It’s hard to pinpoint who exactly invented the blast beat, the relentless, piston-like rhythm that defines grindcore, death metal and related underground styles. Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris apparently coined the term and executed the technique to primitive perfection on that band’s 1986 debut, Scum. But in a 2005 interview, Pete Sandoval, then the drummer for Tampa’s Morbid Angel, seemed perfectly comfortable taking credit for the practice. “I created something, which is the blast beat, ’86, ’87, nobody was doing it,” he said in 2005 of his early days in the L.A. grindcore band Terrorizer. “I created it; I perfected it; I am the master of it.”
Particulars aside, it’s hard to dispute Sandoval’s place in the pantheon of drummers who helped to set a new standard for speed and intensity in the mid-to-late–Eighties metal scene. A lot has happened since a fully formed Sandoval debuted on Morbid Angel’s now-classic 1989 LP Altars of Madness: After six more albums with the band (including 1993 landmark Covenant), the El Salvador–born drummer suffered a herniated disc, found God and finally exited the overtly satanic group as of 2013. But at 49, the musician known variously as Commando and Pete the Feet is blasting once again in a new incarnation of Terrorizer.
“Caustic Attack,” the title track from the band’s upcoming fourth album, out October 12th, lasts exactly one minute — plenty of time for Sandoval to conduct a blast-beat clinic. In the style of the band’s ’89 debut, World Downfall, the track begins with a series of staccato accents played by Sandoval, guitarist Lee Harrison (a veteran death-metal drummer himself, best known for his work in the band Monstrosity) and bassist Sam Molina. From there, Sandoval kicks into the whirlwind pummeling he’s best known for, throwing in tumbling tom-tom fills and trademark bashes on his China cymbal. Harrison’s crunchy chords and Molina’s abrasive growl add to the overall blur.
The opening accents return about halfway through, signaling a repeat of the song’s bare-bones form. In the case the listener hasn’t yet had their fill of Sandoval’s fury, the guitars drop out, leaving room for two lengthy solo drum breaks, marked by full-kit rolls and bursts of double kick.
Sandoval recently explained how his style evolved in the mid-1980s. “I learned the skank beat, which was popular back then, the Slayer beat,” he said on an episode of the Drumtalk YouTube series that also featured Harrison. “And then I thought, hey, I want to do double the speed. … I wanted to take things to the next level, and that was the logical way.” As “Caustic Attack” handily demonstrates, more than 30 years later, the results of his DIY research still have the power to stun.