The Superiority of Clean Vocals

clean metal power vocals

If you are in a metal band, chances are your vocalist has one of two styles – “clean” singing such as Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, or screaming/death growl vocals like George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher.

The trend today is that many younger bands go with the screaming/screamo/brutal/harsh vocal style over clean singing.

What the hell is the reason?  I’m not quite sure, but in my opinion it’s a damn shame because it’s giving metal a shitty name.  It happens to be the direction of the genre and it’s going to set metal bands back in a lot of ways.

I’d like to immediately state that in reality I really could care less how you choose to create your art.  If you write something that makes you happy and resonates with only one other person, good for you.  I’m not here to tell people what to do.

That being said, there is no question that clean singing is superior to brutal death-style vocals.  Here are 10 reasons why:

It adds a dynamic and powerful element to live music that is pleasing to the ear.

A power vocalist that can hit the correct pitch, move through octaves, and harmonize with other vocalists will sound far better live than someone simply screaming guttural nonsense that adds little more than a “brutal” feel.

You might as well not write lyrics because they are completely indecipherable, especially live.

You might pen the most inspiring lyrics of anyone around…too bad no one will hear a damn thing you’re saying.  There’s literally no point.  You might hear it on the record, but that’s only half the experience.  Arguably, banging out live music is far more thrilling, and you’re crippling your appeal.

Speaking of appeal – people will immediately walk out of a venue due to screaming or guttural death growl vocals.  

Maybe you don’t care, but many people flat out hate it, including myself and I’m a metalhead through and through.  You’re not doing it right if half the crowd leaves 10 seconds into your set.  Have fun playing basement shows at 2 am every time you want to play.

Women generally despise it.

Again, perhaps you don’t give a shit, but if you’re going “brutal” for the sake of trying to be “metal” or because everyone else is doing it, you’ll be forgotten by the ladies very quickly.

There are few things better than watching the female body sway to the power of music. Clean vocalists are superior in this regard.

You sound like every other death growl band.

Live death growl vocals are nearly indistinguishable from each other.  Clean, high range and dynamic singers leave their mark. Screamers will be forgotten.

“Metal” causes many people to immediately think of death growls.

You’re ruining it for many bands that have real vocal talent.  I don’t know how many times I told friends or promoters that I play metal, only to watch them roll their eyes in disgust.  It’s because of death vocals that this happens.

You’ll never get a crowd response like this, because you will never be legendary.

Death screams don’t go well with the blues influence of classic metal and rock.

Many of today’s metal musicians and singers have completely lost the blues influence.  If you do it right, your live performance will be miles ahead of the competition.

Bluesy solos mixed with speed solos mixed with well-timed vocal leads crossed with great riffing will destroy guttural nonsense and the non-bluesy feel of many hardcore metal bands.

Many bands just assume that brutal vocals come with the metal territory and disregard singing as an integral part of the live sound.

In reality I think it’s because most people can’t sing well at all.  It’s difficult to find someone who can pull off power vocals in a live setting.  It’s also very challenging to play and sing at the same time, so a lot of guitar players sacrifice their singing ability to kill it on guitar.  That’s fine, but you could be killing it on guitar while your buddy is bringing the house down with vocals in a higher class of talent.

Death growl bands have inspired a new label – “true metal.”

Many of us use this to distinguish the utter shit from the real deal.

Just listen to Midnight of the band Crimson Glory, or Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche.  They completely out class the competition especially those in the metal genre.

Hell, I’ll even take “lighter” stuff like Mötley Crüe, Cinderella, Skid Row and Scorpions because they have very unique and immediately distinguishable vocalists.  Who gives a shit what they wore, it was a product of their time.  The music fucking rocks.

Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, etc. are the true soul of “metal.” You’ll never achieve their legendary status if you go with death growls.  FACT.

Maybe you don’t care, which is fine.  Sucks to not even have a chance, though.

25 Comments


  1. So wrong. Both are great. Just depends what sound you’re going for. Bands like Opeth, Devin Townsend, Edge of Sanity, Dark Tranquility, Agalloch, Ulver, Cynic, Woods of Ypres and Witherscape mix both to great effect, without sounding like shitty metalcore bands. And if you’re expecting people to change their art to get women, then that is fucking stupid. Perhaps bands that use growling will never be legendary but that could also be due to the current state of the music scene. Open your mind a bit.

    I can perfectly understand every word Mikael Akerfeldt and Dan Swano growl (and they are both amazing clean singers as well.)

    You say that cleans alone are powerful and dynamic. Mixing both styles even more so!

    You seem to HATE this style of vocalization. It’s just not your thing. Don’t be telling people who are making the music they love that they’ll be playing basement shows forever.

    And honestly, all the “true” bands have released a lot of fucking garbage over the years.

    Maybe some people have more honest and humble goals than being “legendary.” You sound more close-minded than the typical death metal fan.

    Give Cynic’s Traced In Air a listen. Growls are used behind the cleans to give a more intense feeling in some places.

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    1. Hey Lewis, great comment here. I’ve been waiting for someone get in the ring on this discussion.

      Bands like Opeth are on the fringe of acceptable growl vocals, but in my opinion it cripples their beautifully written music.

      Orchid for instance really suffers from what just seem like stale, typical growl vocals despite the absolutley incredible music they kick out. I believe the band Satyricon also dips in “greatness” due to this. If you move onto something like Opeth’s Still Life, it’s less “harsh” but my greater point is that live you just cannot achieve the same mixing effect that you can on an album. And trust me, Opeth fucking rules musically.

      Sure, some people can understand what the vocalist is saying, but it’s usually because you already know the lyrics. Poorly mixed live growl vocals completely crush an otherwise beautiful sound. Many times there is zero chance that a newcomer could understand what is being said.

      With regards to women, I’m not saying change your art to get your dick wet. I’m saying half the human race fails to find the appeal of growl vocals, seemingly by its very nature. My band has slid Iron Maiden covers into our set only to have an entire room light up in applause – they didn’t know who it was that we played, but they were drawn by the cleanly executed and well mixed vocals – there’s an underlying emotion attached to it that defies explanation other than by the good old fashioned scientific method.

      I disagree that mixing growls and clean automatically makes something more dynamic. The album you recommended, Traced Air in my opinion suffers in some respects due to this attemped “mixing.” The track Integral Birth for example. To me the growl is just COMPLETELY unnecessary, and live I would almost guarantee this takes a ton away from the overall sound. Never seen ’em though, so can’t comment there. Good recommendation though, I’m digging it overall.

      Tell me I’m wrong – you do over the top death growls, you’ll be playing to an audience of 3 if you are a new band. You may have had 20 but 17 leave the second you begin “singing.”

      All bands release “garbage” here and there. It comes with time, experimentation ultimately leads to failure otherwise no one would ever learn anything.

      “Heroes get remembered…but legends never die.” Don’t you know your Sandlot? 😀

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    2. This article is right. None of the bands that do the growling vocals are distinguishable from one another. It’s a shame, because their music and musicianship is brilliant and could be so much more with good vocals.

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      1. A great falsetto vocalist gives you a far greater live appeal, something people won’t forget.

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      2. Plenty of singers in the world…put em in skinny jeans, grow their hair…dump the guy who growls ..problem solved

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  2. I feel if you can’t or wont listen to it because of the vocal style then you are really going to miss out on some amazing music. Hey just my opinion.

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  3. I feel if you can’t or wont listen to it because of the vocal style then you are really going to miss out on some amazing music. at first i agree with you that yeah i had not a single clue what they where saying on the record but after years of listening i have trained myself to be able to hear lyrics thrue some of the most ridiculous vocal styles out there. I recently visited the soundwave festival and suprised myself as i was able to understand exactly what the vocalist of an amazing local band ‘king parrot’ was saying. To be honest some of the most inspiring lyrics that i have heard have been from bands that use unclean vocals. i have heard it add and take away from the music but that has always just depended from the band. just my opinion.

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    1. I don’t doubt that some of the lyrics are phenomenal, but I’m more concerned with the musical “aspect” of screaming or growling vocals. The style itself to me either detracts or adds absolutely nothing to almost any band that employs it – especially live. There are certainly exceptions and some bands have a decent blend of both.

      A lot of bands seem to do it for the sake of being “brutal” or “metal,” which to me shouldn’t be the case. It also allows almost anyone to get up there and “sing” in a metal band.

      Professional “growlers” will never outperform legends like Geoff Tate, Midnight, or Ronnie James Dio. These vocal titans will live forever, because their voices add a colossal boost to the power of song.

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  4. guttural vocals are distinguishable, compare george fisher’s to mikael akerfeldt’s, a lot of death metal are atonal so you’d have atonal cleans usually (probably), intensity, clean vocals don’t work in some music, undergroundness XD, to match the tone of the music, some people hate clean vocals so they use guttural vocals because of personal taste, variety and finally to shock people.

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  5. and regardless of melody the guttural vocals still have the rhythmic aspect.

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  6. so they really are contributing to the music.

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  7. and i’d consider mikael akerfeldt a growling titan with good cleans but i’m more of music guy not a vocal guy and tbh some metal songs are really instrumentals with vocals.

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  8. I like Both types of vocals. I use both types of vocals. I know for some people it is the other way around but the Attila like black metal vocal style comes very natural to me and it always sounds good when I utilize it. When I use clean vocals they often don’t sound as I wish and it simply does not come as natural to me.

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  9. Hey Kaiser,

    I believe clean vocals come naturally to very few people, or only people that practice and train a lot.

    Also, some clean singers don’t sound good over certain types of music, so it doesn’t *always* work. When the right mix of clean vocals comes together with the right music/style then it’s unbeatable, especially live.

    I’ll check out your stuff and give you some feedback.

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    1. Kaiser, brother, I just listened to your album “White and Frozen World.”

      I can’t help but say all of the tracks sound too similar. Given the subject matter of this article, let’s talk vocals.

      If you start from track 1 to track 4, every song sounds almost identical. From vocal delivery, to the symphonic injection. There are some bright moments, but ultimately it’s like 1 giant track on repeat.

      Just some honest feedback. Keep rockin’.

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  10. Thank you Riz. Constructive criticism is always welcome. The fact that you have taken the time to listen to the music and give honest feedback is appreciated.

    It will be considered in future compositions beyond those which have already been recorded and awaiting release of course.

    I can see your point, at the same time a certain repetitiveness and simplicity is in Kaisers nature. I will see where the mood accompanied by the limitations of Kaisers ability will take Kaisers music in the future. There might be more sophisticated stuff but there might also be a embrace towards the charm and simplicity of true Black Metal abandoning the Gothic and symphonic elements altogether.

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    1. Drop by and give me a shout when you drop some new tracks. I will listen.

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  11. I can’t speak for Skitz (the other half of Astral Eyes), but I much prefer clean vocals. Granted, I’ve seen Cradle of Filth twice and Dimmu Borgir once, and there is a lot of Black Metal and other types of Extreme Metal I like. (I hope nobody gets into an argument about whether or not CoF is Black Metal. That’s completely not my point).

    Clean vocals are easier to understand, but also I’m really into melody. Growling is atonal.

    I also really like vocal harmonies. You can’ t harmonize with growling. You can however have both growling and clean together, which I think sounds very cool in a lot of cases.

    And Opeth is one of my favorite bands, but even them, I prefer it when Åkerfeldt sings. He’s got a beautiful voice.

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    1. Completely agree.

      At the end of the day, a live performance with outstanding vocals/harmonies will always outplay a growling front man.

      If people like death growls, that’s totally cool. When it comes to music, for me it just doesn’t cut it.

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  12. I can see that death growls are not your taste, and there’s no faulting a person for that, and at least for me they were definitely an acquired taste. I used to think the same way, that anyone could do it, it all sounds the same, it sounds like a dog, etc. These are stereotypes.

    But then I explored the genre, and over time I acquired a taste for the death growl, and now I prefer it to clean singing in metal. But it’s definitely a big turn-off for most people, and that’s why death metal/black metal and other styles that use harsh vocal sounds will always have a very limited appeal. But being more popular doesn’t make something better, and being unpopular doesn’t make something bad. The music is abrasive, challenging, and inaccessible by design.

    Death growling is a very difficult thing to do without shredding the hell out of your vocals chords. If you do it wrong, you can hurt yourself and lose your voice. So no, not “anyone can do it” – it takes practice and technical expertise, and a lot of commitment to the style. It’s not easy to do – there’s nothing half-assed about it. You’re basically training your voice to make sounds that are far beyond sounds that humans can normally make.

    It isn’t at all unnecessary within the context of the music – it fits it like a glove. Clean vocals in a brutal death metal song would just be completely overwhelmed by the aggression and speed of the music. They wouldn’t fit. Some bands, like Opeth, make it work tremendously. But generally, the more brutal the music, the more brutal the voice of the vocalist should be to match the tone and intensity of it.

    In terms of speed, heaviness, and technicality, death metal tends to just crush all other metal. It taps into the primal need I have to hear raucous and aggressive sounds and bang my head far better than classic metal or even thrash (though I love that, too). I like it the same way I like horror movies, because it is always searching for the most extreme impact. Every horror movie wants to be the scariest, and every death metal band wants to be the fastest, the heaviest, the most technical, the most extreme. Really my love of death metal is deeply connected to my love of the horror genre and the darker things in life.

    As for being legendary, that’s not why a person should make music. Toiling away on underground labels forever without ever gaining widespread recognition shows commitment to the art. They aren’t in it for the money because they never get the chance to “sell out.” As for bands that are famous in the genre, there are some – Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse and Opeth, and in black metal there are Emperor, Mayhem, Immortal and Darkthrone.

    As for the appeal to women, most women don’t like metal in any form. It’s just not a style that appeals to them. But you should also be careful when generalizing about that, because there are always exceptions – there are women who like death metal and even some who perform in death metal bands (Arch Enemy). Either way, metal was always a sausage-fest. There really aren’t a lot of female metal bands even to this day.

    If people walk out of a Cannibal Corpse show because they hear guttural vocals, they obviously didn’t pay attention when they were buying their ticket. Death metal and styles that use the growling sound have a limited but devoted following. What the harsh vocals are saying is less important than how it feels, and it feels like I’m listening to a dragon roaring or a demon from the pits of hell. And to me, that feels a lot more “powerful” than a singer wailing away in a normal, human tone of voice. As for clarity, there are some death metal bands where the vocals are clearer, like Vader and Kataklysm.

    It isn’t because of death metal that metal became stigmatized. Metal was always an outsider genre. Black Sabbath? Tell me everyone just loved Black Sabbath when they first started. That was devil music! The reason people rolled their eyes about metal long before death metal came on the scene was because it often dealt with dark subject matter, and there was also a large cheese factor to it. Metal is music for nerds.

    Death metal was a truly innovative form of metal when it started, finding new sounds instead of just recycling the old ones from rock and roll. Blues has little influence on death metal today, it’s true, though you can hear it in Opeth. The genre had stagnated, and many classic metal bands have released more than their fair share of awful albums. Death metal bands tend to be consistent throughout their career – if you like it, you’ll like it all, and if you hate it, you’ll hate it all.

    I can distinguish between a lot of different death growls because I’ve been listening widely in the genre for several years. If you’re a novice to the genre, it will all sound the same. If you condemn the genre and decide it’s not worth exploring, you’ll never get a deeper understanding of it.

    Being “brutal” in particular is not something you can understand if you’re not hard-wired for it, but to me it seems like the far end of heavy. It’s hard to explain what heaviness is, and it’s hard to explain what makes a band sound brutal. But it’s a real thing, and you can feel it. Death metal just sets my brain on fire in a way no other music can. If it doesn’t do the same to you, then it’s not for you.

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  13. Epic comment. A great take on every aspect.

    I’m not saying that if something is popular, it’s better. If that was true, fuck, One Direction would be considered top tier…

    I’m saying that if it pinpoints the human soul correctly and powerfully, you’ll rise to legendary status. Death vocals tend to fall too far down the dark side. Trust me, I’m fine with the dark side. To each his own, always. My point is that there is an inherent greatness lost when you delve so deep, in my opinion. Only a minority of people can relate, and most will never understand it.

    I’m sure death growling is difficult, but it’s not musical. I would have to disagree here. I totally understand that it “fits” the aggressive style of the music, but that kind of music itself is not “great.” Difference of opinion on this one.

    Speed and technicality do not result in greatness. Some of the best songs ever are three chord masterpieces. I saw Jeff Loomis live, and his speed and technicality were unreal. His sense of songwriting and ability to entertain, absolute shit.

    Being able to use speed and technicality to your advantage is hugely powerful and allows you more freedom of expression. This is why many people believe that Eddie Van Halen is the best all time guitarist, all things considered.

    I’m not saying being legendary should be your goal necessarily. I’m saying that legendary bands have many traits in common. One of them is a massive connection to the human spirit, for death metal lovers and country singers alike. The Rolling Stones, for example.

    Women actually do tend to like metal. The problem is always a) introduction or b) death growls. My only point was that great music has a “universality” to it. You are right though, the genre is always attended by men predominantly.

    Interesting point about hearing a dragon or a demon from hell. I can see that. Makes it living art.

    When I say people walk out of shows, I mean for something they happen to be there for (like seeing another band) and then a death growler comes on. It happens almost every time. People don’t walk out of a Cannibal Corpse show because of that, because they obviously want to be there.

    I agree on metal and darkness as subject matter. Sabbath and these guys, it’s all really just a dark form of the blues in a way. To me mastering the blues is a skeleton key to guitar. It’s the balance between good and bad, dark and light. Makes music much more interesting when you can blend scales.

    I love the band Death. Songs like “Without Judgment” are some of the heaviest shit I’ve seen. That stuff is too complex for the average person. It’s greatness is very underrated.

    In many cases, I think many people simply have not had a proper spectrum of life experience to appreciate many forms of music. And you’re right, maybe it’s just for nerds. \m/

    Appreciate you taking the time to get that in depth. Tells me you have some character.

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  14. Dark and heavy music with lyrics topics like death, plagues, apocalypse, destruction, despair, lost hope, pain, darkness, misery, etc. needs extreme vocals. For example some of the best songs by My Dying Bride like She Is The Dark, Cruel Taste Of Winter, The Fever Sea would not be so powerful sung only with clean vocals. Clean vocals also can express to some level despair, pain, lost hope and better express sadness and melancholy so they are also great for some song parts or songs but with rare exceptions only clean vocals cannot provide heaviness and darkness needed. Only extreme ones can be boring if there are not enough rhythm and melody changes, different register growls/screams, interludes, etc. but generally this approach is better. Also to be a good growler/screamer you need at least to be a decent singer – if you cannot sing proper tones with your own voice then you won’t be able to sing them growling/screaming.

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