Is It All Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing? A Discussion of Vocals in Metal

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Are vocals necessary in heavy metal music? A recent thread in one of the toilet dwellers’ lairs led me to ponder this question. The thread was specifically asking for reasons why metalheads just can’t dig certain bands; the main complaint was almost unanimously leveled at vocals that detract from the overall quality of the music. However, I think it would be foolish to assert, as some other uninformed bloggers have, that vocals are completely irrelevant in heavy metal. I contend that vocals are extremely relevant for most bands and that the reason they can so easily ruin the music is because they are an integral component of a band’s sonic palette. In this opinion piece, I’m going to lay down three arguments to convince you that anyone who thinks metal vocalists are worthless is an imbecile.

1. Vocals act as the mechanism for delivering a message.

I know what you’re thinking. “W., most metal lyrics are total garbage.” Honestly, I agree with you, at least to a point. However, despite the often pointless violence espoused in metal lyrics, vocalists act as a focal point for emotional energy and enhance the emotional timbre a particular band is trying to convey. Therefore, vocalists are absolutely necessary for conveying a particular message. I’ll illustrate this point with two examples.

First, vocalists add emotional depth to a song even when the lyrics are childish gibberish or horror movie nonsense. Metal musicians are extremely good at creating rich sonic expressions of emotion, ranging from the brooding fear of a particularly icy riff to the unbound ferocity of a d-beat attack. However, good vocals, regardless of what is actually being said, can act as a resonance tool onto which human psyches can latch. We are all familiar with what an anguished scream sounds like; we need not hear any words to understand the language of pain. Extreme metal vocals are particularly good at emanating that emotional connection and touching us at our soul. As an illustration, I’d like to exhibit Into Eternity’s “Diagnosis Terminal.” I don’t actually dislike the lyrics for this song, but Stu Block’s various growls, shrieks, and plaintive cries perfectly capture the mindset of a cancer patient being told he only has a limited time left to live. Even if the lyrics were utter rubbish, I believe the sound of pain is transmitted (it probably helps that the album was conceived during a period of mourning over the deaths of friends lost to cancer). This is audible agony, and it would still be evident if the lyrics were removed, but the meaning would not be clear if the vocals themselves were absent.

Second, particularly good vocalists can use the poetry of words to add another dimension to the depth of a song. When the lyrics, vocal sounds, and music of a song are all in sync, it can be an overwhelming aural attack that strips away your safeguards and leaves you vulnerable. Although many maintstream metal vocalists have the poetic skills of a toddler, there a number of fantastic metal lyricists. J. R. Hayes seems like the obvious choice, but I’d like to present a different example. My evidence for this is Nux Vomica’s song “Choked at the Roots.” Read the lyrics below while jamming this track.

Seeds were planted long ago – mistrust
Our natural instincts choked at the roots
Love, sharing, compassion – we lost
Overgrown by fear, greed and envy

So while we learned to cultivate and sow
We also learned to fight and kill
And the blood began to flow
Unchecked desires for power and control
Became the dominant forces in our world

We know what’s right or wrong
Without having to stop and think
And we know when we’ve done wrong
If we listen to our instincts

Yet we tear apart what’s good
And dissect with prejudice
So many positive things

Distracted by the noise, we spend our time collecting toys
Instinct becomes skewed, atrophied from lack of use
The deadening of instinct creates creatures emotionally weak

We are spinning out of control
We’ve got our life support in a chokehold
Soon the time will come
That we face up to what we’ve done

Disconnected from our normal state
We let the tension turn to hate
Beaten down by all the stress
We can’t afford true happiness
Smart enough to see the truth
But out of touch with primal roots
Taught to see a certain way
And to ignore what we can’t see

Now the time has come
That we face up to what we’ve done
The final war that won’t be won
Will be waged without a gun
Without a gun
Armageddon
It won’t be god
It will be us

Now we see a world society
Dominated by poisoned thinking
The signs are all around us that most people don’t want this
But it’s accepted that’s the way things are

And no one is normal in this environment
And no one is healthy with this mental bombardment
And so we’re destroying ourselves

When the judgement comes
It won’t be god, it will be us
Reflected in a pool of oily blood

A murky, shadowy, fractured image
Of what we know
We could be

Although the paranoia and frustration are more than evident in the vocal delivery, the lyrics themselves draw attention and focus that angst towards those responsible, acting as a locus for the aggression of the music. The message serves the vocals which in turn serve the instruments; the three are interconnected, and the final product would be weaker if one was removed.

2. The vocals act as an anchor for the structure of the song.

Most music critics would agree that extreme metal musicians are typically highly skilled at their trade. However, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the overly technical bands (often on the death metal side) that underutilize their vocalists and end up producing albums that sound like auditory masturbation sessions. I’m not claiming that unconventional song structures are bad; Gojira and a host of other bands are able to write music that goes beyond the verse-chorus-verse template while retaining listener interest. I am saying that having a good vocalist can force the musicians to be more careful with how they craft a song in order to produce the maximal effectiveness. Again, I’ll provide two examples.

My first example is Jeff Loomis. Hear me out; I think he’s a fantastic guitarist, and I don’t dislike his music. However, I find that his pre-solo career is exceedingly more intriguing that his recent outputs. Compare Conquering Dystopia’s “Ashes of Lesser Men” to Nevermore’s “This Godless Endeavor.” There’s something missing, right? Without the focus provided by Warrell Dane’s apocalyptic wails, Loomis’s music is far more bloated and wanky than necessary. Are there good riffs in there? Absolutely, but I can’t help but think that the Conquering Dystopia album would have been much more memorable if the songs had been crafted to serve an actual purpose beyond showing how good the musicians involved are.

Another example of this is Scale the Summit. Again, I don’t dislike the music, and I can’t deny that the guys in the band are technically skilled. However, without a vocalist, all of their songs tend to blend together into a single blur. The relatively simple note progressions get lost in a haze of similarity without something to captivate the listener. This is a problem that plagues a number of the high-profile instrumental bands, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I can’t pick out one unique song on a number of instrumental albums. Much instrumental metal is sadly like a landscape painting without some unique feature to catch the eye; there’s technical proficiency, but no real distinction.

3. Vocals add diversity to a band’s sound.

This point is tied to the second argument, but I believe this topic is critical enough to warrant its own explanation. Vocals, when added to metal, are much like a spice. If you add just the right amount, they can bring out a whole range of flavors from an otherwise bland dish. Guttural growls are sort of like jalapeno juice added to chicken tacos; if the seasoning is good, the original dish can become even more brutal without being overbearing. However, if you haphazardly throw spices at a dish, you could end up with a salty mess. The key here is to use the vocals properly to magnify the strength of the song itself. Below are two last examples that demonstrate the proper use of vocals to add that extra x-factor to a band’s sound.

First, vocals can be used to incorporate a slightly different and unexpected, yet not unwelcome, element into a band’s sound. I’ll use the group Leprous to illustrate this point. Leprous are essentially Ihsahn’s backing band, and as such, the progressive group often veers into extreme and blackened territory. However, the impressive range of their vocalist Einar Solberg allows the band to both plumb the gritty avant-garde depths and to soar to near power-metal range. This group would already be a collection of superbly talented musicians, but the vocal diversity enables them to graft even more options onto their sonic Frankenstein’s monster. Listen to The Valley” and tell me that the vocals aren’t utterly enchanting.

The second way in which vocals can increase the uniqueness of a group is by allowing that band to stand out in a crowded subgenre. Deathgrind is a heavily saturated genre, and many of the bands sound very similar. However, back in 2012 Cattle Decapitation found a way to surpass their peers by allowing Travis Ryan to dabble in some unconventional deathgrind vocal techniques. The end result is the insurmountable Monolith of Inhumanity. Cattle Decapitation were already a great band, but by allowing Travis Ryan to incorporate even the slightest hint of melody into his already expansive range, the group gave themselves the necessary edge to climb to the top of the pile.

In conclusion, vocalists are not only an important, but for many bands, an essential component of heavy metal. Vocalists enable bands to emote far beyond the capabilities of instruments, provide focus to unwieldy song structures, and enhance the overall diversity of a band’s sonic signature. For these reasons, I decry anyone who claims vocalists are unnecessary in metal as a raving lunatic.

TLDR: If someone tells you vocalists are unnecessary in metal, ram your fist down that idiot’s throat and rip out his vocal chords. Then ask him if he thinks vocals are unnecessary.

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  • Shots fired!

    • Edward Meehan

      Ha, I was going to post the exact same thing but in capital letters.

  • I think it really just depends on the band and to some extent the genre. There are some tech death bands that could be better without vocals and there are some instrumental bands that could be better with them. I personally am not a fan of intervals adding vocals on their most recent album.

    • I enjoy the vocals themselves on Intervals’ latest, but it feels like it affected the songwriting a little too much, pinching it into a more traditional structure.

      • Yea that’s what I was getting at. It seems like a lot of the riffs and what not are limited by the presence of the vocals.

        • Exactly. From my experience playing, there are times when you don’t want the riff to be too technical or in a weird tempo if the vocals are going over it, because it muddies things up a bit. I think they should have limited the vocals a bit more, ala Fallujah’s latest.

          • W.

            I think there’s a delicate interplay between the two, but that’s where song-writing skill comes into play. If you just go cruise through youtube, you’ll find hundreds of kids who can crank out some tech death weedlies, but none of them know how to write a song.

        • W.

          I think can go either way for some bands. As I mention in the post, I think some bands need a little structure that the vocals helps provide.

    • Guacamole Jim

      Interesting. I felt that Intervals made the right choice by adding the vocals, but I’m with W. when he says it’s like adding spice. They may have done a little too much and allowed it to dominate their structures, but all in all the step up they took due to the vocals I think outweighs any steps taken back.

      • W.

        Thanks, man. Over-the-top vocals can definitely detract from the experience.

  • Metaphysical Anus

    There are certain music styles that need to be instrumental, like post-rock (a few exceptions here), jazz, ambient etc.

    • Good point.

      • Metaphysical Anus

        I love jazz, but I can’t stand it if there’s a singer.

        • What does it mean to lobe something? Also have you heard the new trioscapes album?

        • Guacamole Jim

          What about Ella Fitzgerald? She’s probably the only jazz singer that I’d ever listen to.

          • Randall Thor

            YES YES YES YES YES http://youtu.be/7YPA8QwtxQE

          • Metaphysical Anus

            Only one that can make me listen to jazz with singing is the mighty Frank Zappa.

          • KJM

            Billie Holiday FTW

        • Bucket ‘o Blood

          Jazz with a singer gets pretty annoying, but blues with a singer is a completely different story. Blues, as a genre, appreciates the flexibility of the voice within the often barebones arrangements.

        • Simon Phoenix

          Can’t go with you on that one. Whenever I hear Sarah Vaughn or Anita O’Day sing it gives me chills.

          Jazz can be great with vocals, but you have to be REALLY skilled with your voice for it to work.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            It’s okay, musical taste is subjective ( I’ll fucking kill you when you’re sleeping. That’ll show you not to disagree with me).

        • Wizard Aura

          Some of the best Sun-Ra shit has vocals…
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk5jg5fo0kc

    • W.

      You raise a great point. The focus, here though, is metal music.

      • Metaphysical Anus

        I know that, I was just stating this. When it comes to metal, I prefer if it has vocals.

        • Do you think Conquering Dystopia would benefit from vocals?

          • W.

            Absolutely. That album bored me.

          • Agree. Was great for a bit but then it’s just meh.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I listened to them. Need vocals.

          • W.

            Loomis is a fantastic musician, but he absolutely needs someone to reign him in and force him to be more thoughtful in his construction.

          • Xan

            As I stated above, I can listen to two or three tracks and then I become bored shitless.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I haven’t listened to them, so I don’t know.

    • Mother Shabubu III

      Unless you’re a jazz band like Naked City. Then again their vocals are more like another instrument.

      One of my favorite krautrock-esque jazz acts right now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bootx5r6jEY

      • Metaphysical Anus

        Everything with krautrock is good.

        • Wizard Aura

          Not U2

          • Metaphysical Anus

            Since when has U2 had anything to do with krautrock?

          • Wizard Aura

            Since they considered using Conny Plank but instead used Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to produce their albums.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            U2 HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BEAUTIFUL BEING THAT IS KRAUTROCK!

          • Wizard Aura

            Whenever my girlfriend is in the car (Haha, like I really have a girlfriend…) I have to listen to not metal, so on goes the radio (Ok, mostly drug rap, but sometimes the radio…) and I get super stoked by this amazing motorik beat I hear with what could be Manuel Gottsching flowing some sick delayed the fuck out guitar over it… and then fucking Bono comes in and I change the station or put on drug rap.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            Don’t mention its name!

        • Virgil the Ghost Poet

          Do you ever list in to Horseback? I really liked their new CD.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I have not yet encountered their albums. If I see one, I will buy it.

          • Virgil the Ghost Poet

            Invisible Mountain is considered more krautrock than his other releases.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I will have to check this stuff out. Thank you Mr. Virgil.

          • Virgil the Ghost Poet

            Your welcome my friend. I hope you enjoy it.

          • Wizard Aura

            Horseback is awesome

      • Wizard Aura

        I was waiting for it to build up into some heavy madness, which didnt happen, but still an awesome track. Never heard those dudes before, definitely checking them out now

      • This is dope.

    • VALID POINT, MA!!!

      • Metaphysical Anus

        I told not to yell at me.

        • i thought a nice yell might be acceptable

          • Metaphysical Anus

            A nice yell is still a yell. Loud noises stress me the fuck out. Don’t yell at me.

    • JWG

      This made me think of The Ocean. Pelagial in particular, given that I’ve got the edition with an instrumental-only disc.

      I’m actually undecided for once whether I like it more with or without vocals.

      • W.

        You know, I think I prefer the one with vocals, but the instrumental version creates an entirely different mood.

      • Metaphysical Anus

        I’m in a same situation.

  • Edward Meehan

    There is a little bit of instrumental metal I have heard and enjoyed, but I almost always prefer music with vocals even if I can’t understand what the vocalist is saying.

    • Pretty much this. Vocals are their own instrument. In that sense, you could look at metal as a purely instrumental genre and the lyrics as just the notes that the vocalist plays.

      • This is how I usually feel as well. The vocals add texture and another layer for the listener to dissect. And we love to dissect our music.

      • Tyree

        You win this time you!

      • Bucket ‘o Blood

        Well, if you look at it that way, all music is instrumental. Vocals have the unique property of bring able to both produce notes and words, which is something that no other instrument can do. Sure, vocorders and talkboxes exist, but they are extensions of the voice. The voice is very similar to a wind instrument, but is so flexible in its range of expression that it sits in a different category.

        • “Vocals have the unique property of bring able to both produce notes and words, which is something that no other instrument can do.” Until now!

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHGe4LsGTlQ

          • The hell is this?

          • An Otamatone! I want it.

          • Why does it scare me?

          • The uncanny valley of silly musical novelties?

          • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

            It fits right in with this thing I have called a Tone Generator. It’s got like 50 tubes in it. It’s an old Accordion amp I think.

          • Woah. That is crazy looking.

          • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

            that’s the best pic I could find of it online.The inside is crazy. It’s all point to point. The other half of the unit is a 30 watt tube power amp with 2×12 jensens. I bought this thing off craigslist a few years ago for like $100 just for the Jensens. I had no idea it was coming with that box of tubes.

          • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

            my local music shop HAD one of these. I dropped it and broke it. Now I have one of these, and it’s still broken. I coulda bought like 10 racks of 30stones with that money.

          • Bucket ‘o Blood

            oh GOD NO
            OMATONES CAN BURN IN THE DEEPEST PIT OF HELL

          • Guacamole Jim

            This is majestic on too many levels to handle #sackchat

          • Holy shit, the amazon reviews for these things are hilarious.

          • kill it with fire!

      • W.

        I’m witcha

    • Tyree

      The vocals act as an instrument in metal most of the time.

      EDIT:Jack beat me too it, shit!

    • W.

      Agreed.

      • Edward Meehan

        I should also note that if I find out music is instrumental I would be far less likely to check it out. What was that instrumental tech death everyone was buzzing about this or last year? Conquering Dystopia? Big deal right? Never even checked it out cause no vocals. I checked out Pelican (who are tight, don’t get me wrong) because my girlfriend.

        • W.

          That’s Loomis’s band, and I mention them in the post. I think Loomis needs a vocalist like he had in Nevermore to rein him in.

          • Edward Meehan

            Ha! Great minds and all that.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I hate his solo albums so fucking much.

          • W.

            Yet I love Nevermore so much.

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I never really cared for them. There have been phases of my life where I’ve not listened to metal for years.

          • crazytaco_12

            Any albums of theirs you recommend? I’ve always been a pretty big Sanctuary fan, and this is a band I keep putting on the backburner to listen to just cause I don’t know where to start.

          • W.

            Yes! This Godless Endeavor, Dead Heart in a Dead World, and Dreaming Neon Black are all great!

          • TAKE IT BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            JEFF LOOMIS INVENTED METAL IN 1493!!!!

            JEFF LOOMIS == METAL == CONQUERING DYSTOPIA

            PERIOD.

            MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER MURMAIDER!!!!

            GL

          • Metaphysical Anus

            Feed me with your anger!

          • YourLogicIsFlushed

            Geoff Loomis

            GL

          • W.

            Whenever you’re ready for round 3, brotha!

          • MoshOff

            Blasphemy!! ZoP is awesome! (Don’t care for the rest though)

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ea8fJx4hio

          • Metaphysical Anus

            I hate it.

          • MoshOff

            Why? (He asked, hesitant)

          • Metaphysical Anus

            It’s none of your fucking business (I’m sorry for being rude).

          • MoshOff

            And you’re an asshole. Tell me I’m wrong.

          • No Walter, your’e not wrong.. you’re just an asshole!

          • Metaphysical Anus

            Now you’ve hurt my feelings. I’m no longer your friend.

          • I must disagree, those tunes are unfuckwithable!

            GL

          • W.

            And this is the beauty of the toilet. However, I am challenging you to a gentleman’s duel.

          • Duel accepted!

            My first shot: Conquering Dystopia: Destroyer of Dreams. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRphx0ZElPc

            GL

          • W.

            My returning fire: Dead Heart in a Dead World

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVP4CqJ7SK4

          • Volley fire number 2!!!

            Jeff Loomis: Sibylline Origin

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0mq_suyNvk

            GL

          • W.

            Ooh, I’m going back to the beginning with this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAvnRuFdEtE

            Also, in case I don’t respond, I have to leave for a meeting in ten minutes.

          • Bert Banana

            Personally, I think Warrell Dane is an atrocious singer. His vocals just rub me the wrong way

          • Edward Meehan

            This article kills, by the way. I’d like to be able to write an article this killer sometime! Lol.

          • W.

            Thanks, dude. I spent a lot of time on this. I like your stuff! Don’t bag on yourself.

          • Edward Meehan

            I did not get a notification for this, I was going back to hear that instrumental track and stumbled on it!

        • This is one band I feel doesn’t need vocals in the least: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3QwAHPNsA8

          • Edward Meehan

            I will check this out after work by the gods.

          • Edward Meehan

            Pushing play on this now finally.

          • Nice. The guitarists are exceptionally talented.

  • Howard Dean

    Vocal melodies are pretty much nonexistent in extreme metal (with a few exceptions). In many styles of metal, particularly the less-melodic strains of death metal, the vocals have a decidedly percussive element to them, and act more as a part of the rhythm (see: gutturals in slam/BDM). When bands can marry their gutturals with their rhythm section (bass and drums), it really works and can be an essential feature of the music. Bands that sort of use vocals as a “mercenary” that just travels all over the place on top of the music seemingly at random do not make good use of vocals. Here, the vocals are usually just part of the cacophony.

    • W.

      I definitely feel that way about the use of clean vocals in a lot of bands. Many of them just feel like they’ve tacked it on.

  • Metaphysical Anus

    Ulver is one band that I couldn’t enjoy as much without the vocals. They ad so much to their music.

  • Tyree

    I like how Impetuous Ritual use vocals as more of a haunting ambiance. The vocals are just bone chilling.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n7dBQ6wfuI

    • Agreed. The vocals really add to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

    • Howard Dean

      Abyssal does this same thing with vocals really well, too. Creepy as fuck.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbWHvsyz2jg

      • Tyree

        Yup, great album.

        • Howard Dean

          I was hoping they were going to release another one this past year on New Year’s Day, as they have the past couple years. I was disappointed they didn’t. But I remember reading an interview where they said they were going to take more time with their next release.

          • Tyree

            Did we ever find out who these guys are? It was a mystery for a while, maybe it still is.

          • Howard Dean

            They did an interview (maybe more than one?), but I don’t believe they revealed their identities.

          • Tyree

            That’s what I thought.

          • Howard Dean

            I’m waiting for the “Anaal Nathrakh and Dragged Into Sunlight and Abyssal are all the same guys!” reveal to happen. Wouldn’t be shocking.

          • I just recently discovered anaal nathrakh the other day. GOD DAMN.

          • Howard Dean

            It’s never too late to discover Anaal Nathrakh. 🙂 Have fun and stay safe.

          • I’m a fan. Didn’t much care for their brand new song, though.

          • Hmm dunno about the stay safe part.

          • i wish i could discover them for the first time all over again.
            better prepare that body.

          • Simon Phoenix

            These guys, Portal, Impetuous Ritual, Mitochondrion, and Antediluvian should just do a mega tour together where the audience just literally melts from the sheer mindfuckery.

          • W.

            Portal are a good example of a band where the vocals act as a tool to set the atmosphere.

          • Tyree

            Most frightening tour ever!

          • Howard Dean

            Byah! Fucking right! I’d throw in Teitanblood and Grave Upheaval, too!

          • Tyree

            Grave Upheaval live would be total death. No survivors!

          • Howard Dean

            BYAH!

          • W.

            Don’t forget AEvangelist. They are terror incarnate.

          • Tyree

            To many scary bands to list. Let just turn this idea into a festival. It will be called Scared Shitless Fest.

          • W.

            Can we invite The Body?

          • Tyree

            Of course. Gnaw Their Tongues too.

    • W.

      Vocals are a great way to add atmosphere.

    • crazytaco_12

      Same here with Portal (though I know I.R. is basically Portal in another band)

      • Howard Dean

        Yeah, and Grave Upheaval is basically Impetuous Ritual but in another band, too. I enjoy comparing/contrasting the three, because though they have similar aesthetics and sound, there are definitely differences. I feel the murkiness is continually distilled and thickened as you travel from Portal -> Impetuous Ritual -> Grave Upheaval. Portal has a lot more “going on” and is “busier” in its sound, and by the time you reach Grave Upheaval, it’s like a swamp. The Grave Upheaval bass and guitar tone is so goddamn thick and heavy and murky–it’s seriously like Sunn O))) playing mid-paced death metal.

  • Cock of Steele

    I find the lyrics in thrash, and old school heavy metal to be most digestible. Usually the lyrics of a band like Isis, to me just sound like a bunch of words they put together for the sake of having lyrics. Say for instance, I’ve been on an Accept and Maiden kick this morning, those are bands I have no trouble singing or shouting along too.

    • W.

      I think Accept is a perfect example.

    • YourLogicIsFlushed

      Isis is an interesting band to bring up regarding vocals. I totally agree in that I am not sure if I know one lyric from any song, yet I listen to them all the time. However, if they were instrumental only I almost certainly wouldn’t enjoy them. The vocals are necessary but not important, in a weird sorta way.

      • W.

        The vocals provide almost a ritualistic link to your consciousness in the case of Isis.

  • Elite Extremophile

    Completely agree with conquering dystopia. When the initial lineup was announced I was crossing my fingers that a decent vocalist would be announced later so we didn’t get the Jeff Loomis solo project with a different backing band

    • W.

      Unfortunately, we did. Loomis needs Dane.

      • Jeff Loomis Rules

        W, did you hear the new Sanctuary track? It’s pretty damn good, more thrashy than Nevermore-y, but solid.

  • Guacamole Jim

    I think that there’s a reason most people feel that instrumental music is background music: vocals actively engage the listener. If we look at movie music, for example, it’s always instrumental… unless the director deliberately wants to draw attention to a song, at which point there’s almost always vocals. Otherwise, it’s supposed to be passively engaging by creating moods to supplement the plot. I always find it interesting that instrumental music is almost always seen as “wanking” because the instruments are desperately trying to make up for the lack of singer. I almost think that because singing is an instrument of the human body, not external, that there’s something that we all connect with on a deeper level than we do with other instruments (except maybe drums; you could give a convincing case for entirely rhythmic music).

    • W.

      I agree with this, and I feel like it links to my first point regarding us all being able to recognize emotion in the sounds a human can emit, regardless of whether we understand the words. There’s a primal resonance there.

      • Guacamole Jim

        It’s the first thing I was thinking of after I’d read the first point you’d made.
        Everything you were saying reminded me of an awesome Edgar Allan Poe quote:
        “Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music, without the idea, is simply music; the idea, without the music, is prose, from its very definitiveness.”

        • W.

          I love Edgar Allen Poe. I find it fascinating that he could write so many beautiful poems and in-depth literary criticisms, but horror is his legacy.

          • Guacamole Jim

            It’s amazing sometimes what people get remembered for–or rather, what gets forgotten about people.

            Also, great article, man. You outdid yourself on this one.

          • W.

            Thank you! I spent a lot of time thinking about it.

          • Xan

            He’s one of the main writers I’ve studies in my English courses so far. I found out that his particular style of writing is such that he doesn’t write a word if it isn’t going to lead the reader to a piece of information or a revelation.

          • W.

            He was brilliant and had a big influence on later writers like Lovecraft.

          • JWG

            I even liked that one article of his describing the perfect room.

            Poe: Interior Decorator.

    • pigchop

      For the most part, I agree. However, your thought – “instrumental music is almost always seen as “wanking” because the
      instruments are desperately trying to make up for the lack of singer” – that I disagree with when we begin talking about specific pieces of music. Look at Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells or a lot of the work from Pink Floyd; from King Crimson and Dream Theater. There is nothing in the way of wanking, or at least I would hope most people do not look upon such as being so.

      Wanking (as I see it) is almost wholly at the feet of seemingly endless shredding (any instrument) for the sake of doing so. It can be tasty…until the whole thing begins to feel like a mad rush for the porcelain throne – not so good.

      • W.

        A lot of Tech Death is guilty of wanking, but I think the bands you mentioned pull off instrumental songs well because of song-writing ability.

  • Randall Thor

    Excellent write up! I think there are three key points to be taken from this:

    1) Music is subjective. I don’t really care for instrumental bands releasing masturbatory albums to show off how good they are. Many people disagree, and that’s ok.

    2) A major downfall I’ve noticed in both instrumental AND fronted bands is when the music no longer behaves as a cohesive piece that complements itself. I’ll use Sonata Arctica and Animals as Leaders as examples.

    Sonata Arctica used to be a fabulous power metal band, but over the years, it became all about Tony Kakko. Listen to their last few albums and you’ll understand what I mean. Now, to be fair, power metal already places a much larger focus on the singer, but SA goes into a bit extreme territory with how vocal-focused the albums are. You can also find this overly singer-focused mentality on far too many female-fronted symphonic albums.

    The same can be said of Animals as Leaders. The band is strangely non-melodic, if you think about it, preferring to consistently employ strange time signatures, scales, and progressions. Based on what I hear, it sounds like the band is all about proving how much music theory they know, and how well they can pull it off. The songs don’t complement themselves, because they’re more of an exhibition than a piece of music.

    3) Musicians should write what they want, and have fun doing it. If Sonata Arctica and Animals as Leaders are having fun, then that’s cool with me.

    • W.

      I think the recent All That Remains scandal is also an example of your second point, as their sound has become simply a vehicle for Labonte’s autotune.

      • Randall Thor

        I thought the entire band was a vehicle for his right wing views?

        • W.

          Probably, haha. I think that was part of what killed off Metalcore in general (in addition to the stale ideas): too much focus on the growled/clean binary formula.

      • How long do you think before the rest of the band leaves his egotistical ass?

        • W.

          He’ll just find hired guns. If Wayne Static could do it, he can.

          • That’s fine as long as he doesn’t drag the rest of the band down. Those guys are talented. You wouldn’t know it from their recent material but they are.

      • Xan

        I really enjoyed the first few records but when I listened to the new one…my God…it was like they wanted to be Avenged Sevenfold but less heavy.

    • Howard Dean

      Agreed. That’s why I’ve never gotten into AAL or bands of that ilk. It’s just uninteresting. It sounds uninspired and completely devoid of emotion (and not in a good way). It’s some guy going nuts on his guitar. If I want that, I’ll listen to Joe Satriani, who actually manages to write interesting pieces of music while flexing his shred muscle.

      • Randall Thor

        Satriani knows how to write like his guitar is the lead singer, and crafts emotional/driving melodies, progressions, and riffs that complement each other

        • W.

          I honestly feel that way about Metallica’s early instrumentals. People loved Orion and Call of Ktulu because they still told a story and conveyed emotion without voice.

          • Randall Thor

            Steamforged (often literally) tells stories in a masterful way through the music, IMO

    • I hate Animals as Leaders for that exact reason. None of their stuff ever sounds like an actual song to me.

      • Randall Thor

        I used to try really hard to like them, but I gave up when I realized no one actually cares about your music tastes, and if they do, then they don’t matter

        • W.

          Haha, if I was only friends with people who like metal, you jerks would be the only people I talk to.

        • Exactly. There comes a point when you don’t give a fuck what others think of your listening habits anymore. And when that point hits, music becomes 200% better.

          • Randall Thor

            Except you’re still a poser for not liking power metal

          • 🙂

          • It’s not so much that I don’t like it actually. I want to like it but every time the vocals hit it just completely kills it for me.

          • W.

            As Randall has said before, power metal vocalists are some of the best in the game.

          • No doubt they are talented. It’s just something about the pitch of the vocals or the way they are delivered.

          • Scrimm

            For the most part I am with you man, very hard to find cleans I like.

          • Randall Thor

            What clean vocals do you like?

          • NO CLEAN VOCALS BURPS ONLY

          • Randall Thor
          • Wait Demilich rules though…

          • Randall Thor

            YOU ASKED FOR BURPS I GAVE YOU BURPS

          • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

            Nespithe was one of the best OSMD albums ever

          • Scrimm

            so good live.

          • Xan

            I’ve attempted to imitate those vocals before and it fucking hurts. I could do it for maybe one song but I would probably cough at some point.

          • #BURPVOXMASTERRACE

          • Hmm. Chevelle I dont mind. While I don’t like bury tomorrow’s music, I actually really like their clean vocalist. Love Taylor Momsen’s Vocals. Corey Taylor has a great voice, not so much on the music. Matt Heafey (Heafy?). The chick from Louna. Ryan Clark’s vocals are good. i can probably list more but those are off the top of my head.

          • Randall Thor
          • Makes me cringe. I hate that I don’t know what it’s called. That reverberating pitch they do. It just irks me.

          • vibrato?

          • W.

            I love vibrato, plus it’s a necessary vocal technique.

          • yes? not sure what it’s called.

          • I believe that’s called “singing.” I could be wrong.

          • Randall Thor

            Yeah, if you don’t like vibrato, I don’t even know what to do except slay you with steel at this point. It’s kind of like how you kill a horse with a broken leg to put it out of its misery.

          • Christian Molenaar

            You do realize vibrato is what keeps good singers from sounding like this moose?
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2xeaGFi2q0

          • There are good singers that don’t do that shit.

          • Christian Molenaar

            Name some, ya nub!

          • I did earlier.

          • Christian Molenaar

            Just saw that, none of those people are even good singers!

          • Well that’s just like your opinion man.

          • Christian Molenaar

            Negative.

          • Scrimm

            DAN SWANO! I also like Ryan Clark.

          • taylor momsen is phenomenal. though @dario_argento:disqus knows her a little better than we do 😉

          • CONAN THE MOTHERFUCKING KING

            ………..she looks as good as she sings, which means she sings really, really good.

          • Love her voice… not a HUGE fan of the size 0 body. i like the curvy girls at heart. but she could sing me into submission anytime…

          • Fuck….

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Goddamnit, can she stop being so attractive? It makes me feel bad about fantasizing about her when I have a girlfriend who is currently in my bed, still asleep.

          • CONAN THE MOTHERFUCKING KING

            best legs in the business.

          • it’s just fun to take jabs at power metal. i only know two power metal bands: blind guardian and dragonforce (shudders).
            i dabbled in BG in college but could only enjoy one album, “Follow the Blind”. i could listen to “Banish from Sanctuary” every day and not tire of it!
            things may have changed since then. i will continue to make fun of you, but i will also give more bands a chance on your posts!

          • Xan

            Not every genre is for everyone. I really love power metal and Blind Guardian are the masters of it for me. I feel the way you do about power metal toward most black metal. No matter how many of these legendary black metal acts I listen to, I can never get into. I hate the thin sound to it. I have found several BM bands that I enjoy such as Agalloch, Deathspell Omega, Ceremonial Castings, Allfather, Ghast, Lord Mantis, The Great Old Ones, Stagnant Waters, Patrons of the Rotting Gate, and Chemical Cascades.

          • Lord Mantis is not black metal. Lord Mantis is sandpaper-against-skin metal.

          • Xan

            Good point. The veritable hydrochloric acid to skin metal.

          • Max

            Are you praising or criticizing?

          • W.

            Knowing McNasty the way I do, that was a praise.

          • Can’t it be both? I enjoy their music, though it really is a death rattle.

          • W.

            Yesss, Chemical Cascades!

          • crazytaco_12

            Completely agree dude. I always try to keep an open mind, open ears policy with everything, but there’s a ton of black metal and death metal to me that just turns into a fat blob of indistinguishable white noise.

          • W.

            I feel bad for the true PM defenders here, so I think I’m going to start posting more power metal too!

          • Et tu dubya?

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Power metal still isn’t as hated as the nu metal I listened to in high school and still love is. You’re lucky your music has a fan base as the nu metal fan base has shriveled up and died. People call me a poser for liking nu metal but it’s my favorite genre so who gives a damn what people think? I sure don’t.

          • Howard Dean

            The nu metal fan base is still around, they’re just mostly busy with their meth labs now or are bath salt zombies.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I am a nu metal fan and I have a job as a public defender and a law degree. It’s kind of offensive to stereotype entire fan bases because the stereotypes are usually false. I also am not a meth addict or a bath salt zombie. I’ve had addiction problems but I have been clean for ten years as of October. I’m proud of the fact that me and my girlfriend kicked our addiction. Had we not kicked our addictions we might have been dead of overdoses before we even entered college or turned 27 as we did this year.

          • pigchop

            27 year old public defender? Scary stuff.

      • crazytaco_12

        Different strokes man, but damn it’s hard to believe all the hate I’m seeing for AAL on here; they’re one of the few bands I’ve literally cried hearing their shit and I dunno, their music just really connects to me on an emotional level.

        • I suppose hate is the wrong word. I just don’t enjoy them. They are super talented but their stuff just bores me.

      • mustangbomb

        That’s interesting, I actually think their stuff is very based in standard song forms. They don’t necessarily stick to verse-chorus-verse etc shit, but their songs have very defined sections and transitions. I’m not as into their self-titled, but I think “Weightless” is a really fully formed emotional album. Obviously, to each their own. I guess what I’m saying is they may seem technical and masturbatory, but under that surface they exhibit a good sense of craftsmanship.

    • crazytaco_12

      Dude, say what you want, but that first AAL album is one of my favorite albums of all time, and not just from a musicians stand point. I’ve turned on numerous people to them who aren’t even musicians and saying they’re non-melodic is almostly downright ignorant (not to be a dick). I dunno man, just saying, I think they have a great sense of knowing when to restrain themselves and let something ride off the groove and then when to go crazy. Just my extremely fanboyed-out 2 cents.

      • W.

        This is a safe place for fanboyishness.

  • Dental_Damnation

    Vocalists bring the hype! No one’s shot gunning beers to STS, AAL, or CD.

    • Randall Thor

      Music major drinking game: drink for the duration that STS/AAL/CD are in 13/8

      • Guacamole Jim

        I may or may not have played an almost identical game in music college……

    • W.

      Howdy, DD. Why do you think vocalists are good at creating hype?

      • Dental_Damnation

        Often asking the crowd to:

        A) put your horns/fist/hands/gf with her titties out on your shoulders

        B) circle pit/rekk the place/wall o’ death

        C) when you scream along to the words you feel like you’re a part of what’s happening on stage.

        All these things and many more get you hyped. At least I do. Instrumentalists can do it too, but when they abruptly interject in a song with a command it always comes across as awkward.

        • W.

          Good point!

        • Xan

          Vocalists at the same time can say really stupid and obnoxious things. An example of this would be the, “Hello Philthydelphia!” line from the Morbid Angel show at Summer Slaughter or vocalists that come up and go, “We’re so fucking glad you could fucking come the fuck out to this mother fucker to-fucking-night! I fucking want all you fucking fuckers to fucking fuck each other in the fucking pit!”

          • Dental_Damnation

            The good ones definitely only make up around 5% of the vocalists out there when it comes to hype unfortunately. Most of the mush heads eat it up anyway, no matter how uncreative or cheesy it is.

          • Xan

            Freddy Mercury (from Queen) is quite possibly my favorite front man. It isn’t metal but he knew how to entertain a crowd.

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          Probably my favorite vocalist that can really hype up a crowd was Wayne Static when I saw Static X at Ozzfest in 2000 and 2007. He really got the people hyped up, moshing and singing along to every song.

          • Howard Dean

            If Wayne Static were trying to hype me up, it would only be because I had been kidnapped and taken to a show against my will. Because fuck Static-X.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I love Static X and have since 1999. I have all their albums and I bought a copy of their demo tape off eBay for quite a bit of money. I’ve seen them at Ozzfest in 2000 and 2007 and I saw them in 2009 on the tour for the Cult of Static album. I’m not mad that you hate them, it’s your opinion, but they provide me with good memories of my past and helped me form a good view of metal. Wisconsin Death Trip was one of the first metal albums I ever bought. At least you’re not insulting Mushroomhead who I love with the fury of 1001 suns.

    • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

      Please pull up a chair and stick around.

    • Bert Banana

      While I agree, no one is going to shotgun beers during a STS show…one thing I enjoy about STS shows is that they normally tour with bands that have great vocalists that work with that band. That tour they did with 3 and Cynic was probably one of my favourite tours. But I don’t approach STS shows like regular metal shows

  • Guacamole Jim

    Who was talking about Dir En Grey yesterday? Kyo is a guy who is pushing some boundaries vocally, even if it’s not always right on the mark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhH-JbU5psQ

  • Guppusmaximus

    Personally, I just think it’s a case that most of the Metal bands that release Instrumental music nowadays just don’t have the skill to arrange a solid instrumental song. It’s apparent that this style is still very new in this genre. So, If you continue to try and use the “Verse – Chorus” approach when writing instrumentally then you are showcasing your ignorance and completely missing the point.

    Melody can be a strong component to music when you have a singer because usually it leads right into the vocals of the song. But, without Harmony, a lot of those songs lack depth and don’t support the existing melody. Classical music is a perfect & successful example of music that thrives without vocals because of the those two major components as well as Countermelody. I would also offer up the album “Thonk” from Bass legend & master Michael Manring as perfect example of Instrumental music with no need of vocals whatsoever…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7QzPfmX6Ms

    • W.

      Thanks! I agree with classical arrangements being strong enough on their own. That’s one of the wonders of beautiful songs played on piano.

  • Simon Phoenix

    Dagon.

    Nuff said.

    • Howard Dean

      The Ribbit ov Satan. Byah! #LuciferFrog

  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    I’m with you 100% on this one. I have seen Scale the Summit live a few times, and it’s exciting for like half a song, then I just can’t wait to get to the headliner. No matter how good the riff, or how technical the skill, there’s just nothing to really attach to and get excited about. I am very tolerant of vocal styles (I even like Periphery, please don’t shoot) because the vocals don’t really matter, but at the same time are totally necessary.

    • W.

      Thanks,mate. And I saw StS and Intronaut sharing a bill. Intronaut blew them out of the water.

      • Bert Banana

        Intronaut blows everyone out of the water. They are easily the best post metal band since ISIS. It was actually that tour that got me hooked in Intronaut…never listened to them before that show

    • i like Periphery. we shall go down in a blaze of glory together.

      • W.

        I’m disappoint, Jimmy.

  • Nine Inch Males

    No one listens to a piano sonata and says “this really needs some vocals over it”.

    Instrumental bands almost always fall short because without a nuanced human voice (and all human voices are nuanced, regardless of vocal talent), there needs to be equally nuanced instruments. Instead you get shredders who play every note like the one before it. Any solo classical musician worth their salt uses constantly varying dynamics, articulation, and timbres, not to mention time itself, to imitate the voice and make the notes come alive.

    I always found the whole Rings of Saturn MIDI debacle hilarious, because whether or not they actually used Guitar Pro or whatever doesn’t matter. Their music, and a thousand other bands’ music, sounded like MIDI, so who gives a shit how they created the laughable end result?

    Plus, good metal vocals are just a fucking great texture in the mix, plain and simple.

    • W.

      So, songwriting >>>>>

      • Nine Inch Males

        Yeah songwriting is obviously the biggest thing, but I’m referring more to musicality- how the notes are played, not what notes they are. Two guitarists can play the same C major scale, but if Guitarist #1 crescendos as the notes ascend and decrescendos as the notes descend, it will sound a hell of a lot better and more human than Guitarist #2.

        Most bands try to incorporate dynamics in songwriting by having heavy sections contrasted with clean sections, but musicality happens note to note, on a much smaller scale.

        • W.

          I really like this description, and I think you’ve pegged my dislike for metalcore/deathcore. Just clumsily slapping in a breakdown does not make a song more dynamic.

    • Virgil the Ghost Poet

      Hahaha Nine Inch Males

    • Howard Dean

      Well said.

  • Mother Shabubu III

    The way I like to look at it, a vocalist takes in the music and emotions in the music and acts as a human conduit, delivering the feeling of the song in a more human language.

    That said, there are some bands out there they are very good at projection their emotions into the music without having to have a vocalist convert it for others. Others, not so much. Some of them come off as band practice without the vocalist there, some of them come off as a bunch of musicians trying to show off. That’s why I don’t like Animals As Leaders. Don’t feel the soul behind it, just technical jargon.

    • W.

      I think there’s a pretty strong consensus in here about AAL. I don’t dislike instrumetal per se, but I find most of it lacking.

      • i’ll go against the current. i LOVE AAL. absolutely transfixing live.

        • W.

          Still love you, Jimmy!

        • crazytaco_12

          fuck yeah son *high fives*

        • mustangbomb

          I’ll join, I think they have a much better grasp on musicality than a lot of people give them credit for. Plus they do have impressively badass music. I’ll have to give their new album a listen though, I’m not sold on the new drummer yet. Navene had some fucking groovy ideas for odd meters.

          • do it. they’re still good. the new drummer doesn’t do it for me. he values intensity over subtlety. but they still carry it live.

          • crazytaco_12

            I fucking love Navene too, but I think Garstka has proven himself to be extremely versatile. Dude, the new album slays (though it’s sort of front loaded)

  • Rob M

    Outside of certain folk bands, I just dont find music without vocals to be particularly engaging. Whether you can understand them or not, vocals add another layer to the music..they either contribute to the melody or, in the case of extreme metal, to the rhythm. Removing them leaves the music sounding like its missing something

    • W.

      I agree with this assessment. I almost posted some of the instrumental Nile tracks. They’re just, I dunno, lacking.

  • Vocals or GTFO and if your vocalist stinks, your band will suffer for it. Converge is the exception not the rule although Bannon has improved a little over the last few albums.

    • W.

      Are there any instrumental bands you dig?

    • mustangbomb

      At first I was just confused about Jake Bannon, but now I think he’s the coolest fucking guy. I don’t know what you mean by “improve,” but I love his vocal aesthetic now. It just took a while to get used to.

      • I view him as another instrument kind of like people thought of John Tardy from Obituary. He pulls it off, I got nothin but love for Converge.

  • George Clarke

    oh hey i do that stuff

    • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

      remarkably.

      • George Clarke

        thanks pal.

    • W.

      I mean, you’re pretty good I guess.

      • George Clarke

        thanks pal.

    • +1,000,000,000

  • Spear

    I’d be willing to argue that Scale the Summit and Conquering Dystopia (especially the former) both stand pretty well on their own, but I definitely get the sentiment of wanting to have vocals to tie it all together. I think part of the problem with Loomis’ solo stuff is that we’re all so used to hearing Dane singing behind it that it just feels like something is missing (though Plains of Oblivion was pretty wanky).

    • W.

      I like his first solo album, but I was bored to tears by Conquering Dystopia. And it’s okay to disagree with me on that 😉

  • CÖÄL RÖLL FRÖM THE TÖILET BÖWL

    RIP Chuck Shuldiner

  • i’m going to offer one more if it’s okay:

    4. a rhythmic element akin to drums or bass. like Meshuggah or Origin. there’s nothing melodic, but it adds a percussion-esque dimension to the music. (this proves how little i know about music vocabulary!)

    • Metaphysical Anus

      I promised to get better pictures. Did I deliver?

      • they are adorable as the day is long!!

      • they’re saying, “Metaphysical Anus, can i has pets?”

      • crazytaco_12

        FUCK YES!!!! I love the short haired one’s fat little chest

        • Metaphysical Anus

          He doesn’t have a fat chest.

          • crazytaco_12

            Oh sorry, I meant “big boned”. Just joshing, I didn’t mean it offensively. Your dogs are insanely cute.

    • W.

      You raise a good point. I actually like Jens Kidman as a vocalist, because although he doesn’t deviate too much from his core sound, he definitely alters the pitch on a song-by-song basis to provide a better drone or a more focal scream.

  • .

    When it comes to extreme metal I think Noturno Culto gave the best extreme metal performence ever on Transilvanian Hunger

  • MoshOff

    Great article, @W. I agree about the Jeff Loomis thing, except I think Zero Order Phase (first solo album) is really good. That album has really well-structured songs with very catchy melodies and solos that don’t feel like scale exercises. I actually like it better than, say, NM’s Dead Heart in a Dead World. For some reason everything after that (Obsidian Conspiracy included) just feels lacking to me, vocals or none.

    • W.

      Thanks, man. And that’s an interesting point.

      Since I know you dig Dream Theater, how do you feel about their instrumental songs?

      • MoshOff

        Meh for the most part, too much wank and no real substance. Especially The Dance of Eternity, fuck that song. I think my favorite is Stream of Consciousnes.

        Until SfaM they didn’t have too many instrumentals, but there’s plenty of instrumental parts in longer songs that I really like though.

        • W.

          This is latter-day DT, but I really like “The Ministry of Lost Souls” and the instrumental part in it.

  • Virgil the Ghost Poet

    Mr. President, I just wanted to tell you that I loved the new Nux Vomica CD. My 3rd favorite of the year behind Godflesh and the Atlas Moth.

    • W.

      It is definitely on my year-end list.

      • Virgil the Ghost Poet

        I will say that their are times when I wish the singer would shut the fuck up and let the boys play.

        • W.

          The song I linked in this post is so epic, though. The instruments really have room to breathe.

          • Virgil the Ghost Poet

            Oh no sorry. I was thinking of some other CDs where the singer kills the momentum or when the voice doesn’t fit the music.

          • W.

            Sadly, that happens a lot.

    • Janitor Jim Duggan

      The Godflesh album came out? When did this happen? It might be on my album of the year list if it’s that good.

      • Virgil the Ghost Poet

        Their EP came out in June and its great, but their full length comes out Oct. 7 or the 14.

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          I shall give their EP a listen at some point today. I took off from work until Monday so before I go out to dinner with my girlfriend I will listen to it.

          • Virgil the Ghost Poet

            Tell me what you think, Buddy, when you do. I bought the Japanese version with the 2 bonus tracks. The Atlas Moth Japanese version has a bonus disc with live recordings. Great CDs.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I will tell you as soon as I do.

  • billywitchdoctor.com

    Conquering Dystopia destroys anything by nevermore (autarch was amazing). Clean vocals ruin the adrenaline pumping aggressiveness that I can only find in metal music. It all comes down to perspective. Some people like cleans, some people like cookie monster vocals, some like instrumentals, and some like all or some of the above.

    Also, keep up the good work mr. president. Your priorities are in good order it would appear. Keep making the world a better place to live!

    • W.

      Thanks, man. And thanks for sharing your opinion. It seems we’re sort of split in here about our feelings for Mr. Loomis. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a fantastic musician.

  • Scrimm

    Holy fuck I need a new computer now I cant post images!

    • W.

      🙁

    • give up Netscape Navigator and switch to Chrome!!!

      • Scrimm

        Had chrome my pc took a dump. Using my backup mac but it has issues as well.

        • did your PC have windows on it? it probably had windows. and that is why it took a dump.

          • Scrimm

            Yeah. I really can’t complain. It was a good pc and i ran it pretty hard.

  • old_man_doom

    Nux Vomica is damn good all around. However, I will have to disagree with you, W, on the Conquering Dystopia example. I really love “Ashes of Lesser Men” because there are no vocals — it’s purely a vehicle for devastating riffs. Hell, if you think about it, the leads on some of the other tunes on the record are so expressive and melodious that they very easily stand in for vocals, in my opinion (listen to Lachrymose).

    That being said, I am stoked as all hell to see what Travis Ryan is going to do on the next CD record. After “Monolith,” Ryan quickly rose to a dominant position on my best vocalists short list.

    • W.

      You’re more than welcome to disagree, my friend. I too am intrigued to see what Travis Ryan does. He set his own bar so high.

  • Xan

    I agree with everything you’ve posted here. I enjoy instrumental music when I am writing or cleaning but otherwise I find that after a couple songs, I’m bored shitless. I love the wide variety of different vocal styles in metal. Power metal highs, the sick dying screams of bands like Autopsy and Obituary, and the high shrieks of black metal bands are but some of my favorites in the genre as a whole.

    • W.

      There really is so much good metal with vocals that it seems stupid to think vocals are unimportant. That was more of my point with this piece, rather than bashing instrumetal.

  • JWG

    I can’t imagine this EP with vocals/lyrics:

    http://northernbc.bandcamp.com/album/northern-ep

    I guess it could be done. But in this case (and mostly just this case) I feel they would just get in the way.

    • W.

      There are definitely some pieces like that, but overall, I prefer vox.

  • Max

    I agree with everything this article says. Most people in the comment section seem to be coming down on the same side – in the sense that they’re saying instrumental metal will always be a “side-project” of heavy metal in general; it will never become an equal tradition in its own right because it just doesn’t feature that “emotional connection” or whatever. If that’s what everybody’s driving at, I agree.

    But I think it’s all just part of a larger point that could be made: Metal remains a form of rock’n’roll. The drums-bass-guitar-vocals format of rock is a remarkably resilient one that has outlived all technological advancement. In 2014, why would you start a band when you can just program whatever sounds you want? Because there’s just something in the rock format that gives it a wide scope of delivery, allowing the musically-untrained (or the very trained, for that matter), to evoke ANY feeling they like – something other types of music either can’t do (like dubstep, let’s say) or can but with considerable logistical hassle (like a symphony orchestra).

    The catch is that with such an instrumentally-limited format, you really need to utilize it; and this is where unfronted bands are losing 20-25% of their creative versatility straight off. That also explains why I’ve never been able to take the minority of rock bands without bass-players seriously, even when everybody knows it’s a background instrument in rock. Rock bands without drummers or guitarists are even rarer.

    As for death metal – well, the first thing that distinguishes it as a genre is the vocal style; so nobody can really argue that vocals are irrelevant to death metal. Widespread acceptance of that means we’ve come a long way from the criticism I used to hear ALL THE FREAKING TIME: “The music is probably good but I just can’t get into the cookie-monster stuff, man. It really takes away from the music.”

    But I do think vocals are the most under-utilized and unexplored element of death metal. Take a look at a record like Colored Sands, which obviously had great instrumental prowess and a lot of tonal and textural thought put into the guitars, bass and drums. Yet the vocals are fairly monotone and monotimbral in delivery, without much production effect to buttress them. It doesn’t subtract from the record, as vocals they’re fine and obviously it’s still a fantastic album – but hearing the rest of it really does make me wonder why as much thought wouldn’t be put into vocal technique, delivery, overdubbing and compositional impact as was obviously put into the other instruments

    • W.

      Thanks for this very well-thought-out response. Although I touched on vocal versatility some, I think you raise a really interesting point about how very well-regarded bands like Gorguts don’t put in more effort into vocals. Sadly, it’s hard to say if bands will move in a more vocally dynamic direction in the future. Part of me thinks no.

      • Max

        Part of me thinks there’s a real niche for a extreme metal band game enough to try. That was what made Atilla’s performance on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas 20 years ago more revolutionary than anybody realized at the time. But there’s way, way more scope; and that doesn’t mean having to branch into singing.

        Put it this way: Most death metal songs you’ve heard, you can easily imagine they started with a riff tape, selected three riffs for verse, chorus and bridge, consolidated the rhythm guitar composition and then built the rest of the arrangement from there. Vocals, you’re betting, came last.

        Now imagine a death metal song where the “vocal tape” came first instead of the “riff tape”.

        • W.

          That would be interesting. Honestly, the only bands in death (or grind) I can really think of that are pushing the envelope are Cattle Decapitation (as I mentioned in the post) and Napalm Death. Surprisingly, Napalm Death had some nice vocal variety on Utilitarian, even including some Gregorian-esque chanting.

          However, I’m sure Christian could come up with more examples.

          • Howard Dean

            In black/death metal, Deathspell Omega have been pushing the envelope with vocals for a few albums now–and not just with the Gregorian chants and creepy back-masked choruses.

            Take for instance Paracletus. Mikko Aspa’s usual deep, throaty growl/screech is still on display, but there is some spoken word and faint singing done in several languages, there are maniacal and unhinged screams and frenetic yells, there is a little of everything. That was an all-around terrific extreme metal vocal performance. Here’s an example (Abscission is one of my favorite songs):

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM9PUegDRz8

          • W.

            Thanks, HD. I figured there were more examples. Those were the two I could think of at the moment. I’m glad you’re part of the community here.

        • Howard Dean

          The band Satan’s Host (which was originally a USPM band, became a black/death metal band, and then reunited with their original vocalist, Harry Conklin from Jag Panzer, to become a type of black/death/power metal hybrid) is doing some interesting things with combining irregular (for extreme metal) vocals with black/death-styled metal.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYLh4EXbs_o

          • Max

            Yes, I’ve heard bands that combine traditional HM singing and blast beats before. But what I had in mind was a something a little more avant-garde.

            You know how guitarists sometimes write a song or riff based around a particular playing technique (like palm muting) or an effect (like tap delay or copious multi-tracking)? Well, imagine if vocalists started writing their parts first, and using an effects rack to sculpt the composition in the same way guitarists do.

            Or what if MIDI-equipped guitars were used to play vocal samples? That’s been done before, but there’s way more to be explored.

            The human voice is just as versatile an instrument as the guitar, piano or drumkit. It should be exploited that way. But I expect many extreme metal vocalists shy away from anything too ambitious because of the cultural expectation that you should be able to pull off live what you did on record.

  • crazytaco_12

    I think there is room for both in metal in general, to put it simply. When music’s good, it’s good, and that’s what matters to me. I can’t imagine “De Mysteriis” without Attila, I can’t imagine “Mr. Bungle” without Mike Patton, I can’t imagine “World Coming Down” without Pete Steele, etc. But there’s also plenty of instrumental shit that I could never imagine with vocals either.

    • W.

      Thanks for your comment! I too think there is room in metal for both. I was mostly aiming this piece at people who have claimed vocals are irrelevant in metal.

    • Janitor Jim Duggan

      I agree. I couldn’t imagine Static X without Wayne Static, can’t imagine Mushroomhead without their three vocalists, or Megadeth without Mustaine. Korn wouldn’t be Korn without Jon Davis but that doesn’t really matter to me.

  • pigchop

    For the most part, the grr argh i’m-a-scary-monster vocal style is almost always shit and ruins many a good song.

  • pigchop

    He may be a big ass shadow of his former self, but OZZY was always a great front man – knew how to whip a crowd up in all the right ways. And hey – there was a time when his voice just sounded fucking cool!

    • W.

      Agreed.