Extreme metal 101:Part 2-The necessities.

January 11, 2010 11:27 pm in Drumset by Gus Rios

Welcome back, and I hope that my last post was found helpful! In part 1 we talked about the metal drummer’s drumkit, and now that we have our steady foundation, let’s make sure that we are accessorizing properly for what we want to accomplish.

Cymbal selection-

When it comes to choosing the right cymbals, we must really examine a few things: what will be required of the cymbals, the musical context in which they’ll be utilized, and of course,  their durability. You’ll find that upon choosing the right set up, which in this case is for very loud, fast, and aggressive music, the cymbals will last longer and your band will hear your cues better. In this style of music, the tighter your acoustic tones can be, the better. There isn’t a lot of space in the music and everyone needs to be heard! Having cymbals that aren’t loud enough will lead to over exertion of yourself physically and more than likely, cracking of the cymbals themselves. Playing in a band like Malevolent Creation that tours all over the world, a lot of the time I am dealing with venues with less than great monitor systems. The only way to keep things tight during those extended blast beat parts is to heavily accent with crash or china hits, instead of just crashing on the 1. Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in a barrage of snare notes! I like to use smaller, but very loud crashes so they make the statement and get out of the way. I have one bigger crash for riding on and big crash parts and of course some china cymbals. Unfortunately this style of music seems to require fairly large cymbal set ups! I also like to pepper in a couple of splash cymbals for tasty accents. I’ve been using 13″ hats for years and really like their tight, controlled sound. When I’m on tour I used the Sabian APX line of cymbals. They are very loud and yet still sound musical, something that’s very hard to achieve. For crashes I have 2-18″ (one thinner than the other) and 1-16″, again, small but loud. I have 2 chinas, 1-18″ and 1-14″, both fairly loud and dry. And of course, the all mighty and important ride cymbal! Every since I heard Slayer’s “Criminally Insane” intro, the ride cymbal has been crucial to my sound. Try to find one that’s loud, a bit on the dry side, and yet still musical. Sabian’s 21″ HH raw bell dry ride is a great example of a ride cymbal with all of the qualities described. Obviously we all have to work within our budgets and tastes. Try out several models at your local drum shop and see what works best for you, and they are usually returnable within a few weeks at least.


Another huge, but yet seemingly underrated facet to the metal drummer’s sound, the drumheads. Choose the wrong ones and you’ll be making repeated trips to the store to re-head and potentially have thin sounding drums. Forget what you hear on most metal albums today, they are mostly sampled sounds and not real acoustic drums. It takes care and knowledge to have good sounding acoustic drums, a lot more than just buying expensive drums! Lets start with the bottom heads…yes bottom heads! They are 50% of the sound! For the snare drum, always use a “snare side” for the bottom, no alternatives. This gives the snare drum a lot of its volume to cut through, something VITAL to metal! I can’t believe how many times I’ve seen a regular single ply skin being used! For toms a single ply is best for the bottom. Black is very popular for bottom skins on toms, just be sure that you’re getting or using single ply heads. Again, anything thicker and you’ll be robbing yourself of sheer volume and sustain. Front heads on the kick drum for the most part come with some sort of dampening ring, which is good for drying up some of those unwanted overtones on the kick. Some come with or without holes. I like to have holes for three reasons: 1- it lets air escape and therefor limiting that kick back at impact, 2- letting that air out also helps when using acoustic drum triggers, as the batter head vibrates less, and 3-its better for miking the drum.

On to the top or batter heads. For toms I like to use 2ply heads such as Evans G2′s. I feel that using anything too much thicker and you’ll be cutting down on your acoustic volume and that will lead to fatigue as you’ll have to hit harder to hear yourself! Live, I use clear heads to get a lot of that stick attack and in the studio I use coated to get a dryer, more round sound. Snare drums, which take the most abuse, for this music will require a bit more than a standard single ply or sometimes even a 2ply head. On tour I’ve been using an Evans HD dry and they seem to be very durable without making the drum sound dead. The kicks, which are almost always triggered, seem to be neglected in the tone dept. I still like to have a nice fat kick sound. Even though its not being heard in the audience, I’m still hearing it and feeling it. I like to use a single ply head with a dampening ring, like an Evans EQ4 with some sort of impact patch for durability. Since I normally use some sort of pillow or muffling, I don’t need the head to do too much of the muffling. The pillows also serve another purpose in that they too help with triggering by eliminating extra head vibration which can cause triggers to misfire. Next time we’ll get into tuning.


This being a Vic Firth community, obviously sticks are going to be a very important topic! The drumstick is our connecting rod to the drums, which at least for me, are my lifeblood! I don’t take this subject lightly. From day one I was learning out of Stone’s “Stick Control” book, and the name says it all. If we can’t control the stick, we cannot play. Using the proper stick is crucial to controlling it. It took me many years to finally find the perfect size and weight, and that has a lot to do with development. When I first started studying proper technique and my hands weren’t very developed or strong, I used a 7a model. As I started gaining strength and control, I gradually started going up the size and weight ladder. I have been using the 55a size since it was introduced and its really the perfect pair for me! Its weight and size is in between a 5a and a 5b. I also prefer wood tip since I play a lot of different styles, but for metal, the plastic tip would probably be more suitable as it definitely gives the ride cymbal more attack and definition. The great thing about Vic Firth is that they really have a pair of sticks for everyone! As long as those sticks allow you to make the music you want, as you hear it, there really isn’t a wrong choice. Be careful not to make the common mistake of using sticks that are too big and heavy or sticks that are too light. Too heavy and that can lead to things such as carpel tunnel and arthritis. Too light, and you’ll probably lose a bit of control, not to mention breaking them more often than you should.

What do you guys think?!-

Once again, these are just guidelines and things that have worked for me. My hope is that these articles help you make better decisions and make less mistakes (like I did!) along the way. Having access to this information is a great thing and it should be utilized to its fullest. Please leave any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you guys and/or just chat about drums! Who doesn’t dig that!! Next time we’ll discuss drum tuning and triggering. Thanks!

Gus Rios