Distasteful use of kick and bass drum triggers in metal


Decrepit Birth have never been a band of songwriting delicacy. To compensate for this deficit, they have switched styles with regularity over their fifteen year old existence. Starting off as a more extreme brutal death metal band on Unique Leader, the band made a drastic turnabout on Diminishing Between Worlds with their interpretation of Death circa Human and beyond. That album may have had its melodic moments but the problem with Decrepit Birth has always been a lack of nuance and the “more is better” mentality; from awkwardly placed super-saccharine solos reminiscent in tone and phrasing of shredder Michael Angelo Batio, no exponent of moderation himself, to the more egregious offense of monotonous triggering of kick and bass drums, often even sharing equal volume with the guitars, the band’s general inability to say no is an assault on the notion of good taste.

It would be churlish to level the old charge of cheating at the use of drum triggers in metal. Rather, think of them as a production tool that, assuming expert use, affords the drummer a consistency of tone and accent beyond the pale of the acoustic drum. At its broadest, the trigger is a transducer fitted onto the rim of the drum or on the drum head itself; each time the drum is hit, the trigger transmits a signal to a sound module which then outputs a pre-programmed sound texture, at the approximate time of impact. Ironically, it is this same consistency that creates the illusion of faster speed; eliminating variations caused by human timing makes for a more predictable and sharply defined sound wave; when experienced in rapid succession, as is the case with certain death metal and power metal bands, the effect is of a drummer operating at a higher, superficially-aided level.

But drummers like Sam Paulicelli of Decrepit Birth, and his forebears in Pete Sandoval, Max Kolesne, Derek Roddy, and Tim Yeung, are fine drummers in their own right, and the primary movers behind developments in trigger technology. To accuse them of taking shortcuts is ridiculous; in any case, music is not athletics, even a music as visceral as metal. We take it as given that technology helps push the limits of athletic performance, however “clean” the sport at hand claims to be; few can therefore complain if technology can also help create a legitimately superior artform.

The argument against the incessant use of triggers as practiced especially by the above gentlemen then becomes one centered around the ideas of context and aesthetics. One can understand when a drummer uses triggers to add tone and rolling depth to his strikes, as, I believe, can be heard in the late Nick Menza’s introduction to Megadeth‘s ‘Addicted To Chaos‘. Employed in this manner, the trigger becomes an artful, almost-melodic device worth its weight in gold; but to what end does the extreme metal drummer employ his typewriter-clatter? Death metal and power metal, the two styles where the triggered bass drum is heard the most, are not the same as industrial music; bands like The Berzerker and Mortician may have used programmed drums for their peculiar brand of inhuman music but death metal of a more deliberate nature, violent as it can be, still depends on a certain a-melodic sensibility and the virtues of theme and development. It is a stretch for drummers to imagine that they can tally the mechanical nature of interminably triggered drums with that sensibility without dissent. At best, a distraction to be hopefully overcome by the quality of writing otherwise, at worst, triggers are a liability that can induce an almost physically crippling reaction in the listener.

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4 Responses to Distasteful use of kick and bass drum triggers in metal

  1. the_endurance says:

    well, deeds of flesh’s mike hamilton used a lot triggers in his triplet-based drumming to great effect…

    • True, but it never stood out as obviously with Deeds as with Decrepit or Hate Eternal. Do you think it was because of Deeds’ superior writing? Or because of Hamilton’s better use of triggers in general? Better final production, perhaps?

      • the_endurance says:

        a combination of superior writing with tasteful use, things which could be revealed only upon repeated listens (dof’s death metal is a work of dexterity and endurance after all). i believe production is crystal clear in all albums by these brutal death bands (deeds, decrepit, and hate), so i don’t think it’s a plus. also, cerrito’s riffing in the first hate eternal album is incredible, i must say.

  2. Yes, Cerrito’s departure affected both Suffocation and Hate Eternal for the worse.

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