Enlarge Can clean singing in metal be employed to great effect, or is it always terrible?

Op-Ed: Why Do So Many Metal Bands Eventually Introduce Clean Singing?


Watching a band’s fans and the Metalnets as a whole collectively lose their shit when a metal band decides to venture into clean singing — or as the rest of the world calls it, singing — is never not funny. It’s amusing to me that there are all sorts of un-metal things a band can do that get a pass — acoustic guitars, keyboards, bongos, fucking didgeridoos — but the one line that a metal band shall not cross is to allow their singer to use their voice in its natural state. Shit, there’s even a prominent metal website whose name is devoted solely to the concept!

Look, I get it. Clean singing can be cheesy, especially with the good cop / bad cop vocal style that came to prominence in the early to mid ’00s (and still, miraculously, lives on to this day). But there’s also a lot that clean singing can bring to the table, and a ton of it, in metal, that is very good. There MUST be a reason so many bands decide to go this route, even ones you’d think never would, besides just increased commercial viability (which I venture is pretty far down the list in most cases).

1. Vocalists get fucking bored.

There are only so many ways you can scream. Sure, it’s a complex and nuanced art form, but it’s still fairly limited compared to everything else the human voice can do when accompanying music. As an artist, any kinds of limitations can feel stifling — you want to create, expand, push new boundaries — and if you’re confined to such a small box there’s not much progressing forward you can do.

2. The other band members get fucking bored.

Just as screaming restricts what a vocalist can do, it also restricts what the other members of a band can do. Plenty of guys have screamed, growled and bree-bree-d over soft parts, yeah, but the argument cannot possibly be made that clean singing doesn’t allow a band to stretch out and experiment more. And, again, musicians being musicians, the band members are always going to want to try new things and change up the formula a bit… unless you’re Slayer or Killswitch Engage.

3. They’re not as angry as they used to be or as concerned with being “cool.”

When you’re young and angry you’ve got something to prove; “We’re fucking HEAVY, look at us!” When that tough guy posturing is no longer a concern — because the members of these bands are grown adults and don’t care about petty shit like that anymore — it’s OK to try things that might break down that facade. So, we’re softies who like real singing… who gives a shit?

4. Screaming is rough on the vocal cords.

There is a proper way to scream that allegedly doesn’t damage your vocal cords. Too many vocalist do not employ this method. But even for those who do, all that screaming has got to take some kind of toll over the years. It’s also fucking exhausting.

5. Commercial viability.

As I said previously, this one is far down on the list for a reason: I don’t imagine it’s a motivating factor at all in the majority of cases. Still, it can’t be ignored, because it’s definitely a thing: truly mainstream audiences aren’t going to be receptive to growled vocals, so a band switching over to cleans — or using more of them — can increase their chances of catching on, securing more radio play, etc. The push can from within the band or from the label, manager, etc, but it’s certainly a thing that happens. All That Remains are a good example of this.

6. Singing is fun.

We all grew up doing it, from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to Sesame Street. Who doesn’t like singing now and again? It feels good, it’s expressive, and it’s incredibly emotive. Some part of all vocalists who scream in their bands probably just wants to let loose and belt out a few notes now and again.

Chime in with your thoughts below. Can clean singing in metal be employed to great effect, or is it always terrible?

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