Dual vocals have been around since nearly the beginning of music. It most cases the differing timbre of the vocalist(s) provide a contrasting delivery of the melody and introducing an additional layer of compositional complexity by coloring the harmonizations and chordal structure, creating additional sonic textures allowed ultimately a shading the meaning of the lyrics themselves.
The approach to multiple vocal styles in the same song is typically cast as the duet in modern music, typically through the result of juxtaposing higher and lower ranged vocalists such as a mezzo-soprano against a tenor, but it doesn’t always have to be the case, as many famous examples include two vocalists in the same vocal range(s) or a combination of artists devoid of typical melodic emphasis at all such as scat duets, dualing rappers, or in the case of metal two dudes screaming in the same general tone. It’s also possible a single vocalist may produce a number of different stylistic deliveries creating the illusion of multiple vocals in a song.
In metal multiple vocalizations in a single song is quite common and often it is delivered primarily through a single vocalist (although not exclusively). I previous explored the vastness of this in the scream, the sing and the bark. Generally, I believe that list does an excellent job at exploring just how diverse aggressive music is and demonstrates how much talent it requires to produce some of those vocal approaches.
Recently, there was a VH1 online article discussing the nature the scream-sing vocal technique in metal. The premise of the article was the style was becoming boring and cliche but it wasn’t always like that – which is something I generally agree with. However, in an attempt to put some history to the technique I strongly believe the author missed the mark by trying to tie the foundation to the success of Pantera. While I do love the 1990 breakthrough Cowboys from Hell and believe a song like Cemetary Gates does a fantastic job at combining singing with a version of screaming the sonic quality of scream-sing was not the foundation of Anselmo’s delivery on that record or subsequently in Pantera’s career. Alternatively, one might say Phil’s focus after CFH became developing the throaty, gritty bark that would become the real trademark of Pantera’s scream along lyrics while the actual doomy clean vocals and blood curdling screams of CG were effectively lost for many of the band’s subsequent peak moments – which are exactly the ones the writer sought to cite as the root of today’s modern vocalizations.
Instead of overcrediting Anselmo and Pantera, it’s likely more effective to explore some of the other artists who contributed a much richer sonic tapestry in the scream-sing delivery and enjoy what they helped provide in a widening direction of metal’s appeal.
This is primarily going to focus on the “metal years” so to speak. It’s hugely important to note this same exercise could easily be done focusing on the “punk” (and hardcore) years (which, easily overlap) or actually focus on the roots of gutteral-meets-melodic that were being explored in the early rock years that laid the metal and punk foundations. For the sake of focus, and expediency, this is a pretty narrow list of what comes to mind without a lot of addition poking around (lord only knows, if I actually sat down with my digital library open how rediculious of a read/listen this could be)…
Savatage “the Dungeons are Calling” tDaC EP 1984 – Jon Oliva is best know as a howling siren but even in the really early days he was capable of effectively combining broad lower alto through mid-tenor melodies with a harsher guttural delivery and still offsetting both of those with blood curdling screams and soft semimelodic whispers. Remarkably even in the latter years when the band was including more post-Queen progressive harmonizations and near Broadwayesque compositional ideas Jon was able to retain much of the diverse character in his voice from his youth in addition to his broad range.
Iron Maiden “Can I Play With Madness” Seventh Son of a Seventh Son 1988 – Much like Jon Oliva, Bruce Dickenson is best known to most as a howling siren he’s done more than his fair share of alternative vocal deliveries. While one might argue the Epic Years found Bruce better communicating the paradox of his gruff delivery it more-or-less had its roots best highlighted on this single. While it comes off as simply a very angry sounding vocal melody in the versus it’s the contrast it provides against the very melodic chorus that’s notable. It becomes a chart topping metal template of bark-sing which is the precursor of the scream-sing verse-chorus structure that’s so overplayed now.
Testament “Practice What You Preach” PWYP 1989 – Chuck Billy’s vocal approach over the years is more levithianesque than most. By the band’s third LP he was fairly guttural overall even if he was still dropping the occasional stretch to his upper range. What’s interesting here isn’t the “gang vocals” for the song title that add depth and a more gritty girth than was typical of thrash at the time it was the occasional death-influenced drop by Chuck himself such as right before the solo around the two minute mark in the title track. Subtle? Sure. But very unusual in the genre at the time and moreso an awakening for the band they would refine further by 94’s Low with a true dual approach (and eventually all-in on the growl for Demonic)
Sam Black Church “Formaldihead” unincorporated 1989 – If you’re not sure what to make of SBC’s frontman Jesse “Jet” Crandall and his caustic vocal style, trust me, you’re not alone. His spastic pre-Pattonesque tirades on the mic are jarring. Caterwauling passages of of-kilter and occasionally out of tune attempts at melody are intercut by spoken passages before his dynamic launch into utter maddening screams. Over the years it would become more defined and refined, if you could image reeling this kind of insanity in, but it all begins here in its rawest and most raucous form.
Faith No More “Surprise, You’re Dead” the Real Thing 1989 – Mike Patton’s version of vocalizations blew onto the scene when his nasally attempt at melody was intercut into white-boy rap on the lauded “Epic” but the rest of the album explored the more complex nature of what he was capable of. The most viscous version of it came on this song when he utterly let lose with screams and barks and belting out guttural groans and was just generally all over the place trying to bring the evil insanity of the lyrics to life. It would set the tone for a lot of what would come later as Mike pushed the bounds of what a vocalist should (and should not) do.
Type O Negative “Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity” Slow, Deep & Hard 1991 – No one does satire, sarcasm and sadism better than Peter Fucking Steele. One might argue for his Carnivor era days harkening at the juxtaposition of his lustful whispers, haunting melodies and gruff anger but nothing encapsulates it better in his career more than this song. Not only that, but it set the entire tone for that dynamic (even as it became more produced) throughout the entire TON legacy.
Anacrusis “Paint a Picture” Manic Impressions 1991 – St. Louis, underground progressive thrahers consistently produced a schizophrenic vocal style that took Jon Oliva’s four approaches to their logical extremes. It’s audible on the 1998 debut but the production buries the effect to the point of it almost feeling like a recording error at times, however, by the time they hit the studio for MI both their studio quality and compositional techniques were primed to demonstrate what the early recordings lacked. Sadly, they struggled with notoriety among the general population even if they were highly influential to musicians in there scene.
Paradise Lost “As I Die” Shadows of God 1992 – The band hints at their ability to transfigure their vocals from whispers to guttural to melodic elements on the records before and Nick Holmes still developing it here but due to better production and more focused composition becomes more obvious. PL would go on to push all three aspects of the approach to almost bitter extremes through the rest of the decade demonstrating what’s here wasn’t by error.
Fear Factory “Martyr” Soul of a New Machine 1992 – While there are glimpses of the compositional range and vocal approach on Concete, it’s really under Colin Richardson’s guidance Burton C. Bell takes the vocal help crafting a psuedo-spoken grit, guttural death bark and some overtly-processed melodic vocals into what would become part of the centerpiece of the band’s proto-industrial pre-djent sound that would eventually dominate much of the latter Roadrunner roster.
the Gathering “King for a Day” Always… 1992 – Best known for their experimental post-gothic female vocals led by the indomitable Anneke van Giersbergen it was the inclusion of Marike Groot on the debut album that set the tone for the band’s, and the genre’s, ability to utilize a multilayered vocal approach and put the female vocals upfront, in this case pairing off counterpoint and in parallel with some seriously doom-death growls.
Cynic “Veil of Maya” Focus 1993 – Former Death members produced one of the more intriguing technical death metal records of all time and combined a variation of death growl with a melodic processing technique using a vocoder (think what happens when you over autotune nowadays). The result was a stunningly complex interpretation of overlaying melody into extreme metal where melody might not normally otherwise exist. Great aside most people don’t realize is the vocode vox is actually interlayered with Sonia Otey’s female alto vocals creating that additional haunting depth.
Amorphis “Black Winter’s Day” Tales from a Thousand Lakes 1994 – One of the originators of melodeath they hit upon the dual vocals by incorporating the melancholy of their native folk with that of death metal’s own pre-shoegazing idea to create a sort of doom laden sonic extremity they’d later push to all of it’s logical extremes using three different subsequent vocalists, refined compositional techniques across a dozen albums, crisscrossing more than a half-dozen labels and distributors and more career tangents while still somehow always defaulting back to a variation of this simple idea.
Machine Head “Old” Burn My Eyes 1994 – Groove laden thrash icons MH were solidly emulating Pantera on their RR debut but the most profound difference between them and scene around them was how committed they were to composing around Robb Flynn’s clean vocals. The haunting moan was offset but a more gruff spoken bark when he wasn’t all out belting screams into the mic and it shows up no where better than the in the chorus to old. They’d refine the approach in later albums to the point of cliche but the rawness here is as fist pumping as it gets.
Overcast “Grifter” Expectational Dilution 1994 – The genre defying Bostonian’s were completely comfortable blending Brian Fair’s interpretation vocalizations early on allowing him to sink into melancholic melodies before erupting into a spastic series of rhythmic barks. The vocal twists went right along with the chaos of the music itself challenging the listener to keep up with the ever changing passages coming at them. Fair would later bring a refined version of his vocal approach to NWOAHM thrasher’s Shadows Fall.
KoRn “Ball Tongue” koRn 1994 – Probably seems counter-intuitive to include KoRn here but the reality is Jon Davis emobides the shape-shifting ability to whisper, clean sing, guttural sing, rap, scat and all-out scream sometimes in the same lyrical phrase. Yeah, KoRn pulled nu-metal kicking and screaming into the masses by taking the most palatable elements of where Faith No More had been and molded them into this urban sledge hammer and no better experience than the deafening version of it here.
Vision of Disorder “Beneath the Green” Still 1995 – Glass cutting hardcore barks, spoken passages and that unique and instantly recognizable melodic whine. It would become a foundation of metalcore later on but in it’s rawest, choppiest incarnation on the debut EP it was a pleasantly intriguing experiencing adding a different interpretation of what the lyrics were supposed to convey – a new and desperate kind of angry.
Dark Tranquility “the Gallery” the Gallery 1995 – Although the majority of the male vocals remain in the death metal vein the addition of Eva-Marie Larsson’s soaring female voice would forever change the direction of both DT and the melodeath genre. It texturally created a motif of good versus evil, angry versus sad, and allowed the dynamics of the songs to take on a new breath. DT would adopt clean vocals not long after as well as continuing to experiment with female guest vocals in an attempt to really fine tune what the possibilities were.
Opeth “Advent” Morningrise 1995 – One of the very few early songs that survived in the band’s set from their earliest creations almost in spite of its grandiose extremity. It takes an epic six minutes to reach the haunting clean vocals that would later become compositional fixtures for the band and literally resent the progressive metal idea. It moves in epic undulations from dense, tectonic plate moving death metal to idyllic folk
the Deftones “7 words” Adrenaline 1995 – Often miscategorized as nu-metal rather than one of the heaviest emo bands to be spawned from the Sacto scene, Chino’s delivery is combative mix of introspective wailing, excorcistic screaming and preaching from a guttural rapture. The debut was caustic in its approach to experimenting with all three and produced some of the more heart palpitating renditions of rock radio singles produced during the mid-90s. Had they not been mis-cast their influence would be more breathtaking albeit mayhaps with fewer records sold.
Boysetsfire “Pure” the Day the Sun Went Out 1997 – Emocore’s founding fathers brought together the multiplicity of Nathan Gray through impassioned melodics offset by brutally tortured screamed offset again by his pulpet crushing preaching. What’s most intriguing isn’t that they band was blending the different vocal styles it was the fluidity they achieved doing it so the vocal execution was truly and extension of the hyperemotional lyrics themselves.
Within Temptation “Restless” Enter 1997 – The whole goth-metal fronted by a woman sound has some pretty meandering roots so it’s pretty tough to pin it to a single band, but Within Temptation’s approach was reminicent to Dark Tranquility’s experiments a half decade earlier with the death vocals for the male counterpointed by arching mezzo soprano female vocals. The difference being WT were doing it successfully as a band before a lot of other bands that staked their careers on the style going into the turn of the Millenia.
By 1997 there were a lot of bands now borrowing from the idea of combining singing and screaming into a single sonic execution in a number of different genres. The diversity of what was happening with the technique often gets overlooked because the focus becomes on how it supposedly ruined this genre or that genre. It didn’t ruin any of them any more than anything else ruined them (and believe me, I could make a list, a very, very long list). All that being said, one final use of the scream-sing dynamic as an honerable mention:
Cave-in “Crossbearer” Beyond Hypthermia 1998 – Technically released as a 7″ a year earlier the techcore stalwarts brought very typical hardcore barking into focus by blending of-kilter attempts at melody such as at the 3:45 mark as well as whispers and alternative versions of screaming earlier. What their approach produced was a unique cross section influencing tech, metalcore and NWOAHM as well as believe it or not prog, emo and more. Such is the life of a genreshifting outfit.