Help me to understand the appeal of Death/Black metal vocals?

Discussion in 'General Music Discussion' started by frogman81, Aug 10, 2018.

  1. frogman81

    frogman81 SS.org Regular

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    *disclaimer* I'm not trying to trash anyone's fave band/vocalist... I'm trying to understand.

    I'm currently listening to Rivers of Nihil's new album, since it has gotten so much praise. I find the guitar work pretty interesting, but the vocals really lose me. Same goes for the new Soreption album that people seem to like as well. Same goes for Meshuggah (undeniably cool riffery and Jens seems like a cool dude but his vocals are so blah for me), Cradle of Filth, Dimmu, Slayer... all the old school stuff that I've ever tried.

    I have a personal theory that the vocals in the work by these bands are just filler that gives the guitar riffing a reason to exist, sorta like pancakes only exist to get maple syrup into your mouth. But this is probably wrong. I just find the vocal style repetitive and almost completely devoid of nuance of any sort.

    The closest I ever got to fandom of this style vocalist would be Phil Anselmo in his prime with Pantera, but I found his vocals to be endlessly more varied in tone and style than the vocalists of the bands listed above.

    Anyone care to discuss?
     
  2. AwakenNoMore

    AwakenNoMore Wrong Handed

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    So, it isn't for everyone. Personally I look at vocals as another instrument. Personally, the aggression for whatever reason soothes, me. Sort of like it pulls my anger from me by listening to the br00talz. I don't know how to really put it in to words. Some music I think it's necessary, while some stuff can stand on it's own instrumentally.
     
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  3. DudeManBrother

    DudeManBrother Hey...how did everybody get in my room?

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    It adds a more cadence driven, percussive element to the music. The vocal chords can be utilized clean, overdriven, or full on distorted. Why do you like distorted guitar in the first place? It is similar to the preference of clean guitar with distinct melody and harmony lines vs overdriven/high gain guitar with an interesting palm muted chugging pattern.
     
  4. KailM

    KailM SS.org Regular

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    It fits the atmosphere of the music. Also, I view it as just another instrument in the mix.

    I get it. I struggled to get into harsh vocals for quite a while. I got into metal as a wee lad back in the 80s, before screamed vocals and death growls came about. I always loved the "darker" sound of metal and even the early vocals of James Hetfield and Tom Araya had an edge to them that was different than in most of mainstream metal. As metal began to get darker and darker, harsher and harsher, the vocals came along with it.

    You can hear a transition in this album, and it makes sense. I'm not quite sure who did the first death metal "growls," but Death was definitely a stepping stone to making it happen.
    It fit the themes of the music even better.
    At a certain point, you exhaust your supply of non-harsh vocal metal, and you must delve into it if you want to keep listening to metal. That's what I did, and at one point it just clicked with me. There is a whole universe of metal out there and once it clicks with you, the harsh vocals just seem natural and you'll even start to enjoy them. Also, there are certain emotions that just call for it. I have really enjoyed performing black metal vocals on some of my tracks. Nothing else would fit the music, really. However, I also enjoy and respect clean vocals. Some of my favorite bands combine both in their music.

    About the only thing I really don't enjoy is when bands use harsh vocals over music that is too soft for it. That just doesn't sound right to me.
     
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  5. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire despair ahead

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    To put it into a historical context, screamed/growled vocals came from a lack of being able to actually sing, coupled with people figuring out that it added a raw savage edge to otherwise standard metal riffs. They do add a certain atmosphere, but harsh vocals in general are an abused technique anymore imo. There's a fair amount of nuance to them when done well, but that's hard to achieve.
    It can offer a nice counterpoint to clean vocals but I think it should be used sparingly. Too much of any one element makes it less impactful imo. Constant cookie monster vocals and pig squeals are a part of why deathcore caught a lot of flak back in the mid 2000s. They took all the br00tal elements of death metal and somehow made it worse through overuse (ie breakdowns, blast beats, etc).
    There are bands that utilize harsh vocals in a more effective manner (ie Scar Symmetry, Tesseract, Dream Theater, Human Abstract, and a lot of prog leaning bands) since they use them sporadically for emphasis, instead of building their entire sound around harsh vocals.
     
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  6. KailM

    KailM SS.org Regular

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    I thought I was the only one. I find black metal and death metal immensely soothing and relaxing. Even the 200bpm+ stuff.
     
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  7. Rizzo

    Rizzo SS.org Regular

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    I just think of screaming as a form of expression, like an extra color on your vocal palette. But the more I get older, the more it feels like the lazy musical alternative to singing since there's no creativity for melody involved. But more on that later.

    Personally, there's really few screamers I actually like. First, I must understand the lyrics and very few screamers keep good enunciation while maintaning decent vocal power (some screamers do have good enunciation but just don't sound aggressive, and that eludes the point of extreme vocals to me).
    Second, not everyone can make screaming sound catchy. I'm not musically trained but I always perceived dirty vocals as more or less outputting the same note in a definite range, or surely a note around the same octave, since you're actually not producing any intelligible pitch most of the time (referring to plain screaming/growling. Unless you sing with a rasp, and that's a different thing and actually incredibly difficult -think Devin-). So since it's basically pure distortion/noise coming out of your body, musically you have to play mainly around rhythm to keep it interesting. And again, few can keep it interesting. Schuldiner was a master of catchy growling to me. Jens Kidman is too, in a way, but Meshuggah deliberately play around the "dehumanization" theme, so that's actually why he got to sound more and more robotic in time.

    Musically, I see screaming as a textural thing, kinda like blast beats. It's kinda useless and lame on its own but does wonders in the right context and taken with a grain of salt. They give attitude.

    I also think that dirty vocals, as a textural element, give lots of freedom to play with dissonance and-or clusters since -as I wrote before- they don't imply melody hence harmony (at least, to me. I may just be plain wrong, that's just my perspective) as singing does instead. Think modern dissonant metal, as in Gorguts and latter influenced bands. Since screaming is pure "textural noise", you can actually use the voice as a mere instrument while the rest of the instrumentation does whatever and you don't have to worry about clashing in harmony. Then on the other hand you can use singing to balance melodically. Think Sikth, Dillinger, Architects. Screaming "chaotic" verses, and melodic sung choruses.
    These are the main reasons I love dirty vocals.

    As I ran on in the beginning of the post, nowadays I enjoy screaming less and less since it seems just an excuse for vocalist who can't come up with interesting vocal lines for the arrangement from a melodic standpoint. Like "what can I sing on top of that? Whatever, I'll produce noise and save my a**". Feels like an easy way out to me now.
    I can't stand listening to pure screamers anymore, much rather have at least some singing thrown in. I love vocalists who sound credible in both singing and screaming, and they're usually amongst the most creative. Again, think Townsend, Patton, so on.

    Just IMHO.
     
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  8. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    Possessed were the first band to use it, I think is the accepted wisdom anyway. As an attempt to find a vocal style that fit in with the sound of the band

    Someone will be along in a minute to say "actually it was Pete Townshend on Boris the Spider", to which I will say that context is everything.

    I think there was maybe an other undercurrent in more punk/hardcore styles where it was just a case of screaming to get vocals heard when there was no amplification available for vocals, which over time became part of the style.
     
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  9. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Historically, the death growl/black metal scream style goes back to the Neanderthal hominids, who lacked the vocal cords to produce normal homo sapien's speech.

    Ok, probably not, but in rock music, even 60's bands were pushing screams and false chord vocals in order to try to cut through the loud mix of guitar amplifiers cranked beyond their limits to achieve distorted tones. The Who, on "Boris the Spider" used false chord vocals to make an effect to invoke something "spidery," and even though the context of this was quite different than modern death metal vocals, the technique used is the same.


    When heavy metal emerged as its own genre in the 1970's, a lot of vocalists, like Lemmy, would shout their lyrics moreso than sing them, in part because of the louder music accompaniment, and in part due to the lack of conventional vocal training. In the late 70's and early 80's, shouting gave way to screaming, because it more emotive and could cut through the mix even better. If you listen through the hard rock and heavy metal bands of the 70's and early 80's in chronological order, you can hear a clear trend of going from singing to shouting to screaming, with the energy level increasing in continuous steps, even with the same vocalist over time.

    As the 80's got into full swing, the more extreme bands employed more extreme vocal delivery.

    I'd say that culturally, things were quite different back then as well. For one, rock music was more focused on spontaneity and an atmosphere of "danger" than on achieving a specific tone or attaining some level of musicianship. The art of experimentation coupled with the idea that the vocalists were likely wrecking their voices added to the appeal at the time.

    So, enough with the silly history lesson. We're in 2018, so what's the appeal of an extreme vocal style now? Well, for one, the cut-through-the-mix aspect is still there. Go see a local extreme metal band playing at a shitty club on a Wednesday night. How big is the house PA system? 500 W maybe? Now, compare that to the loudness of the accompanying band. Imagine the vocalist trying to sing like Frank Sinatra over the music. I can pretty much guarantee that you would never hear a peep. So that's one thing.

    Two, I think anyone who has tried to make a honest-to-god death growl or pig squeal in any musical context will know fully just how difficult it is to execute. And, just as every "normal" vocalist has a unique and distinctive tone based not only on techniques, but also based on genetics and physiological considerations, the same can be said about extreme metal vocalists. So it takes a certain kind of person with a certain set of skills to make a certain kind of growl or scream.

    Thirdly, when you hear a guitar riff that sounds like demons tearing out a person's eyeballs whilst pouring molten lava everywhere, you have to have a vocal delivery that fits that tone. Are you going to try to pair that with some kind of Johnny Cash impersonation, or Pavorati's Figaro aria? No way, you need to make a sort of sound like your eyeballs are being torn out by demons whilst you are on fire up to your waist in molten lava, so everything will fit together.

    D. The more energy you put into your performance, the better you can sell it. In a metal band, that equates to employing some extremes.

    And finally, circling back to the history, it's simply tradition. The first time I heard Death, I was like "WTF is with the vocalist - did he gargle sulfuric acid or something?!" But it grew on me. I can't imagine a song like "The Philosopher" sung in a normal Tom Jones voice, can you?
     
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  10. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    And next, I will predict this weeks lottery results.
     
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  11. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire despair ahead

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    two things are predictable in this world, death and bostjan writing multiparagraph responses to everything
     
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  12. jwade

    jwade Doooooooooom

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    Totally. I can put on Hecate Enthroned/Emperor/etc and just zone out. It’s almost like how some people put on rainforest/ocean sounds to sleep.
     
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  13. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    I used to settle my son off for a nap with a bit of In Their Darkened Shrines or Annihilation of the Wicked.
     
  14. vilk

    vilk Very Regular

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    People often say that vocalists do this because they can't sing, or because it's easy...

    ...but in my own opinion an experience, singing is much easier than doing extreme vocals with any amount of consistency and volume. Everyone can do Ihsahn vocals very quietly. But that's not what Ihsahn does; his voice is loud when he does those vocals.

    I used to get perfect scores on vocals for Rockband for Girl's Not Grey, and I can usually get pretty high marks on a Japanese karaoke machine (many of them have the option to score your performance). But you know what I can't do? Bree-bree pig squeals. I can do them quietly, sure, anyone can. But I cannot do them the way that makes them deep and fully formed with the harmonic sounding note on top, like Lykathea Aflame. Now try doing it without cupping the mic. Impossible, you say? Tell that to Lord Worm.

    You can say what you want about Chino Marino's style of screaming, but just you go ahead and try replicating it and tell me if it's not the most difficult extreme vocal style that there is. I can totally nail Eagle Fly Free by Helloween, but I can only barely struggle through any Deftones song with screaming.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
  15. BIG ND SWEATY

    BIG ND SWEATY Edgy

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    I mean what else fits over death metal? I sure as shit couldn't hear any kind of singing over Cannibal Corpse or Dark Throne, its just what fits the music.
     
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  16. Mathemagician

    Mathemagician SS.org Regular

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    The number of screaming vocals I like increases as the vocalist gets more intelligible and varied. Clean choruses add dramatic effect and keep the sound from getting stale as well. But clean singing reduces the amount of time I need to “get into” a track or band.

    It’s not just you. I can’t do Gorguts, or Rivers of Nihil, or similar for the same reason.
     
  17. fps

    fps Kit

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    Sometimes, it really works. A lot of the time, especially now, it seems like an automatic choice bands make without thinking whether their music would work better with a different vocal approach, or just instrumentally. I personally think a band which was nearly entirely instrumental but used harsh vocals very sparingly would work well.
     
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  18. pastanator

    pastanator SS.org Regular

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    like others have said its just what fits the music best. its aggressive and angry music at its core, and regular singing imo just doesnt have the aggression to match. but i mean if its not your thing then its not your thing and i wouldnt sweat it
     
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  19. KailM

    KailM SS.org Regular

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    I was literally thinking about Emperor when I typed that last post. :lol: :mf666:
     
  20. Strobe

    Strobe SS.org Regular

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    It has a feeling and a texture to it that's cool. Strictly speaking, it's like an instrument with rhythm and timbre but not really a melody component (drums would also fit this categorization).

    As others mentioned, it can be soothing. I don't usually love it when that's all the singer does, unless the guitars have a strong melodic component. For me, non-melodic riffs combined with non-melodic singing, combined with non-melodic drums doesn't sound bad to me, it just bores me. Another person might hear the same thing and just want to chill or destress to it. I'm just kind of a melody whore. In the primarily harsh vocal styles, I tend to gravitate towards melodeath (such as In Flames or At the gates), and I most admire the harsh vocals of guys who can enunciate clearly and inject a lot of vocal variety into it - I think Darkest Hour is a standout in this regard.

    I would agree with others that harsh vocals done well is actually really damn difficult. I have sung for a number of metal bands. I have been a good singer for a long time, but it took for friggin' ever to get decent at the harsher vocal styles. I respect a good screamer.
     
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