We’re Talking Fast: Extreme Metal Roundtable

In the high-stakes world of extreme metal, how fast you are matters a lot. When we sat down with Matt Byrne of Hatebreed, Derek Kerswill of Unearth, Chimaira’s Andols Herrick, and Cannibal Corpse shredder Paul Mazurkiewicz, we knew these blasters would have a thing or two to say on the topic. Turns out there’s a lot more to the speed game than bpms. Read on to see how the fearsome four blew our minds.

DRUM! You guys can all play fast, obviously, but how did you achieve that kind of speed?
Herrick I made the horrible mistake of when I got my first double-bass pedal when I was, like, 13 I just instantly wanted to play along to Metallica and Anthrax CDs [pats thighs fast but awkwardly]. Absolute garbage. [laughs] So I kind of forced my way into catching up a little bit. But in the process of doing that you never learn control, and that really hurt me down the road. You never realize that when you’re young. You just want to rip it out right away and you don’t actually take the time to develop control. It can come back and bite you in the ass.
KERSWILL What I’m noticing with kids these days is they’re bypassing the fundamentals and going straight to speed. They’re so worried about speed and it’s, “Dude, this appeals to such a small contingent of people.”

DRUM! Live, there are guys who come charging out of the gate and guys who get faster later on in the set.
BYRNE Yeah, and I think everybody’s different. I just always gauge warm-up/preshow/whatever you want to call it by how much work I’m actually going to be doing, because it is a physical thing and a mental thing, and to kind of prepare and get yourself into that spot, you know? When we’re in a slot where we’re only playing 30—35 minutes a night I find by the end of the set is when I hit my stride. I just played 35 minutes and I barely broke a sweat. Whereas if you’re playing an hour-15, you really got to get the engine running, so by the time you start, you’re in your stride.
KERSWILL I feel that. Mental state and being as relaxed as possible is one of the most important things for developing speed.
MAZURKIEWICZ You have to be relaxed or you’re not going to make it through a whole show, let alone a song, so obviously you’re training your body to play the speed the way you have to do that, but it’s crazy. Getting back to what you were saying [pointing to Kerswill], I’d like to touch on that they’re starting running already. You got to walk before you can run, and all these drummers are starting running at full speed, you know?
KERSWILL Absolutely. One of the main things that he said [pointing to Herrick] about control. I tell kids all the time: proper meter, that’s the most important thing, because you can screw stuff up at 150-plus and no one knows. You screw something up between 60 and 80 bpm, you hear every fluctuation. BYRNE Yeah.
KERSWILL So you want to impress me? Play “Fool In The Rain” [from Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door]. That’s 65 bpm. I bet they can’t do it. “Fool In The Rain” always gets people. That shuffle ...
BYRNEYep.
KERSWILL So, that’s where the baby steps come into play. [Pointing at Mazurkiewicz]. You didn’t just start playing fast. [Pointing at Byrne] You didn’t just start playing fast.
BYRNE No way.
MAZURKIEWICZ [To Herrick] It’s a good thing you mentioned the control thing because I’m probably a prime example of someone who was thrown into it, really trying to go beyond my abilities when I was younger and I learned control later on. I wish I would have started out trying to learn that control earlier but I was too fixated on the speed aspect, so I just worked on what I had to do to play fast, and like you said, you get into the bpms up there, you’re not going to tell the difference too much [if you make a mistake]. You can get through and you can fumble through, but it’s not good and I feel like it’s something I had to work on, especially for Cannibal when we started writing some slower stuff and it had to be solid, otherwise it’s just not going to sound right.

DRUM! Did click tracks force you to speed up or slow down?
BYRNE I think it makes you slow down, because with Hatebreed, the faster stuff, like recording when it’s just a click track and me, I know the parts and when I actually hear the click to what I have to play to, I notice that I was thinking way to fast about it.
KERSWILL Probably rushing it.
BYRNE No, not while I’m playing it, because then I’m locked in with the click. I’m saying …
MAZURKIEWICZ You were already ahead mentally.
BYRNE I’m already ahead mentally, because when I hear the actual click I’m supposed to be playing to, I’m, “Oh, this will be easier than I thought.”
MAZURKIEWICZ I think that’s key, to play to a click track. Something I wish I would have done ten years ago. If you really listen to the older CDs, we’re playing faster but it was this uncontrolled ... I’m sure there’s a lot of fluctuation.
KERSWILL Which is fine because it’s the feel. A good reason why we play drums is feel.
MAZURKIEWICZ Right, right – but when playing to that click and having to be so consistent and right on it was harder to play a little bit slower to that click track. I can play faster, but am I really having that consistency? That control?

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