Growling, screaming, oiking (my personal least favorite), grunting, barking and otherwise guttural sounds are vocal effects to help paint a sonic picture not so much different from the use of falsetto, vibrato, annunciation changes and so on that are typically associated with more fine art vocal performances. Every genre has utilized some kind of guttural singing that I’ve ever come across in my studies including opera, jazz, folk, blues, rock and hip-hop, just the variety and extremity changes – its even taught as part of vocal pedagogy in some schools. For metal, as the genre became more aggressive in nature from its hard rock roots the use of extreme vocal effects seemed to go right along with it as a way to accentuate the lyrical content and compliment the increasing use of distortion, etc. as part of the sonic image being painted. As opera and jazz singers are so happy to point out, the vocals are another instrument, another texture, another vehicle (lyrics aside) for creating the aural imagery, and should be treated as part of the overall sonic experience, not just as a simple vehicle for lyrics (hence why you have some of the techniques, like scat in jazz, for instance) Pinning down the first usage in rock might go beyond my knowledge of the genre but I would guess it probably was an offshoot of the more blood curdling screams that started to push out of the genre in the late 70s mixed with hardcore punk’s less melodic overall vocal delivery since thrash and death drew so heavily on both influences and those are the first places I remember really hearing it. A well done growl or scream is as much an artform and a technical vocal feat as any other vocal approach, it’s just not as ear pleasing to pop culture, hence it’s limited use, outside of select settings. I should point out, that I didn’t bring into the discussion throaty vocals that are the natural tambre of the artists voice or the end result of vocal chord abuse (say, like from smoking too much or over straining to sing). I would venture a guess, they too played a part in some of the development of the style as someone who naturally did it influenced someone who didn’t and that person made a new sound, etc. Again, defining the actual lineage of it is probably beyond the scope of my knowledge, but in thinking through my previous post more I can definitely come up with a few examples particularly moving between blue and rock’s influences on one another and how someone like Lemmy who has a naturally glass-throated voice that seemed to be emulated by someone like Hetfield with the grit he carries in his voice could have been part of how more of the growling and screaming was passed from band to band over time and eventually morphed into some of how it’s used now. I still stand by the effect is part of the sonic image being portrayed no different than why certain tunings, key signatures, orchestrations, and recording effects are used… it is what makes the mood of the genre
Finally, one last thought, is that deep down there’s also a bit of snobbishness going on. Extreme vocals, like blast beats and heavy distortion is a badge of honor for the genre. It keeps the frauds out, so to speak. A lot of subgenres use techniques to distinguish themselves that are not always inherently understood or accepted by the masses which is part of the appeal to those who identify with it. I’d venture using spoken vocals that focus more on rhythm than melody (like in rap) initially held a similar in-crowd-out-crowd effect. I remember the arguments in my youth about how it was a no-talent way of delivering lyrics and people chastising the early purveyors of the genre. The appeal in-lied that if you got it you were part of a special crowd (maybe not so much anymore). I think there’s something to certain forms of metal and punk that are very similar in that manner, even if in none of the cases it is any overly conscious idea.
“Corridor of Camelions” Meshuggah from chaosphere – As Meshuggah matured, for example, they went the opposite of say Mastodon. The vocals became more caustic and devoid of melodic inflection, machine-like in nature as terse and poignant as the rest of the music was becoming . They represented another rhythmic texture on top of the time manipulation going on with the rest of the instrumentation. Like with Opeth, I think Meshuggah’s use is pretty artistic.
“Mathmetics” Candiaria from Process of Self.Development – Another example of a very artsy vocal approach that employs a distinct non-clean vocal usage is in Candiria, where both the caustic bark and the rap vocals both are used specifically to drive the rhythmic complexity of the songs.
“My Hope, the Destroyer” My Dying Bride from – Another good example of using vocalizations as a part of mood creation is to consider a band like My Dying Bride where there’s ample usage of vocals in texture even in the early days of all growling and the middle years of all clean singing (complete with a tinged flatness in pitch to emphasize the melancholy) though a more diverse example can be seen
“Imprisoned” Anacrusis from – Anacrusis were among the earlier I can think of that managed to use clean-scream-growl thing all together which has become a bit cliche these days, but I think they always had a good control of it to project the different elements of the song (if you can get past the shitty production on most of their stuff)
“So Hatred” Soilent Green from Sewn Mouth Secrets – Soilent Green really push the use of it pretty far, different registers, different techniques and styles and are one of the most diverse American bands sonicaly driving the vocals
“Lucid Interval” Cephalic Carnage from – a lot of bands use their approach, I’m just more partial to their writing so I chose them because even though the vocals could fall second to the musicians abilities it still drives the songs
“Take This Life” In Flames – Although they helped establish the Swedish Melodic Death sound with At the Gates & Dark Tranquility at the time they tried to push the bound where the harsh vocal could go – IF, in my opinion shat the bed at times (because Anders can’t sing to begin with) trying to find the right balance to cross-over to the mainstream from melodic death metal but they tried at least
“As We Speak” Soilwork from Natural Born chaos – Soilwork leaned on the predictable versus-chorus structure seemed to pull it off more convincingly for me over the years and since this album it’s only become more pronoucedly progressive
“Morphogenesis” Scar Symmetry from Holographic Universe – Probably one of the most poignant versions of the progressive approaches in the style yet it works so fluidly in the song, keeping it extreme and catchy at the same time
“Undo Control” Dark Tranquility from – the different versions of the growl, scream and disharmonious drone pair well against both the male and female clean vocals to make a mood for a song that warbles between sonic ideas
“Deliverance” Opeth from Deliverance are the quintessential growl-to-clean and this record produces one of the most distinct interpretations of it encapsulated in this epic interpretation
“Low” Testament from Low – I’m always still taken back to say Testament circa 94 as they kind of went the opposite of their core-four peers, and introduced the growling to appeal to a different audience
“Self-Biased Resistor” Fear Factory from demanufacture – The use of the machinelike sound was tempered, for lack of a better word, by the processed clean vocals that made the apocalyptic sound that much more haunting in the duality of sound
“Engine” Haste from – the unique dual vocal approach of Haste (sing & scream) by two vocalists (high & low voices) thus resulting in some interesting contrasts and layering, call & responses, etc. going on – they are one of the better examples of having two frontmen I can think of
“Apathy is a Cold Body ” Poison the Well from – uses the abrasive vocal technique really well to move with the dynamics of the song, it really reflects the “pain, anguish and frustration” the way it’s used in context
“Release the Dogs” Boysetsfire from – it’s powerful the way the song moves between bark, growl, screams and clean parts in ways that really set the tone for how the song moves, particularly the use of the growled “dogs” part, there’s no way other than that to express the undulation of political anger
“Repulsive In Its Splendid Beauty” Crowbar – kind of just hits in the gut like a bayou storm, slow, draining, almost drony and definitely not cookie monster but definitely not ‘melodic’
“Under the Surface” Neurosis from times of Grace – develops the harsh vocals isn’t really a growl or scream it’s just this strained kind of “singing” that seems like it’s the only kind of sound that would make sense for verbage over that music
“When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” the Dillinger Escape Plan feat. Mike Patton from – DEP already pushed vocals but Mike made them go into a whole new direction as they recruited a new vocalist and brought his Mr. Bungle idealism to the fold in this opus of visceral vocal vitality
“Hall of the Mountain King” – Savatage from Hall of the mountain King – Jon isn’t exactly displaying his prowess as he groans his way through even the clean vocal parts that set the tone for all later power-prog bands to dip into that not-so-sung range of their voice, it’s a perfect evil sound
“Veil of Maya” Cynic from Focus – nu-skul fans are going to crucify me for pointing out the vocal process on this is used on EVERY pop song now, but what makes this song notable beyond that the growl is set so well into the flow of the song