Great drummers are hard to come by. There’s much more to the art of hitting the skins than speed and strength. It takes tempo — the ability to be a human metronome — and the good taste to know when you should showcase your soloing skills, and when you should draw back and provide a solid backbone for the other instruments. You have to take the time to tune your drums and experiment as much as possible, from double bass kicks to the snare.
The Arizona music scene is a diverse, rich tapestry — there are bands that undoubtedly fall within the genre of jazz, indie rock, or metal, while others do a great job at fusing together styles like pop, funk, hip-hop, and rock to create a sound completely all their own. It goes without saying that this list was difficult to create. Eventually we had to take into consideration some factors: Does the drummer still live in Phoenix? (Yes). Are they currently working with or touring with a band, aka. actively working as a drummer? (Yes.) Do they have to live in the metro Phoenix area, i.e. not Sedona or Prescott? (Yes.) Should they be a part of building the local musical landscape? (Yes.) Do they need to fit into one genre? (No.)
That’s why the number of shout-outs we’d like to send out into the void is vast — seriously, this list was originally 30 strong. So without further adieu, in no particular order, here is our list of the top 10 drummers in the Valley and surrounding areas.
10. Zack R. Sewell – (sic)monic
While Sewell has played with about 25 different bands — sometimes up to five at any given time — he’s found his true home in (sic)monic. The progressive heavy metal quintet is experimental and edgy, and has been noticed by outlets like Aural Music and Jackson Guitars. A few weeks ago, we even included the group on our recent Ten Best Arizona Metal Bands of All Time roundup.
Sewell contributes to the band’s structure with his punchy impetuous style and his drumming is a perfect competitive balance to the soaring guitars, melodic bridges, and sandpapery, growling vocals. His explosive “championship” mindset is fitting, considering he approaches his drumming like a sport: He has dabbled in bull riding, is a two-time Arizona kids' freestyle wrestling champion, and a 2008 International Brazilian jujitsu novice champion.
9. Eric Bongiorno — Razer
Since he was 10 years old, Bongiorno has been training in an array of genres — think classical, jazz, and a deeply rooted love for Sabbath — which has made him such a standout Phoenix drummer today. After earning a first-chair timpanist seat at Oklahoma State University, he went on to be featured in Modern Drummer magazine, shared the stage with icons like Bruce Dickinson, Judas Priest, and Buck Cherry, and recorded in-studio with Marty Friedman. It’s in Razer where he excels at incorporating a little taste of everything into his arsenal, laying down the most genre-unique attributes of drumming from rock to R&B, funk to metal.
Even though the band released their debut album more than half a decade ago, 2015’s self-titled album confirms just why Razer caught the attention of Guns N’ Roses manager Alan Niven years back, and are now signed to his Prescott-based Tru-B-Dor Records. Besides the fact that the band recorded it at Detroit’s Pearl Sound Studios (which has one of the best drum rooms in the U.S.), the record truly puts Bongiorno’s ability on display, from perfectly nailing the drums within a few takes, to his refusal to include drum sampling.
8. Greg Hall — Sacred Reich
A list of Phoenix drummers wouldn’t be complete without the legendary Greg Hall, who has been a strong component of not only the desert metal scene, but the American thrash landscape with the band Sacred Reich. Some may call him an underrated drummer, but I’ve since changed my opinion about that because true fans of thrash — and the Reich — are acutely aware of his talent and contribution. Yes; while many thrash drummers’ motto is to play as fast as humanly possible—Sacred Reich is known for very, very fast drum speeds—Hall also does a great job at knowing that there’s a time to play fast and a time to just play, and he shies away from cliché drum licks. Sacred Reich is loved for their balance of socially conscious (yet often politically charged) lyrical content, ability to have fun and not take themselves too seriously, and powerful instrumentals—and Hall has helped create that musical persona.
7. Lee Reichenbacher — Deathgrip and Desert Plains
It doesn’t matter what Deathgrip song you listen to first: One of the first musical elements you’ll notice is the pure melodic thrashcore drumming. When Reichenbacher was only 8, his dad — a percussionist who auditioned for Ike and Tina Turner and Chuck Berry — purchased his son a drum set. Over the years, Reichenbacher has played with an array of desert metal bands, and he currently is a member of two: Desert Plains, a Judas Priest cover band, and Deathgrip. Rollicking double bass kicks is Reichenbacher’s trademark, but his transition from the steamrolling pure power to the more melodic, atmospheric interludes that randomly pop up Deathgrip’s repertoire is seamless.
6. Bobby Blades – Soundmankillz and The Spider Hole
Bobby Blades’ name is well known in the AZ music scene as a valued drummer. After starting out in junior high in the school band, he found inspiration in '80s and '90s thrash metal bands (making double bass drumming a heavy part of his repertoire) as well as drummers like Neil Peart and Billy Cobham. Blades went on to work in musical projects like Back from Ashes, Deadline, and Pathetic, and now is a member of two bands: the metal/electronic rockers Soundmankillz, and the alt rock band The Spider Hole.
Soundmankillz list of influences range from Ministry to Sevendust, and the band just released their new full-length, Until The End, in March. The music and style of Soundmankillz is strangely magnetic to just about any fan who appreciates rock, hip-hop, and funk, while The Spider Hole is releasing new music in the upcoming months as well, and has been hailed as one of the most unique and entertaining musical acts in the Valley — and drummer Blades is a key factor in both bands’ consistency and energetic live performance.
5. Zyon Cavalera — Soufly and Lody Kong
You may think that the Cavalera boys get the praise because of their name — but you’d be wrong. Max Cavalera’s boys have contributed a ton to the local music scene, from Richie’s band Incite to Zyon joining Max and Igor (Max’s brother) in Cavalera Conspiracy, to Igor and Zyon’s sludge metal/punk act Lody Kong. Zyon, one of the youngest, is currently the skinman for Soulfly and Lody Kong, the latter of which releases its debut full-length album, Dreams and Visions, on March 25.
Zyon pulls inspiration from a range of genres, from groove and death metal, to tribal and hardcore punk. It goes without saying that these boys have had the opportunity to be around some of the biggest musical legends while growing up — and they absorbed it all like a sponge. Zyon has the ability to light a fire under metal fans, and brings raw talent and passion to the table. Then again, the Cavaleras have always had a flair for eclectic: Max added Zyon’s utero heartbeat into the start of Sepultura’s ’93 tune “Refuse/Resist.”