BlazinBlitzer
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Top 20 Drumming Performances of 2020

Welp, it's finally that time of the year again. I have a very large backlog of lists to finish without promising myself even halfway through completion. I suppose I'll have to see how far I get there, especially with the "Childhood Rewind" series I kinda wanted to do.
20Paradise Lost
Obsidian


“Ravenghast” (Drummer: Waltteri Vayrynen)

Paradise Lost is a band that has been around for over 30 years. In that time, they’ve kept an impressively consistent lineup with the exception of one role: the drummer. Vayrynen is Paradise Lost’s fifth drummer replacing Adrian Erlandsson, an excellent drummer that I’ve previously known about. Fortunately, Obsidian sees Vayrynen succeed at the tall task, with “Ravenghast” displaying the best evidence of playing versatility in the band’s doom metal style. The slower bits are well done, the double bass licks are impactful, and the somewhat complex middle section is really fun to listen to as you can tell the band kinda let the guy do whatever he wanted to there.
19The Motion Mosaic
Avant-Garbage


“Broke Roads” (Drummer: Jonah Poynter)

I was not a fan of this album at all, but I’ll give credit where credit is due. Jonah Poynter did a wonderful cosplay of Chris Pennie on the earlier TDEP stuff, especially on this track. This is noticeably more straightforward and less jazzy than the said comparison often is, but more streamlined playing plays well into this band strengths. Poynter’s playing on here is relentless and fast-paced up until the ambient section about four and a half minutes in. That’s an impressive span of time to keep the energy coming, but I really like the grooves he chooses for each of the fast-paced sections.
18Young Jesus
Welcome to Conceptual Beach


“Faith” (Drummer: Kern Haug)

On the other hand, I’ve adored these guys since I heard their latest record. Maybe that’s because I’ve developed a very soft spot for experimental emo of this style, but I think everyone in the band has really done their homework on how to pull this style off. The drummer, Kern Haug, shines moreso on this than I expected, but his highlights and the more reserved sections are excellently performed. The slow, accented paradiddles (I think?) on the verses are equally flavorful as they are complementary to the vocal and guitar styles. This part’s even more impressive on a passage like the one a minute and a half in where Haug increases the complexity of the paradiddle by adding the toms and ride cymbal. There are also Haug’s signature improv sections that feel tasteful rather than intrusive, which is a great accomplishment on its own.
17Plini
Impulse Voices


“I’ll Tell You Someday” (Drummer: Chris Allison)

While the results are well-improved from their last LP, Plini is a band that unfortunately doesn’t shy away from a lot of wankery and predictable proggy jazz fusion passages. However, Allison’s playing on “I’ll Tell You Someday” left a wonderful first impression on me. This impression was mostly left with the opening solo and the jazzy passage early on with the sixteenth triplets on the ride. Allison’s playing made those sections highly replayable. Even when Allison tones down the technicality for the later parts of the track, the second half is played out with a groovy paradiddle that always makes you forget where 1 is.
16Trivium
What The Dead Men Say


“What the Dead Men Say” (Drummer: Alex Bent)

This is probably one of the more obvious inclusions on the list as Alex Bent is well-beloved by many fans for his performances on the last two Trivium releases. Although Trivium have turned more melodic within the back half of their career, the more intense parts now have a much higher potential for speed and complexity thanks to what Bent can bring to the table. “What the Dead Men Say” is sort of an endurance test on that front with the masterful thrash rhythms and the never-ending fills. The song doesn’t relax for every long because the chorus even has some calculated cymbal flourishes here and there.
15Pain of Salvation
Panther


“ACCELERATOR” (Drummer: Léo Margarit)

Pain of Salvation actually has an underrated track record of drumming performances and their best records have plenty of memorable ones. While Panther is no The Perfect Element, it also brings out some great performances from the group with Léo Margarit this time around. The opener “Accelerator” is probably my favorite from the new record just from how infectious and snappy the groove is. Margarit plays fantastically around the primary melody without too much unnecessary improvisation. The song’s ending also contains a fun and djenty variation when the song needs a pick-me-up in tension.
14Ulcerate
Stare Into Death and Be Still


“Exhale the Ash” (Drummer: Jamie St. Merat)

Well, an Ulcerate album came out this year, so obviously a spot’s gotta be reviewed from the Kiwi monster himself. While I wasn’t quite as shocked with his technicality this time around than when I listened to Ulcerate’s earlier stuff, St. Merat hasn’t let up one bit. “Exhale the Ash” is my pick here just because it seems like the album’s most consistently intense and challenging. There are a couple times where he brings out a “closed” hi-hat blast beat that always sound really cool over the guitar riff. There’s also a random section or two in his drum tracking video for the track where he’ll manually mute the hi-hat as he’s going 1,000 mph on double bass. This guy just never fails to impress.
13Wobbler
Dwellers of the Deep


“Merry Macabre” (Drummer: Martin Nordum Kneppen)

Wobbler is one of the more recognizable acts in the realm of bands that would’ve been successful 45 years ago. Nonetheless, I can tell these guys are at least trying to put forth some new ideas to the table despite the seemingly ancient symphonic prog label. The same can be said for the rhythm section. Even with the Bill Bruford/Alan White-sounding verses or the wackier Carl Palmer-esque double strokes littered throughout the song, Kneppen is particularly holding his own on “Merry Macabre”. The song’s filled with great grooves that just so happen to be supported by excellent production. It’s another one of those endurance tests with the 19-minute runtime, but Kneppen’s playing doesn’t bore even in the song’s slower sections.
12Defeated Sanity
The Sanguinary Impetus


“Propelled Into Sacrilege” (Drummer: Lille Gruber)

While the production style of brutal death is definitely not my thing, I can sense with the charm it brings with some of the instruments, essentially on the drums. Gruber’s balling out on the whole album, but I went with “Propelled Into Sacrilege” primarily for its neat drum-led outro. Otherwise, this song represents almost all the strengths Gruber possesses throughout the album. He complements the ever-changing tempo smoothly with a nice mixture of blast beats, fast double bass, and the proggier hi-hat/ride licks that sound really difficult to recreate live. The guy kinda reminds me of Bobby Jarzombek from his Spastic Ink days because both are the type to bring already difficult passages to a worryingly high level of complexity.
11Tricot
10


“Haku” (Track 4 from the album 10) (Drummer: Yusuke Yoshida)

This entire album is such a jam with the killer production and fabulous bass playing, but the drumming performance is not to be slept on. Yoshida does a great job to hold down the mathy J-rock style that the band’s been known for. The fourth track on 10 sees a fair share of additional percussion, which actually becomes pretty fun to catch onto with repeated listens. Since we’re here for Yoshida’s playing, I’ll acknowledge his fantastic sense of rhythm when behind a stronger focal point of percussion in the verses. The drum solo in the second half of track almost seems like a competition between all the percussionists, which is pretty awesome when combining the similar, almost synchronized drum rolls everyone’s showing off.
10Imperial Triumphant
Alphaville


“Atomic Age” (Drummer: Kenny Grohowski)

Kenny Grohowski’s put himself in a similar position to Jamie St. Merat or Gavin Harrison: he’ll almost always be around on this list for every major release. Granted, this isn’t quite the same psychotic performance from him as something like “Cosmopolis”, but the slower, post-metal-ish intro of “Atomic Age” is just one reminder of how Grohowski keeps his antics unique. He plays consistently with the band’s more traditional themes up until about the five-minute mark. Here, he does what’s called an “accelerando” on the blast beat in two parts, which is quite an odd and intriguing development even for music that usually sounds more dissonant.
9Bright Eyes
Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was


“Just Once in the World” (Drummer: Jon Theodore)

Yes, THAT Jon Theodore played on nearly the entire Bright Eyes record. My first thought was that the pairing occurred because, well, it’s 2020, but listening to his nearly flawless execution of Oberst’s folkier sound makes the synergy a wonderful surprise. He provides a lot of flourish and flavor throughout the whole album, but “Just Once in the World” sports gorgeous and diverse playing all packed within its three-and-a-half minute runtime. The cymbal-led verses are beautifully done and the rock-oriented pre-chorus and chorus provide plenty of playful grooves and wonky hi-hat work that makes relistening for intricacies a good time.
8Intronaut
Fluid Existential Inversions


“The Cull” (Drummer: Alex Rudinger)

Intronaut always had a penchant for memorable drumming jams with Danny Walker at the helm. While Rudinger’s playing is noticeably sways toward the prog side of things in comparison to Walker’s stuff, there are plenty of examples where Rudinger’s work fits really well with Intronaut’s new direction. “The Cull” is described by Rudinger himself to be the hardest to play on the album, and it’s easy to see why. There’s all of these weird ostinatos in the first half that pair surprisingly well with the changing time signatures. After the post-metal driven first minute, the rest of Rudinger’s playing sounds like an experienced showcase of jazz fusion complexity and atmosphere.
7Panzerfaust
The Suns of Perdition - Chapter II


“Promethean Fire” (Drummer: Brad May)

“Promethean Fire” is one of the better examples of the “drums carry the song” phenomenon I’ve heard in a good while. It’s really difficult for black metal drumming to stand out nowadays above its older peers, but Brad May has done just that on here. I absolutely adore the tribal, Neurosis-inspired work at the song’s mellow section, giving it an unexpectedly beautiful sound similar to that of something like “Rays on Pinion” by Baroness. The tenser sections offer your solid black metal drumming fare that includes an awesome double bass section at the midway point. The production also helps May’s work shine by giving much more attention to the toms than the snare, a risky yet fitting choice for the band’s sound.
6Haken
Virus


“Carousel” (Drummer: Ray Hearne)

Although Haken as a whole have gotten back to the same heights of quality as The Mountain, Ray Hearne has just gotten better and better with every release yet, and “Carousel” might just be his best performance yet. It’s an excellently balanced package of progressive rock, djent, and jazz fusion that never really feels forced. The entire song hosts a wide variety of influences from Danny Carey to Gavin Harrison to a good bit of the Frank Zappa session drummers during his best works back in the day. My favorite part’s predictably at around the 7-minute mark where the song meets its main crescendo. The groove floats with the already marvelous guitar work before exploding into a flurry of toms.
5The Pineapple Thief
Versions of the Truth


“Our Mire” (Drummer: Gavin Harrison)

Gavin Harrison should probably be banned from future lists due to my natural bias towards the guy, but he always manages to carry a song one way or another. Our subject is yet again The Pineapple Thief with “Our Mire”, but instead of the Fear of a Blank Planet feel heard on “White Mist”, this song is more influenced by his 05ric collaboration days. This is especially evident in the choppy hi-hat sixteenths with the attraction to more subtle complexity. Slower, more ambient sections were and still are a significant part of Harrison’s forte as he always builds equally emotional and flavorful works within such passages, and that skill is put to wonderful use here.
4Ulver
Flowers of Evil


“Little Boy” (Drummer: Ivar Thormodsaeter (I guess?))

DRUMMING CLASSIC

Unfortunately, I can’t really find or confirm who the main drummer is on this album if it’s not due to programming. Assuming the album performance isn’t programmed, “Little Boy” is an absolutely remarkable performance for a synthpop cut. The hi-hat work is addictively manic and the fills are totally energetic, not far from those found on a King Gizzard album. I’d have to go back to more of the 90’s Ulver to see if any of their earlier work was percussion-driven, but this song makes it seems like this definitely isn’t their first go-around at such a thing. I also can’t help but picture Carter Beauford of all people as an influence on here with his love for excessive hi-hat licks, but stuff like that is what makes this performance all the more amazing.
3Tigran Hamasyan
The Call Within


“Levitation 21” (Drummer: Arthur Hnatek)

DRUMMING CLASSIC

I never knew I needed a djentier Rob Turner for my nu-jazz jams, yet here we are. Arthur Hnatek does a wonderful job throughout the whole project with due credit to the masterful production (as The Call Within is my first Tigran Hamasyan listen, Hamasyan really knows what he’s doing here). However, “Levitation 21” stands out as a pretty unforgettable performance rhythmically. Hnatek’s playing around the choppy piano jamming is beautiful with the added bonus of the rare bell-on-top-of-snare sight as seen in his playthrough video. Even where Hnatek is killing it, the production ramps up the excitement by making the majority of the song sound so raw and synchronized.
2The Reticent
The Oubliette


“Stage 1: His Name is Henry” (Drummer: Chris Hathcock)

DRUMMING CLASSIC
BEST DRUMMING ALBUM OF 2020

It’s mind-blowing to have a literal one-man-band make the best drumming album of the year, but, again, it’s 2020 so why not? I never knew I could fanboy over a guy that plays really closely to Martin Axenrot on the newer Opeth stuff, but I think Hathcock’s style fits his own music even moreso. I loved the drummer’s sound and style quite literally from the word “go” about 1:40 into the song. Nearly every section of “Stage 1…” is answered with a perfectly fitting grove. Hathcock can play prog metal polyrhythms, blast beats, and even bebop sections with about equally impressive results. Perhaps the best aspect to take away from Hathcock’s performance on here, though, is the way the whole rhythmic piece comes together in a nostalgic and somewhat emotional fashion.
1Empty Country
Empty Country


“SWIM” (Drummer: Charlotte Ann Dole)

DRUMMING CLASSIC
BEST DRUMMING SONG OF 2020

Perhaps it’s a little unfair to put what’s been my “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the last nine months so high on a list that mainly regards singular performances, but the important thing is that the drumming on this song was invaluable for its success with me. Although the drumming in the more laid-back verses sounds somewhat typical, the tresillo (3+3+2) rhythm in the chorus is done with excellent taste and subtlety. However, I must discuss the triumphant second half of “SWIM”. Even in a much busier part such as this, I truly believe the drumming here couldn’t been better any other way. It’s not the cleanest or sharpest rhythmic passage, but it is the most soulful and emotionally impactful drumming performance this year has had to offer. Many of my emotional lows this year were defined by that half's relentless waves of crash cymbals and the anxious snare playing, and I can't thank Mrs. Dole enough for that.
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