Scream if you wanna go faster
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of the blog that this particular author is something of a metal-head. It’s not a blatant credibility-grab to say the first record I ever owned was Guns n’ Roses epic Use Your Illusion 2. Ever since I’ve been on a musical path attempting to find bands which tickle the parts only a good, heavy record can.
When you think of metal musically, you perhaps think of downtuned, distorted guitars, maybe a smattering of blastbeats and a good dose of volume. But one of the most important items in the metal band’s arsenal is the vocals. Metal vocals come in a hugely variable range of styles and tonalities, and define a band’s overall sound.
In reality, we can no more offer you specific technical lessons on how to sing metal than we can on learning the guitar; it’s simply too big a subject to cover in one blog. We can however demonstrate some of the different styles and give you a few things to consider while you’re finding your voice, so to speak. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to show you some of the incredible diversity in vocal styles which come under the metal umbrella.
This particular style of vocals has its roots in punk. The sneer is a relatively nasal style, with an emphasis more on attitude than technique. Sneer singers are unlikely to bother with rigorous warm-up techniques or bother about being note perfect. However, given the right tune to sing over the effect just works. Perhaps the best proponent of the sneer is Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, and its effects can be heard to wonderful effect on the clip above.
Not all metal singers utilise harsh, throaty vocals or unintelligible lyrics. Fans of Iron Maiden or power metal will know their particular style relies on creating an atmosphere of epic-ness (it is a word) through the vocal gymnastics of their singers. In truth, if this is the style you’re going for, you’re going to require talent by the bucket-load. Anyone can bluff their way through Run To The Hills after a few shandies, but to do a proper job you’ll likely have been coached on vibrato, pitch, breathing techniques and timing. Good luck with that. The clip above shows a now sadly defunct Swedish band called Lost Horizon, giving a dictionary-definition performance of bombast. Reckon you could sing like that?
The Barker and the Screamer
Barking or screaming, as a style, covers a few different metal bases. From the short, clipped phrasing evident in bands like Sepultura and Raging Speedhorn, through to the more surgical variety from Cult of Luna, the bark can be used as almost a catch-all term to cover that gravelly, harsh style non-metal fans think of when they think of metal.
In reality, the scream is often used more as an instrument in its own right. It occupies its own specific area of the EQ spectrum, and the indecipherable delivery of the lyrics is often used consciously so as to not distract from the music. So if anyone says “you can’t even tell what they’re saying” you can answer “well yeah, that’s kinda the point.”
In a largely self-indulgent act, I’m going to put forward Grady Avenall from the band Will Haven. Every now and again we just have to tip our hat to the one-offs.
The Tortured Soul
Metal attracts its fair share of tortured souls; it’s even fair to say that angst and suffering is the raison d’etre of entire sub-genres of the style. Bands which use this style are often fairly diverse though. The Norwegian band Emperor uses it to great effect in the clip above, while in other genres you could look to Converge’s Jacob Bannon and even Deftones’ Chino Moreno as inspiration for bands who favour a strained, melancholic feel to their vocal stylings.
The Cookie Monster
Looking to the outer limits of extreme music, we have the Cookie Monster. This style stands alone in that there is nothing else even remotely similar. It is a style which was created and is subsequently used on a very particular style of music; death metal. From the old American bands of the 80s and 90s like Death, Deicide or Morbid Angel, through to more contemporary European exponents like Decapitated and (at times earlier in their career) Opeth, the Cookie Monster style relies on guttural movements of air from the absolute depths of your diaphragm. This style requires stamina along with throat muscles as strong as Schwarzenegger’s biceps. No wimps allowed.
There exists a sort of sub-set of metal vocalists who can turn their talent to any and all of the styles listed above. These guys and girls can, at will, switch between the most horrendous sounding shrieks and soothing, whisper quiet vocals at the drop of a hat. It’s almost unfair. The common thread is that, underneath the more extreme styles lies a singer who can actually, y’know, sing actual notes and stuff. Crazy eh?
A great example of a vocal polymath is Greg Puciato from Dillinger Escape Plan, whose obscene levels of talent mean the vocals befit the general sense of sonic craziness which his band creates. Other lesser-known singers who excel across a range of styles include Jeffrey Moriera of Poison the Well and Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw, while we should also make special mention of a certain William ‘Axl’ Rose, who could sound like entirely different people depending on what song you heard.
Hopefully you can see from the above list that metal singing is a wide, varied, broad church with countless variation and eccentricities to consider. If you came here hoping to learn how to sing metal in a technical sense we’re sorry to disappoint, but what you maybe have seen is that somewhere, there’s a style you can feel at home with. And, if not, be the maverick.