An In-Depth Look at Extreme Metal’s Master Blaster
In addition to his superhuman speed and power, Dirk Verbeuren has brought a wide spectrum of influences into extreme metal. He has expert execution of rudiments, as well as unique rhythmic phrasing, all of which combine to create a sound and style of his own.
Verbeuren has played with an array of iconic metal artists, including Devin Townsend, Soilwork, Scarve, Danzig, Sybreed, and Megadeth. And the multitalented musician doesn’t stop at playing drums. In his band Bent Sea, he also composes, writes lyrics, and even plays some of the guitars.
In this article we’ll explore Verbeuren’s drumming from throughout his career, with commentary interspersed from the man himself.
Soilwork, “Late for the Kill, Early for the Slaughter,” The Panic Broadcast (2010)
“The intro sounds like it could lead to a ballad, until the drums come in,” says Verbeuren, in reference to the blistering intro fill that charges relentlessly into a series of blast beats. “This is indeed a monster!”
“‘Late for the Kill’ wasn’t easy to master on drums, but it was extremely fun to play,” says Verbeuren. “The right-hand technique gets put to the test with those continuous 16ths throughout most of the song, and 230 bpm 16th-note kicks are obviously quite punishing. It took me a few years to feel comfortable playing this one.”
In the verses, Verbeuren plays a skank beat that stays straightforward in the A section, and then shifts into a syncopated double-kick pattern in the B section that matches the guitars. Note how the right foot plays quarter notes while all the offbeat notes are hit with the left.
The outro of the song has a heavy half-time double-kick beat featuring doubles with both feet.
Soilwork “Nerve,” Stabbing the Drama (2005)
“This is one of those riffs where the kick drums follow the guitar staccatos note-for-note,” Verbeuren explains. “As I recall it, I tried to use double strokes on both kicks for the 16th notes first, but that didn’t feel great. I ended up playing 8th notes with my right foot and filling in the 16ths with my left, turning the song into a balance and stamina exercise.” It’s interesting to note how “Nerve” worked best when played with singles, while the similar outro kick rhythm in “Late for the Kill” was better with doubles.
Leading into the final chorus, Verbeuren reapplies the main rhythm on the toms, transitioning with an ultra-heavy triplet run.
Soilwork, “Night Comes Clean,” The Panic Broadcast (2010)
The chorus groove in this track is funky and syncopated. The left hand plays the ghost notes, while the right plays all the snare accents and all the cymbal notes. Says Verbeuren, “I especially love those tricky ghost-note patterns in the second half of the chorus. They require some quick right-hand switches between the snare and ride bell.”
Soilwork, “Enter Dog of Pavlov,” The Panic Broadcast
“A lot of the beats and fills came together as we were recording them,” Verbeuren explains. “That’s actually one of my favorite ways of working, because it preserves a spontaneous energy, which you tend to lose when you’re over prepared.” As the song intensifies, Verbeuren flips the beat by playing a straight hand pattern across 7/4 time.
Scarve, “CrustScraper,” Luminiferous (2002)
“Scarve was my first real band,” says Dirk. “I was experimenting with polyrhythms quite a bit at that time, while also obsessed with the speed and intensity of bands like Morbid Angel. The drum parts in this song make that pretty evident.” The track opens with a blistering three-bar phrase with offbeat cymbal accents and toms (Example 7) that transitions into the polyrhythmic verse (Example 8).
Scarve, “Asphyxiate,” Irradiant (2004)
“I was messing around with a shuffle beat over 4/4, which led to an impromptu jam session that became ‘Asphyxiate,’” says Verbeuren. “We were trying to fuse the shuffle feel with Meshuggah-like heaviness.” Offbeat accents and rests are the name of the game in this track. The rhythmic theme intensifies from the intro (Example 9) to the verse (Example 10) to the chorus (Example 11), with the addition of short, tasty double-kick groupings. “Cymbals play an important role here,” Verbeuren explains, “switching between the ride, secondary hi-hat, and a ton of splash accents.”
Sybreed, “Dynamic,” Antares (2007)
“I’d never recorded blast beats at 280 bpm before,” Verbeuren says. “Instead of playing a straight blast, I also wanted to follow the accents in the guitar riff. In the end, I came up with a variation of my signature blast beat, the ‘Dirk Blast,’ which is a flam accent applied to the snare and hi-hat with kicks underneath.”
After that intense section, the theme switches to a pair of polyrhythm beats. The first one is five-over-three and the second one is four-over-five.
Sybreed, “Revive My Wounds,” Antares
This track opens chaotically with sporadic bursts of 16th-note triplets, 8th-note triplets, 8th notes, 16th notes, and rests.
Near the end of the track, the shifts intensify to a machine-like solid double-kick groove, which increases the subdivision continually as the pattern progresses. “What I love about this pattern is how it seemingly keeps accelerating,” says Verbeuren. “Electronic artists like Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, and Autechre use such rhythmic trickery a lot. We are heavily into that kind of stuff.”
Bent Sea, “To the Extreme,” from a split 12″ with To Dust (2016)
When asked to describe the writing process with Bent Sea, Verbeuren says, “Improvise drums, then write the guitars, bass, and lyrics using those drum structures as inspiration. In the case of this song, the syncopated blast beats clearly dictated the guitar riffs and vocal patterns.” Offbeat stops and shots combined with rests on beat 1 create a unique feel in this relentless track.
By Aaron Edgar, photos by Hannah Verbeuren
Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications.