The 7 Most Underrated Hard Rock + Heavy Metal Drummers

Raise your sticks for these overlooked master beat-blasters.

Joey “Kramedog” Kramer, the beat-blazing boogie bombardier of Aerosmith, turns 65 on June 21. Not only has he drummed for the band for 45 of those years, it was actually Joey who came up with the group’s unique moniker, inspired by the Harry Nilsson album Aerial Ballet and, you know, whatever else sparked up bright ideas circa 1970.

Like so many other master musicians who just happen to sit in back of where all the up-front action happens, Joey Kramer occasionally goes unnoticed. To celebrate his birthday, let’s honor the seven most underrated drummers in hard rock and heavy metal. Afterward, we can all chuck our sticks straight into the crowd.

  1. Joey Kramer – Aerosmith

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    Joey Kramer Drum Solo

    For all the proper accolades awarded to Aerosmith across their four-and-a-half decades of hard rock domination, it sometimes seems as though Joey Kramer doesn’t get the adulation he’s due as the slamming, swinging motorman who propels the entire endeavor forward, song after song, show after show.

    Kramedog not only brings the heavy metal thunder on everything from “Round and Round” to “Eat the Rich,” but he’s pure punk fury on “Toys in the Attic” and his jazz-fueled, dance-friendly grooves powered “Walk This Way” into a proto-rap-rock masterpiece years before its Run DMC makeover.

  2. Richard Christy – Iced Earth, Death, Charred Walls of the Damned

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    Richard Christy – Modern Drummer

    Most of the world knows Richard Cristy as a good-natured, agreeably goofy prank caller from the Howard Stern show. Metalheads, however, recognize Christy as the wrecking ball force that drove power metal battalion Iced Earth to Valhalla-scaled victory, death metal demons Death to gory glory, and his own multi-genre metal machine Charred Walls of the Damned to the damned heights of heavy damned metal awesomeness. Damn!

  3. Chuck Biscuits – Danzig, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, Fear, D.O.A.

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    “Mother”

    Hardcore punk’s original drumming deity, Chuck Biscuits tore through the early ’80s L.A. punk scene behind the kit for what seems like every best known band to emerge from that earthquake of talent—in particular Black Flag and the Circle Jerks.

    After Black Flag, Biscuits studied electrical engineering, thinking his music days were behind him, until Glenn Danzig asked Chuck to man the kit for his new self-named dirty blues-metal group, Danzig.

    Bulked up on rocket-train speed and bulldozer strength from his punk beginnings and expanding his arsenal to include jazz and doom flourishes with the subtly sophisticated Black Flag, Biscuits tapped his original classic rock inspirations such as John Bonham, Keith Moon, and the Police’s Stewart Copeland (who was actually his contemporary) to drive Danzig through the band’s first four untouchable milestone albums. No other drummer on earth—on in Hell—could have rendered so perfect a beat for what Glenn had aimed to unleash.

  4. Charlie Benante – Anthrax, S.O.D.

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    “Caught in a Mosh”

    Brandishing two bass drums and the Bronx-born wherewithal to know what to do with them, Charlie Banante has pumped volcanic thrash blood through Anthrax from the group’s 1983 formation to this day. He also both mans the kit and shreds on guitar, as needed, for original punk-metal crossover marauders Stormtroopers of Death, more commonly moshed to as S.O.D.

    The blast beat assault Benante pioneered in Anthrax barrels through you like a sonic embodiment of the hardscrabble outer-borough New York City from which the group arose. Beyond that raw impact, though, Benante’s inherent brilliance is evident in how those techniques translated so naturally to echo thrash scenes in the San Francisco Bay Area, Brazil, Germany, and anywhere else from which loud and devastating extreme metal has since emerged.

  5. Igor Cavalera – Sepultura, Cavalera Conspiracy

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    Igor Cavalera Drum Solo 1990

    Os irmãos Cavalera, singer-guitarist Max and drummer Igor, formed Brazilian thrash masters Sepultura in 1984 as a battering ram against agony, injustice, and anything less than furiously righteous. An entire universe of Latin American metal followed.

    Aside from politically charged lyrics and earth-scorching passion, Sepultura’s forward charge came powered by Max’s entirely new approach to thrash drumming which, paradoxically, incorporated ancient elements of tribal percussion to create polyrhythmic downpours of booming beats and walls of glorious noise. In time, Igor’s drumming would also reflect his interest in industrial music. Max also pounds every drum with avalanche force, a remarkable feat, as his timing and tempo remain flawless at every turn.

    The Cavaleras have battled, as brothers do, prompting Max to quit Sepultura in 1996. Ten years later, though, Max and Igor successfully reunited in the Cavalera Conspiracy and they’ve been bringing the ruckus together there since then.

  6. Mitch Mitchell – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

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    Mitch Mitchell Drum Solo – Isle of Wight, 1970

    Yes, Mitch Mitchell’s speedy, intricate, psychedelic jazz-inflected drumming with the Jimi Hendrix Experience is properly acknowledged and formally praised among other drummers and their aficionados.

    The “underrated” part, then, comes on behalf of the general public who perhaps had trouble looking past the fiery shaman up front who was breaking open and conjuring forth all manner of previously unimaginable possibilities that lay inherent in the electric guitar. And, indeed, that would be understandable.

    Let’s correct that oversight a bit here, though. Without Mitch Mitchell’s percussive foundation from which to rocket forth into the cosmos, Jimi Hendrix my well have crashed and burned on the launch pad. Mitchell is as crucial to the Experience as Ginger Baker was to Cream and Keith Moon was to the Who. That’s no small achievement for a guy who beat out rival drummer (and genius) Aynsley Dunbar for the gig by way of a coin toss.

  7. Alex Van Halen – Van Halen

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    Alex Van Halen Drum Solo

    The most immediate pyrotechnical elements of Van Halen are the obvious ones: Eddie’s lava-spewing tornado storms on lead guitar and Diamond Dave’s kabuki-on-fire showmanship in the center ring (the Sammy era is a different animal, but a more subdued version of the same basic premise holds true; the Gary Cherone moment has been properly Stalinized).

    The crucial component that to too often gets overlooked with VH, then, is the swing of the whole thing: that vessel moves forward due to the guy in the engine room—i.e., behind the drum kit—who keeps that bombastic party machine rocking.

    We refer here, of course, to Alex Van Halen. The beanpole beast of wailing and flailing on levels necessary to keep pace with the raucous circus going on in front of him rarely gets a proper nod for how Herculean a task that was for him to invent in the first place, let alone to keep surging forward with across more than four decades at this point with no end in sight.

    Just drop the needle on “Hot for Teacher.” Countless kids back in 1984 thought at first that there was something wrong with their copy of VH’s 1984 album; that those brain-rattling gangster-movie machine gun beats and sudden flares of rhythm must be the result of warped grooves of maybe even sudden demonic possession of their hi-fi equipment. No: that was just Alex Van Halen announcing, “Yeah, I’m up here, too, with these lunatics. Now check out the insanity I can pull off!”

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).