Three heavies ship from Sweden...
Melodically, heavy metal was invented by the Christian church. Honest. At least, the perfect fifths of chanting monks underpin the genre. No, they do. A powerchord is typically a root-note and fifth. Slide it all over a guitar fretboard and you’re riffing. OK, so it’s more complicated than that, but it is reasonable to argue that rhythmically, HM, like much modern music, is rooted in the sounds of nature and aided by technology.
Hitting a hollow log with a stick, mimicking a rapid heartbeat and encouraging people to groove, is technology and nature in cahoots. Kill a mammoth, stretch its skin over the end of a hollow log and you’ve a drum. While it may have taken until the Bronze Age to devise cymbals, rhythm instruments changed little until the early 1930s when Léon Theremin devised perhaps the world’s first rhythm machine, the photo-electro-mechanical Rythmicon. Let’s skip a few decades to land, with a satisfying thud, in the late 1960s and the origins of HM lyricism.
Metal was a reaction against the loved-up, happy-lah-lah of hippiedom; something to remind us that life has a darker side and whatever it was you saw while on LSD might not have been The Truth. Heavy-metal drummers pounded their way through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s gradually taking up more and more space on stage with twin-kickdrum kits sporting an ever more ludicrous number of toms and cymbals, all while happily oblivious to the technological strides being taken in dance music. A company called Ace Tone, later Roland, had set the ball rolling in ‘67 with the mass-market launch of the Rhythm Ace FR-1. This rhythm machine was a synthesis-based, preset-only affair, hence comparatively limited, but it proved a hit among contemporary musicians and so development continued.
It took until 1980 for digital sound sources to appear. The digital Linn LM-1 prompted many drummers to get a handle on rhythm programming for fear of unemployment, but more significant that year was the launch of another Roland product, the TR-808. This synthesis-based drum machine, along with its successor the TR-909 and, everyone’s favourite squelch-box, the TB-303 Bass Line, propelled multiple genres of dance music into the 21st Century. However, something a little more trick was necessary to turn the heads of metal-heads. The output of Roland’s synthetic gadgets can hardly be described as very metal and if it came down to a fight between them and a metal-drummer’s kit, my money would be on the 10-tom Tama.
What metal demands are big-sounding kicks, snares and toms with enough of a diaphragm-wobbling thwack to induce emesis and sufficient midrange click to cut through the wall of sound generated by the guitarist/s and bass. Add splashy, sploshy cymbals plus some tricky-to-master, twin-kickdrum playing technique and you’ve the basis of a solid, driving HM percussion section. For that to be reproduced sans drummer, we need a sophisticated programming environment and sampled sound sources. Let’s see how Toontrack has managed to deliver the goods to your DAW by stuffing all that massive, meaty metal power into a laptop-friendly software trio.
TOONTRACK EZDRUMMER 1.2.1 | £99
It’s clear that folk at Swedish developer Toontrack learnt American, not English, at school. After all, ‘ee-zed’ drummer, as a Brit would have it, doesn’t make much sense and there’s nothing much ‘eased’ about metal beats, unless the drummer’s stoned. The product has been out since 2006, so it’s worthwhile trawling online forums and casting an eye over reviews that have gone before to see how it’s got along since launch and to assess the impact of a number of version updates. Well, I have done, but we’ll come to all that presently. First, if you’ve yet to make Ee-Zee-drummer’s acquaintance, slurp this vid for an idea of Toontrack’s intent.
That’s the developer’s take. We’ve a velocity-layered collection of more than 7,000 drum and cymbal samples that can be triggered from a MIDI keyboard, or other hardware controller, and from a DAW. Velocity layering, combined with the Humanize function, avoids a 1980s’ burp-gun sound on drum rolls and drags, as used to irritating effect by New Order on 1982 single Blue Monday. The levels and pan positions of drumkit pieces are adjustable via a mixer, as are the levels of mic bleed and room ambience, while individual items can be swapped using the drop-down menus in the main interface. Or you can hurry things up when straying from default settings by choosing Tight, Ambient or Basic configurations that are applied globally. Usefully, you can store any edits you do make to mixer settings, such as relative levels, pan positions and ambience from the overhead and room mics, all ready for later recall. Toontrack’s website and UK distributor Time+Space’s product page. Meantime, the Pop/Rock kit is right here... Straight up The default EZdrummer kit tasked with a straightforward rhythm pattern Laid back A turn-of-the-Millennium, slow rockin' groove. Could this be emo-core? Strut your stuff Here's a sharp-riffing strut that could easily have come from the late 1970s Metallic aftertaste Grinding guitar and HM bass over a hard-rocking beat - woo-(as it were)-aargh! EZ shuffle Sliding and shuffling along - we've just drums and cymbals this time When managing expansions, it’s good practice to hive the files off onto a fast external drive, for which you’d use the included SoundMover utility. I’d suggest, however, that while you may want to hoik the bundled Cocktail EZX off the System drive, leave the Pop/Rock kit in its default location if aiming to be a peripatetic percussionist. That way, you won’t have to pack both laptop and external drive, and you take advantage of the internal drive’s speedy SATA interface. The full range of Pop/Rock kit items is to be found at Toontrack’s website, but in brief, batter-headed bits are from GMS, Rogers and Slngerland while cymbals are by Sabian and Zildjian. Cocktail, meanwhile, comprises samples from Yamaha instruments, along with a tasty 14-inch Zildjian hi-hat and a Mikaelsson custom ride. In all, the EZdrummer package is an affordable percussion solution for the sketching songwriter and can be expanded for grander productions with EZX packs bringing fresh samples into play, as well as Toontrack’s Monster MIDI Packs which I’ll examine in future features. For all the limitations of the basic installation, it’s hard to be picky at the price and regarding ease of use, EZdrummer’s slick interface makes falling off a log look decidedly complicated. If yet more is truly needed, then you should really be looking at Superior Drummer, a feature on the latest update of which I’ll be posting soon. Meantime, let’s see how EZ it is to get what’s already to hand sounding a tad more metal... TOONTRACK DRUMKIT FROM HELL EZX | £49* Bit of a heavy product name, so I’ll call it DFH from hereon in. At the heart of DFH EZX is another sample library that’s been around for a while - longer than EZdrummer, in fact. The critically acclaimed collection was originally devised to assuage Toontrack’s need for heavier drum sounds and has made its way into an EZX expansion for seamless integration with the host software. Want a quick taster? Here we go... Rather more pokey, no? Metal connoisseurs might like to note that the samples for DFH were captured and produced by Meshugga’s Tomas Haake and Fredrik Thordendal, along with Daniel Bergstrand and Mattias Eklund. Thordendal and Haake also contributed MIDI files to the collection, as did Owe Lingvall (Nocturnal Rites), Mattias Grahn (Naglfar) and Efraim Juntunen - a stellar selection of Scandinavian smithies, then. To save me blithering on about the finer points of DFH’s tone and implementation, I’ll leave it for your ears to decide. No EQ or compression has been applied to the following clips. Actually, I didn't even normalize them, so you may have to turn your sound system up a bit... DFH medium - from Hell! A mid-paced taste of DFH's default kit with much sploshy cymbal to boot DFH heavy - from Hades! DFH goes all speed-metal - hear the dual kickdrums rattling away at the bottom end DFH fast - as the Wings of Death! Tribal tom patterns evoke a brutish metal mood DFH Haake's horror-fest! Cool fills and grooves played by Meshuggah's Tomas Haake (video interview below) DFH Lingvall - Lord of All Darkness! Foot-tapping, head-nodding stuff from Nocturnal Rites' Owe Lingvall HOME to MuzoBlog