Drums of War

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in March 2009, contributed by then Editor Brent Randall. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

Pros:Rare instruments, lots of sound variety, intuitive interface

Cons:Could use more velocities, no flams

Summary:If you are need a variety of large battle-styled drums, Drums Of War is a unique and great sounding option.

Website- http://www.cinesamples.com

Price- $99(48k)- $129(96k)

Drums Of War is a sampled percussion library like you probably haven’t owned before, but you’ve definitely heard.

Drums Of War includes a variety of cinematic styled drums to give you  that cliché big percussion sound that you will find in any top film score. Of course, this is one cliché that I don’t mind using because drums like these are what fun is made of. We’ll take a deeper look here.

Drums Of War is available in Kontakt format and EXS24 format, but you’ll need Kontakt to play them with all their intended controls and uses. Two sonic qualities are available. You can buy in 24bit/48k format, taking up right at about 1GB of samples, or you can buy 24bit/96k samples taking up 2GB of space.

The samples are delivered in the form of an installer that unzips the format of your choice to a specific location on your hard disk. Using the default location, Kontakt had to search for all samples upon first load since the samples apparently were not where Kontakt expected them to be. A simple resave of all patches solves the problem, so no big deal.

The Background

It’s a little hard to know what the background is for Drums Of War. The fact is, Cinesamples has kept it’s recording process and the drums themselves a secret. So there is instantly a little bit of mystique surrounding these samples. But there is some information that is available.

First of all, and possibly the most intriguing aspect, is the involvement of Tim Starnes. Tim is one of the Producers on Drums Of War. This matters because Tim was the Music Editor on the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy of films. Now, I’m a huge fan of these films and find myself fascinated with them in many ways, especially the sound design. So imagine my excitement when I learned that Tim was directly involved in recording and producing Drums Of War!

According to an interview on the Cinesamples website, Tim wanted to recreate the sounds such as those used in the LOTR films. And what better “big battle” film has there been than LOTR? So one can’t help but think that there may be more of a connection to the sounds of the films than is being mentioned. But that’s pure speculation, of course.

The drums included in Drums Of War consist of various animal skins stretched across various frames and being struck with various sticks/mallets/bones(I’m guessing on this part). I do know that many of the instruments included are very old, original instruments from the World War 1 era, according to the developer.

The purpose behind Drums Of War is to create never before sampled drums designed to be used as the backdrop for battle scenes. It’s all about War, in case the name didn’t give it away. Obviously, these could be used elsewhere. If you don’t have a battle in your film, but have a dinosaur chasing a cop car instead, I’m sure you could find them useful as well(if anyone knows of a dino/cop chase scene, PLEASE tell me).  But the primary theme of Drums Of War is battle. Medieval, modern, fantasy, Middle Eastern, or any other incarnation of battle.

The samples were recorded in New York at the Manhattan Center Studios. Checking out their website(www.mcstudios.com), MCS is a fantastic venue, so that is definitely a plus.

So enough background, let’s talk about the drums we know very little about, shall we?

Epic Simplicity

There are 14 patches included in Drums Of War. All but two of these are “instruments”, with the final two being of the special effect variety. We’ll talk about each patch below in more detail to give you a better idea of the variety to expect.

The structure of every patch in Drums Of War is pretty simple, and some more than others. Every patch has three keys(C3, C#3, and D3 on the Kontakt keyboard) designated to play “normal” hits. Just plain old strikes of the drum head. All three keys trigger the same samples, although each hit is random round robin triggered. The scripting keeps track of velocity in addition to just cycling through groups. The purpose is to never have the same sample play twice in a row at any given velocity, even if those two identical hits aren’t in immediate succession to each other. There are 5-6 variations per velocity layer, depending on the patch.  And there is generally 5 velocity layers on these normal strikes.

In nine of the instrument patches, Cinesamples has also included between two or three crescendo rolls of different lengths. These are single samples without any layers or round robin, as it’s really not needed here.

Also in those nine patches is an adjustable roll system. This is basically a set of constant rolls recorded with 3 different intensities(velocities), and includes matching release triggers for that final hit at the end of the roll. You can morph between the three layers using the mod wheel to create your own custom crescendos and dynamic rolls.

The first patch on hand is War Ensemble. With a fairly wide sound and a rounded attack(I’m guessing mallets were used instead of sticks), along with a lot of large room sound, this is as cliché as they come. A very powerful patch as well. This patch does not contain any crescendo or roll samples.

Titan Ensemble is one of my favorite patches. A sharper attack, with single hits giving a more flammed sound, and even more width than the first patch. Powerful and organic, and too much fun. Rolls and crescendos are included.

Sacrificial Offering has a sound with a little less attack than War Ensemble, but with more low end. This patch sounds fantastic for rolls and resembles a bass drum. Therefore, it is quite versatile, even in traditional orchestral works. Crescendos and rolls included.

Hells Deep is a darker patch yet, with loads of low end, a medium rounded attack, and more of a ringing, almost pitched decay. Rolls and crescendos are included, and this patch fits well as an accent patch.

Earth Mover has a flammed attack, but less so than Titan Ensemble. There is a thicker sound here with a long low end sustain. No rolls or crescendos.

Barbarian Seige has a hollow sound with a tighter, lightly flammed attack. This sound kind of resembles the bouncing of a basketball, or possibly the striking of large plastic piping. The key here is the immediate slap-back echo on the sound. Rolls and crescendos are present as well.

Ceremonial Skull Hammer sounds less like a drum, and more like a hard hollow object being struck, such as a very large PVC pipe or wooden tube. Not as powerful or boomy as most patches in the set, and could be used as an additional pattern element on top of other patches. Rolls and crescendos are included.

Combat Drum is another higher toned patch that resembles a large tom drum. Sharper attack with a little more low end than the previous patch, and a hollow sound. Rolls and crescendos, check.

Battle Drum also resembles the bouncing basketball, with a hollow sound like that of Combat Drum, only with slightly more low end. Battle Drum has a tighter attack as well. Both rolls and crescendos, there for your pleasure.

Ancient Torture Drum has a more subdued attack and a more pitched sound. Imagine the sound of a very large kettle drum, only the skin has been slightly loosened and slapped with a hard, yet flexible beater. Rolls and crescendos, to complete the package.

Army Of Doom has a defined, yet less powerful attack with lots of ringing low end. The high end quickly fades away to leave the “boom” behind. Rolls and crescendos come along as well, and they sound good due to the softer attack.

This Is Spartaaa is like a high pitched bass drum, but with a sustain that almost sings as it lowers itself in pitch over time. A rounded sound with a medium attack, but no rolls or crescendos to speak of(or sing of?).

The final two patches are special effect patches. The first is Sub Boomz, which is the bass that your drum may be missing. With almost all attack eliminated(almost like it was filtered out), and extended low end and long sustain left for you to hear, these are perfect to layer underneath ANY of the patches in Drums Of War. Need rumble and speaker shaking bass for a drum? Look no further. Very useful, even on it’s own as an accent or to emulate a distant approaching battle march. An octave and a half of samples, with varied “pitches” containing more attack.

Finally, there are Mammoth Calls. Imagine an elephant in heat as it moans in agony. Ok, maybe not the right visual image. These are like distant horns of dissonance and unrest, giving the impression of sorrow and longing for the inescapable battle. It’s like a large animal(a mammoth?) that cries, who feels the approaching pain, but is powerless to stop it. Throw a couple of these in randomly to portray the terror of battle.


The sounds themselves give a very wide variety of possibilities. Almost every patch has a very organic sound, and you could just imagine the use of bones to strike drum heads held in place by leather lacing and all stretched across manually hollowed out wooden frames. I’m really just trying to paint a picture here, but have no idea if any of that is there. But it sure sounds like it.

Nothing sounds too pristine and traditional that you would expect to see it sitting in the percussion section of the symphony orchestra. Instead, these are gritty and unforgiving sounds that really live up to their purpose; setting the backdrop for the battlefield.

These aren’t ethnic percussion sounds either. No Taikos or frame drums to be found here. This is all vengeance and sorrow, and they set the mood very well. All patches have a lot of big room sound, some more than others. So most of these aren’t filler materials. They are bound to be prominent and full of attitude in the score, all the while working very well behind the rest of the orchestra. These ARE the sounds you here in the movies, so if you can imagine your favorite gritty battle scene, you can imagine these sounds.

Controlled Simplicity

The interface for Drums Of War is about as simple as one could ask for, while remaining extremely useful. All patches share the same interface features. With instruments like these, not much is really needed. So the key here is being able to tweak the sound fast.

There are Attack and Release controls included, which are for exactly what you would expect them to be for. Attack

was pretty useful to control the transients as desired, but Decay didn’t really seem to do anything at all in most cases, oddly enough. These controls only affect the single hits.

You will also see a Velocity Response dial, which lets you control the volume scaling of the samples as you play higher or lower velocities. This can give the illusion of more velocity layers and help to smooth the transition a little bit.

Finally, there is a focused EQ section. This isn’t a full EQ, but three already chosen frequency bands that correspond to the three most important parts of the sounds in Drums Of War. There is  “Boom”, which gives some extra rumble and width to the bottom end of the drum. Next is the “Body”, which gives the drum much of it’s character and overall thickness, letting you create more of a “round” timbre(or less, if you want). Finally, there is the “Head” band, which gives you control over the sound of the beater head as it strikes the drum. This lets you give the sound more of a sharp or dull attack, or even remove most of the attack altogether(not to be confused with the Attack parameter, which controls the envelope and not the sound itself). 

These controls are extremely useful in that they are quick and give you a large amount of variation with very little work. You can create entirely new sounds using these controls. The frequencies are chosen for you, but you can control gain and bandwidth. So much better than sweeping an EQ to find the right settings and arguing with yourself about whether or not you got exactly the right frequency.

Just One Man’s Opinion

The Instruments in Drums Of War are versatile and useful right out of the box, and there is plenty of variation. Most of these sounds are unique, yet familiar. They sound great, especially with the natural ambience of the concert hall. There is a special organic nature to these drums that gives them that “on the battlefield” character. Ya know, the kind the Orcs would carry to the front line? Yeah, those. I do have a couple of minor gripes though.

I would have liked to see at least a couple more velocity layers. Instruments like these are extremely dynamic, from a quiet rumble to a bombastic and intense firestorm of sound. The velocity scaling in Drums Of War is done well, and the sounds are extremely playable as-is. But I personally feel that theses instruments deserve even more justice than they are given.

The custom rolls that are included in most of the patches could definitely use an additional layer or two. Sometimes, although subtle, the jump in dynamics can be noticeable. And there could be another high velocity layer to polish these off. I understand that rolls at high velocities are not always easy to perform, but even one more layer would have proven useful.

It would have been cool to see sampled flams in Drums Of War. Some sounds do already have the sound of a flam/ensemble, but most don’t. I play a lot of flams using two fingers, and occasionally, I could hear a noticeable phasing effect. Not the end of the world, but sampled flams would help to avoid this altogether.

Aside from these small issues, Drums Of War has a great sound. The samples are high quality and the overall theme is captured well. Instantly useful, and it’s almost unfairly easy to get the sounds I wanted. When you add the features of the interface and how you can change the sound without fiddling with finding the right EQ frequencies on each drum, the variety is even greater and more useful. Just dial in the exact sound you need, and go, all in a matter of seconds.

Wrapping It Up

Drums Of War is quite intriguing, and even a little mysterious. I don’t need to know anything about the instruments though to know that they sound excellent. There are many unique sounds included, many of which sound familiar but I’ve never heard sampled before(only guessing here).  And every patch is useful. Despite the very minor issues mentioned above, there isn’t much to not like about Drums Of War.

If you are a film composer, or just a fanatic of all things battle related, or just want to pretend you are in a blockbuster action film, Drums Of War are likely to be some of your favorite tools as you paint the backdrop for your vision. Drums Of War is a welcome addition to the sampling world, and a library that anyone can enjoy. And if you just happen to have a battle scene to score, Drums Of War will be your best friend. And considering the price, it won’t break the bank to get these essential sounds.