Top 10 Great Metal Albums with Terrible Drumming
September 8th, 2011 at 11:15am

. . .

The sorcery involved in conjuring a list of great albums with terrible drumming is sort of like coming up with a list of great vocalists who can’t really sing. It’s generally accepted that in rock music, and by extension heavy metal, the drums provide the foundation on which the megalith of majesty is built. If the foundation is questionable, then what sort of mad scientist construct must exist above it that holds the whole together?

Here we have ten metal greats with terrible drumming. Well, at the very least, questionable or debatable drumming. Most of the entries are from the formative ’80s, prior to horrible playing and production becoming the standard in the ’90s for so much metal, as well as the almost exclusive use of triggers and Pro Tools in the ’00s to make all drum performances clinically devoid of any human component.

— Chris Dalton

. . .

TOP 10 GREAT METAL ALBUMS
WITH TERRIBLE DRUMMING

. . .

10. Angel Witch – Angel Witch

Angel Witch’s debut by no means features terrible drumming. Let me explain its inclusion in this list. When I first heard this classic in 1983, I found myself somewhat disappointed. It was not superior to Maiden’s Killers as I’d been lead to believe. Over the years, I’ve come to truly love this album and hold it in regard just as highly as my fellow earth dogs, but at that time, it just sounded hopelessly dated when compared to much of what was coming out of England. To these ears, part of what made it sound like an old Uriah Heep record was the fact that the rhythm section was not up the task of executing band leader Kevin Heybourne’s compositions. Heybourne was an excellent guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, penning NWOBHM classics that were compositionally as state-of-the-art as those of Maiden, presaging the direction Mercyful Fate would take in the next few years. Drummer Kevin Riddles and bassist Dave Hogg are serviceable enough, contributing a very ’70s pub-rock vibe to the record, but the material here demands more. For years, I’ve always wondered what Angel Witch would have sounded like had a drummer the caliber of Clive Burr or Raven’s Rob Hunter been behind the kit, drummers who were essential in the technical development of metal from the hard rock of the ’70s to the high-tech metal of the ’80s.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Angel Witch – “White Witch”

. . .

9. Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny

Another sacred cow, even more so than the Angel Witch debut. Anyone who delves into the Priest discography beyond the requisite Screaming for VengeanceBritish Steel, or possibly Painkiller will exclaim that this is their favorite Priest record. Although I can appreciate its historical significance, realizing an ornate, progressive, complexly-textured riff cornucopia almost without peer, I’ve always found the record a bit overrated. I feel that the songs on this record are better displayed on Priest’s live Unleashed in the East. Arguments abound regarding whether or not the tempos on this platter or on the live document are superior. To my ears, to this day, “Tyrant,” “Victim of Changes”, and “Genocide” drag, drearily plodding along, rather than “pounding the world like a battering ram”. Alan Moore barely gets the job done. He was permanently replaced by Les Binks in 1978, the best drummer Priest was to ever have, a man whose power and dexterity would be missed once they entered the ’80s.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Judas Priest – “Genocide”

. . .

8. Exodus – Pleasures of the Flesh

What happened here? It baffles the senses. To my mind, if Dave Lombardo was thrash metal’s John Bonham, then Exodus’s Tom Hunting was thrash metal’s Keith Moon. Early video from the Combat Tour: The Ultimate Revenge shows an amazing monster of a drummer, flailing around on his kit, smashing cymbals to every subtle accent with amphetamine-fueled intensity. His performance on Exodus’s debut Bonded by Blood, is excellent, full of intensity and youthful chaos.

When the time finally came to record the follow-up in 1987, something went wrong. The liner notes state that Metallica live sound engineer, Mark Whitaker, was responsible for producing the drums. This would indicate some sort of separate process from the recording of the rest of the record. The drums sound artificial, are mixed at times too loudly, have what sound like awkward punch-ins, and in general seem to be pasted over the top of an already-finished recording by someone who couldn’t really hear or keep track of the songs they were playing. The end of “Faster Than You’ll Ever Live to Be” sounds like Tom’s having a hard time keeping his snare hits even, every other hit sounding a little louder. I saw Exodus open for Celtic Frost in 1987, and I know for certain that Tom was able to execute every one of these drum parts flawlessly. What happened while documenting these songs, however, remains a mystery.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exodus – “Faster Than You’ll Ever Live to Be”

. . .

7. Dark Angel – Darkness Descends

The second Dark Angel record was the first to feature future drum god Gene Hoglan, a wee lad of just 19 at the time of the album’s release. Hoglan has gone on to become one of the greatest extreme metal drummers of all-time, his throne comfortably nestled between that of Dave Lombardo and Pete Sandoval. But in 1986, he was an over-achieving maniac seemingly intent on the singular goal of surpassing Mr. Lombaro’s skill in every possible way. Many of the roots of Hoglan’s signature style are already evident, but he’s mightily sloppy on this record, getting by more on intensity than on technique. During the intro to “Darkness Descends”, he plainly completely loses the beat after each fill, most notably around the 1:10 mark. This stumble recurs over and over, causing me to grimace each time he returns to this section.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Dark Angel – “Darkness Descends”

. . .

6. Razor – Executioner’s Song

If 1984 was the year the heavy metal floodgates were forced open, then 1985 was the year the dam completely exploded. On top of all the no-name bands on Planet Metal, wanting to be the next Priest or Maiden, every country was unchaining its answers to Venom, Metallica and Slayer. One of the first Canadian combatants in the power/thrash onslaught was Razor, following quickly in the footsteps of countrymen Anvil and Exciter. Their first full-length contains a couple of brilliant classics, lead track “Take This Torch” being the best example. Mysteriously named drummer M-Bro could barely keep time, even on the slow tracks. He fails to connect between fills and verse/choruses and is plagued by the “every other hit is harder than every other one” syndrome. The bass drums are buried so low as to be barely a rumble underneath the rest of the poorly-mixed tracks. The songs are however salvaged by my favorite component of the record, Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren’s vocal witchcraft. As he climbs ever higher, each line of the chorus more desperate than the one before, he discharges “Take This Torch” into another realm of hyper-kinetic fury.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Razor – “Take This Torch”

. . .

5. Carcass – Reek of Putrefaction

And so begins one of the most extreme transformations of a band in the history of Rock music. Carcass’ 1988 set new standards for auditory dismemberment, channeling the sound of Napalm Death through a vomited, gore-encrusted wormhole backwards. This is the aural nightmare of the dissecting table pushed beyond the extremes previously explored by the tinny sounds of blackthrash with bowl-rupturing, gurgling low end. Ken Owen flails about so nightmarishly you can’t even really distinguish if he’s even playing drums or has merely taken the contents of mortician’s tools of the trade and thrown them out of the window of morgue into the biohazard-labeled dumpster.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Carcass – “Pyosisfied (Rotten to the Gore)”

. . .

4. Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty

This is the one album with which I was completely unfamiliar before I started writing this column. Upon asking friends what they thought were some of the greatest, most infamous metal albums with terrible drumming, invariably this record came up as often as Seven Churches and The Return. The entire bands sound like a horde of PCP-fueled orcs who have never seen musical instruments and are now driven by spellcraft to forge the most violent cacophony known to humankind. Quite possibly the final word in “so horrible, so messy and out of time, yet adds to the overall absurdist demonic atmosphere”. I love how Witchhunterslows down at the end of each verse section before piledriving into the next part, as exemplified by “Brandish the Sceptre” and “Witchhammer”.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Sodom – “Brandish the Sceptre”

. . .

3. Possessed – Seven Churches

One of the most infamous albums in metal history, theoretically the birth of death metal, the first official recording featuring future Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde, and one of the most glorious vocal performances of the 1980s, Seven Churches set the template for Death and Morbid Angel and uncountable legions of subsequent imitators. Drummer Mike Sus is, however, responsible for one of the worst performances in metal history. Completely unable to keep time, substituting such a skill with a bizarre mish-mash of fills, starts, and stops, he nevertheless is unable to keep such landmark satanic monuments as “The Exorcist” and “Death Metal” from rightfully being considered classics. Jeff Becerra’s blowtorch shrieks and LaLonde and Mike Torrao’s riffs which connect Show No Mercy to Altars of Madness propel the album into the annals of the ghastly abyss. Mike Sus’ band photo, bloody drumstick in clenched teeth, invisible oranges displayed for all to see, is his most notable contribution to Seven Churches. Kill dem pigs!!!

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Possessed – “The Exorcist”

. . .

2. Bathory – The Return

As previously mentioned, 1985 was the year the dam burst, and every possible imitator and future genre-definer rushed to get songs from the bedroom and basement into the stream of public consumption. Bathory’s second album, one of the pillars of the second-wave black metal canon, was 100% pure Venom worship, with everything from lyrics to riffs to titles swiped in part to make up the whole of the contents. The Return features some of the absolute worst drumming ever released by a legitimate record label. The fast middle section of “The Rite of Darkness” even surpasses Mike Sus’ horrid timekeeping on Possessed’s debut. Legend has it that Bathory mastermind Quorthon was so drunk during the recording of this record that he couldn’t remember even doing it. It definitely sounds like a blackout drunk performed the pedestrian plodding and manic flailing to be found all over this record. Another “classic” due to the fact that it does take the atmosphere of Venom and push that filthy, creepy, demonic feeling into new realms of ghastly unease.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Bathory – “The Rite of Darkness/Reap of Evil”

. . .

1. Venom – Welcome to Hell

This is the alpha and the omega; the yang to Iron Maiden’s yin; the end of the NWOBHM; the beginning of thrash, death, and black metal; the album that changed the face of heavy metal, possibly in more ways than any single LP other than Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Three wackos from Newcastle thought the sound of Motörhead, the visuals of KISS, and subject matter only hinted at by Black Sabbath would make the perfect ingredients for the perfect rock ‘n’ roll holocaust. Abaddon’s barbaric “drums and nuclear warheads” seem to be less a case of him not being able to play and more that, in true punk rock fashion, he just didn’t care. He was there to enjoy himself in the revelry, not to anxiously brood over the specifics of performance. Much of what he disgorges here seems musically quite appropriate; it’s just the execution is a bit sloppy. Welcome to Hell is the sound of heavy metal throwing out the rule book and adopting the attitude of punk – but if there was anything they didn’t like about punk, they threw that out, too.

. . .

Click here to view the embedded video.

Venom – “Sons of Satan”

. . .

Chris Dalton plays drums for New Light Choir.

. . .

INVISIBLE ORANGES – THE METAL BLOG

RELATED ARTICLES