Metal drumming is not for the faint of heart. In the words of Hate Eternal alumnus Derek Roddy, “It takes incredible endurance just to be able to get through a song.” You need to be fast but precise and hit hard and heavy. Each song is like a round of boxing.
Metal drumming has developed from the beginnings of Metal through Speed Metal and Thrash, into the blast zone of Death Metal, and beyond. Truly great Metal drummers need to be able to keep a hold of the tempo and volume of the entire band, even when things border on going out of control.
So, have a look at my list of the very best Metal drummers of all time and see if all your favorites are there. Or, maybe, discover some new ones.
Classic Heavy Metal Drummers
Some of the drummers I’ve included here are also claimed by hard rock. However, their style and power were instrumental in the development of what became known as Heavy Metal.
Even though the way they play isn’t very similar to metal drumming today, we still need to tip our hats to a few classic metal legends.
Ian Paice (Deep Purple, Whitesnake)
Ian Paice grew up listening to jazz drumming legends the likes of Gene Krupa, Bobby Elliot, and Buddy Rich. He was later influenced by the growing psychedelic rock of the 1960s and this strange fusion helped him to develop his own sound.
Paice started drumming early…
His musician father encouraged him to take up the drums at 15, and at 16 he was already playing gigs with daddy’s band. In the late 1960s, he broke onto the rock scene with the band MI5, later Maze.
Together with vocalist Rod Evans, he left Maze and went on to form Deep Purple, one of the most recognizable rock bands of the 70s. Deep Purple can be considered a Proto-Metal band thanks in part to their soaring guitars and Paice’s heavy drumming.
Deep Purple spit up in 1976 and Paice joined Whitesnake, which was a sort of Hard Rock/Hair Metal band, for three years. After that, he collaborated, recorded, and toured with musicians mostly in the Hard Rock sphere. He returned to Deep Purple in 1984 and remains a member today.
Paice is known as a big influence on early Metal drummers who would go on to develop the genre. He played fast, he played hard, and he also played left-handed. His foot speed also set him apart and pushed the envelope of developing heavy music.
Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)
Black Sabbath is generally considered the first true Metal band, with their dark name and song themes, distorted guitar riffs, and of course heavy drumming. And the man, bashing away on the kit, was none other than Bill Ward.
Ward was similarly influenced by a lot of creative jazz players like Buddy Rich, Louie Belson, and Gene Krupa. He also looked up to rock legends Ringo Star and John Bonham and especially emulated Bonzo’s heavy-hitting style.
Coming into his own…
He was known to hit extremely hard and broke a lot of sticks and gear along the way. He was skilled at keeping steady, hard, and loud beats to drive the band along. But, he also smashed his way through complicated fills and rhythms to fill up the background and allow the legendary Tony Iommi to solo.
Ward had problems with his health, and also got into drugs and alcohol. Sometime in 1980, he left Sabbath and disappeared completely, forcing the band to find a new drummer.
Since then, Ward has worked with other bands, put out a couple of solo records, and played with Ozzy and Tony Iommi on their projects. He has also occasionally reunited with Black Sabbath for special concerts to bring the original metal band back to the masses.
Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Black Oak Arkansas, Dio, Ozzy Osborne)
If you don’t know Tommy Aldridge, you don’t know what you’re missing. As an early Hard Rock/Metal drummer, he has worked with some huge names like Whitesnake, Dio, Black Oak Arkansas, Ozzy Osborne, Motorhead, Ted Nugent, and Thin Lizzy.
Tommy Aldridge taught himself to drum as a teen, taking cues from psychedelic rock drummers like Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell. He learned to play fast and hit hard, and this led him into a successful career as an early Metal/Proto-Metal drummer.
Double the power…
Aldridge was one of the early adopters of the double bass drum setup. While drummers today tend to opt for a double bass pedal played on one drum, Aldridge had a big kit with two bass drums.
This helped him to pioneer a full-bodied and deep double bass sound. One that has become a hallmark of metal drumming.
Tommy Aldridge is known as a heavy-hitting, fast, and technical drummer. He no longer plays in any major band, but still works as a session drummer and also teaches clinics to aspiring drummers.
If the name Appice seems familiar to you, it could be for one of two reasons: Carmen or Vinny Appice. These hard-hitting brothers from New York have played in more legendary bands than you can shake a stick at.
Older brother Carmen is known for his work in Psychedelic Rock. He has played with everyone from Pink Floyd to Vanilla Fudge and Ozzy Osbourne. Vinny, however, is known for harder playing.
After classical training…
And a lot of influence from his brother, Vinny got his first professional break when his band was discovered by John Lennon. After playing as Lennon’s backup band, Appice moved in a heavier direction.
When Bill Ward suddenly disappeared, Vinny was quickly recruited to play in Black Sabbath. After that, he played with singer Ronnie James Dio in Dio, and then in the Sabbath/Dio super-group Heaven & Hell, Hollywood Monsters, and innumerable other Rock and Metal projects.
Vinny hits hard and plays with perfect precision. If that’s not a recipe for a metal drummer, I don’t know what is.
Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden)
After Black Sabbath kicked off the Heavy Metal revolution, other British bands soon followed. Bringing in more speed and fury to the infant Metal scene. One of the most important of these bands was Iron Maiden.
Maiden started in 1975 and immediately started to change the face of Metal. While Sabbath was slow and sludgy, Maiden picked up the speed and started chugging along like a steel freight train to hell.
Nicko McBrain replaced the first Maiden drummer, Clive Burr, in 1982. Since then, he has recorded 14 albums with Maiden and toured the world virtually non-stop.
Breaking new ground…
It was McBrain’s speed and technical ability that allowed Iron Maiden to push the frontiers of Metal. He’s blazing fast and yet still hit hard, making his drums and cymbals sing out with full voices.
He’s also known for playing a massive drum kit with 11 drums and at least 13 cymbals. He has tremendous stamina to keep up the screaming speed that he does. All while playing all over his drum kit in complicated patterns.
McBrain and the Maiden boys essentially the founders of Speed Metal, always pushing the envelope. Their fast, frantic, and ultra-loud concerts are to this day the stuff of Metal legends.
Thrash Metal Drummers
Classic Heavy Metal eventually gave way to many more diverse genres. One of the most notable is Thrash. This screaming style has its roots in Maiden-style speedy Metal but managed to push things harder and faster than anything that came before.
In the late 80s, some Thrash Metal bands became huge thanks to greater exposure and the MTV phenomenon. Here are the most influential Thrash Metal drummers who pounded the genre to the forefront.
Dave Lombardo (Slayer)
Now, here’s a legend in Metal drumming if ever there was one. Dave Lombardo, of Slayer fame, is indeed a slayer on the drum set.
He started out drumming after being influenced by early Proto-Metal bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Cream. Also, he was turned on by Bill Ward in Sabbath and Vinny Appice’s work.
He knew he wanted to play hard, but no one, not even him, could have predicted how fast and hard his playing was destined to become.
Ahhh… the Eighties…
Starting in 1981, just like Metallica, Slayer took inspiration from Iron Maiden to try to push Metal as fast and hard as possible.
Lombardo was a founding member but quit the band for a time because they weren’t making ends meet. Then he came back, left again, came back again, and finally left permanently in 2011.
Over that time, he played on nine albums that still stand up to the test of time as some of the best Thrash Metal albums ever. Lombardo’s drumming was faster, tighter, and more complex than anyone had ever seen before and that’s why he’s still a legend.
Plays with just about everyone…
He is one of few drummers to stick to a double bass drum set up which gives his footwork a characteristic sound. Now, he’s playing with Testament, Fantomas, Suicidal Tendencies, Mr. Bungle, and the Misfits off and on.
This is one of the broadest selections of Metal bands you could think of. And, it only goes to show his creativity and adaptability in the Metal sphere.
Lars Ulrich (Metallica)
There’s a whole lot about Metallica’s legendary drummer Lars Ulrich that most people don’t know. For example, did you know he is Danish?
When Metallic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, this made him the first Dansk person among those rock heroes. Yes, Ulrich grew up in Denmark and it was there that he got his start in drumming. Not surprising then, he owes his success to inspiration from someone else on this list.
The story goes…
A 10-year-old Lars was brought to see a Deep Purple concert by his dad. Watching Ian Paice smash his drum set instantly made him fall in love with the instrument and resolve to take up a life of music.
In the 80s, he moved to California and met James Hetfield. The two would go on to found Metallica, one of the best known and most popular Metal bands ever.
Ulrich is a fast and furious drummer whose beats we can almost all recognize. He is one of few drummers in Metal who still plays on two bass drums (like Tommy Aldridge and Dave Lombardo). Preferring the sound and response to the two skins.
His lightning-fast beats and soulful breakdowns have made him one of the most well-known names in Metal drumming. As well as the legends about receiving fellatio while playing concerts!
I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. What did surprise me is finding out that, back in Denmark, Ulrich has been knighted. Yep, he’s been a Knight in the Order of the Dannebrog since 2017.
Charlie Benante (Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death)
Another big thrashing shredder is Charlie Benente, drummer for Anthrax since 1983. He also played with the Punk-Thrash crossover band Stormtroopers of Death on the New York scene.
Benante is a fast and furious Metal drummer. His double bass pedal technique is extremely fast and he is known as one of the pioneers of the double-bass pedal. And while he in no way invented blast beats, he is one of the first drummers to incorporate them into Thrash Metal.
And surprisingly, Benante not only drums but also plays guitar. Along with writing music, and designing cover art for Anthrax. Not bad for a banger!
Igor Cavalera (Sepultura)
Igor Cavalera, aka Skullcrusher, is a drummer from Brazil and co-founder of the important Brazilian Thrash band, Sepultura. He started the band with his brother, Max, when he was only 13 years old and went on to be a part of it for 22 years.
The Skullcrusher is so named because of his ability to play intense, hard beats with a power that’s hard to come by. In early Sepultura records, he played hard and fast Thrash. But later, he incorporated Brazilian traditional and tribal beats into his playing.
As a result, he created a whole new style, like on Territory and other tracks. He’s known for playing tight and extremely hard, driving his bands on relentlessly. In later years, Cavalera has experimented with Hardcore Punk as in Strife and Hardcore Electronic music such as Soulwax.
Chris Adler (Lamb of God, Megadeth)
In case you thought Megadeth was glaringly absent from this list, keep in mind that the band has had a revolving door policy for drummers and bassists since the beginning. Most everyone has done a tour in Megadeth, but Chris Adler stands out.
Not always a Thrash Metal player, Chris Adler can certainly smash out beats in this style. He’s a great fast and heavy player with excellent control of his entire kit.
Unusually, he’s left-handed but plays a (sort-of) right-handed setup. More accurately, he has a double bass drum kit and plays almost all of his beats open-handed and not cross-handed, like most players.
A major mover and shaker…
With Lamb of God, Adler was instrumental in pushing the 2nd wave of American Metal. In this band, he combined Blast Beats, Thrash, and Groove Metal to provide whatever beats were needed.
Outside of Lamb of God, Adler has played with Calibra, Testament, and Firstborne among many others. All of which makes him one of the best Metal drummers of all time.
Progressive Metal Drummers
Progressive Metal was a reaction to both the speed-focused Thrash and the dark and sludgy Death Metal of the mid-1980s. Prog bands are known for extensive work with varying time signatures and tempos, complex riffs, and brighter instrumentation.
Therefore, Prog Metal drummers have to be able to provide constantly changing rhythms and keep the pulse of their bands going.
Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)
Hands down the best-known Progressive Metal band in the world is Dream Theater. And their founding drummer, Mike Portnoy, is a big part of that renown. Mike Portnoy grew up listening to Psychedelic Rock and Classic Metal bands like Rush, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden.
He got into drumming, was self-taught, and obviously talented as he won himself a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music. There he met his fellow founding members of Dream Theater, a band he played with for 25 years.
During this time…
Portnoy developed a signature style that was heavy and hard, but also extremely clean and precise. This is a drummer who eats time changes for breakfast and odd signatures for snacks. Following Rush’s Neil Peart, he is the second-youngest member of the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
Since leaving Dream Theater in 2010, Portnoy has bestowed his percussive gifts upon several bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Liquid Tension Experiment, Adrenaline Mob, Sons of Apollo, Metal Allegiance, and many more.
This is one incredible Metal drummer who’s more than comfortable smashing his kit to every time signature and all types of music from Prog Rock to Thrash.
Mike Mangini (Dream Theater, Steve Vai)
When Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater, the band went looking for a new Mike to replace him. Well, that’s a joke. But, after inviting seven world-class drummers to audition for the position, they chose another one – Mike Mangini – to sit on the throne.
Previously an acclaimed drummer who played with diverse acts such as Annihilator, Extreme, and Steve Vai, Mangini deserved the spot. This is a drummer who is Portnoy’s equal in the Theater.
He plays hard and heavy, but again with incredible precision. Mangini is also ridiculously fast. Before he joined Dream Theater, he had already set five World’s Fastest Drumming Records. You can see his insane speed and precision in this clip from Discovery Channel’s Time Warp.
A Wonder Kid?
The word is that Mangini started playing drums when he was just two years old. As a kid, he would practice between two and four hours a day and by the age of nine was able to play along to Buddy Rich and other legendary drummers’ tracks.
After playing in Metal and Hard Rock band, notably keeping up to shredder Steve Vai, he was invited to work as a teacher at the Berklee School of Music. Now that’s impressive!
But, even the professor knew Dream Theater was too good an offer to turn down. So, he packed in teaching and has played with Dream Theater and also with singer John Petrucci ever since.
Danny Carey (Tool)
While Tool may be less Metal and more Rock, they’re definitely a progressive and experimental band. Every member plays with a high level of technical ability, and drummer Danny Carey is no exception.
Starting at age 10, Carey taught himself to play and later took up jazz drumming. This influence can be heard even in his work today with Tool. His heroes include Billy Cobham and Neil Peart, two of the most accomplished technical drummers ever.
Skills to pay the bills…
Carey plays drums like he was born behind the kit. While not the heaviest Metal drummer on this list, he has the technical know-how to lead Tool around any type of song they might want to tackle.
He’s known for complex poly-rhythms and is completely at home playing in odd time signatures. In addition to Tool, Carey has lent his skills to numerous groups. Including Industrial band, Skinny Puppy, and Sludge Metal kings, The Melvins.
Death Metal Drummers
With its wall of sound, crazy intensity, and blast beat sound, Death Metal is like a marathon for drummers. Here are some of the best Metal drummers of all time in the Death Metal genre.
Paul Mazurkiewicz (Cannibal Corpse)
One of the most iconic Death Metal bands from the 80s that is still raging today is Cannibal Corpse. This dark and insanely heavy group is known for building an immense wall of sound that blasts you in the face.
Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz has played with the band since its inception. Providing the raging, driving beats that drive this monster. He is also known for tight blast beats and super-fast feet. He rocks hard and strong, underpinning the band’s onslaught with extreme endurance.
Surprisingly, he’s also the main lyricist for the band and composes much of their music. He also plays guitar, sometimes recording album tracks as well.
Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Death, Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory)
Gene Hoglan is another heavy drummer who has spent ample time in the Death Metal genre. The thing is, he has played with so many different bands it has been hard to keep track of his career.
But, in the Metal scene, he’s known as the “Atomic Clock” and the “Human Drum Machine” for his extreme precision and perfect timing.
Been there, done that…
While he taught himself to play the drums from the age of 13, Hoglan got his start in Metal as a roadie for Slayer. In 1984, he started his own Thrash band, Dark Angel, and like Mazurkiewicz, he wrote most of the band’s lyrics as well.
Then, he joined the legendary Death Metal band, Death, played on a Testament record, and joined Strapping Young Lad and later Fear Factory. That’s one hell of a resume!
Hoglan is known for his insane double bass technique, creativity, and unique heavy style. Check him out in any of his projects to get a feel for what the Human Drum Machine can do.
Derek Roddy (Hate Eternal, Nile)
Here’s a Death Metal drummer who is a legend in his own right. Derek Roddy plays incredibly fast and furiously, citing endurance as his greatest asset.
He plays with unusual technique, keeping his feet flat and shooting from the hip. This allows him to play a crazy fast double bass technique that requires tons of core strength and stamina. But it pays off, at least for him.
Unstoppable work ethic…
Roddy has played with some huge acts, like Hate Eternal, Nile, Malevolent Creation, Aurora Borealis, and Divine Empire.
In 2010, he was also one of the seven drummers who auditioned for Dream Theater in a strange sort of reality TV format mini-series. Of course, Mangini got the throne, but that hasn’t stopped Roddy.
On top of playing with some of the fastest, hardest Metal bands around, Roddy also teaches clinics and instructional videos. And, he has started his own project, the technical Death Metal instrumental band Serpents Rise.
Pete Sandoval (Terrorizer, Morbid Angel)
Sandoval got his start as a professional drummer with the Grindcore band Terrorizer. Because they played Grindcore, the emphasis was more on punk-style beats than the intense blasting of Death Metal.
However, when he was asked to join Morbid Angel in 1988, it was a little more than he had bargained for. He had never played a double bass set-up in his life. So, he set about practicing, usually until he was passed out on the floor.
More machine than man…
The Morbid Angel boys pranked him by giving him samples of songs that were played with a drum machine but told him it was a live drummer. Sandoval practiced until he was able to drum, both feet and hands, as fast as or faster than the machine.
Sandoval left Morbid Angel in 2013 after having to have back surgery – that’s how hard this drummer kicks it. Hear his insanity in this bizarre video where he drums to Mozart’s 25th Symphony.
George Kollias (Nile)
Growing up in Greece, it may be surprising that George Kollias’s biggest musical influences were Slayer and Sepultura. But it’s true, and some of his biggest drumming heroes are Pete Sandoval, Igor Cavalera, Gene Hoglan, Dave Lombardo, and Mike Mangini.
A special set of skills…
At the extreme speeds found in Death Metal, it makes sense that different drummers use different techniques. Kollias uses some quite unusual techniques to achieve his impressive speed and accuracy.
On the pedals, he swivels his heels back and forth letting this action do most of the work. With his hands, he holds his sticks tight and basically uses all wrist action. Together, these techniques let him get blazing fast. Check it out in this Nile video.
Kollias has smashed kits in the Death Metal band Sickening Horror and the melodic death band Nightfall. Since 2005, he has been drumming with Nile and so far they’re still able to keep up with him. On top of recording and touring, Kollias also teaches at the Athens Modern Music School.
Other Metal Maniacs
Forgive me, but I’m left with a mixed bag of Metal drummers from all sorts of genres and crossovers. But, these are still some of the best-known and hardest Metal drummers ever.
Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Scorn)
Mick Harris is an English drummer who has played in so many different styles it’s near impossible to peg him down. However, he is known for one thing very important – he invented the term “Grindcore” a British mix of Thrash/Grind Metal and Hardcore Punk.
With Napalm Death, Harris was one of the first drummers to give blast beats a whole lot of exposure. His playing in Napalm Death has been described as sounding like a machine gun firing, and that’s high praise in Metal drumming.
Still getting creative…
Aside from Napalm Death, he has played in the experimental Electronic/Metal band Scorn, British Hardcore Punk band Doom, and in Extreme Metal Terror providing, well, extreme metal terror!
He has also been all over the shop. Playing extreme free jazz metal, ambient dub, and avant-garde projects too numerous to name. In other words – legend!
Tomas Haake (Meshuggah)
This Swedish drummer grew up listening to everything from Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath to Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and even Rush. It shows in his ability to form complex rhythms and choose beats that fit perfectly with each phrase of music.
Tomas Hakke is fast and furious. But he’s also a thinker’s drummer. He’s known for using poly-rhythms and for playing tight and technically demanding parts. He rocks his double bass drum kit like there’s no tomorrow with the Extreme Metal band Meshuggah, as well as a few other side projects.
So, it should be no surprise he has been voted by the public as one of the best Metal drummers out there. Check him out to find out why. Additionally, like some other drummers on this list, he’s also a surprise lyricist. Hakke has written most of the lyrics for Meshuggah since 1987.
Joey Jordison (Slipknot)
Joey Jordinson started playing drums at the tender age of 8. He also played guitar and was featured in the Horror Punk super-group, The Murder Dolls.
As a drummer, he played with Scar the Martyr, Rob Zombie, Metallica, Korn, Ministry, and Sinsaenum among others. But, he’s best remembered for his 18 years as the drummer for Slipknot.
An icon of Metal drumming…
Jordison was a founding member of the American New-Wave Metal band Slipknot and part of the 9-player core membership of that band which lasted for over a decade. He was the drummer behind the blank-looking kabuki mask that propelled this band forward with his intense, driving beats.
Although not the heaviest drummer on this list, he played tight and fast and built a massive drum sound by putting the drums forward in the mix. Jordinson has also received accolades and been voted one of the best Metal drummers of all time.
Sadly, Jordison developed a neurological disease that left him unable to drum. And then in 2021, he passed away at the young age of just 46. He is a Metal god that will be missed.
Mike Smith (Suffocation)
Mike Smith sounds like a familiar name. Well, if you’re into Horror-Core Rap or Technical Death Metal, then that might be where you know him from. Currently involved with his own Horror-Core group, Grimm Real, Smith is a multi-instrumentalist.
However, he’s best known for his insane blast beats and technical drumming for the band Suffocation. He’s able to play fast and hard while navigating through the confusing pathways of time changes that is Technical Death Metal. He’s also a blast beat beast – check out his technique in this short video.
Aside from suffocation and his rap project Grimm Real, Smith is also an instructor and studio musician. He has collaborated with a big list of artists, including Misanthrope Monarch, Voracious Scourge, Inverted Matter, and Necro.
Drummers to Watch Out For
Finally, here are some drummers to watch out for. They’re still building their careers and will very likely be way up on this list of the best metal drummers of all time one day.
Aaron Kitcher (Infant Annihilator)
Aaron Kitcher plays insanely fast with the UK Deathcore band Infant Annihilator. His blasts are powerful and ripping fast, and his feet are on fire. Check out this drum play on C*ntcrusher and let Kitcher blow your mind.
Francesco Paoli (Fleshgod Apocalypse)
Italian drummer Francesco Paoli is absolutely berserk. With the Symphonic Death Metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse, he plays a surprisingly minimalist kit with absolute composure.
But the sounds that come out of it are nothing short of unbelievable. Check out this drum cam of him playing live, but don’t forget to wear your seatbelt.
Nils Fjellström (Aeon, Dark Funeral, Nordjevel)
If Swedish Black Metal and Death Metal is what you’re into, you might know Nils Fjellström. With his days in Aeon, two runs in Dark Funeral, or current project Nordjevel, Fjellström has proven himself to be technically brilliant and fast as hell. Here’s a Norjevel playthrough to give you a little taste.
Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Obscura, Necrophagist, Blotted Science)
Another drummer who started when he was 8 (jealous!), Hannes Grossmann is a monster. He has played with Metal bands Obscura, Necrophagist, and Blotted Science and is currently rocking the kit with progressive band Alkaloid.
He is blindingly fast and technically brilliant. Check out this playthrough of the German drum machine absolutely destroying everything in his path!
Interested in Great Drummers and Drumming?
We have you covered. Take a look at our inspiring articles on Derek Roddy’s Double Bass Technique, Rolling Stones Drummer – Charlie Watts, Who Was the Drummer for Nirvana, Who is the Famous One Arm Drummer, and the Hardest Songs to Play on the Drums for more beat-making information.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Snare Drums, the Best Bass Drum Pedals, the Best Drumsticks, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Electronic Drum Sets, and the Best Jazz Drum Sets you can buy in 2023.
The Very Best Metal Drummers of All Time
Look, there’s no making everyone happy. I’m sure some people will say I’ve missed out on some of the heaviest, hardest drummers out there. Others will question why I’ve included some of these drummers.
But one thing is certain – everyone here is an absolute beast and has earned a place in Metal history.
So that’s my list of the very best of the best drummers in Metal. I hope it was eye-and-ear-opening for you. And, I hope you’ve discovered some new music and new drumming monsters to follow.
Until next time, keep it heavy.