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Top 20 Drumming Performances of 2019

2019 has been mostly great for me. University has been going very well and I'm somewhat achieving at being less of an introvert. I struggled pretty heavily with suicidal thoughts in the back half of the year, but therapy and focus on schoolwork have dampened its effects dramatically. Funny enough, the worst day of 2019 was New Year's Eve where, along with amounting personal issues, my family lost my laptop on a road trip and, of course, hardly any of my documents over the years were saved onto my OneDrive. But I suppose I'm entering the 2020's with a fresh start, right? Anyways, I'll start capping off 2019 with this list and go into the Best Songs/Albums lists within the next few days or so.
20Car Bomb

“Scattered Sprites”

Drummer: Elliott Hoffman

Car Bomb’s rhythm section has always been the definition of jankiness and Mordial showed no exceptions to that rule. “Scattered Sprites” manages to elevate that jankiness in a few ways. The odd snare placement throughout a lot of the track allows for very intriguing rhythms. In the Hopesfall-like lighter sections, the ghost note work is very satisfying. You’re mainly here for the ending, though, which is a scattered, jazzy drum solo that still manages to connect on the main rhythm despite constantly speeding up and slowing down.
19Inter Arma
Sulphur English

“The Atavist’s Meridian”

Drummer: T.J. Childers

Ah, the 5/4 time signature, my favorite. With crisply produced ghost notes and paradiddles for days on end, the drumming on “The Atavist’s Meridian” provides a ton of flavor that’s rather unexpected in its blackened sludge metal atmosphere. Rather than only being additives in the performance, these ghost notes and paradiddles provide the first third’s main backbeat. Right afterwards is a chop-filled section that sounded hard to replicate live with fast Mike Portnoy-ish fills. The bridge makes the most of a slower doom metal section by using a lot of double-stroke snare rolls before closing the song out with a return of the Mike Portnoy fills. All the technical percussion choices here pretty much catered to me.
18Tim Bowness
Flowers At The Scene


Drummer: Charles Grimsdale

I’d be impressed if anyone here knew who Charles Grimsdale was before this list. “Ghostlike” was Grimsdale’s only performance on the album and Grimsdale’s main profession is not a session drummer but rather a capital investor from the UK. This track was a way for Grimsdale to display skill at one of his favorite hobbies and does so with every bit of feel for the music. Reminiscent of the prog pop work from the 80’s and 90’s, the tom work and floor hi-hat consistency support the track extremely well. The drum production is excellent here, particularly with the crash cymbals which sound unexpectedly explosive for a track of this nature. I highly recommend both the album and this man’s (very short?) catalog.
Vile Nilotic Rites

“Where is the Wrathful Sky”

Drummer: George Kollias

Known for his fast chops and machine gun-like double bass work, Nile’s new album has no shortage of blazingly fast death metal. “Where is the Wrathful Sky” brings some new percussive ideas to the table. Its opening almost calls back to that of the classic “Flattening of Emotions” on Death’s Human. The tabla-like section fits the foreign tone of the music very well and is a cool surprise of an appearance on the song. The rest of the song is Kollias at his best, mixing double bass-filled breakdowns with fills that circle the kit. With the work Kollias has put out at this point, he’ll be as celebrated of a death metal drummer as many of the best ones in the game.


Drummer: Nicolas Bernollin

Meet Ni, Igorrr’s illiterate-though-just-as-talented cousin. As a math rock band, one would expect the rhythm section to carry plenty of technical satisfaction for their appetite. “Catagelophobie” captures what Bernollin does best on the record. The opening groove is just chops on end that mostly accentuate the guitar licks and vocal patterns. The second part of that section with the cowbell appearance is awesome, too. The song’s second half gives a wonderfully trippy groove with awesome snare placements and cymbal fills. No tools on the kit are off limits to Bernollin, which makes this performance all the more great.
15Brutus (BE)

“Horde V”

Drummer: Stefanie Mannaerts

Through painfully cringy experiences on my end, singing and drumming at the same time is very tough to do right. Stefanie Mannaerts has mastered the concept in a noisy post rock/shoegaze environment that supports tons of ride/crash hybrid work and fuzzy snare production. “Horde V” shows how wild Mannaerts’ work can be at times. Seemingly relentless in power for the full four minutes, this song has snare fills and blast beats for days on end. Mannaerts seems to improve her overall work with each release that comes by and that’s very exciting news to the post/noise/shoegaze community.
14The Comet Is Coming
Trust in the Lifeforce of Deep Mystery

“Timewave Zero”

Drummer: Maxwell Hallett (Betamax)

You gotta love unlatched snares. The drumming production and Betamax’s usage of the unlatched snare on “Timewave Zero” makes the performance feel familiar to a street performance, buckets, tin cans and all. The overall groove takes an interesting drum and bass angle to an otherwise psychedelic jazz track. The drumming is rapid and has a bunch of variations in its groove that make the performance stand out further. The last couple of minutes are pretty nutty, too, they feature accentuation on the sax notes and more aggressive strokes. The Comet is Coming gave the jazz fusion community a treat with their newest record and this song shows exactly how that record delivers on the percussive side of things.
Green and Gray

“A Bug on its Back”

Drummer: Kris Kuss

Green and Gray was a surprisingly sweet record despite some production bumps here and there. Part of the album’s sweetness came in its ability to feature unique grooves and riffs. “A Bug on its Back” makes this list because of how much the song plays around its main groove. Kuss subtly drops in great fills between each measure and is unpredictable pretty much every step of the way. As it’s another song that features the 5/4 time signature (and not the last song, either), Kuss perfectly mixes the diversity of his measures with playing along to the bass and guitar riffs. This is a very impressive showcase of a relatively unknown sticksman’s work.


Drummer: Jordan Clancy

This dude only seems to improve with every release that passes even if this particular record is Dreadnought’s weakest. “Besieged” is probably Clancy’s best performance yet as he’s able to take his signature hands-fly-everywhere jazz style onto a more single-friendly structure of a track with more defined verses and choruses. There’s no particular section of the song that Clancy excels in as his skills are consistently amazing throughout. Though he usually shows off best on the ride cymbal sections in Dreadnought’s catalogue, Clancy wasn’t afraid to display tasty hi-hat and crash grooves on this track. “Besieged” is really the only song I come back to often from Dreadnought’s newest record and Clancy’s drumwork is one of the main reasons why.
Gold and Grey


Drummer: Sebastian Thomson

To match the work that Allen Blickle had put into the older Baroness work is a very difficult task to complete. It took a couple albums for Thomson to do it, but he’s created one of Baroness’ best drum tracks yet in “Seasons”, which is up there with a lot of the material on the Red Album. “Seasons” opens up with a beat that somehow reminds me of “The Creator has a Mastertape” by Porcupine Tree with the alternating ghost notes and hi-hat licks. The chorus features an interesting triplet passage with a wonderful ride-tom-snare combo. The bouncy groove hardly ever slows down; in fact, it evolves into a blast beat about halfway through. The guitar solo offers some bizarre riffage with off-kilter drum work that just adds more to a savory drumming package.
10Black Midi


Drummer: Morgan Simpson

While “Years Ago” or “Western” could have also made the list proper, drumming doesn’t get much better than Schlagenheim’s opener “953”. Simpson’s drumming on this track certainly helps with the replay value because, if the vocals or post-punk rhythmic nature caught you the first time, the drums are certainly doing things that demand further attention. The opening passage (yep, in 5/4 again) sets the stage for the rest of the album with lights-out instrumental talent. The verses are accompanied by subtle, humble, and jazzy mastery. The second half pushes the drumming further into the spotlight with faster beats and fills. After the odd-timed breakdown in the bridge, chaos ensues and eventually slows down to a crawl. It’s a percussive jam at its finest.
Luz Devora

“Senor Mora”

Drummer: Gabriel Mendoza

I almost gave this spot to the short yet explosive “Pudre Infante” for its thrash-like passages and insanely fast drum fills. However, “Senor Mora”, already a top song on its respective album, won me over this time around. All throughout the track Mendoza compliments the riffs and vocals with fun and sometimes dizzying rhythmic ideas. Most of the stardom comes in the song’s middle section which takes the form of a drum solo. It starts unassumingly, but after the first couple measures comes this suddenly complex ride-hihat-snare passage with lots of ghost notes. The improvised floor hi-hat playing on the back half of the solo is pretty uncommon in drum solos nowadays and is awesome to see in a relatively unknown number such as this. The ending is spectacular, too, starting with rapidly stroked snare rolls followed by a crash-led breakdown.
Periphery IV: Hail Stan

“Blood Eagle”

Drummer: Matt Halpern

I’ve been growing to appreciate Matt Halpern’s work over the years despite initial criticisms with “uninspired” (a word that hasn’t aged well here) playing. “Blood Eagle” is a perfect example of how these feelings of appreciation are justified. On this track, Halpern goes the Meshuggah route of main groove to awesome results. The song is chock full of disjointed bass drum grooves and off-time accents. One thing not talked about by many when discussing this song is the tom work, which is technically confusing to pin down yet a totally awesome fit in the track’s lighter sections and the guitar solo. Periphery may not be the greatest band out there nor are their albums usually very good, but I’ll heed talent that’s obviously there.
The Crucible

“The Crucible”

Drummer: Tomas Jarmyr

This title track of Motorpsycho’s new album could have fit right in with the prog rock era dominating through the early 70’s. Though I am late to sift through Motorpsycho’s earlier work with their other drummers, Tomas Jarmyr’s skills behind the kit will be hard to beat once that journey comes around. I frankly should have included something from the The Tower in 2017 on that list, but this song seems to be Jarmyr’s best performance yet. The opening is a gracious and nostalgic ride through classic prog rock music and Bill Bruford-esque drumming. Even the less busy drumming in the verses emanates Bruford in his King Crimson and Yes days through its steady mannerisms and pacing. Much like “Ship of Fools” from The Tower, the lengthy bridge offers its own fun in the crash breakdowns. Not many utilize the classic prog rock percussion or sound anymore, but Motorpsycho pull both off in a joyfully entertaining way.

“The Sky is Red”

Drummer: Baard Kolstad

Staying in the progressive rock genre we have “The Sky is Red”. In total, this is: my second favorite song of the year, an unflinching masterpiece, one of the greatest progressive rock songs ever made, and, as this entry defines, one of the best drumming performances of the year. As many know by now, Kolstad is one of the most creative drummers currently in the progressive rock scene. While this track may not be his best performance (that would be 2017’s “Coma”), it perfectly polishes the smoothness of the composition with its groove. The groove primarily contains a personal sweet spot: paradiddles featuring accents aplenty. The hi-hat rolls and accents in the later verses are also really cool. The drumming production in general is magnificent as the hi-hat has a great ring to it and the snare pops hard. As if more couldn’t get better about this song, Kolstad achieves that feat seemingly effortlessly.
5The Neal Morse Band
The Great Adventure

“Freedom Calling”

Drummer: Mike Portnoy

Yes, you’re reading that right, Mike Portnoy has a top 5 drumming performance in 2019. This Spock’s Beard/Dream Theater band made a decent cheeseball of an album, but Portnoy has shown a couple times throughout The Great Adventure that he still has plenty of chops 30 years after his LP debut with Dream Theater. The lengthy opener was a great drumming performance on its own, but the penultimate “Freedom Calling” finally put Portnoy in his rightful limelight. This performance in its entirety reminds me of a compilation of Portnoy’s Dream Theater work throughout the years. The drum solo calls back to certain moments on Scenes of a Memory, the section right after that is reminiscent of the title track from Octavarium, and the double bass parts earlier in the track represent some of the work on Systematic Chaos. This is a spectacular performance with an appeal of nostalgia to boot.
4Dream Theater
Distance Over Time

“Pale Blue Dot”

Drummer: Mike Mangini

On the opposite half of revisiting the old days in a drummer’s career, “Pale Blue Dot” is an immense, futuristic progression in another drummer’s career. Mike Mangini, who has understandably been criticized over the decade for robotic, uninteresting drumming, comes through with easily his best performance to date. The opening groove is about as tight as it gets and it’s about impossible to replicate unless you use the same hand technique Mangini does. After that, it’s Dream Theater does as Dream Theater does: alternating time signatures, choppy double bass rhythms, and a theatrical drum solo. Even in their latter days, Dream Theater showed that they could still improve and make an okay album, but Mangini showed the greatest improvement of anyone in the band’s lineup.
3Devin Townsend

“Hear Me”

Drummer: Samus Paulicelli

Devin Townsend’s newest album was full of highs and lows as somewhat expected for Townsend’s most polarizing album yet. While Townsend switched around several drummers for the tracks on this project, it was the performance on “Hear Me” that stood above the rest. This is Samus66’s (YouTube name) best performance yet as he sports insanely fast double bass chops, super-hyper-gravity blasts, and a sense of feel for the existing riffs (think the double ride lick during the chorus). The drumming during the synth solo about midway through the song is absolutely crazy and is up there with the talent of the earlier Strapping Young Lad classics from City and Alien. Definitely look for more activity from this guy in the future.
2Lightning Bolt
Sonic Citadel

“Van Halen 2049”

Drummer: Brian Chippendale


To those not in on the noise rock community, drummer and singer Brian Chippendale has grown to be a celebrated figure. He’s combined unique songwriting with pure insanity on drums for more than fifteen years and, with “Van Halen 2049”, may have created one of his best performances yet. At a dizzying nine-minute length, the freight train of ride and snare paly never slows down. It’s like a live improv session of signature Lightning Bolt music with everything a diehard fan could’ve asked for. Sonic Citadel saw Chippendale’s most diverse playing yet, but “Van Halen 2049” took his trademark playing to new and unbelievable heights.
Fear Inoculum


Drummer: Danny Carey


Fear Inoculum was thirteen long years in the making with otherworldly expectations. In the meantime, many wondered what Danny Carey was gonna cook up on this project. The album itself doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Lateralus behind the kit, but Carey’s performance on “Pneuma” is yet another highlight on his lauded career. The song’s first half sounds somewhat similar to Aenema’s “Pushit” in drumwork, smoothly inserting the sixteenth notes wherever necessary. The real magic happens in the bridge, however, where Carey combines the polyrhythms of “The Grudge” and the endurance of “Rosetta Stoned” into an immense package. While this performance is not an instant classic like the aforementioned, over time it will be one of Carey’s best and a drumming landmark of the 2010’s.
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