Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The 10 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All Time

Top 10 List

Metal vocals are a strange beast. In one sense, it can be the least important part of the equation, since the focus is really on the guitars and the drums, and the bass is there to keep it heavy even if it's not always noticed in the mix. Plenty of bands have achieved greatness without good vocalists--Electric Wizard and Decrepit Birth come to mind.

On the other hand, they can make or break a band. Just about anyone can name a band that they would like if they had a different vocalist. Rush (though not a metal band) is probably the most cited example. And Dave Mustaine is a huge stumbling block for me with Megadeth. But a truly great vocalist can turn a band into something special.

I tried to judge these based solely on vocals in studio output. I haven't heard enough live albums or seen enough shows to go by stage presence or ability to reproduce their sound in a live setting; however, charisma is inseparable from the performance. I also tried to ignore their influence on subsequent acts or their other abilities (e.g., songwriting or guitar playing). Lyrics played no role in my choices. The most points go to those with a distinctive style over any kind of technical proficiency, but both are important. Without further ado . . .

10: Glenn Danzig 
(Danzig, Misfits, Samhain)

Try to ignore the fact that the guy has a childish personality and no one can get along with the bastard: Glenn Danzig can sing. He began in punk, but went into heavy metal, industrial metal, alt-metal, and back to heavy metal. He earned the nickname "Evil Elvis" for his unmistakable, swagger-filled delivery that combines Elvis and Jim Morrison.

9: Tarja Turunen 

Yeah, yeah, say what you want. Cry "false" or put her down for capitalizing on her looks, but she has pipes to go with the cans. She fronted the gothic symphonic metal band Nightwish and, under her soaring operatic vocals, the band became such a success that they spawned dozens (if not hundreds) of completely disposable copycats. And when she left the band, they became as disposable as the rest.

8: Messiah Marcolin 

Messiah Marcolin made his mark with the early doom metal band Candlemass. He gave it incredible drama with his vibrato-overdrive approach, before disappearing into obscurity. He came back and recorded another album with them, their incredible self-titled album, before disappearing again. Rumor has it he wants to release a solo album, and I will definitely keep an eye out for it.

7: Corey Taylor 

I can already anticipate the comments: "Good list except for one epic fail!" (And probably misspelled, too.) Blah, blah, blah, Slipknot isn't metal, blah blah blah. Forget that. I know I'm not alone in still loving this band, even after being fully immersed in the underground. The band is called a gateway band for a reason, and Corey Taylor is certainly no weak link. Forget his brief attempts at rapping on their first album, and forget everything he's done with Stone Sour, the guy can growl in a way that makes my blood boil and he can sing, too.

6: Alan Averill, aka A.A. Nemtheanga 
(Primordial, Void of Silence, Blood Revolt)

Do you think anyone would know the name of Primordial if it weren't for Nemtheanga's vocals? The band comes from Ireland--not exactly a noted metal scene--and they play an understated style of pagan metal. But it's his ultra-depressing style that makes them as close to a household name as the metal underground can deliver. He would be over-the-top if he weren't so utterly convincing.

5: Bruce Dickinson 
(Iron Maiden)

Bruce Dickinson is the vocalist for Iron Maiden, one of the most universally-beloved bands among metalheads. His singing is emotional and powerful, combining singing with a half-growl at times, and established the template for essentially every power metal band.

4: Warrell Dane 
(Nevermore, Sanctuary)

The opera-trained, five-plus octave voice of Warrell Dane is just as important to Nevermore's success as the shredding of Jeff Loomis. He can growl and sing, just like Taylor, only he's about twice as good at growling and 1000 times better at singing. He blends the two approaches effortlessly, too.

3: Mikael Åkerfeldt 
(Opeth, Bloodbath, Katatonia)

Mikael Åkerfeldt's death growl is perhaps the best in the business. It comes up through the floor and rattles your soul. But he's proven he can sing, too, and he can weave back and forth between the styles with ease. His unassuming humility is endearing, given his obvious greatness. It's only too bad he seems to have given up the death growls, at least for now.

2: Ronnie James Dio 
(Black Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow)

Now we've come to the only person in the top 10 who's no longer in this world. Metal lost an unparalleled icon in April 2010. It's no wonder he was so sought after in the early days, and brought Sabbath back from a terrible fate. Personally, I think Ozzy was a better fit for Sabbath's early work, and it's beyond question their style changed with Dio. But nobody seriously thinks Ozzy is actually the better singer. The voice was much bigger than the man, and he will always be missed.

1: King Diamond 
(Mercyful Fate, King Diamond)

King Diamond is an acquired taste. I first started listening to Mercyful Fate for the excellent riffs, and loved his growls but didn't know what to make of that spine-chilling falsetto. After a while, I found myself loving it, and trying to imitate it myself. It's been said that no one sounds like King, and that's true, but I wish someone else would try. It's just so damned good, and I really missed it when it was downplayed on 9. All metalheads are wishing him well, and hope he recovers from his recent heart troubles to come back to the femur.

And, by the way, happy 55th birthday King!

Honorable Mentions:

Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, PAIN): death growls just as good as Åkerfeldt, but he doesn't do the singing.

Michael Poulsen (Volbeat, Dominus): in Dominus he did the death growls, but in Volbeat he has a 50's rock 'n' roll approach that's (almost) entirely unique in the metal world; it does bear some vague resemblance to Danzig.

Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy): he pretty much just shouts/growls, but he does it with such blood and fire, and his voice is unmistakable.

Chuck Schuldiner (Death, Control Denied): for proof of greatness, check out Death's rendition of "Painkiller", possibly the single most bloodcurdling vocal performance, in any genre, ever.


  1. No Corpsegrinder, Maynard James Keenan, Hansi Kürsch, Ozzy, JB, Phil Anselmo, Tommy Dahlström, Jens Kidman, Dax Riggs, etc.? Ugh. Too many to name. I used to love Taylor's roars, but never enjoyed his clean vocals. Michael Poulsen should have made the final cut!

  2. uhhhh Corey Taylor but no Maynard? Seriously? Poor list.

  3. dax riggs, barney greenway (yeah, yeah i like the guy, deal), jon friggen chang, nick blinko (not metal, but cmon), and mieszko talarcyk

  4. Mike Scalzi (Slough Feg), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), Lemmy (Motorhead)

  5. Of course everybody has their own opinions, but my personal gripes are actually people most everyone would include on a list like this. I happen to hate King's and Marcolin's vocals, and I don't care for Nightwish either. I assume that's just a personal bias, though, since I appear to be pretty much alone there.

    Some of the comments seem to have missed the point (yes, I love Lemmy too, but we all know he's a terrible singer) and I think it's important that you excluded influence as a criteria to avoid clogging the list with the same old names we always see. Akerfeldt has been a long-time favorite, so I was happy to see him high on the list.

  6. Patrick says I "seem to have missed the point" with my comment about Lemmy. But near the top of the post, FMA says "The most points go to those with a distinctive style over any kind of technical proficiency..." I can't think of anyone that describes better than Lemmy.

  7. Matt Barlow from Iced Earth? Tim Owens? Fuck, you can almost name all vocalists from any power metal bands that are better than Corey or Mikel