BY JOHN NYMAN
Paiste has successfully melded the old-world buttery funk of the Traditionals line with the clarity and body of the Signature line into a new cymbal range they call Signature Dark Energy cymbals. These new cymbals are dark, a bit dry, and also sophisticated, strong, and beautiful.
The line so far has three Mark I hi-hat sizes (13″, 14″, 15″), five sizes of Mark I crashes (15″, 16″, 17″, 18″, 19″), and two different styles of ride cymbals, Mark I and Mark II, available in three sizes each (20″, 21″, 22″). From this first offering, DRUM! received all but the 15″ crash.
In general, the line is dark, slightly dry, and mellow, but with plenty of power, substance, and volume. They are not brittle sounding — in fact they sound vaguely glossy. Put it this way: if the old Rude cymbals sounded like a mohawked psycho in a punk band, these Signature Dark Energy cymbals sound like a dark-haired, six-foot Danish model who paints with watercolors and teaches pilates to firemen.
Paiste offers two models, the Mark I and the Mark II, both in three sizes: 20″, 21″, and 22″. The matte, sandblasted finish of the Mark I is punctuated by hammering that gives it a leopard-spotted look. The glossy bell, with its hammer-spots, rises from this arid cymbal-scape like a monument in a desert. The sound is dry, with lots of tah, instantly harkening back to the smoky jazz sounds of yesterday. But it has enough balls to work as a rock-and-roll cymbal — up to a point. Though the Mark I’s dry tah happily applies to the big rock beat, its ping is dark, not high and clear like a heavy Paiste 2002. The 21″ and 22″ have more volume than the 20″, and a slightly bigger ping that would hold up better to guitar amps.
The lovely collection of undertones that swell up under constant sticking on the Mark I is entrancing. It’s fun to play this cymbal. It doesn’t fight you, it greets you, “Hey! Let’s play!” This cymbal always speaks “full voice” — you hear the stick meeting the face, what sounds like the stick sinking into the cymbal, and you hear the whole cymbal shudder and moan two floors below. If you want that super-clean “hammer on an anvil” sound, this is not your cymbal. But if you like truckloads of character, some wash, and a dry tah that draws the ear closer, check this out.
The Mark II ride is the noisier one, though they are definitely cousins. It has more bite, and the initial strike, though sweet, has a good deal of ping with the tah; the moan underneath is more of a song, and the wash is more than generous. The Mark II’s glossy, hammer-mottled face looks buffed from face to bell, and you could say its appearance matches its brighter voice. While the Mark I broods and states its rhythms with dry voice and mumbling rumbles that stay safely underneath, the Mark II chats loudly and clearly, and the aggressive, higher-pitched wash threatens to overtake each note (but never does).
The bells belie the cymbals. The Mark I bell is dry, focused, and clear, but separate from the cymbal’s body, just as the dry voice of the Mark I is clear and accompanied, distantly, by lovely dark undertones. The Mark II’s bell is lively, ringing, raucous, and echoed freely in the entire body of the cymbal, just as the brighter, livelier voice of the Mark II is accompanied, closely, by all the noisy voices of its wash, all talking at once.
A note about the different sizes: these ride cymbals are like mail-order shoes, “Runs small. Order half-size larger.” This reviewer, who usually plays a 20″ ride cymbal, felt better matched by the 21″ size. Bring your ears and trust them, and of course play them with your favorite sticks, because different weights, woods, shapes, and beads of sticks make worlds of difference on any ride cymbal.
Punctuating ride rhythms is easy with the five available crashes, of which we received 16″, 17″, 18″, and 19″ (there is also a 15″ in the line). To make a long story short, these are dark and sweetly dry, but have the high-end clarity and the sonic mass that goes wanting in some dark cymbals.
To make a long story longer, these crashes, with their wide, wavy grooves and thumbprint-sized hammer marks, are a bit misleading to the new listener. Struck very lightly, they are all about dark, dry fundamentals, with a long, low decay. But when you smack them hard they have a pronounced full-range attack, including unexpected high notes, and then decay in two stages. The bright attack quickly slips out of earshot first, and then that low, dry note lingers just a bit longer.
Unlike some dry, dark crashes, all four of the crashes we played sounded pretty, not dirty. Maybe they should have called them Dark and Lovely. There wasn’t a dog in the bunch. As to favorite sizes, in cymbals it’s all relative, isn’t it? This reviewer used the 16″ on a recording, and it sounded wonderful and integrated at the jazz-ish volume we were working. The 17″ and 18″, on more rock gigs, threatened to replace my favorite 17″ cymbal. The 19″ went a-rocking with my friend, and he reported it being almost too mushy as a rock crash. But at home I tried it as a “crashing ride” (who doesn’t love to do the Dave Grohl?), and it showed great promise. You couldn’t go too far wrong with any of these.
Gather Around, Kids. This reviewer, who by now sounds like a Paiste rep, will defend his enthusiasm with a story. When the cymbals arrived, I was busy with other things, and since a new cymbal is a terrible thing to waste, it seemed prudent to let my friend — a busy drummer who owns a drum store — take away an armful of them to play. He took the batch of cymbals (17″, 18″, and 19″ crashes, 15″ hi-hats, and the 22″ Mark I ride) on a bar gig and loved them. The next day, members of his band called to say how much they loved “those cymbals.” All of us who work with guitar players know how unlikely it is for them to comment on cymbals, except maybe to say, “You’re killing me, man!” But the guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player commented on how musical the Signature Dark Energy cymbals sounded. The End.
As you can imagine, a later problem was getting the cymbals back from my friend, and what he loved most was the pair of 15″ hi-hats. He particularly enjoyed the extra mass and volume of the larger hats, which share the same buttery feel that the ride cymbals have. He liked them so much it was best to pick them up later, while he was out of the store.
All three hi-hat sizes have medium-weight tops that are lightly hammered and wavy-grooved on the face. The top’s underside is heavily hammered, then lathed for half its radius, and the bell is darn near raw. The heavy bottom cymbals are crazily hammered, but not lathed, on the underside, with only the very edge of the cymbal turned clean. The face of the bottom cymbal is hammered, then grooved wide and shiny.
I took the 14″ hats on a loud (except for the way-down-low-while-the-singer-talks-and-pours-water-on-her-head parts) gig, and they delivered the low and dirty tick-tick and full bite of simulated Bonhamicity. They were 100 percent of what was needed, much better than the various sets of rental cymbals that were, well, various. A secret dream of this reviewer? That Paiste will make and offer a ripple-bottomed Signature Dark Energy hi-hat. Hey, they probably will — they invented the damn thing!
The 13″ hats are a tight and articulate pair, with mellowness in their metal, but plenty of bite and attack. The Signature Dark Energy hats are slightly glossy in tone, with no brittleness, but good clarity and bark. They have that tight 13″ thing, but create a nice full darkness when sloshed about.
All in all, these Paiste Signature Dark Energy cymbals are just good, good, good. For everyone? No, of course not. But anyone playing from quiet to pretty damn loud might love them. Jazzers and studio cats are probably going to be all over them. They are a new, beautifully integrated cymbal sound, and this reviewer thinks they are going to be very, very popular. If you’re cymbal shoppin’, give them a whoppin’.
Model: Paiste Signature Dark Energy Cymbals
Sizes and Prices:
13″ Mark I hi-hat $528
14″ Mark I hi-hat $588
15″ Mark I hi-hat $644
15″ Mark I crash $322
16″ Mark I crash $368
17″ Mark I crash $420
18″ Mark I crash $452
19″ Mark I crash $484
20″ Mark I or Mark II ride $518
21″ Mark I or Mark II ride $568
22″ Mark I or Mark II ride $620