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Drums of War

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Image courtesy of David Wilmot, licensed under Creative Commons

"They had three cadences, these spectral drummers, which they called First Kings, Second Kings, and Revelations. Going into a fight, they went from one cadence to another with no apparent signal until the officers began to shout commands and men began to fall. Then the drummers began a solemn drill beat that Bushrod believed would be the muttering undertone of every nightmare he would ever have."
Howard Bahr, The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War

Drums are often used to indicate that war is on the move. Armies march to the beat of a drum; scouts communicate with their commanders by means of coded drum-beats; the enemy may use their drums as an intimidation factor on the town they're besieging.

Truth in Television, as infantry marching in formation often use the beat of a drum to keep time and ensure their steps are even. Many cultures, both ancient and modern, have martial traditions based around drums, and often had specialized drums created for the express purpose of battle.

See also Jungle Drums, when drums are used to indicate a jungle setting, Thunder Drum, where drums are paired with thunder and lightning, and Dramatic Timpani, where large drums are used to underscore the tension in a scene.

The association of drums with violence may be a contributor to the All Drummers Are Animals stereotype. If the drums are being used to harass or annoy someone, it's Loud of War. If the sound of the drums itself causes harm, that's a Brown Note. If someone is getting hit with a drum, it's either Improbable Weapon User or Improvised Weapon. If someone uses their weapon to hit their shield like a drum, it's Shield Banging.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Kyogai can attack others with invisible clawing attacks within his domain by pounding on the drums embedded in his chest and shoulders. By pounding the drum on his back, he can forcibly transport someone to another room in his building.
  • Parodied in One Piece. During Hannyabal's fight with Luffy, the former's subordinates pull out drums and start banging them as the Theme Music Power-Up to "support" Hannyabal as he's getting serious.


    Film — Animation 
  • In Pocahontas, the song "Savages" has both the Powhatans and the English colonists beating their respective drums as they go to war. The song's lyrics include the line "now we sound the drums of war".

    Film — Live Action 
  • In The Great Escape, Captain Virgil Hilts organizes a makeshift July 4th celebration, including a parade in the POW camp with himself as a piper and another prisoner as drummer, recreating the popular image of The Spirit of '76 (and playing "Yankee Doodle" at that).
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as Sauron's army prepares to use the battering ram Grond to break the gates of Minas Tirith, a strong drum-beat underlies their war chant.
  • In Mad Max: Fury Road, Immortan Joe transmits his orders via The Power of Rock and a massive truck with enormous speakers, a guitarist and four drummers in the back.
  • Master and Commander. When the command "beat to quarters" is given, the beating of drums rouses the crew from their hammocks and sends them rushing to their action stations. On the soundtrack, the track called "The Battle" is very heavy on drums.
  • In The Great Wall the Nameless Order uses an entire drum squad to transmit orders. They stand on top of the tower not caring about things like firing catapults and rushing monsters, start a few pieces of soundtrack and use nunchaku for drumsticks.

  • In The Lord of the Rings, after Pippin knocks a stone down the well in the Mines of Moria, the Fellowship hears drum-beats echoing up out of the well. It's not explicitly stated, but this is the sound of the orcs that now infest the mines gathering to attack the Fellowship. Along similar lines, the final entry in the Book of Mazarbul mentions hearing "drums in the deep"; the orcs coming to finish off the last holdouts of Balin's colony.
  • Safehold: The Siddarmark army is specifically noted as using drum beats, instead of bugle calls, to pass commands in battle.
  • In Thud!, as the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley approaches and tensions grow between the dwarves and the trolls, mention is made of troll war drums called gahanka. Traditionally it is made of cured Dwarf-skin for preference, stretched over a frame. Human skin will do, if Dwarf is in short supply; although today's trolls assure humans they don't do dat sort of ting no more and use animal leather.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Gustav Holst's Planets has "Mars", the planet named for the Roman god of war, which famously features a pounding drumbeat.
  • Sabaton:
    • Inverted by the song "Fields of Verdun" which compares the opening artillery barrage of the battle to a drum roll.
    • "Rorke's Drift", about the famous Last Stand during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, also features a lyric comparing the sounds of combat to drums. It's also an indirect reference to Zulu war drumming.
    As the rifles fire, echoes higher, (beating) like the sound of drums
    • As the music itself, drums of war are presented in "Swedish Pagans" during the chanting parts.
  • Irish folk-rock group the Horslips did a series of concept albums putting the earliest Irish myths to music. the Tain chronicles the legends of the earliest wars on the island, largely due to the various kingdoms raiding each other for cattle and loot. In the song Charolais, the men of Connaught are gathering to march to war:
    The druids read the smoke and sand;
    Told her that she would love again;
    The rhythms from the wolfskin drums
    Called men to war in hide and bronze...
  • Subway to Sally: In "Die Trommel", the Magic Music of the drum leads people into the battlefield against their will.
  • Alice in Chains uses marching snare drums in “Rooster” at the start of the third verse, which is a song about band member Jerry Cantrell’s father in the Vietnam War. It is more prominent in the demo version of the song.

    Video Games 
  • In Cossacks: European Wars and its expansions, drummers are needed in combination with officers and a precise number of soldiers to create battle formations, in both 17th and 18th century variants. There's an exception: the English nation's 18th century unit that's needed for battle formations is a bagpipe player.
  • In both Crypt Of The Necrodancer and Cadence of Hyrule, the player may obtain the War Drum item. Striking it allows the player to jump in place without missing the beat and increases the damage of their next attack.
  • Warcraft III has an Orc unit called the Kodo beast, which is ridden by an orc drummer. It increases the damage done by all nearby allied units by 10%.
  • World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade and some later expansions had the leatherworking items called "War Drums" to grant the party a bonus, usually a haste (attack speed) increase.
  • Touhou has Raiko Horikawa, who is a drum tsukumogami with a thunder-god motif, meaning her attacks and theme heavily feature drums.
  • Icewind Dale 2 has drums that appear in the orc war-camp. If you approach them, they begin beating, summoning orcs to attack you until they're destroyed.
  • In Darksiders, there is "Chaos Eater" track which is played in this fashion.
  • In The New Order Last Days Of Europe, the superevent announcing that Hyperborea has reunited Russia features the beating of drums, indicating the war that Velimir will be bringing to the rest of the world after reuniting Russia.

    Real Life 
  • The Lambeg drum of Northern Ireland is possibly the biggest bass drum that can be carried by one person; it is a survival of the battle-drums of Ireland that goes back into the mists of antiquity, and these days is a centrepiece of the marching Orange bands that parade in July and August. These parades are a throwback to Protestant/Catholic conflict during The Troubles, during which lambegs were used by Protestants as a symbol of protest. Listen to massed lambegs here.
  • There were also a lot of various drums in Chinese and Japanesse armies while in Europe their role was partially fulfilled by brass instruments.

Alternative Title(s): War Drums


Op. 91 - Battle of Vitoria

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