A Blast Beat is a drum beat that originated in Death Metal, and is often associated with Extreme Metal and Grindcore. It is utilised by many different styles of Metal. In Adam MacGregor’s definition, “the blast-beat generally comprises a repeated, sixteenth-note figure played at a very fast tempo, and divided uniformly among the bass drum, snare and ride, crash or hi-hat cymbal.” Blast beats have been described as, “maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per se than sheer sonic violence”.
The English band Napalm Death coined the term “Blast Beat”, though this style of drumming had previously been practiced by others. Daniel Ekeroth argues that the blast beat was first performed by the Swedish group Asocial on their 1982 demo. D.R.I. (“No Sense”), Sepultura (“Antichrist”), S.O.D. (“Milk”), Sarcófago (“Satanas”) and Repulsion also included the technique prior to Napalm Death’s emergence.
Blast beats originated in performances by Jazz drummers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s such as Tony Williams, Angelo Spampinato and Sunny Murray, in particular his 3/28/1965 Greenwich Village recording of “Holy Ghost” with Albert Ayler. AllMusic contributor Thom Jurek credits Williams as the “true inventor of the blast beat” in 1979. In 1970, the band Attila used a blast beat on their song “Brain Invasion” starting at the 2:04 mark and lasting about seven seconds. Blast roots in Hardcore Punk can be traced to recordings such as D.R.I’s “No Sense” on their first EP (1983) and Beastie Boys “Riot Fight” on their first EP, Pollywog Stew. Other examples include Heart Attack, Cryptic Slaughter and Lärm.
The blast beat as we know it today originated in the European Hardcore and Grindcore scenes in the 1980s. Contrary to popular belief, blast beats originated from Punk and Hardcore music, not Metal music. In the UK Punk and Hardcore scene of the early 1980s there were many bands attempting to play as fast as possible. In 1985 emerging Grindcore band Napalm Death replaced their former drummer Miles “Rat” Ratledge with Mick Harris, who brought to the band a whole new level of speed. Harris became the official drummer of Napalm Death and is credited for developing the term “blast beat”, describing the fast notes played on the kick and snare. Harris started using the blast beat as a fundamental aspect of Napalm Death’s early musical compositions.
It was finally with Napalm Deaths first full-length album Scum (1987) that blast beat started to evolve into a distinct musical expression of its own. Blast beats became music from the mid to late 1980s popular in Extreme music. The original use in Metal music is generally attributed to Igor Cavalera (Sepultura), Mike Browning (Morbid Angel, Nocturnus), D.D. Crazy (Sarcófago), Dave ‘Grave’ Hollingshead (Repulsion) and Charlie Benante (Anthrax, SOD).Benante showcased the technique by a double-handed blast beat in the track “Milk” on the SOD album Speak English or Die, later played single-handed on the live album Live at Budokan. Although even earlier usage dates back to demos by Death from 1984, with drummer and vocalist Kam Lee showcasing usage in songs such as “Reign Of Terror and Curse Of The Priest”.
Members from Repulsion (back when they were known as Genocide) temporarily joined Death in 1985. So it’s been speculated that they started their trademark widespread usage after first hearing it during their short tenure with Death. The blast beat evolved into its modern from as it was developed in the American Death Metal and Grindcore scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pete Sandoval, drummer of Terrorizer and later Morbid Angel, gave the blast beat a solid time signature and thus gave it a musical characteristic.
Blast beats eventually appeared in commercially successful Metal music, beginning with Fear Factory’s album Demanufacture and Slipknot’s album Iowa.
A blast beat is traditionally played as an alternating single-stroke roll broken up between the kick drum and the snare drum. Blast beats are counted in 32nd or 16th notes. In a modern musical context blast beats are usually regarded as such when played at a minimum of above 90 beats per minute 32nd notes, or 180 bpm 16th notes. Early blast beats were generally quite slow and less precise compared to today’s standards. Nowadays, a blast beat is normally played from 180 bpm 16th notes up to such high tempos as in the range of 250-280 bpm 16th notes (or even higher). There is also the “gravity blast”, not to be confused with the one-handed gravity roll. This technique uses the rim of the snare drum as a fulcrum, allowing two snare hits with one downward motion (essentially doing the work of two hands with only one).
Typical blast beats consist of 8th-note patterns between both the bass and snare drum alternately, with the hi-hat or the ride synced. Variations exist such as displacing hi-hat/ride, snare and bass drum hits and/or using other cymbals such as splashes, crashes, chinas and even tambourines for accenting, for example when using odd time or playing progressively. While playing 8th or 8th note triplets some drummers choose to play in sync with one foot while others split the 8th notes between both feet. In blast beats in general, the notes on the kick drum can be played either with one foot only or by alternating both feet, referred to as a “two-foot” or “economy” blast.
Different drummers use different foot or hand techniques. Certain drummers, such as George Kollias, prefer to only use one foot while performing blast beats (known as “pushing”), as it gives them extra precision that is not easily attainable with two feet, and leaves the left foot free to add in more subdivisions, turning 16th note blasts with the feet into 32nd note blasts. Others, such as Trym Torson, prefer using two feet, as it allows for extra power. Drummers also will either use their wrists, their fingers or a combination of both to control their drumsticks.
As blast beats have evolved, different types and interpretations have emerged. There are four main variations of the blast beat : the traditional blast, the bomb blast, the hammer blast and the freehand blast.
Traditional Blast is a single-stroke roll alternating between the snare drum and kick drum. The ride hand is usually playing in unison with the kick drum. The traditional blast beat is structurally very similar to the skank beat, which can be regarded as a predecessor and a half time variation of the traditional blast beat. The skank beat originated in the early punk and thrash Metal scene as a drum beat for extreme music.
The skank beat is similar to the blast beat as it alternates between the kick and the snare, with the difference that the ride hand plays notes in unison with both kick and snare. A skank beat is in other words a sped up 2/4 rock or polka beat. In the US the skank beat was early on also referred to as the “Slayer” or “thrash” beat due to its popularity among thrash Metal bands such as Slayer.
Bomb Blast is essentially a combination of blast beat and double bass drumming. When measured in 16th notes a bomb blast consists of 8th notes on the snare played above a 16th notes kick drum line. Most drummers play this beat by leading with the snare, while the traditional blast beat is usually led with the kick. The bomb blast became popular among 1990s death Metal bands such as Cannibal Corpse, which is why the bomb blast is also referred to as the “Cannibal” blast.
Hammer Blast is played with the kick and snare in unison. Instead of playing 8th notes kick and snare in alternation and thus creating a 16th notes roll, the hammer blast is played as a straight 8th notes roll on the kick and snare simultaneously. The advantage of the hammer blast is that you only need one fast hand, which usually is your leading hand (right for right-handed and left for left-handed). If your weaker hand can’t keep up with the 8th notes snare line, you can play quarter notes. The kick drum line can be played with one foot as well as a two-footed economy blast. When played at an extremely fast tempo, the hammer blast can be referred to as a “hyper blast”. The hammer blast became popular in death Metal music of the early 1990s.
Freehand Blast also known as the Gravity Blast, utilizes the gravity roll technique in a blast beat context. Of all the main blast beat variations, this one is the most recent to have emerged. The snare line is played as a 16th notes single stroke roll, also known as a gravity roll or single handed roll. The roll is played with an up and down motion in which you push and pull the drumstick on and off the snare drum. By using the snare rim as a fulcrum you create a stroke each time you push and pull the drumstick up and down. The concept behind the gravity roll is not new, but is noted for being brought into modern music by drummer Johhny Rabb. Rabb has published the book The Official Freehand Technique, which covers the gravity roll technique.
Examples of the four main blast beat variations in drum tab :
The first example is a hammer blast. The second example shows a traditional blast beat – essentially a skank beat played at a high tempo (this particular one leads with the bass drum, but the snare can lead as well). Example #3 shows a blast beat with double bass, known as a bomb blast. Example #4 illustrates a freehand blast, also known as a gravity blast.
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