Justin Foley's Guide To Metalcore

Justin foley

Justin foley

As drummer for US metalcore masters Killswitch Engage, Justin Foley has helped define the genre over the best part of a decade. Foley's ability to immediately switch from delicate cross sticks and intricate kick and snare patterns to full on double bass blasting is something which can now be seen fused throughout metalcore playing.

So, who better to talk to when it came to putting together a guide on how to play metalcore?

Which skills are definitely required for metalcore playing?

"You really need stamina. It's not like crazy speed stamina like death metal players, because I can't play as fast as any of those guys. But it's just with so many shows you need to make sure every night you play hard for the whole set. It's just being able to have your body relaxed and not blow your muscles out."

Metalcore sees drummers shifting from cross sticks to double bass within seconds, how do you cope with that?

"I like a lot of different styles. I like to listen to lots of different stuff. I hear something and think that I want to play it so I'll just learn it. It might be something that improves coordination or independence or whatever. When you learn something it becomes something you can add to whatever you do. If I learned a bossa nova groove when I'm writing a groove a little part of that might be used to make it something different or unexpected to what you might expect."

Is not restricting yourself to a particular style important?

"I always think so. In the end you always want to play what makes a song work. That doesn't mean you need to play the most dumbed down beat, because that might not make the song work. As long as it grooves and fits the song, that's what to go for all the time."

Who are your drumming influences?

"The first one was John Bonham, then it went to some more heavy stuff then when I heard Sean Reinert in Cynic and Death that was something new for me. There's some people that play really crazy that are really inspirational and then there's some that play simple that are inspirational."

Which metal drummers should people getting into metalcore check out?

"It would be Sean Reinert, Gene Hoglan (below), guys like that."

What do you think of the up-and-coming drummers in the genre?

"One of my favourite is Blake [Richardson] from Between The Buried And Me. I love his playing. Also Jordan [Mancino] from As I Lay Dying, he's a killer player. He's ridiculously good."

What is the one key piece of kit in getting your signature metalcore sound?

"I guess my kick, because I don't think a lot of metal guys play 20" kicks. I like it because it's really tight, so the double bass parts sound really crisp. My Yamaha kit sounds really deep so I don't think I lose any of the low end. I used to play a 22" but just got into the feel of a 20", they're real responsive. I also like a real deep snare sound. I like to have my toms tuned open and pretty resonant. I try to get actual pitches out of them. We tune to drop C so I try to make sure the 10" is a C."

What advice do you have for metalcore drummers?

"I've always just tried to play whatever works best. In this style it has to groove and feel good. When I was younger I didn't get that, I just wanted to play loads of notes and play fast. As I got older I got into hearing how things felt. When I was younger I learnt all the Led Zeppelin songs. I was 14/15 and I thought I could play them all. Now I'm 34 I've realised I can't play any of them! I learned the beats but now I listen back and I can't make them feel like that."

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).