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The Metal Vocal Hit


“The music is cool, but what’s with the screaming?”

If you’ve played death or black metal for non-metal friends, you’ve likely heard this reaction. You may have had it yourself when you first came across a death growl. I know I did.

I remember sitting as an early teenager with Morbid Angel’s Covenant, trying to decipher its appeal. The music was otherworldly and intoxicating, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the vocals. A conversation with an older friend made all the difference: “In a band like that, the vocals aren’t really vocals,” he said. “They’re more like a weird drum.”

This remark shaped my thinking about “extreme” metal vocals for years afterwards. It’s an incomplete summary, but it carries an important kernel of truth: growled or shrieked vocals serve mostly as a rhythmic intensifier. Like a drum, as my friend said.

Some metal vocalists adhere to this analogy quite literally, emphasizing an intense moment with an inarticulate bark, grunt, or screech. I think of this technique as a vocal hit (as opposed to a drum hit), and it’s especially common in death metal. Like most death metal, vocal hits are silly but badass—they’re a pure expression of the power that the music has over its performers.

The most famous example of the vocal hit is Tom G. Warrior’s iconic “OOGH!”, but he’s not the only metal vocalist with a distinctive vocal hit in his repertoire. I’ve compiled some examples below—who am I missing?

— Doug Moore

. . .

Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost, “The Usurper”): “OOGH!”

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. . .

Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, “Suicide Nation”): “OOWWWWW!”

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. . .

Peter Tägtgren (Bloodbath, “Cancer of the Soul”):
“AaaaaaaAAAAAAIIIIIIEEEEOOOOWW!!!”

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. . .

Jeff Walker (Carcass, “No Love Lost”): “LLLAAAAAAHHHhhhh!”

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. . .

Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom, “Hate Me!”): “YOW!”

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. . .

John Tardy (Obituary, “Memories Remain”): “RRREEEEHHHHHHOOO.”

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. . .

Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth, “Wreath”): “UGHHAH!”

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. . .

Zach De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine, “Testify”): “UHH!”

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. . .

Abbath (Immortal, “Sign for the Norse Hordes to Ride”): “EHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh…”

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. . .

Matt Harvey (Exhumed, “The Matter of Splatter”): “BLECH!”

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. . .

Barney Greenway (Napalm Death, “On the Brink of Extinction”): “DJAH!”

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. . .

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