David’s Drum Off: #1 – Tomas Haake

“…We all rip off Meshuggah“.
Devin Townsend

No truer words have been spoken in regard to the current state of metal.  Back in 1989, when Meshuggah first burst onto the scene with their Self-Titled EP, they were already making waves.  In 1991, with their first full length, Contradictions Collapse, they tweaked the traditional Swedish metal sound further.  However, it wasn’t until 1995 when they released arguably their best and most influential work, Destroy Erase Improve, that their polyrhythmic brand of metal turned the world on its ass.  Hell, the term “polyrhythmic” wasn’t even associated with metal prior to Meshuggah.  Tempo changes and odd time signatures were foreign and left to the jazz musicians.

There is no one band more solely responsible for the current state of metal than Meshuggah.  They changed the game completely.  Deathcore?  Djent?  Progressive?  All thanks to Meshuggah.  Even modern meat and potatoes death metal releases have seen some Meshuggah influence seeping through the cracks lately (new Decapitated anyone?).  You simply can’t turn your head without finding a little bit of Meshuggah poking its way through the fabric of modern heavy music.

It is with this in the mind that you must understand the effect that drummer Tomas Haake has had over the years.  No one is more responsible for the abundance of technical and off-kilter rhythms that so proliferate the metal genre as of late.  Every single drummer I’ve mentioned in this list, as well as ones that didn’t make it, owe a little bit, if not a lot, to Haake.  He holds so much sway over modern metal drumming that some have even downright ripped him off, but I won’t name names.

Regardless of how many imitators there are, no one does it like Tomas.  No one.

Before I go into his technical prowess and talent as a drummer, there’s another aspect of current metal that his influence has also touched upon:  The drum machine.  Now more than ever, one-man bedroom-metal bands are popping up left and right, creating a genre of their own and proving that in this day and age you don’t need a big studio, a giant record label or professional producers/mixers/engineers to write, record and distribute your music.  It’s the next logical step in the evolution of the increasingly volatile music industry.  Once again, though, they can all thank Tomas for that.

Back in 2004, Haake (who doesn’t just play, but manufactures drums as well) created the first ever acoustic electronic drum kit designed specifically for metal.  Using his own drum set, he recorded each drum and cymbal on their own, at different levels, opening up entirely new vistas into what was possible from a drum machine.  Now you didn’t just have one stock snare hit, but several, each at a different level and intensity to give your drum programming that undeniably “human” feel.  Accents and ghost notes were no longer only playable by human hands, but by machine as well.  It revolutionized the idea of the drum machine and removed the stigma that “drum machines have no soul”.  Using his newfangled “Drum Kit From Hell”, he recorded an entire album with it; Meshuggah‘s Catch Thirty-Three.

Nowadays, the “Drum Kit From Hell” is available to anyone with the Superior Drummer program and a couple hundred bucks.  Because of this, it’s reared its ugly head numerous times in the past 5 years, popping up on albums from bands like Cloudkicker, Animals As Leaders, and Periphery.

Now that he obvious and undeniable influence has been clearly outlined let’s get down to business:  His playing.  I still firmly believe that there is no drummer alive today who understands rhythm and timing quite as well as Tomas Haake.  He has crafted a way to take the most convoluted and drawn out time signatures (9/32??) and made them flow as if they were played in 4/4.  At times it’s hard to even figure out what the hell is going on.  Songs like The Mouth Licking What You’ve Bled and Future Breed Machine contain moments of such frenzy that, even though I understand conceptually what’s going on, I still have trouble wrapping my head around them.  Haake just exudes rhythm and discipline and it’s fascinating.

Speaking of discipline, he’s got it by the truckload.  In the over 20 years that he’s been playing, despite being one of the driving forces behind the band, he has never performed a drum solo (in a song anyway), his parts have never overtaken the music, and he never shows off unnecessarily (though believe me, he could if he wanted to).  He is simply there to back the beat, to let the song groove naturally and keep the seeming disorder in order.  He is a drummer’s drummer, one that doesn’t need to show off in order to showcase his extreme talents.  He’s taken the concept of a pocket and turned it inside out and upside down yet still keeps a better and more solid one than most.  He is a master of syncopation and coordination and damned if it isn’t beautiful.

The video below is a perfect example of Tomas’ abilities and range as a player.  It’s a medley of a handful of classic Meshuggah tunes performed by Haake and bassist Dick Lovgren.  Watch Tomas’ right hand, which almost never falters from the standard 4/4 time signature, while the rest of his body conforms to the quintessential off-kilter time signatures Meshuggah are known for.  It’s pure rhythmic art.

You can see more of Tomas’ phenomenal work on Meshuggah‘s live CD/DVD Alive.  Out now on Nuclear Blast Records.


The Top Ten:
#10. John Longstreth (Origin, Dim Mak, Gorguts)
#9. Kenneth Schalk (Candiria)
#8. John Merryman (Cephalic Carnage)
#7. Mario Duplantier (Gojira)
#6. Flo Mournier (Cryptopsy)
#5. Danny Walker (Intronaut, Exhumed, Murder Construct)
#4. Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson)
#3. Chris Pennie (Coheed and Cambria, ex-Dillinger Escape Plan)
#2. Blake Richardson (Between the Buried and Me)

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