (80’s and early 90’s) sound like real drumming. We can feel a real effort, real meaning, anger, violence, whatever… Now it has become a gimmick, it has nothing to do with the expression of a musician. I am talking about triggers that filter the raw energy and turn things so synthetic, but is really more important than that. Guitars and overall recordings had the same problems from some time now…

    1. Death Metal Gear Solid says:

      I know exactly what you mean. Tremolo picking used to have that effect because you could hear the physical strain being put forth by the musician. Now there are guitar clinics and such for extreme metal techniques and there is no urgency heard when they are implemented just for the sake of sounding metal.

  14. whatever is dead says:

    Pharmakon is death

  15. TP says:

    I absolutly agree, blastbeats once sounded vital but they have been done to excess and for a long time have become just another predictable and tedious formal aesthetic littering and polluting almost every album, only monkeys would still find them interesting.

    1. Rainer Weikusat says:

      C D E F G A H C in whatever permutation once sounded vital but have been used to excess (for centuries, mind you, not just for a few dozen).

      Fellow monkeys long list any interest in them.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        As that’s presumably again too indirect for denser people: Arguing that people should stop using C or F# in music because “everybody has used them for centuries” would be obviously absurd (one hopes, at least). And picking on individual drum patterns is no different: These are functional elements serving a certain, individually subordinate purpose in a composition.

        Only monkeys would break that apart, aimlessly play with the components for a while, and then throw them aside once something New! looking again comes into sight.

        1. TP says:

          That’s not a very good analogy as good death metal can be made without the use of blastbeats and at this stage that might be the more interesting path, the rinse and repeat repetition of bands churning out the same derivitive formal qualities on death metal albums without thinking is where the monkey allusions come from.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            The problem with bad death metal is not that it uses (or doesn’t use) blastbeats but that it’s bad: An aimless arrangement of death metal components may make a nice “lifestyle wallpaper” but it doesn’t result in listenworthy music. But the same (or at least very similar) components work nicely in good music. That’s not different for rhythmic patterns than it is for notes or chords played on instrument capable of producing them.

  16. Finnish Death Metal was the pinnacle of death metal says:

    Blast beat article with no mention of “De Profundis” by Vader?
    https://youtu.be/czMuRXDwP5s
    Also, as the guy above said, an article about metal without blast beats would be awesome. Fleshcrawl’s debut had few blast beats, and really the highlight of that album’s sound was the subtle things in the music.

  17. ass ass ass ass says:

    The real problem in bad death metal is breakdown-oriented songwriting that defaults to the easiest two extremes, the blastbeat and the chug, whenever added-on impact is needed. Complaining about blastbeats shows similar surface-level understanding.

  18. Metal & Autism says:

    METAL MUST DIE….

    …oh wait

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