Under the hammer...
Acoustic drumkit manufacturers are peculiar among musical instrument fabricators in that, out of the box, their products are... How to put it kindly... Point is that, being bulky for their relative lightness in weight, drumkits are a pain to transport. And setting them up for studio session or gig is like putting together a wing-nut and Allen-key festooned Meccano kit. The pointy point, however, is that all too often an untreated acoustic kit sounds knob. In either live or studio scenario, the sound engineer must add a welter of microphone stands to the existing forest of cymbal and tom stands in order to support a small fortune’s worth of microphones, which leads to a spaghetti of mic cables that makes the wires hanging off the keyboard rig look almost minimalist. And what do those microphones hear? A godawful mess of ringing and gunnng-ing as each batter-headed kit bit, even if perfectly in tune, resonates unpleasantly, nay infuriatingly, during the soundcheck.
While bassist, guitarists and kazoo ensemble are up and running within a handful of minutes, the drummer and sound engineer still face an age of damping a lively collection of percussion instruments into submission. For the kit manufacturer, all that time and money spent choosing optimum tonewoods for the drum shells, crafting them into tubes of fine tolerance, pressing, milling and plating the metal components that hold everything together, et al, is made a nonsense by mic-up prep. Out comes the gaffer tape, cardboard, expanded polystyrene and whatever else is necessary to kill extraneous ringing from the tom skins. Meanwhile, off comes the front of each kick drum and in go duvets to calm bottom-end boinnng. It’s bad enough with a standard rock kit, but for heavy, and especially prog, metal acts the sheer number of kit components complicates things, and denudes the gaffer supply, an inordinate amount. Who’d be Neil Peart’s drum roadie, eh?
It’s no wonder that in the studio, where time and space are at a premium, the drummer often ends up swigging Jack Daniels on the control room sofa while the techno-spod band member gets busy with a synthetic percussion solution. For metal bands, which in live performance might devote more than half of the stage area to an outrageously OTT drumkit, artificial percussion engines are particularly time, space and cost effective when recording. Add in an engineer’s/producer’s demands for supreme controllability and flexibility of thumpy, crashy noises and you’ve a ready market for digital percussion. This is where Toontrack’s three-headed hydra of Superior Drummer, The Metal Foundry and Heavy Metal Presets slithers hither.