Required disclaimer…not ALL growling vocals are bad, just look at Amon Amarth, or Lamb Of God (not a big fan, but they have my respect). That’s not the point of the article. The main point is HOW did it become so dominant, and who caused it?
So I decided to start a website dedicated to finding unknown metal by mature metalheads. It’s been enlightening to say the least. Heavy Metal has been my musical passion for 25 years, but I have had sabbaticals away from it because of the freaking disappointing stuff that was coming out during a given period. A quick history, I played metal music from 86 until 2000 or so. My last band recorded a pretty good 5 song EP that someday I’ll share with all you mofos, and I WILL be releasing my own material sometime in the not too distant future. I state that not to show what a bad ass I was back in the day, or what a great metal songwriter I am, but to let you know that I know my shit. So read on if you’re interested in my “diagnosis” about what I consider to be one of the big problems in metal.
The big problem?: Coooooooooooookieeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!
Yeah, that’s right. You read that right. Cookie’s are primarily what’s wrong with metal nowadays. To be precise, metal vocalists that sound like the Cookie Monster gargling with broken glass…COOOOOOOOOOOOOOKIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!!!
Add to that some of the screamo metalcore shit we have to listen to and we have ourselves a real problem. :/
Now, I’m not going to go deep into the history of Black Metal and Death Metal, two of the early forces establishing the metal growl that dominates so much of metal today. That’s another story for another day. What I want to dissect is WHY did it become so dominant? By any objective standard, at least from a musical perspective, the cookie growl and the screamo is simply not even comparable to the type of vocals that established metal. Ozzy, Dio, Halford, Gillan, Dickinson. Hell, it’s not even up to par with Thrash Metal vocals, which were much rougher than those I just listed, but they were still intelligible and definitely had melody (of course there were some great operatic vocalists in Thrash too like Joey Belladonna and Eric AK). But regardless of that, it has almost come to define modern metal as we know it. It became an escape hatch for vocalists that couldn’t cut it singing in a clear melodic manner, and with so many talentless hacks finding their way into metal, the damage was sure to come. The damage to metal I mean.
I’m sure many will consider what I’m about to layout as controversial, hell, I feel almost like a dick pointing it out, but if we’re going to be honest about diagnosing cookie and screamo bands it must be said. I don’t think it can be refuted in my opinion. And to think, the guy I’m about to lay the blame (or praise if you love growls and screamo) on was at one point one of the best metal vocalists I have ever heard. A formerly homo glam band got themselves a new front man, supposedly to go for a much heavier style, despite still looking and sounding gayish when they first got him. But this band became legendary, not just for the great music they would eventually write (after doing a negative sellout, going from glam crap to hard fucking metal), but for keeping the metal torch alive during the dark metal days of the 90’s.
I speak of Pantera of course, and their once great singer Phil Anselmo.
Now an aside, I clearly remember in the 80’s looking at a Pantera album cover, and listening to glam Pantera at a friends house who collected all kinds indy records of the heavier styles of metal, Thrash being his music of choice. It was during one of our bong filled, drunken episodes that he pulled out Pantera. One look at the cover of these effeminate looking dudes calling themselves “metal” almost made me puke. I couldn’t believe he had that in his metal collection. But he did, and I listened, and to my young ears…IT SUCKED! Lo and behold, a few years later I see a release by a band that all of a sudden begins to get a lot of play in the heavy metal community. That album was Cowboys From Hell. I told everyone what I knew, and nobody believed me of course. Back then finding obscure records by a band from Texas was not an easy thing. Nonetheless, I still told the story about this new “standard” for heavy metal being a former glam band. Okay, back on point.
That first release of the “real” Pantera blew me away! Cowboys From Hell was, and is an incredible album. A legendary one. Whatever man pills they took between the time I’d first listened to them and Cowboys came out, well, they worked. BIG time. I absolutely LOVE that album. It had everything! It had heavy ass riffs, screaming leads by a guitar player for the ages, drums that were precise and mean, bass that held the bottom like a ships anchor, and an incredible front man with a voice as good as almost any I had ever heard in any metal band. This band had something more than just talent, they had “it.” They had the quality that most people don’t even take into consideration about them at this point in their history – Charisma! Tons of it! I fell in love with them, and listened to their stuff constantly. It became part of my mandatory rotation.
Then comes Vulgar Display Of Power, and it was even BETTER! The sheer force they exhibited at this time was something to behold. It was a beautiful tsunami of sonic power. But it was after this album that the shift began. Phil, and the rest of the band took a turn away from the hard yet charismatic music they were writing, and began to do the “I’m going to get harder for the sake of getting harder because we’re not sellouts like the other so called metal bands are” routine. Now, I believe their sincerity, but it was still that same dance. As they continued to move forward with proving to themselves and the world that they had the hardest metal balls, they also began to degrade musically. In particular Phil’s vocals, which became progressively more cookie and screamo. And guess what happened? Every fucking prepubescent punk with a microphone began to emulate the motherfucker! They took a dump on heavy metal and said, “Doesn’t this smell delicious?” Uhhh, yeah…mm hmmmm.
And so began the move towards screamo core, and towards cookie domination.
Listen, I have nothing but love and respect for Pantera, and for Phil Anselmo. But without a doubt a massive number of metal vocalists began to emulate Phil, and of course this created a clone army of bands that sounded wayyyyy too much like Pantera’s last three albums (in particular the last two), and less like their first two albums (of the “real” Pantera). Why? Because the first two contained actual singing, the last three not so much. This had a profound effect on me because it was after 2000 that I went on a metal sabbatical after leaving my last metal band. I didn’t stop loving metal, I still listened to it, but no new metal excited me so I stopped looking. I wasn’t willing to settle. The sabbatical lasted almost ten years. Think about that, ten years without buying any metal from new bands. In about 2010 I started looking again, seeing if anything new was out there. I started backtracking metal releases that I missed, and I was SHOCKED to hear so much stuff that sounded like Pantera, especially that screamo cookie thing he did. Metal had completely lost its originality. It became a cookie cutter factory of non-creative sound. Thanks to fucking Phil Anselmo. I’m not blaming him in the sense he created the movement willfully, I blame him for starting it unwittingly.
But slowly, its begun to turn around.
And that’s where we are now, in between two worlds. One of clarity, and one of broken glass. And its indicative in so much of the metal you hear today, where singers go between Phil’s screamo cookie growl, and clear vocals. And frankly, it sounds odd. Something’s got to give. My guess is that that pendulum has begun to swing back. Why? The internet has taken much of the power out of the hands of the big labels and put it into ours. And we have begun to swing the pendulum back. Join me mature metalheads, in turning the tide back, and refounding all the things that made, and still make, heavy metal the greatest form of music ever created on God’s green Earth. \m/