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On singing in metal songs

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I have a passionate, undying love for all things metal. Fist in the air, I throw the horns for the power of metal. It is catharsis on a primal level unmatched by anything else I do to blow off steam. I rock the fuck out and I don’t care who dislikes it. I am a relatively unpicky consumer of metal records. If it has a strong groove and some double bass, I’m into it. I try not to discriminate.

That said, there is one trend in metal over the last few years that I cannot tolerate. Have you guessed it yet? That’s right. I loathe singing in metal songs. But that is not wholly true. What I hate is bad singing in metal songs.

Let’s enjoy an object lesson, shall we?

This video is for the track “A Certain Death” from the most recent Misery Signals record. I first encountered a few months ago it while enjoying my weekly DVRed episode of Headbanger’s Ball. At first I thought it was a pretty awesome song. I’ve seen Misery Signals live before, and, while I can’t say they were mind-blowing, I thought they were all right. Not exactly my favorite band, but totally acceptable in a neither-offensive-nor-inspiring kind of way. Along comes this video while I am fast forwarding through the fluff that populates a typical Headbanger’s Ball set. I always stop and watch new videos I’ve never seen. It is a good way of hearing bands I might not encounter otherwise. Usually I watch for 30 seconds and then continue fast forwarding. In this case, I kept watching. Trite playground poetry aside, the opening of this song rocks. The dude’s growl is solid, there are some good rhythmic attacks, and the face is spitting blood all over the glass. Pretty cool. I’m also willing to forgive the first sin at 55 seconds in—the heavily EQed whisper/singing crap. The chorus that starts at 1 minute 20 seconds is rad. They manage to work in some harmonizing on the growls, always a HUGE plus. There follows a killer breakdown. So far so good.

And then at 1 minute, 56 second, the whole fucking thing goes to complete and utter shit. WHY THE FUCK DID YOU START SINGING? He ruins the whole song by not being able not to sing at some point. Why? What does it accomplish besides making the song blow? Nothing. It wouldn’t be bad if his singing wasn’t so generic and shitty that it sounds like every other asshole a metal band who thinks they can sing. Nonsense.

As another example, let’s look at Fear Factory. I love Fear Factory, especially Demanufacture and Obsolete. Those are amazing albums that really pushed the limits of what metal was and could be at the time. However, Burton C. Bell is a shitty singer who has a fucking awesome growl. Here are two examples of what I’m talking about.

The first, “Replica” from Demanufacture. An aside, how great and 1990s is this video? Pretty great.

Next is “Resurrection” from Obsolete.

See what I’m saying? The parts where he is doing the metal thing are awesome. The parts where he’s singing? Not so much.

Now, I don’t want to come off as some anti-singing bigot who is convinced that musicality will be the death of heavy metal. That is completely false; rather, I am in favor of singing in metal when it is good. I’m not asking for operatic quality belting, but being able to carry a tune and stay in key is a prerequisite, not a bonus. Is it wrong of me to be offended when a band goes through the process of writing and recording an album and no one through the entire process has the balls to tell the singer that he can’t hold a note? I think not. It shows a severe lack in judgment and taste which is just not permissible, even on a heavy metal album. Don’t even get me started on the shit storm that is the career of Avenged Sevenfold. Their first album blows. Through some miracle of modern audio production techniques they managed to churn out a respectable second album where they made it seem like their lead singer can stay in key. But everything after that is pure garbage.

Within all this ranting, a question is begged. Can singing and metal be done well together? You bet your sweet (or not sweet) ass it can. Here are a few examples of what I consider to be the pinnacles of sing/scream integration.

Acid Bath’s “Finger Paintings of the Insane” from When The Kite String Pops.

Protest The Hero’s “Bloodmeat” from Fortress.

Great, right? Great singing, great metal-guy growling, great integration of the two. Stylish. Plain old good. God damn, Acid Bath is so awesome. And to prove the other half of my point—that the songs with bad singing would be better without singing all together—here are a few examples of songs with no singing at all that totally slaughter.

Hate Eternal’s “Bringer of Storms” from Fury and Flames.

Despised Icon’s “The Sun Will Never Charm Us” from The Healing Process.

The Red Chord’s “Dread Prevailed” from Prey for Eyes

Aborted’s “Dead Wreckoning” from Archaic Abattoir.

Pig Destroyer’s “Loathsome” from Phantom Limb.

Slayer’s “War Ensemble” from Seasons in the Abyss

I could just go on and on and on. And, save the Slayer track, all of those songs are from within the last few years. Modern musicians in metal who feel no need to dilute their music with horrible singing. Refreshing.

Now, it could be argued that the singing isn’t bad. That they want to sing like that because it’s the style. That bad is good, didn’t you get the memo? Well, the person making that logically unsound argument tantamount to the shit they are defending would be totally fucking wrong on all counts. And that’s not just because this is my opinion on my site, but all the empirical evidence is against them. Bad singing is, by its very nature, bad. No amount of teenaged-angst filled idol worship will change that. You can’t inject bad singing into a song and call yourself “sensitive”. That is total bullshit pandering to the lowest common denominator. If you cannot sing, DON’T. Is that so hard?

Next time I will post some of my very favorite classic death metal videos. Awesome. I love death metal.

One Comment

  1. Austin Austin November 16, 2008

    I need more death metal! I think you meant to write about Misery Index, that’s ok I will forgive you this time.

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