So let’s see what the main functions of cymbals are (at least in most genres): to keep time at a steady meter, have a role in some drum fills and also to fill out the top end of the frequency spectrum. Did I miss something? I don’t think so. They are just there to help laying down the groove, showing off and provide the music with some obnoxious noise in the form of high end hiss. Hehe.
Who needs all that cymbal noise?
Ok, so I might have exaggerated a bit, but there’s a good amount of truth in that last point: these brass bastards can create a helluva noise, especially in the case of hard hitters (i.e. n00b drummers). Why? Because when these fuckers are hit hard, a certain kind of natural compression occurs in the sound cause the notes just don’t decay fast enough and then this forest of annoying cymbal sound occurs, and because the nature of the cymbal sound tends to occupy that precious high end part of the spectrum, it masks the living shite out of the top frequencies (and even some of the mids).
Engineers know: hiss gets in the way
That’s probably why a lot of pro drummers and engineers figured, they can do just fine without them and thus allow a lot of other things enter that frequency range. There’s a reason why Michael B. Tretow, the engineer and producer of many ABBA albums once said: “Cymbals are what drummers use to ruin an otherwise perfect drum sound”.
No hissy sounds up the hill
That’s what happened to this Kate Bush tune as well, Stuart Elliott played his cymbal-less drum kit and then Kate’s brother Paddy strummed a balalaika that you probably wouldn’t be able to recognize just by listening to this track. Because it’s EQ’d to pretty much cover only that high frequency part where the cymbals would normally be. Pretty smart move, hey? Kate’s vocals are pretty sibilant as well.
Kate Bush – “Running Up That Hill”
Melting without the brassy hits
There are no cymbals on this Peter Gabriel song either, off his 3rd album (referred to as “melt”). Listen how much high end is left on those intro horns, Peter’s vocals, and pretty much everything else as well. The drums are played by Phil Collins.
Peter Gabriel – “No Self Control”
Phil didn’t care for cymbals
And since we mentioned Phil Collins, he himself experimented (a lot) with these cymbal-free drums, so we can hear this kind of sound in his own recordings as well. Here’s a good example:
Phil Collins – “I Don’t Care Anymore”
Vibrating without cymbal masking
And finally an older tune with zero cymbals. Hal Blaine on drums. But what’s in the place of them pesky cymbals? A tambourine, of course.
The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”