The Secret Life of Cymbals (Or, How I Learned to Love the Clink)


A quick search for “extreme metal drumming” on Youtube is guaranteed to return three things: George Kollias making his kick drums wish they were never born, some nerd explaining gravity blasts for 30 minutes and Ben Shapiro DESTROYING feminists with logic. The life of cymbals is far from glamorous, as more often than not, they’re relegated to keeping steady rhythm and building up to breakdowns. They’re conspicuously absent from the tropes of metal as well—few people discuss the BPM of the hi-hat or the disgusting tone of the trashcan china.

But hold on, what’s that bright sound piercing up through the layers of guitars and gurgling? A faint tickle in your ear shoots up to the command center; this isn’t grim, you realize, horror in your eyes as your foot starts tapping. My God…these cymbals are clinky AF.

Clink Level 1: Old Man’s Child

Ah, Old Man’s Child: the black metal vortex that sucked up all of Dimmu Borgir‘s good riffs. Band mastermind/guitarist/professional creepy smiler Galder has always kept a rotating cast of members and session players close at hand, leading to a back catalog rich in styles. Their second album, The Pagan Prosperity, took a strange turn only a year after their debut, paring down the blackened elements and adding a sense of groove seldom heard in such frostbitten climes. The biggest departure comes in the form of “Soul Possessed,” a song that almost entirely eschews black metal’s trappings. What remains is essentially a groove metal track that’s made nearly danceable by Tony Kirkemo‘s playful cymbal work. The opening drum fill leads right into the clinks—this is some “Night(side Eclipse) at the Roxbury” shit from 0:12-0:28.

It’s somewhat alarming how well this syncs up.

Clink Level 2: Malignant Altar

The addition of unusual elements to a band’s sound can sometimes prove overwhelming—how many times has a third guitarist or an xtra-farty fretless bass been a distraction (or an outright nuisance), rather than the intended tr*mp card? Thankfully, Texan tenderfoots Malignant Altar have a secret weapon that they know how to utilize. His name is Dobber Beverly, and he plays drum riffs instead of background beats; his fills and arrangements are adventurous enough to become their own layers in the song, standing out constantly without hogging the stage (he’s basically like Darren Cesca if he could control himself). The first 30 seconds of “Nephilim Burial” (off of their recent Retribution of Jealous Gods demo) are usually as far as I make it before restarting to hear those sweet, sweet clinktastic flourishes for the hundredth time. It’s this combination of sludgy, seasick guitars and Dobber’s ecstatic style that makes their brand of death metal so effective—a balancing act between joy and violence.

Clink Level MAX: Serpents Lair

Just for a minute, tear your eyes from the cosmic goatse on the cover of Serpents Lair‘s Perpetual Hunger EP. Focused on me? Let’s continue. Beyond adding groove and texture to songs, cymbals can also convey a sense of motion, or even flight, depending on the tempo at which they’re played. During the segment from 3:38-3:52 in “Perpetual Hunger,” the swarms of cymbals evoke a frenzied pursuit (or escape) in some torchlit cavern; it’s an urgent sound that propels the song forward, meshing with the double bass kicks for an extra burst of speed. This is where I would talk about the fantastic drummer’s name, IF HE HAD ONE (all of the band members are anonymous). Seriously, there are more clinks in this track than there are terrible black metal bands playing footsie with Hitler in 2019. If anybody knows the drummer’s identity, please let me know in the comments so that I might knight him/her THE CLINKMASTER.

Bonus – Clink Level DEATHCORE: Despised Icon

Step 1: Go to 2:14
Step 2: Clink ignorantly to Despised Icon‘s “Les Temps Changent”
Step 3: Begin again from Step 1

You’re welcome.

Do you have a soft spot for clinking cymbals? Let me know some of your favorites below!


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