The metal phenomenon has an irrepressible drive to succeed—and he’s done so stunningly, slaying two of Trivium’s best albums to date, earning a Grammy nomination, and touring Europe and the U.S. extensively since 2017.

Alex Bent has lived many metal drummers’ fantasies during his mere twenty-seven years on earth, and he’s spent more than half his life sweating it out in practice spaces, on the road, and in the studio with some of extreme metal’s most hardcore acts.

Growing up in Oakland, California, and taking up drumming during his preteen years, Bent had little formal training aside from participating in his high school and local college music programs. “I didn’t really take lessons aside from learning how to read basic sheet music,” he explains. “A lot of [what I learned] was self-taught and from playing with different bands.”

Bent grew up in a musical household with a father who played in funk, soul, and R&B bands, and he has an uncle who loved to blast metal any time they were together. As such his musical tastes are hardly limited to extreme metal, though that’s the style he’s most associated with. Driven to learn all he could in his teen years, Bent sought out any performing opportunities he could find. “In high school,” he says, “I was playing anything I could get my hands on. I played at churches, with local bands—anything that I could do. When it came to actually getting out on the road, the first music I started to do was technical death metal. I started getting a lot of calls for things like that. I stuck with it, but I was trying to expand out of that world as well, which is what led me to bands like Battlecross and Testament.”

Since his first notable tours at the age of nineteen with technical death-metal band Arkaik, Bent has manned the upstage with acts including Battlecross, Dragonlord, Brain Drill, Decrepit Birth, and, notably, West Coast thrash gods Testament. Bent filled in for one of his all-time heroes (and now close friend) Gene Hoglan on Testament’s 2016 LP, Brotherhood of the Snake, and did the subsequent tour. “The whole thing was a learning experience that’s affected me to this day,” says Alex. “And not only filling in for Gene live. Obviously, that was an incredible challenge and some humongous shoes to fill. But the writing process of the record that I was involved with taught me so much about writing drum parts. Now that I’m working with bands like Trivium, I use a lot of the same tricks that I learned in the writing process with Testament. It was like going to school for me, and it was incredible just being able to share the stage and to experience writing with legends that have been doing it for that long.”

Bent has drawn heavy inspiration from extreme metal drummers including Nicholas Barker (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Brujeria), Hoglan, and game-changing death-metal legend Sean Reinert (Cynic, Death, Gordian Knot, Æon Spoke). “Death’s Individual Thought Patterns and Symbolic records are still big inspirations for me,” the drummer states. “If I ever feel like getting that inspiration before writing for a record, I’ll pop those on and kind of get in that zone. I was listening to Sean a lot before this last record. I was going down the YouTube rabbit hole. I always do that before we go in to record an album or when we’re writing. I just got really deep into Sean’s playing. There’s a section of one of the new songs, “Catastrophist,” where it goes into a really deep, proggy vibe, and I was just thinking, What would Sean do right here?”

Alex Bent By @jakeowensphoto

After stints touring, recording, or both with acts across the spectrum of brutality, Bent found a welcoming home for his immense skill and relentless work ethic in Florida metal veterans Trivium after being recruited for their 2017 European and domestic tours and the recording of their eighth album, The Sin and the Sentence. Along with fellow nominees Between the Buried and Me, Underoath, Deafheaven, and High on Fire, Trivium earned a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance for the song “Betrayer.” Bent says that the Grammys were not a place he’d ever expected to find himself. “My wife woke me up early in the morning that day,” he recalls, “and she said, ‘Hey, “Betrayer” is getting a Grammy nomination!’ I was just kind of confused at first, like, that song has blast beats and stuff! It was shocking and really exciting. The whole experience of being at the Grammys was incredible. When we got there, I think we were all of the same mindset that, for us, it wasn’t really about winning it. Just being there was incredible.”

Bent had joined Trivium toward the end of the writing process for The Sin and the Sentence. “The riffs were there when I joined,” he explains, “but we did some of the arranging together. The guys would have programmed drums with their riffs, and then we’d get together in the rehearsal room and jam them out. Sometimes things would change, and sometimes they’d kind of stay the same. A lot of it was done on the spot in the rehearsal room. A lot of the cymbal work was added on later.”

For their freshly released ninth album, What the Dead Men Say, Trivium once again worked with noted heavy-music producer, engineer, and mixer Josh Wilbur. “We wrote the album from the ground up,” says Bent. “We would jam out ideas and riffs and record them as demos. And then we would sit on them for a while and come back and add onto them and take some things away. It was a little bit longer of a process. We kind of spread it out over a year. We just wanted to take our time with this one, to just sit on things, especially with my parts. It gave me an opportunity to be somewhat picky.”

Leaving nothing on the table, Bent’s signature sweeping tom fills, double ride cymbal and splash textures, relentless double bass, and dense blast beats support the music while elevating Trivium’s material to a new level of aggression. Achieving his saturated snare, tom, and cymbal tones by playing as hard as possible in the studio is a trick Bent picked up from producer Mark Lewis during the tracking of Battlecross’ 2015 album, Rise to Power.

Alex Bent By @jakeowensphoto

Bent’s Live Trivium Setup

Drums: Tama Starclassic B/B in piano black finish
• Mapex 6.5×14 Black Panther Sledgehammer snare
• 8×10 tom
• 9×12 tom
• 14×16 floor tom
• 16×18 floor tom
• 18×22 double bass drums

Cymbals: Zildjian
• 18″ A Custom crash
• 19″ A Custom crash
• 8″ A Custom splash
• 10″ A Custom splash
• 21″ A Mega Bell rides (2)
• 13″ A Custom hi-hats
• 14″ A Custom hi-hats
• 19″ Ultra Hammered China
• 17″ K Custom Hybrid China

Electronics: Roland TM-2 module and RT-10K triggers on bass drums, Apple iPod for click tracks, JH Audio JH11 Pro in-ear monitors

Hardware: Tama Power Tower rack system, Rock-N-Soc Nitro throne, Axis A Longboard single bass drum pedals

Heads: Evans Genera Dry snare drum batter; G2 Clear tom and bass drum batters; and EC resonants

Sticks: Vic Firth 5B American Classic Wood Tip

Employing an increasingly common technique in heavy music, Wilbur chose to track Bent’s final performances last in the process rather than first. “That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that,” says Alex. “Josh usually does his records like that—though for The Sin and the Sentence we just did drums first and knocked it out that way. But with this record, he wanted to do it the way he usually does. I loved it. There’s nothing like getting in there and basically playing along to the actual record with mixed vocals, guitars, and bass. I loved that aspect of it, and I loved that we got to change things as we were still demoing. When you lay down the drums first, it’s pretty much that’s that, and if anything is going to change, Josh has to go back and start cutting stuff and trying to add fills, and it just gets really messy. It just worked out better for everybody this way. Working with Josh in general is just amazing. He’s a wizard when it comes to recording, and his knowledge is incredible. It’s hard to even wrap my head around how much he knows about everything. His having a great attitude 24/7 really helped us to make our record as well. It’s just always so smooth with him, to where it starts to feel like he’s a fifth band member.”

Detailing his approach to developing and maintaining his jaw-dropping endurance and speed, Bent says, “For me, it was a lot of slow exercises that were based more on endurance than speed. I always knew that speed would come along the way. To this day I teach students that slow and consistent is better than fast and sloppy. Doing that helped me out at a young age. When I was doing the technical death-metal stuff, the speed would come along with just the adrenaline, but I wanted to focus more on practicing clean. For example, when I’m practicing blast beats or double bass, I might slow the tempo down and maybe play at 180 BPM for ten to fifteen minutes straight versus bumping the metronome up to 220 or 230 BPM and trying to blast away. I learned that from watching drummers like Derek Roddy and George Kollias, who were very firm in that ideal.

On maintaining his chops during his pandemic downtime, Bent says, “I still do the same exercises that I used to do before. Nothing has really changed for me as far as my practice routine when I’m home versus my routine when I’m on the road. I try to keep it pretty consistent no matter what. Even if it’s music that is not as technical or complicated, I always try to treat it the exact same way, so that I feel like I’m giving it my all.”

Making the most of his downtime during the lockdown in California, Bent has spent his energy developing his channel on the popular streaming app Twitch into something of a cottage industry. Streaming both his practice sessions and gaming with his friends and bandmates, Alex has amassed a considerable following on the platform along with fellow extreme metal drummers Samus Paulicelli, Devin Townsend, Decrepit Birth, Goatwhore and Gene Hoglan. The future is bright for Alex Bent, and so is his attitude about the pandemic. “I look at it like a blessing in disguise,” he says. “It’s one of those things where there are a lot of downsides, but there are also a lot of upsides. If you focus on looking at the positive in everything in life—and not just in this situation—you’ll realize that there’s really no reason to freak out about anything. You can always find the light.”

Alex Bent By @jakeowensphoto

Josh Wilbur

Though he’s been on the rise since the dawn of the 2000s as an engineer, mixer, and producer with Korn, Motionless in White, Lamb of God, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, Gojira, Megadeth, and too many other heavy acts to list, Josh Wilbur in fact has album credits all over the musical map, including country, pop, and Americana artists. Still, he works most frequently in the heavier end of the musical pool, and has played a role in the last three Trivium albums, producing, mixing, and engineering What the Dead Men Say and The Sin and the Sentence and mixing their 2015 effort, Silence in the Snow. “I feel like Trivium hit their stride on The Sin and the Sentence,” says Wilbur. “They know who they are, but they’re still as hungry as ever and push themselves to be the best versions of themselves they can be. What the Dead Men Say is just the next step forward on a journey that I don’t think is even close to peaking yet.”

On working with Alex Bent on the last two Trivium releases, Wilbur says, “Alex is such a great guy to record. He’s so well rehearsed by the time we get into the studio. We worked out most of the parts in pre-production; then he was able to go home and rehearse to the point where there are several songs on both records that are probably only one or two takes. My involvement might include suggesting a different feel here or there and making sure he stays consistent in his playing. Just general coaching—I’m a good hype man when needed.”

Wilbur explains his decision to track drums last by saying, “Most metal records you will record to a click. So if the option is to have him play to a click with a loose scratch guitar, or to a click with killer-sounding guitars and bass and vocals…as a drummer, what would you choose? Drums are the biggest expense and the hardest to make a drastic change on throughout the recording process. If we can track the guitars and bass to programmed drums first, it allows us to make arrangement and musical changes on the fly while recording vocals. By the time you track drums, you can be sure of exactly what you need, and the drummer gets to rip along to the record! Playing to super-tight album guitars rather than sloppy scratch guitars really allows the drummer to lock in perfectly and give me a better take than I would have gotten if I’d done drums first.”

Choosing to track drums at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 in Los Angeles, where he also recently recorded Art Cruz’s parts for the new Lamb of God record, Wilbur says, “I’d recorded at 606 before; it’s a great studio, and there are great people working there. And who wouldn’t jump at a chance to record on that legendary Sound City Neve console?” Wilbur and Bent used a hybrid setup made up of Alex’s Crush drums and one of the producer’s Pearl kits. “It’s really just because he has a few different sizes that I don’t have,” Wilbur explains. “They all work well together. We did the same thing on The Sin and the Sentence, and it worked great, so we just rolled with it again this time.”

by Ben Meyer