Washington Think Tank with W.: What makes a metal vocalist great?


Greetings, friends. I come bearing word from our good buddy and power-user George Lynch. GL is taking a break from his busy schedule of running, designing top-secret government aircraft, and laying down sweet licks to ask you a burning question. So please, lend Mr. Scary your hearts and minds and riddle him this.

Today’s Question: What makes a metal vocalist great?

Metal vocalists are a fundamental component of any heavy metal band. I’ve even gone so far as to say that a vocalist can easily make or break a band. Therefore, our question today focuses not on whether or not a vocalist is important but how a singer comes to be acknowledged as one of the greats. What is it that distinguishes an unremarkable vocalist from an exceptional one? Our pal GL has established three criteria that must be met.

Vocal Ability: A great vocalist must have a great voice. This is the first and foremost skill that a singer must possess. However, I surmise that we here in the Toilet will disagree regarding how to qualify the abilities of different vocalists. If we are judging purely on vocal range and projection, few singers can match traditional metal and power metal vocalists. In this regard Hansi Kürsch and Bruce Dickinson are not to be rivaled. However, some here may value the more extreme abilities of screamers/growlers like Travis Ryan. Vocalists of this ilk, in my opinion, are set apart by their ability to horrify/disgust with their vocal apparatuses. It seems, then, that the quality of a vocal ability must be measured corresponding to the particular subgenre in which that artist performs.

Showmanship: A frontman must be able to engage and command the attention of the audience. This is paramount to building rapport and maintaining crowd interest. Great vocalists, then, are often those we consider able to supply us with a great show while maintaining their vocal presence. Greg Puciato and Ryan McKenney immediately come to mind, although older giants like Rob Halford still loom tall in the scene. Each of the mentioned vocalists has a different style, but all of them is able to make you feel utterly entranced and part of something far greater than yourself at a gig.

Longevity: Vocal ability and showmanship are nothing if a singer burns out early in his career. Studio magic may cover an abundance of faults, but metal has always thrived in a live environment. Those who can’t perform in front of a crowd will be quickly burned in effigy on every metal blog across the entire web. A good performer, then, must be able to sing old songs with the passion and fervor of an angry teen well into his later decades. A shining example in my mind is Sanctuary/Nevermore vocalist Warrel Dane. There’s been some talk as to whether or not his voice is altered in studio, but if this concert footage from The Year of the Voyager is to be believed, he was still able to embody the mouthpiece of the end of days in a live setting at least 20 years into his career.

Well then, you now know George Lynch’s patented recipe for a great metal vocalist. So now it’s your turn. In your mind, what truly sets the greats apart? What distinguishes an amazing vocalist from the run-of-the-mill growlers clogging the gutters of the metal underground? Sound off in the comments below.

Big thanks to GL for this idea.

P.S. Do you have an idea for Think Tank? Send it to toiletovhell@gmail.com! I’d love to collaborate.

Don’t know what the Washington Think Tank is? This is a weekly column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

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