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In Time - Player Profiles

The Tools of Danny Carey

For those of you who don’t know, Danny Carey is the drummer for American Prog Giants TOOL. The band are something of an enigma these days. They haven’t released any material since 2006’s ì10,000 Days” with their lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, being busy with other projects (A Perfect Circle, Puscifer and becoming a vintner).

I want to look at some material from their albums ëAenima’ ëLateralus’ and ì10,000 Days’. The music is some of the most refreshing metal that I have found myself listening. The latter 2 albums (Lateralus and 10,000 Days) rarely employ a 4/4 time signature and a lot of the music comfortably and seamlessly shifts time signature. In this respect and many others, they are very ëdrummy’ albums and a great challenge to both transcribe and play. The highlighted track in the description will link to a pdf file. I’ll look at the sections that I enjoy the most from these songs.

The tracks I want to look at are:

  • ëJimmy’ and ëEulogy’ from ìAenima”
  • ëThe Grude’, ëLateralus’ and ëTicks and Leeches’ from ìLateralus”
  • ëVicarious’ and ëJambi’ from ì10,000 Days”

ëThe Grudgeë is the opening track from ëLateralus’. It features a variety of time signature changes. The first example is a motif in 5/4 that comes in and out of the track. On this occasion (5.00) Danny is playing it in unison between the ride and snare – and it’s perfect unison, no flams anywhere. Earlier in the song he plays it unison on the floor toms and lacks no power at all, it sounds huge.

Towards the song’s play out (7.36), there is a 5/8 repeated section that is played in unison (rhythmically) between the bass, guitar and drums, as transcribed. Danny augments this pattern with a mechanical sound sample that plays 1/4 notes of the top of the figure. He does this with his left foot, so I’ve notated it as a hi hat part as there isn’t notation for the sample sound.

ëLateralusë has a slow burning intro in 4/4, that’s guitar with a subtle drum figure that comes from almost inaudible to bringing the song into a powerful riff. (1.12)

I’ve transcribed the riff which i’ve worked out as a bar of 9/8, a bar of 8/8 and a bar of 7/8. I’ve chosen to notate or think of the second bar as 8/8 as opposed to 4/4 as although mathematically they’re the same, it’s much easier to think in 8th notes when shifting time signature so much and so quickly. It also doesn’t feel like it’s in 4/4, rather a phrase in 24/8 and just divided into these bars/phrases.

At 5.37 on the track, appears what is probably my favourite drum moment of the entire Tool catalogue. The guitar and bass are playing in 6/8 but Danny has constructed a groove in 5/8 so it creates a hypnotic pattern that takes time to resolve. It sounds overly technical, but with the bands mastery and the dynamic level (mf) it never feels anything other than awesome. It’s a really creative rhythmic device and if played by lesser players, could have sounded terrible. I’ve notated it both in 5/8 and in 6/8 to show how it’s both understandable and playable but also goes over the beat and bar line.

ëTicks and Leeches’ kicks off with an aggressive tribal, 16th note tom groove in 7/4. The snares are off in order to create more of a tribal effect. The bass line locks in around the groove.

The double kicks on the first 2 beats of the bar evolve the groove and in typical metal fashion, the double kicks eventually blast through the whole bar (not notated).

After the intro, the groove stays in 7/4 and round the same kind of bass line, however with the snares on and this time on the hi hats and ghosted snare notes instead of toms and snare. He opens the hi hats on beat 1, the ëand’ of 4 and the ëand’ of 5 adding to the already heavily syncopated groove. The track is pretty relentless until around the middle of the tune. However it doesn’t take long to come back to a similar vibe as the intro.

In ëEulogyë the track features a dotted 8th note motif the plays in other instruments throughout the track, but at 6.36 in the track there is a vocal/drum break down and Danny plays the dotted 8th open/closed idea in the hi hats, over the top of a heavily syncopated bass drum pattern, that takes 3 bars to resolve back to beat one. He only plays the groove for 8 bars and then it’s gone, which is a big feature throughout all the albums, due to the nature of prog, and much like this section, they’re usually musical gold.

ëJimmyë features a hypnotic riff, in either 10/4 or two bars of 5/4 however you want to count it. For ease of reading, I’ve written it out as 2 bars of 3/4 and a bar of 4/4.

The intro features a nice spin on how normal grooves are constructed – the floor tom is played on beat 1 of the top of the phrase, and crash cymbals placed on off beat notes, in order to mimic the guitar line.

The verse features a similar groove to the intro, however instead of the ride cymbal, he moves to the hi hats and plays slightly different embellishments in the cymbals/open hi hats, and the floor tom playing the last crotchet of every bar, as the guitar lines moves downward.

The first chorus groove stays in 3/4 and features a cool cymbal bell line played on beat 3 of each bar.

ëVicarious’ is the first track from 10,000 Days and is for the most part in 5/4. The chorus shifts time signature as does some later sections.

Here I’ve looked at the first verse groove and notated out 4 bars. These aren’t necessarily in order on the track this way, however I wanted to give a flavour of the hi hat work Danny does. The back beat and bass drum part are consistent all the way through the verse. The ghost notes change occasionally as do the additional 16th notes in the hi hats.

The chorus section really lifts out of the 5/4 groove and is a typical time signature change idea that TOOL are great at. The 3/4 sections almost feel like a half time groove is appearing, as there is immediately a lot more space, due to Danny simply playing less notes.

The end of the first chorus sees the man riff in 5/4 return and Danny plays an awesome two bar fill in, which incorporates a typical 5 note phrase idea (the first half of the first bar is literally 16th notes phrased in groups of 5) and the 2nd bar is 16th notes, phrased in groups of 6 with some flams which takes up 3 beats, which leaves a very simple 2 beat grouping of 16ths around the kit. Magic!

ëJambi’ is another lesson in odd time grooves and switches. The initial groove starts in 9/8 as notated. He then starts to evolve the groove by making the hi hat imitate the guitar riff, and then to evolve that by starting to change the bass drum and snare underneath.

The song continues in 9/8 until the guitar solo (which is played through talk box) when it moves into a fairly normal groove in 6/4.

After the solo, the song moves into alternating bars of 5/4 and 4/4. Danny starts a tribal type groove, which is a big feature of his playing. This acts as great counter point to Maynard’s vocals which flow over the bar line comfortably.

The phrase that the band are playing then really opens up and at 6.06, Danny plays a very hip but simple fill using 16th note triples between the toms and snare, which again is a typical feature of his playing. Altogether very awesome.

These tracks are of course only a tiny snapshot into Danny Carey’s playing. The 4 TOOL albums (Undertow is the first album, before Aenima, which I didn’t look at) are all really worth digging into for drumming inspiration. Having seen the band live, I can attest that it’s quite something to see and hear Danny play. He’s a real powerhouse and has a ridiculous command of rhythm, which, outside of timekeeping, is to me the real role of a drummer. Danny has this in spades, and he has no problem negotiating difficult time signatures.

I really love this band. Their music has been really inspirational to my composing – just check out the tune ë2,4,1′ on my band’s album ëGrounded’ – it’s a real homage to TOOL, with the time signatures being twisty and weird. Thank you Danny, thank you TOOL!

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