The drummer is one of the most important members of any metal band. They provide the backbeats, rhythms, and most of the intensity. Without a drummer, a metal band wouldn’t sound as heavy. Because of this, metal drumming is highly popular and there are a lot of metal players out in the world. There’s a huge culture that spans across different continents with drummers coming from everywhere you can think of. Out of all these metal drummers, there are a few that have gained major popularity thanks to their levels of skill. These drummers are arguably some of the best metal drummers at the moment.
Metal Music Explained
Metal music can mean a lot of things. It’s a genre of music at the core. However, there are so many sub-genres of metal such as heavy metal, death metal, thrash metal, progressive metal, and power metal. There are way more than that, but those are some of the most popular ones.
The common trend amongst these sub-genres of metal is that they have heavy instrumentation. This means that the drums are loud and punchy while the guitars are distorted and the vocals are intense.
They’re also heavily instrumental. Every metal song will have heavy chord progressions along with unique melodies. Focus is put on the instruments and what they’re playing. You can get complex time signatures and pattern shifts in progressive metal and heavy power chords in power metal.
In summary, all metal music has heavy instrumentation with a focus on instrumental patterns and melodies.
Qualities of Great Metal Drummers
Before we move onto the list of the best metal drummers, you should know what goes into becoming a great metal drummer. Although these skills are essential for drummers in any style of music, we’re going to look at them through the lens of metal. The main qualities that make good metal drummers are having great senses of skill, technique, speed, and musicality.
Skill refers to what they can play on the drums. Complex patterns, hectic time signatures, ludicrous drum fills, and grooves all fall under this category. The best metal players will have some serious chops that reflect in their playing.
Technique is absolutely vital in metal drumming. You need to have a good technique on the instrument in order to play well and for long. Metal is intense music to play, so you need great technique to be able to play at that level for a long time.
Speed is also a vital skill. Metal is fast-paced a lot of the time, meaning these drummers will be able to play complex patterns at a fast tempo. Some drummers can play unnaturally fast on the drums.
The final quality that makes a great drummer is musicality. This refers to how the drummers add to the music with their drumming. Musical drummers will boost the musicians around them and inspire the music to grow.
Top 10 Metal Drummers
Matt Garskta is most commonly known for being the drummer of the progressive metal band, Animals as Leaders. He has such an iconic style of drumming and has many achievements behind his name. Born in Hopewell, Virginia, he started playing drums at the age of 8 and was already gigging by the age of 12.
He got a formal music education at the Berklee College of Music and then joined Animals as Leaders shortly after he graduated. Although he’s primarily a metal player, he can hold his own in gospel and jazz settings. This tells you that he’s highly versatile.
Matt Garstka is most famous for his incredibly complex playing style. It’s packed with odd rhythms and subtle ghost notes, making it sound very busy. His style perfectly compliments Animals as Leaders as well as many other artists that he’s played with.
He endorses Tama drums, Meinl cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, and Remo drum heads.
If you want to listen to some busy drumming with gospel influences, Matt Garstka is a fantastic musician to check out. He was even featured as the cover artist of Modern Drummer Magazine back in 2015. A huge achievement for someone so young at the time.
Matt Halpern is a key member of the band, Periphery. Similar to Matt Garstka, he’s mainly a progressive metal player. He even had a short stint with Animals as Leaders back in 2009. He was born in Baltimore and started playing drums right from the young age of 3. He started out with a kids drum set but moved on to a full-sized kit at 6.
At current, Matt Halpern is one of the leading progressive metal players around. His work with Periphery is absolutely iconic, inspiring drum kit players to dig into learning to play that kind of music.
One thing that makes him stand out is the way he plays the kit. He puts so much emotion into every note and you can really see how much he enjoys playing. The fact that he’s so relaxed behind the kit while playing complex patterns shows how skilled he really is.
Matt Halpern has been endorsed by a few different companies over the years. He currently plays Pearl drums, Promark sticks, Meinl cymbals, and Evans drum heads. He even has some signature sticks from Promark.
In terms of musicality, Matt Halpern tends to fit every song he plays perfectly. Every note is intentional and serves the music well.
Moving onto the last Matt on this list, we have Matt Greiner. He’s the king of metalcore and arguably one of the most influential players in the Christian Metal genre. He was born in Pennsylvania and got homeschooled. This gave him all the time in the world to practice and get really good at the drums.
Matt is one of the founding members of the band, August Burns Red. They’ve been playing since 2003 and Matt Greiner is still going strong as one of the band’s main members.
He has immaculate technique on the drums. If you watch any video of him playing, you’ll see that he has a straight back and looks super relaxed while pulling out all kinds of complex rhythms. Since he’s a main member of August Burns Red, he has a lot of say in their creative process, helping to write songs and add whatever he can to make them better.
Matt runs his own website where he gives personalized drum lessons. It’s truly a unique thing to see someone so skilled and accomplished offer up their time to teach others.
He’s endorsed by Evans heads, Vic Firth sticks, DW drums, and Zildjian cymbals. He also started his own drum company called Greiner Kilmer. It ran for a while but ultimately shut down a few years back.
Mike Mangini can comfortably be considered a drum legend at this point in time. He’s played with so many accomplished metal bands over the years such as Annihilator and Extreme. He’s also played with solo artists like Steve Vai and James LaBrie. However, his main claim to fame is that he’s been the drummer for Dream Theater since 2011.
Dream Theater is one of the most popular progressive metal bands as they’ve been around for decades. Mike Mangini perfectly compliments their music with his proficiency over odd time signatures and speedy playing.
At 57 years old, Mike is still banging it out on intensive tours and gigs, adding as much as he can to the Dream Theater band. If you’re into progressive metal, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Mike Mangini.
At one point in his life, Mike was a full-time professor at the Berklee College of Music, helping to coach and mold many young drummers into becoming professional musicians themselves. He stopped teaching when he got the Dream Theater gig.
Mike Mangini uses Pearl gear, Vater sticks, Remo drum heads, and Zildjian cymbals.
Mike has made a few educational DVDs over the years. It’s something that many older drummers have done as DVDs have mostly faded away thanks to modern technology.
Jay Weinberg has a great story of rhythmic talent being passed down in the family. His father is Max Weinberg, a prominent name in the drum industry who has played for all kinds of famous artists. Jay Weinberg was obviously introduced to drums at a young age thanks to his father. However, he only started playing in his early teens.
Although Jay doesn’t strictly play metal, he’s very quickly become one of the top metal players due to his gig with Slipknot. Slipknot is arguably one of the most popular metal bands in the world. So, anyone that’s tied to them is going to get some great recognition.
Jay has some influences in hard rock and punk playing, making him one of the most creative players in the metal scene. He’s known for playing with speed and precision, letting his hair flow loosely with the energy of the band.
He made his big break when he played for Bruce Springsteen on a tour that his dad was unable to make, boosting him up in his career.
Jay plays Zildjian cymbals, Vater drum sticks, Evans drum heads, and SJC drum kits.
Another legend on the list, Danny Carey will undoubtedly be in every best metal drummer list you’ll ever see. At 59 years old, he’s accomplished so much in his life and has become a top inspiration for so many younger players. What makes Danny Carey stand out is his proficiency in playing polyrhythms and odd meters.
This is mostly seen in his band, Tool. Most Tool songs are over 10 minutes and involve 5 or more time signature changes. Danny Carey is synonymous with the band and has created so many iconic drum parts to go with it.
As a young teenager, he actually played jazz. The influences from jazz playing have transferred over into his metal playing, making it extremely unique. He has excellent control over all his limbs and he loves to incorporate other percussion instruments into his setup.
Danny Carey has had multiple companies make signature products for him. He has a signature snare drum with Sonor, a signature pair of sticks with Vic Firth, and some signature cymbals from Paiste.
Overall, he’s a drum melody master and a huge influence on every person that plays this instrument. Go through some Danny Carey videos and be amazed at how musical and creative drums can actually be.
Although Mike Mangini is the current member of Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy was the original one. He started the band along with some friends at Berklee and they played together for 25 years. Over those years, Mike Portnoy established himself as one of the top players in the metal genre.
He has such a distinct sound on the instrument and in the late 20th century he had skills that not many other players had on the kit. This led him to win many awards for his playing. He even became one of the youngest people to be inducted into the Modern Drummer hall of fame.
Mike has played with bands such as Liquid Tension and Experiment, Transatlantic, Avenged Sevenfold, and The Neal Morse Band. He’s been a valuable member of each one when he plays for them.
He’s a versatile musician, being able to play other instruments as well as the kit. He even wrote and produced many of the popular Dream Theater songs over all those years.
He’s endorsed by Tama, Sabian, Remo, and Promark. His fame as a player has greatly contributed to these companies over the years.
Aric Improta is a young player who’s been paving the way for modern drummers in recent times. He burst onto the scene with his eclectic performance for the 2012 Guitar Center Drum Off. In that performance, you can see just how passionate he is about performing. He takes that passion and those skills and transfers it over into the bands he plays for.
He’s traveled the world playing drums for Fever 333, Goldfinger, and Night Verses. All these hard rock and metal bands have made Aric the popular drummer that he is today. One thing that makes him unique is the fact that he’s an artist. You can see it in his playing how he tries to make art with sound.
He’s developed a signature line of drum heads with Remo that have many of his artworks painted on the drum heads.
Aric is a modern drummer who is continually pushing boundaries and challenging every player to work harder and innovate.
He plays Tama, Meinl, and many other well-established gear brands. If you want to see some clips of someone doing backflips all over the drum set, check out Aric’s videos on YouTube.
Tomas Haake is one of the main members of the band, Meshuggah. The double bass drum pattern in the song ‘Bleed’ has become extremely well-known in the metal community. It’s a music part that is signature Haake, showing how skillful he is with polyrhythms and tight playing.
However, he is so much more than just that one song. He was born in Sweden and has been playing the kit most of his life. He has at times been voted as one of the best modern metal players on the scene. As an influence to many, Tomas Haake continues to reflect all of his skill and proficiency with Meshuggah.
He endorses Sonor, Sabian, and Wincent sticks.
Ending off the list with a thrash metal legend, not many compare to Dave Lombardo. He played for the thrash metal band, Slayer, for most of his life. He left due to some disputes between band members.
Dave is famous for his aggressive playing and intense double pedal work. Many metal players will tell you that Dave Lombardo is their main influence, showing you just how top-quality his playing is.
He’s been playing this instrument professionally for 40 years and has recorded over 30 studio albums that cover different genres of music. However, thrash and extreme metal will always be his top style to play.
He plays Tama and Ludwig kits, Paiste cymbals, Promark sticks, and Evans heads.
These are some of the most influential metal players on the scene. Every single one of them has done something to put their names on the map and get noticed. Whether it be skill, innovation, musicality, technique, or stage presence, each one of these drummers has something to learn from.
If you’re wanting to play metal, you could benefit from watching these guys in action. Someone like Tomas Haake will blow your mind with his independence while Danny Carey will show you how music can be explored. Matt Garstka will show you how ghost notes can be so important while Matt Halpern will show you how fun it is to play.
There are many more influential players that haven’t been mentioned. However, these are the players that have arguably made the biggest impact on the metal scene.