Music

The Art of Screaming

People are quite often surprised to hear the type of music that I’m into. “You listen to metal!?”. I sure do and I certainly enjoy watching the reactions from those who don’t believe me. To clarify, I enjoy listening to different types of metal music which often comprise of odd time signatures, fiery guitar riffs, mind blowing guitar solos, speedy double bass and lovely sounding screaming vocals. The last part is typically the most “difficult” component in metal music for the general public to enjoy. I thought I would spend some time explaining how I got into this type of music and highlight why anyone would enjoy listening to someone yell. I’d also like to shed light on a genre of music that’s typically mired in negative stereotypes. Not everyone who listens to metal music looks like this:

Metal Fans! (not always)

Before I get started, I would like to give credit to Susan M. Carr for helping me come up with the snazzy title for this post. Believe it or not, Susan is an instructor who has put together a DVD covering different techniques on how to properly scream as a vocalist and most importantly, how to maintain your screaming voice night after night on the road (http://www.amazon.com/Art-Screaming-Susan-M-Carr/dp/B001E09DQM).
So how did I get into this genre of music? I started listening to “screaming vocals” about 10 years ago when I was in high school. I was a fan of rock and alternative music before this. Our Lady Peace was my favourite band growing up as a kid. However, over time my tastes naturally evolved into more aggressive sounding bands. A combination of teen angst and puberty in high school were probably significant contributors to my change in musical tastes.

The two bands and albums that helped kick me off into screaming vocals were Thrice’s, “The Illusion of Safetey” and Poison the Well’s, “You Come Before You”. These two albums will forever remain masterpieces in my mind as they were my “gateway drugs” into a genre of music I would eventually become “addicted” to for many years. I still remember the thoughts I had in my head during the first few listens with these albums. “I kind of like this but what will people think?” “Will girls still like me if I listen to this?” “How will my parents react to this?” I’d be lying to you if I told you these concerns didn’t stay with me for some-time. But over the years, I’ve learned not to care. As you get older people are typically more willing to accept these types of quirks in your personality.

So why the screaming vocals? Well let’s first talk about some other aspects of metal music. If you enjoy listening to music with focus on guitars and drums, the metal industry is a great genre to check out because a lot of the musicians are very accomplished with respect to their instrumental skills. Metal has been well known for producing some of the best sounding guitar solos in the history of rock music. In addition to guitar solos, both metal guitar-ing and drumming know no bounds when it comes to speed and complexity. Using unique time signatures and speedy tempos, metal music can be structurally complicated and difficult as hell to reproduce on your own. I personally enjoy the “challenge” and extreme difficulty these musicians face when they’re playing their music night after night on the road. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are better musicians than those who play at slower speeds and play less complicated riffs (although in most cases it’s true!) I have a huge appreciation for the craftsmanship of a complex song with intricate parts. After all, 99.999% of all musicians in the metal genre, write their own music.

Now onto the yelling. What it all boils down to for me is this. Screaming vocals sound very cool, and very bad-ass. Yes, it’s sometimes annoying listening to someone yell, but when everything is overlaid on top of another (vocals, guitars, bass, drums etc…) it all blends together quite nicely. Once you start listening to 2-3 band with yelling vocalists, the next few don’t seem so outrageous anymore. To me, hearing the sound of someone screaming their vocals is more or less the same as hearing someone sing them. It’s all very natural to me and to put it simply, “you get use to it” over time. It becomes “normal”.

To help you better understand how yelling works, I’m going to break down some of the different styles of screaming within my own collection of music. These styles are purely fictional so don’t bother looking them up on Wikipedia.

The “Raise Your Voice” Scream: Slayer 

Perhaps one of the most legendary vocalists in metal history, Tom Araya uses an interesting tone in his scream.  It’s changed slightly over the course of his career in Slayer, but the fundamentals remain the same. He’s typically not yelling his lungs out, but screams just enough to grab your attention to shows he’s serious. It’s mean, scary sounding and bad-ass. This style of screaming is very common in the genre and probably does the least amount of damage to your voice.

The “Squeal” Scream: Refused

The “squeal” is one of the more annoying styles that I’m going to cover. Different artists have different pitches and styles. What I find with the squeal is, you either love it or you hate it depending on the band and/or singer. In this particular case, Sweden’s very finest, Refused is an example of the squeal I’ve enjoyed for many years. On a side note, these guys are back and kicking it in full gear after breaking up in 1998. They are one of the most respected bands to have come out of the hardcore scene during the 90s and Dennis Lyxzen’s vocals is a huge reason for this.
The “Punk Rock” Scream: The Distillers
There are female vocalists who also embrace this screaming as their weapon of choice (see Jada Pinkett Smith!!!). Although there aren’t as many of them out there in the scene, the ones that are out there can still give a good yell. Brody Dalle, front-woman of the Distillers has a voice that closely resembles Courtney Love’s but with a bit more edge and rasp. This clip I’ve included is pretty light on screaming but demonstrates the rough edges and pretty licks in her voice. This style of “screaming” is pretty easy to listen to as it’s not too hard on the ears.
The “Deepen Your Voice” Scream: Dethklok
Yes, Dethklok is a real band and not just a cartoon! This deep growl method seen in this clip is your typical death metal-vocalist. I chose to feature Dethklok, because their singer actually voices all the characters in the cartoon AND has a great yelling voice.  This style doesn’t have much range in comparison to the other forms of screaming and can get a little bland over time. Still fun nonetheless.
The “Noise!@#$%%” Scream: Converge
Of all the styles I cover in this post, this is probably going to be the most annoying one for people to listen to, and toughest to understand. I’ll admit it myself, it took me many years of listening to screaming vocals before I could accept this unique style. I don’t listen to many bands who sing like this. It’s tough. What stands out about Converge is their wildly talented instrumentals and ability to to blend everything into 300 BPM songs. Give it a shot.
The “Scream Singing Combo” Scream: Opeth 
Most people wouldn’t expect people who scream for a living to know anything about real singing. Well, ladies and gentleman I’d like to introduce you to Mikael Akerfeldt, lead singer of the band Opeth. He is an incredible singer and screamer. At the beginning of this track, you can get a taste of his singing ability. Fast forward to 3:27 and you’ll get a dose of death metal. What a guy. He’s the real deal and completely legit. I’ve seen him perform live and one person does indeed sing both parts!
The “Animal/Beast” Scream: Mastodon 
Before wrapping this up, I’ve got to mention my favourite yellers, Mastodon. Troy and Brent have a very odd style of screaming. The best way to describe their sound is to imagine some kind of animal or prehistoric beast singing to metal music. Their style can be a huge turn-off for some. I’ve spoken to multiple metal fans who just don’t “get it” and can’t stand listening to their music because of the vocals. I on the other hand love it! It’s weird, different and most importantly incredibly unique in the industry. I can’t think of any other band that sings this way. They are simply awesome and their music can always put me in a good mood.
I hope this post gives you insight into a world some of you might have never looked into or bothered paying attention to. The metal industry is no different from any other genre of music. Artists from all over the world work together to create and play music they love and enjoy. The only difference here, is that their yelling into their microphones.
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For amusement: Check out Mastodon recording the vocals for the Blood Mountain record.

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