ULRICH, Calif. — Scary things happen on stage whenever the death metal band Hemorrhage plays live. But last week’s concert at Hetfield’s “Gore Grotto” nightclub was the scariest so far, according to Hemorrhage drummer Ulf Skaarsgund.
“We were just getting into my solo on ‘Devil’s Catheter,’ ” said the shaken percussionist, “when the hi-hat cymbals snapped shut on my hand. Then the drum throne lowered me so that my neck fell right under the 500-pound brass gong hanging from my drum set.”
Skaarsgund heard a sinister, execution-style drumroll from the set, and twisted himself out of the way moments before the massive gong fell from its supports. Skaarsgund’s story is only one of a rash of reports from drummers being trapped in snare drums, bludgeoned by rogue woodblocks or worse. After millennia of being beaten, drums are finally taking a stand against their human players.
Last week, a drum and bugle corps commemorating the Civil War Battle of Sepsis Hill in Stumpsburg, Md., survived only by bayoneting their own bass drum, which rolled along the historic battlefield, injuring several band members. So far, no deaths have been reported in the attacks.
“Unless you count comedians,” said Bernie Weisen, a stand-up comic from Ulster County, N.Y. “My rim shots have fallen silent. Without them, I’m dying every night.”
The U.S. Army Signal Corps has been trying to talk back to the drums — using Morse code and ancient snare-drum military signals — but to no avail.
“The drums are obviously under the control of some outside force,” said University of Drumbrell, Ireland, musicologist Patrick Fitz. “I don’t think it’s a haunted piano like I read about in your newspaper. It’s more like payback from some modern-day music lover who really, really, really hates contemporary music, which is really just a lot of noise.
“Maybe it’s someone with a spell-casting Druidic heritage who wants to return to an age when beating a drum or ringing a bell had dignity and religious significance.”
Whatever the cause, drummers everywhere are afraid to play their instruments. And with drum machines having stopped working in support of their brethren, musicians have had to change their song arrangements. Hemorrhage and others have been experimenting with rocks to provide a backbeat.
“It’s clumsy and it gives new meaning to ‘rock’ and roll and ‘heavy,’ ” Skaarsgund said. “It makes you want to bang your head against a wall.” He added, “Hey — maybe that’s not such a bad idea.”