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A blast beat is a drum beat that originated in jazz, and is often associated with extreme metal and grindcore. It is utilised by many different styles of metal. In Adam MacGregor's definition, "the blast-beat generally comprises a repeated, sixteenth-note figure played at a very fast tempo, and divided uniformly among the bass drum, snare, and ride, crash, or hi-hat cymbal." Blast beats have been described as "maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per se than sheer sonic violence".
Napalm Death is said to have coined the term, though this style of drumming had previously been practiced by D.R.I., Repulsion and others. Blast beats are made with rapid alternating or coinciding strokes primarily on the bass and snare drum. Diverse patterns and timings are also frequently used by more technical players, such as Gene Hoglan (Dethklok/Death/Dark Angel/Strapping Young Lad/Fear Factory), Alex Hernandez (Immolation) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy). Alternative styles of blast beats include performing two strokes of the bass drum followed by one stroke of the snare drum. Pete Sandoval frequently uses this technique.
The English band Napalm Death coined the term "blast beat", though this style of drumming had previously been practiced by others. Daniel Ekeroth argues that the blast beat was first performed by the Swedish D-beat group Asocial on their 1982 demo. D.R.I. ("No Sense"), Sepultura ("Antichrist"), S.O.D. ("Milk"), Sarcófago ("Satanas"), and Repulsion also included the technique prior to Napalm Death's emergence. Blast beats originated in performances by jazz drummers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s such as Tony Williams, Angelo Spampinato, and Sunny Murray, in particular his 3/28/1965 Greenwich Village recording of "Holy Ghost" with Albert Ayler. Allmusic contributor Thom Jurek credits Williams as the "true inventor of the blastbeat" in 1979. In 1969 the band Attila used a blast beat on their song "Brain Invasion" starting at the 2:04 mark and lasting for about eight seconds. Blast roots in hardcore punk can be traced to recordings such as D.R.I's "No Sense" on their first EP (1983) and Beastie Boys "Riot Fight" on their first EP, Pollywog Stew. Other examples include Heart Attack, Cryptic Slaughter and Lärm.
A major influence on the evolution of the blast beat was Napalm Death's drummer Mick Harris. Harris started using it as a fundamental aspect of Napalm Death's early musical compositions. The original use in metal music is generally attributed to Igor Cavalera (Sepultura), Mike Browning (Morbid Angel, Nocturnus), D.D. Crazy (Sarcófago), Dave 'Grave' Hollingshead (Repulsion) and Charlie Benante (Anthrax, SOD). Benante showcased the technique by a double-handed blast beat in the track "Milk" on the SOD album Speak English or Die, later played single-handed on the live album Live at Budokan. Although even earlier usage dates back to demos by Death from 1984, with drummer and vocalist Kam Lee showcasing usage in songs such as Reign Of Terror and Curse Of The Priest. Members from Repulsion (back when they were known as Genocide) temporarily joined Death in 1985, so it's been speculated that they started their trademark widespread usage after first hearing it during their short tenure with Death.
Early blast beats were generally quite slow and less precise compared to today's standards. Nowadays, a blast beat is normally played in tempos from 180 beats per minute upwards, with so-called "hyper blasts" existing in the range of 250-280 bpm (or even higher). There is also the "gravity blast", not to be confused with the one-handed gravity roll. This technique uses the hand as a fulcrum, allowing two snare hits with one downward motion (essentially doing the work of two hands with only one).
Typical blast beats consist of 8th-note patterns between both the bass and snare drum alternately, with the hi-hat or the ride synced. Variations exist such as displacing hi-hat/ride, snare and bass drum hits and/or using other cymbals such as splashes, crashes, chinas and even tambourines for accenting, for example when using odd time or playing progressively. While playing 8th or 8th note triplets some drummers choose to play in sync with one foot while others split the 8th notes between both feet.
Different drummers use different foot or hand techniques. Certain drummers, such as George Kollias, prefer to only use one foot while performing blast beats (known as "pushing"), as it gives them extra precision that is not easily attainable with two feet, and leaves the left foot free to add in more subdivisions, turning 16th note blasts with the feet into 32nd note blasts. Others, such as Trym Torson, prefer using two feet, as it gives extra power and allows for playing without triggers. Drummers also will either use their wrists, their fingers, or a combination of both to control their drumsticks.
Examples of the most common blast beats in drum tab:
C- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-| C- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-| C- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-| C- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-| S- o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-| S- -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o| S- o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-| S- oooooooooooooooo| B- o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-| B- o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-| B- oooooooooooooooo| B- o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-|
The first example is a unison blast, known in metal circles as a "hammer blast". The second example shows a traditional blast beat - essentially a skank beat played at a high tempo (this particular one leads with the bass drum, but the snare can lead as well). Example #3 shows a blast beat with double bass, known in metal circles as a "bomb blast". Example #4 illustrates a "gravity blast".
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See also 
- Adam MacGregor, Agoraphobic Nosebleed review, Dusted, June 11, 2006.  Access date: October 2, 2008.
- Strub, Whitney. "Behind the Key Club: An Interview with Mark 'Barney' Greenway of Napalm Death". PopMatters, May 11, 2006. Accessed on September 17, 2008.
- Matthew Widener, "Scared to Death: The Making of Repulsion's Horrified", Decibel no. 46, August 2008, p. 63-69.
- Ekeroth, Daniel. "Swedish Death Metal." Bazillion Points Books. 2008, p. 22.
- Sepultura, 1985, track 11.
- Stormtroopers of Death, 1985, track 11.
- Sarcófago, 1986, track 10.
- Review of The Trio of Doom Live by Thom Jurek, Allmusic
- Ellis, Graham, "Decade of Horror," Terrorizer issue 184, June 2009, p. 25.