On the 12 August 1991, Metallica dropped their commercial breakthrough with the self-titled ‘Black Album’. Housed in the grooves, on the tape and encoded into the CD release is what was - and arguably still is - Metallica’s most successful recipe of honed songwriting craft, progressive experimentation and sonic sophistication. Most notably, the latter applies to the drum sound.
For the Black Album, Metallica entered One On One Studios (now 17 Hertz), Hollywood in October 1990, and they remained there (spare a few vocal and guitar sessions at Vancouver’s Little mountain Sound) until June the following year.
Impressed with his work on Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, Metallica enlisted Bob Rock as producer - a role he'd reprise multiple times, with less applause for his drum sound on St. Anger - and during the 8-month stint at One On One, Rock, engineer Randy Staub, assistant Mike Tacci and Lars Ulrich set about creating the album’s drum sound.
Now, we might all associate Lars closely with his Tama kits - after all, he’s played the brand throughout Metallica’s career. But for the recording of the Black Album, Metallica hired-in an 80s Gretsch ‘Stop Sign’ kit from Ross Garfield/Drum Doctors.
The monstrous kit featured a pair of 24” bass drums, 5 toms (12”, 13”, 14”, 16” and 18”) and the legendary Tama Bell Brass snare. Joining this was Lars’ small army of cymbals, and a who’s who collection of close, overhead and ambient mics to match.
The resulting sound is a frequent topper of all-time greatest heavy drum sounds polls, as well as being regarded more broadly as one of the best drum sounds ever committed to tape. But what if you don’t have access to a world-class Hollywood studio, a period correct kit and tens of thousands of dollars worth of mics?
There’s still hope. Here, we’re going to look at a few different titles that will deliver the Black Album drum sound, playable from the comfort of your electronic kit.
Chocolate Audio: The Black Album Drums
This one tops the list for good reason. Chocolate Audio didn’t just set out to make a sample pack that sounds a bit like the Black Album, instead, it got hold of the original Gretsch kit that Ross Garfield rented to Metallica in order to sample it.
But it doesn’t stop there, because having the drums is one thing but one-better is to set them up in the exact same room where the Black Album was recorded, with a very close reconstruction of the mic setup. Oh, and they also managed to get Black Album assistant engineer, Mike Tacci to come and record the session.
So, what we get here is a fully e-kit-playable recreation of the album’s drum sound. It loads into Native instruments Kontakt - bad news is you need the full retail version rather than Kontakt player - and can also be used for sample replacement of your acoustic drum recordings.
If you don’t have Kontakt, but do use BFD, you can buy a BFD Expansion utilising the same samples complete with that Tama Bell Brass snare, all captured in detail with plenty of punch, crack and the beefy room sounds that help make the Black Album drums sound so great.
Steven Slate Drums 5.5
Steven Slate Drums came about after mix engineer Steven Slate’s drum enhancement/replacement samples did the rounds in a number of studios. Sensing demand for his sounds, Slate launched it as a product and Steven slate Drums was born.
Now, SSD 5.5 does a lot, with a huge library of mix-ready drum samples and presets that can be played from an electronic kit. But one of the most fun parts of SSD are the signature kits. Here, Slate has processed and based his presets on a number of classic drum sounds including Deftones, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pantera and, you guessed it, Metallica’s Black Album.
Ok, so it’s not the attention-to-detail offering we get from Chocolate Audio’s sample pack, but if you just want to jam along to the album from your electronic kit with a very characteristic sound, SSD makes it very easy. Plus you’ll get all the other signature kits we mentioned and more, along with a whole load of non-signature sounds that you can use to boot. You can download SSD 5.5 and make use of Slate’s Splitit payment plan which costs just $9.99.
Toontrack Rock Foundry SDX
If you already own a copy of Superior Drummer 3, you’ll be able to use Toontrack’s Rock Foundry SDX expansion pack (although Toontrack themselves have also created a quick tutorial on getting the Black Album sound from SD3’s core library, see video below).
As you might have guessed, Rock Foundry was produced by Bob Rock himself at Vancouver’s famed The Warehouse Studio (owned by Bryan Adams).
There’s plenty to get excited about here - drum sounds created by the Black Album’s (among many others) producer in a renowned recording environment. The pack contains samples of kits from Yamaha, three vintage Ludwigs, Ayotte, and most importantly here, a hybrid Gretsch kit pieced together to approximate Lars’ set from the Black Album.
Preset wise, the LA 1991 and Sparkly Green Metal kits get close, but Superior Drummer is a tweaker’s dream so for €165, you’re really getting a lot of additional firepower that can be used elsewhere. If you don’t have Superior Drummer, but you use EZDrummer, read on…
Toontrack Hard Rock
You didn’t think Toontrack had forgotten about users of its most popular title, did you? If you regularly trigger EZDrummer via an electronic kit and want to get close to the Black Album sound on a budget, this one’s for you. €80 will barely buy you half a Black Album vinyl reissue, but Toontrack’s Hard Rock EZX expansion pack bags you Bob Rock’s drum sound.
This is essentially a cut-down version of the Rock Foundry for SD3, but Metallica fans will be glad to hear that Hard Rock includes the Gretsch kit from Rock Foundry as well as one of the vintage Ludwig sets too, and of course it was recorded by Rock in The Warehouse.
Head straight for the Great Dane preset, and prepare to start mouthing your backbeats just like Lars, because at this price we think your jaw will drop.