How important are lyrics/vocals in metal?

Demiurge

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I think that if something is part of an arrangement, there should be effort and care put into its composition. Two of the metal subculture's favorite activities are congratulating itself over the skill & intricacy of the music and scoffing at pop music's superficiality and yet there's a DGAF attitude about a prominent piece of a song.
 

mastapimp

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I think it depends on the style of music for me. If it's something like hard rock or classic metal that you can sing along with in the car, vocals and lyrics are pretty important. If it's some death metal growls or screaming, I'm not going to care if I understand the lyrics or not. In that kind of music it feels like more of an enhancement on the aggression of the music rather than some kind of poetic verse that deserves attention and understanding.
 

Lorcan Ward

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^Exactly. For how much I’ve listened to Necrophagist - Epitaph I should know the lyrics but I don’t, they are just an additional element on top of the technical music.

Same with Children of Bodom. I’ve listened to the song Follow the Reaper hundreds of times but I’ve no idea what the lyrics are, some songs Alexi didn’t even know what he sang in the studio. It doesn’t take away from the music because it’s the vocal style that counts.

For bands like Iron Maiden and Blind Guardian the lyrics are very important. A huge part of their live show is the crowd singing along. They also sing about history, books, fiction stories etc so they take a lot of pride in their lyrics because of the work involved.
 

bostjan

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For me, the vocals are somewhat important and the lyrics are generally less important.

As others pointed out, any sort of artistic product made from words tends to be silly on some certain level. Even some of the most highly revered poems seem to sound silly to some people. If it's Atheist or Death or something in a similar vein, I will put some weight onto the qualities of the lyrics, but it's 100% subjective. If it's Cannibal Corpse, on the other hand... I feel that lyrics are far more important in other genres. I guess the less of everything else there is going on, the more the lyrics have to be good for something for the song to stand up to "scrutiny." Like, American Pie, there are some tempo changes and dynamics, but the melodies outside of the chorus are honestly pretty generic-sounding (to me), and the chord structures are pretty generic sounding (again, my personal opinion), so the default option is to focus on the lyrics. Another popular example would be "Pick Up the Pieces" by the Average White Band. There's a ton of shit going on with rhythms and melodies, so when the band's lyrics only exist for the bridge of the song, repeating "pick up the pieces" over and over, it's not a problem, because most listeners aren't even expecting there to be any lyrics at all by that point in the song. So, with a metal song, particularly extreme metal, you expect to hear a high degree of variation and technicality in the guitars and drums, which leaves little room for attention on the lyrics anyway.

But vocals definitely do matter. If they are going to be in the song, they have to do something for me or else I won't tend to like the song. Again, though, the aesthetics are totally subjective. I'd venture a guess that 99% of the general population would hear your typical death metal vocals and immediately recoil in disgust. So, quite possibly, if Katy Perry randomly decided to put some gruesome pig squeals in her next single, it probably would not go over well. OTOH, if you added high-pitched tightly-harmonized and over-produced feminine Japanese voices to an extreme metal arrangement, you'd probably get something that would be highly polarizing for metal fans. So, the musical genre gets sort of defined by the bands that pioneer its sound, and then that's pretty much what is expected until someone manages to alter your expectations by forming a new genre offshoot. But hearing the "wrong" style of vocals with the wrong genre can be jarring. But jarring can be interesting if it's done well (read "sincerely").
 

nightflameauto

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Soft answer: yes

Depending on the band, lyrics matter or don't matter.

Periphery specific, I remember reviews when Juggernaut Alpha/Omega came out talking about how the first time through they were cringing over the lyrics, then the second time they're like, "AS THE WATER BEADS UPON THE WINDOW! TURN A SAD SONG UP ON THE RADIO!"

And I honestly had the same thing happen.

Some bands put a TON of thought into lyrics. Some bands just try to make the vocals another instrument, and don't much care, or only care about shock, or funny, or creating an image with the lyrics. It's all good, just depends entirely on intent.
 

syzygy

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Soft answer: yes

Depending on the band, lyrics matter or don't matter.

Periphery specific, I remember reviews when Juggernaut Alpha/Omega came out talking about how the first time through they were cringing over the lyrics, then the second time they're like, "AS THE WATER BEADS UPON THE WINDOW! TURN A SAD SONG UP ON THE RADIO!"

And I honestly had the same thing happen.

Some bands put a TON of thought into lyrics. Some bands just try to make the vocals another instrument, and don't much care, or only care about shock, or funny, or creating an image with the lyrics. It's all good, just depends entirely on intent.
This is such a great example, holy cow. I'd be the first to tell you that Spencer's lyrics are often pretty goofy, but when they clicked for me they clicked for me. It's the same with every other band. Objectively? Every band has some cringey, silly lyrics. But what they mean to you individually is a subjective thing.
 

nightflameauto

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This is such a great example, holy cow. I'd be the first to tell you that Spencer's lyrics are often pretty goofy, but when they clicked for me they clicked for me. It's the same with every other band. Objectively? Every band has some cringey, silly lyrics. But what they mean to you individually is a subjective thing.
Anybody a Haken fan? They're another one that, first time you're like, "What the fuck is he talking about?"

Second time you're like,
Tantalized, by the cockroach, and its promise
I fantasized, about flying, with golden wings.

I think, if the music carries you, the lyrics can BECOME important, even when they aren't.
 

kamello

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Remember when everyone was playing a PRS through a Dual Rec and their dream was to open for Evanescence?
are you making fun of my dream rig and dream gig?

Regarding the topic; for me it's a big "depends"

in abstract lyrics are pretty important to me, so if they are borderline ridiculous I just won't get the music. If they don't offer nothing new, but atleast don't get distracting, that's fine for me, but I really like bands that give some thought to their lyrics.

Funnily enough, my favorite band became so because of their lyrics, the first time I heard them, the music didn't do too much for me, but the lyrics were so strong that I got completely hooked because of them. Sadly they are in spanish, so I doubt many will fully understand them, but for some context; this album was made in reference to the disappeared detainees of Pinochet dictatorship, and narrates that period through the eyes of the survivors, the torturers, and the mourning families

 
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Screamingdaisy

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I hear the melody, but I don't hear the words, regardless of genre.

As for metal specifically, I think there's a lot of good music that's ruined by shitty vocals.

Years ago a friend suggested a band called Pelican.
 

Blytheryn

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Nope, don’t care. Don’t read lyrics and could just as well be listening to isolated guitar tracks. I tune everything else out.
 

KnightBrolaire

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I think that if something is part of an arrangement, there should be effort and care put into its composition. Two of the metal subculture's favorite activities are congratulating itself over the skill & intricacy of the music and scoffing at pop music's superficiality and yet there's a DGAF attitude about a prominent piece of a song.
probably because 99% of us are guitarists and bassists lol

You ever ask vocalists if they actually pay attention to the guitar riffs?
 

protest

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I know the lyrics to songs I don't like.

Lyrics don't really make or break a song. However, it adds something extra to a song when they're cool. Like Hand of Doom, where the transitions seem kind of abrupt, but the lyrics make you realize the whole song is a ride from depression, to high, to OD and those transitions make more sense.
 

nickgray

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Vocals - it depends. I like instrumental music, so no vocals is not an issue. But bad vocals are definitely something that catches your ear, and can be a dealbreaker as a result.

Lyrics - it ain't Shakespeare even in the best of times, let's be honest. But sometimes the cringe is too much. Dream Theater is as excellent example (and also of questionable vocals in their new albums):

She was raised in a small midwestern town
By a charming and eccentric loving father
She was praised as the perfect teenage girl
And everyone thought highly of her

or this gem:

Let me introduce
My brother
A bearded gentleman
Historian
Sucking on his pipe
Distinguished accent
Making me uptight
No accident

It seems that Petrucci's guitar chops are inversely proportional to his lyrical prowess.
 


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