Tomas Haake: Crazy Meshuggah Licks

tomas haake

Tomas Haake has been turning drummer’s heads ever since Meshuggah broke onto the extreme metal scene. Haake has the requisite fast feet and powerful hands, but he also happens to play some of the genre’s most interesting grooves. Meshuggah drum parts are often a collaboration — some written by the band, some by Haake, but regardless of their origin, they’re always original and complex. It’s not uncommon to see some of the biggest names in metal standing in the wings of Meshuggah shows, shaking their heads at their strange, odd-time grooves, polyrhythmic feel changes, and flawless execution. The drum parts are constructed to fit the guitar parts — and with patterns this strange, that’s a necessity.

“Ritual” From None

Haake starts this 7/4 tune with a cool tom-based groove that also serves as the basis for the chorus. The groove hints at a polyrhythmic feel, partly because the toms are mixed much lower than the kick, snare, and cymbals. This mix decision also makes the pattern drive more from the bottom, rather than from the tom melody. The next section replaces the toms with a cymbal, but still maintains the same basic kick-and-snare pattern. The reason for the groove’s polyrhythmic feel becomes more obvious here, as Haake phrases the notes in groups of three sixteenths, playing the first two notes in each group, kind of like a displaced shuffle. We’ve indicated how this works in the third measure of the pattern. Note that these aren’t triplets — they’re phrases of three sixteenths that continually shift under the eighth-note cymbal pattern. By playing eight groups of three and one of four at the end, he resolves the pattern, and turns it around to begin again. This is a very cool idea.

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“Abnegating Cecity” From Contradictions Collapse

I’ve always dug the intro to this tune. The pattern is in 6/4, and the opening fill pattern begins with a pick-up note that can easily confuse your perception of the downbeat’s placement. Haake plays to the guitars and slams out this pretty straight ahead fill groove pattern. In the fifth measure, the groove changes with the snare hammering quarter-notes over bass drum accents and thirty-second-note ruffs.

tomas haake

“Autonomy Lost” From Catch 33

Extreme metal has a dirty little secret — the drum parts are often faked. They may be programmed with a drum machine or sequencer and sampler, or assembled from performance snippets into a single complete performance (think Metallica), then quantized and Pro-Tool-ed into superhuman speedy perfection. This is not always the case. After all, most extreme metal drummers trigger their kick drums, and since drummers and bands rarely cop to doing it, one can’t always tell. Catch 33, the latest release from Meshuggah, had the drum parts created using Haake’s commercial sample library, Drumkit From Hell. While I have no doubt Haake will be able to play the drums programmed on the recording live, I’m enough of a purist to wish he’d played drums on the recording. I do appreciate their honesty about programming the drum parts.

This cool groove has all the oddness one expects from Meshuggah. The drum groove begins in 5/4 with a snare hit on 1 and quarters driving on a sloshy hi-hat. The fifth bar chops the first couple of beats off the beginning of the pattern, and uses a measure of 11/8 to cycle back to the beginning. It doesn’t make a lot of toe-tapping sense, but it’s interesting and follows the guitars to a “T.”

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“Beneath” From Destroy Erase Improve

If you want to get an idea of what Meshuggah is all about, start here. This tune is ridiculous, driving, brutal insanity. Given enough space, I’d have loved to transcribe all of it. On this track, Haake demonstrates great command of strange polyrhythmic grooves with suddenly shifting meters and feels. It starts with a ridiculous groove that has a strange bass drum and snare pattern, which sounds incredible with the guitars. The cymbal pattern has been obliterated in a compressor-induced wash, but I’ve given it my best shot. At the verse, the song shifts to a triplet feel that we’ve written in 12/8. It begins with a driving beat for the first couple of measures but quickly shifts into an offbeat, displaced feeling groove, largely the result of moving the bass drum off of 1. The next section has more kick drum notes and continues to drive hard.

tomas haake

“War” From Rare Trax

Meshuggah isn’t just about weird. On “War,” Haake plays some fairly straight-ahead blast beats at ridiculous speeds. This tune is somewhere over 200bpm — our ancient pendulum metronome’s label describes using the Italian word prestissimo, which roughly translates to “stupid fast.” This opening fill is an attention getter, with its quick sextuplets that modulate into thirty-second-notes. Haake uses cymbal chokes and a crescendo snare roll to lead into the pattern known as a “doubled black metal blast beat.” You know how your mouth waters when you imagine biting into a lemon?

tomas haake

Our legs ache just looking at this groove.