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|Top 20 Drumming Performances of 2018|
This list is comprised of the most technical, influential, qualitative, and original studio drumming performances. A few things before reading the list:
The drummers' names are in parentheses beside the song title.
The numbers in the "Best Moment" sections are time markers for when those moments appear on Spotify's version of that moment's song.
The "ALL-TIME GREAT" status is only given to those who could appear in a "Top 500 Drumming Performances of All Time" list I may eventually make one day.
Since some drummers could potentially clog the list up with songs from exceptionally good drumming albums, I'll limit the list to one song per album.
Happy However After
“Let Me Be” (Steven Padin)
It’s important to recognize that the drummer’s piece here actually doesn’t sound too difficult and that the additional percussion already boosts the song’s technicality enough. There’s a constant snare rhythm and even a few basic pop beats laid out. Yet Steven Padin’s steady and offbeat jazz work on “Let Me Be” let the Latin percussion thrive throughout. That says nothing of Padin’s drum solo, either, which is an impressive fit of skill for the song’s encore.
Best Moment: 4:51 – 5:01
“Algid Troy” (Alain B.)
Although “Algid Troy” is just fantastic on all fronts, its easy to forget how sneakily good the drums are on this. The tomkit is played so smoothly and calmly until the snare and floor toms need to be emphasized on the downbeats. That also includes the ghost notes that the drummer will throw in every now and then. Alain B.’s performance on “Algid Troy” reminds me of Aaron Harris and Jason Roeder at their bests, causing a satisfying mysteriousness in the song with their smooth, reversed playing until the headbangingly awesome breakdown sections.
Best Moment: 8:09 – 8:58
“Aethra [Title Track]” (Karol Diers)
Going into Aethra, Gorod’s musicianship in general was something I never questioned, especially with the familiarity of Leading Vision. It was until the creeping intro of the title track that I realized how hard this band went. Karol Diers does a great job mixing up the jazzed, groovy guitar solos and chorus with the unpredictably chaotic playing during the verses. There’s just no telling when he’s about to do a drum fill or continue his previous rhythm with double bass chops.
Best Moment: 2:23 – 3:21
“Entre Suffrage et Mirage” (Philippe Boucher)
This is just a compositionally relentless track that essentially features all the technical prowess the rest of the album had. If I had to put one performance on the list, though, it would be Algorhythm’s first full-length song. It’s got fast blast beats, double bass, and death metal fills. The calmer section is still cymbal heavy and uses some impressive improvised fills. What makes this a cut above the rest is the drum solo, a precorded “tribal beat” with a rimshot rhythm on the floor toms.
Best Moment: 2:46 – 3:07
“Caveman” (Bruno Valverde)
I guess I can’t expect much different from a band that once had Aquiles Priester on it, but Bruno Valverde has been picking up the reigns quite well. About half the album had wonderful performances from Valverde, but it was the quirky “Caveman” that got my attention the most. Despite being in 4/4 for most of the time, it was filled with a nice crash-tom rhythm, good ride play and thrash grooves on the chorus, and the offbeat emphases on the verses. It’s also cool that the difference between the first and second verses is heavily based on the tom-to-snare switch.
Best Moment: 0:35 – 1:00
“Electric Flame” (Mario Rubalcaba)
Black Heaven is pretty much everything I hate about jam rock. Bad vocals, songs that go on for too long, and far too outdated. The only song worth much is “The Electric Flame”, which is comprised of good riffs and an actually fun jam section. Mario Rubalcaba’s drumming is important to keep an eye on, though, because his hard-hitting style and fast cymbal playing reminds me of Ian Paice’s golden age with Deep Purple. His grooves just don’t stop, and when they do, it’s for those sweet fills in the jam section.
Best Moment: 7:45 – 8:55
Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
“The Hollow Hour” (Tom Pitts)
Look, I’ve admitted and still will admit that I’m not a Time Will Die… fan, but I can’t deny that “The Hollow Hour” is pretty solid. Passionate vocals and great guitar work fronts the song’s vehicle, but drummer tom Pitts does a fantastic job in leading the rhythm section’s drive. It starts off nicely with a ride-doubles pattern carrying over from the previous song, “Rituals”. Then it goes through a myriad of time signature changes and complicated jazz-fusion beats, which create perfect interplay between the cymbals and the rest of the kit.
Best Moment: 3:34 – 4:51
Nearer My God
“Won’t Drown” (Jon Hellwig)
This song was actually really close to making my top 40 for the year; the only thing holding it back was the muddy vocal production during the chorus. While the verses and guitars on the chorus are pretty great, it’s the percussion that ultimately drives the song’s success. The mixture between the rimshots and tom rhythms gives the song some extra flare and groove. It helps that the mixing is good, too, so you can hear the floor hi-hat bounce its way through the song. Jon Hellwig’s performance on here was the main reason I jammed this song for a while after its release.
Best Moment: 0:58 – 1:28
A Humdrum Star
“Transient State” (Rob Turner)
I could’ve just as easily picked any number of songs off A Humdrum Star and been satisfied with this band’s mention. However, there are a couple of things about Rob Turner’s work on “Transient State” that pushes this a little over the rest. Though Turner looks so calm playing this piece live, his movements are very fast and his rapid transitions from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal are nice, subtle inclusions in the song’s flow. It’s also great to hear how quiet and smooth Turner’s fills can be on this track without having to audibly show them off in post-production.
Best Moment: 5:13 – 5:42
“Former Islands” (Nnamdi Ogbonnaya)
It’s easy to expect jazz fusion bands to have a lot of technical prowess. With the complex songwriting that constantly goes on in that genre, that prowess is an appeal of sorts. There can also be exceptionally good performances in the genre, too, and “Former Islands” is just that. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya literally plays in four different bands for three different instruments (drums, bass, vocals). Though he sounds like he’s been playing drums all his life with the tasty hi-hat grooves, the fast rimshot intro, and the smooth transitions between different time signatures.
Best Moment: 0:14 – 0:31
“Veil” (Raymond Hearne)
Had this list opened up to other songs on the album, it’s possible that “Nil by Mouth” and “Puzzle Box” could’ve made it, but I have to give it to Vector’s epic “Veil”. Raymond Hearne’s already impressed me in the past (especially on Affinity), but this song offers some great new bass grooves and challenging sections in the bridge. Ranging from complicated metalcore beats to choppy hi-hat work, this section jams even in its quirky offbeats. Later on, there’s also a pretty hype drum solo leading into the main guitar solo. There’s just so much stuff going on with this performance.
Best Moment: 3:56 – 4:53
Love In Shadow
“Attis’ Blade” (Nick Yacyshyn)
I’ve already talked about this colossus before and have spun it to death, but Nick Yacyshyn’s performance still deserves a detailed piece. The intro is a tom beat at its finest where there’s a constant bass note on the “and” beat for an entire 2 minutes. The vocals come in on a groove that reminds me of something Intronaut’s Danny Walker would make. We soon get to the chaotic, drum-fill-loaded middle section that completely collapses on the listener not long after it starts. Not to mention that the percussion production is fantastic on the whole song.
Best Moment: 0:37 – 2:42
“Azagthoth” (Hannes Grossman)
If Hannes Grossman did something this year, it’s quite likely he’s getting on the list. The guy’s a renowned tech-death god at this point, and Alkaloid was his biggest project in 2018. Starting “Azagthoth”, its memorable performance isn’t apparent at first besides some cool extra percussion in the song’s intro. It was the double bass-rimshot-open hi-hat section that captivated me. All three rhythms are going at different intervals in 5/4. But because it’s Hannes Grossman, he manages to make it all smooth and groovy. After that even is a really long fill before the last chorus that encompasses an entire measure.
Best Moment: 2:22 – 3:48
Illusive Golden Age
“The Living Vault” (Antoine Baril)
Great drumming for a great song, name a better pair. I’ve never even heard of Antoine Baril until I started digging through the band members, but this guy is so, so talented behind the kit. He starts off strongly with the floor tom roll before going into a double bass section, which there’s plenty of here. The difficulty is not that the double bass is excruciatingly fast, either; it’s the rhythms made on the double bass. There are so many jazzy and offbeat grooves on the double bass that you can start to mistake Baril for Gene Hoglan at times. I also can’t forget about the weird calm section at the end with the spooky tom fills that creep up every now and then.
Best Moment: 1:42 – 2:08
“Abiogenesis [Title Track]” (Aberrant)
I’ll admit that this song is pretty representative on the album: long, exhausting, but talented. I would have normally passed off something like this as decent death metal, but then the ending happened. Everything from about the nine-and-a-half-minute mark on is a completely mindbending and hellish piece of death metal pummeling. I’ve gotta hand it to Aberrant for this one because it’s one of the most awesome drum solos I’ve heard all year. Then I went back and heard the rest of the song a few more times to find out that Aberrant’s been going nearly this hard the entire time.
Best Moment: 10:41 – 11:48
|5||Between the Buried and Me|
“Yellow Eyes” (Blake Richardson)
Blake Richardson has come back this year with what is likely his best performance since “Telos”. The style of “Yellow Eyes” basically amounts to a mixture between Mike Portnoy in his prime and metalcore-era BtBaM. When you’ve got a great intro, subtly effective inserts, and a drum break, you’re setting your performance up for greatness. Blake goes hard even on the easier sections with good double bass chops and that wonderful Opeth-like section. Most importantly, it’s the type of performance that elevates this song and makes it both fun and atmospheric when needed.
Best Moment: 5:40 – 6:49
Heaven And Earth
“Hub-Tones” (Ronald Bruner Jr., Tony Austin)
Like a few others on here, multiple tracks could’ve easily made the list. At one time I had “Can You Hear Him?” up instead of this song, but “Hub-Tones” is a relentless jazzfest of percussion with great additional percussion backing it up. Bruner Jr. and Austin make the composition come to life so easily as they would continue to do throughout the course of the record. Unlike many songs on Heaven & Earth, however, a drum solo appears near the end where the two drummers test their skills to the limits with stunning fills and amazing coordination.
Best Moment: 6:28 – 7:44
|3||The Pineapple Thief|
“White Mist” (Gavin Harrison)
I’ve never seen a drummer literally carry bands like Gavin Harrison has. I used to go through this guy’s career contributions when I was a major Porcupine Tree fan only to find that he carries most songs when at the top of his game. Dissolution is a perfect example of that and it shows in “White Mist”. Everything else is fine, but Gavin’s out there getting close to recreating his performance in Porcupine Tree’s “Anesthetize”. His verse grooves are top-notch as always, carefully blending in the hi-hats with the toms in perfect balance. I’d go ahead and say that “White Mist” is in the top 10 of Gavin’s best ever performances, and that’s quite a feat considering his catalogue.
Best Moment: 6:17 – 6:37
“Cosmopolis” (Kenny Grohowski)
What else do you expect from a guy that played for John Zorn not too long ago? Watching this dude’s playthrough of “Cosmopolis” makes this seem like a walk in the park, but a walk in the park is it not at all. In fact, almost nothing’s consistent here besides the time signature. Grohowski’s playing is incredibly fast with tons of gravity blasts, fast double bass sections, and wonky cymbal fills on said sections. That’s not including the insane tom fills that connect these together. After a while comes the bebop section, where, after some investigate work, I come to find that Grohowski is literally playing a blast beat with triples on the ride cymbal (which is absolutely insane to try playing unless you’re this monster). Then everything goes even more nuts at the end and the drums pretty much spiral out of control.
Best Moment: 4:52 – 5:43
From the Gallery of Sleep
“Trading Shadows” (Aric Improta)
WINNER: Best Drumming Performance of 2018 & Best Drumming Album of 2018 (From the Gallery of Sleep)
Even with the viral Guitar Center Drum-Off video in 2012 and Fever 333’s relative success, 2018 was Aric Improta’s breakout year. Not only did he release the final cut of his magnificent “Blur Lights in the Videodrome” composition, but there was also From the Gallery of Sleep. With the vocalist gone, all band members, Improta included, are now the showrunners. "Copper Wasp” and “Phoenix IV: Levitation” could have made the top 5 if I allowed it, but I crowned “Trading Shadows” because of what it accomplishes everything that all other songs only partly did on the album. There were tricky bass rhythms, odd time signatures, an insanely cool section with the offbeat crash placements, and a spectacular drum solo at the end. Despite my passiveness for FtGoS, I’m extremely happy for Aric Improta’s newfound success.
Best Moment: 3:32 – 4:10
|Here's a Spotify playlist for anyone that wants to join in on the fun:|
|Awesome list man! I'll check some of these for sure.|
|Cool list, needs a feature|
|Very cool list. I saw Night Verses live and Aric was a blast to watch; even if you're not a huge FtGoS fan, I'd try to see them live just for Aric alone. |
|Checking out 1 now, never heard of it|
|Too much metal ahhhhhh but sick list tho |
@Widows I noticed that too, but that's really where a lot of great percussion has gone nowadays. I suppose I could've put "Former Islands" and "Won't Drown" higher, but I think the top 10 is pretty well set.
|Makaya McCraven has some good moments this year for sure from my Jazz sort of you’re interested. He is the drummer and artist, album is Universal Beings|