History would tell how emerging bands during the 1960s have used growling to intensify the expression of a powerful metal music. An outburst type of vocal effect, growling could be traced as far back in 1956. All thanks to the Scandinavian metalheads who took the credit for the first use of brief screaming bits as part of their Viking music, as if imitating dogs growling and howling. Iconic bands who were first to explore this vocal style and incorporate into their songs were Led Zeppelin (1968), Deep Purple (1968), and Judas Priest (1969), who all pioneered an unorthodox technique to add roughness as a music’s newly found form. Soon after a decade, growling finally became a permanent identity of the metal genre. The discovered sonic throat style was being appreciated by listeners, validating the cosmic truth that adding vocal effects can convey something that lyrics and melody couldn’t express.
The truth is, vocal effects are part of our daily lives and can be done by anyone. Literally, anyone. What makes it interesting is that we may not be aware that a simple grunt or that short guttural sound that we make whenever we feel tired or frustrated are already considered growls. These vocal effects are created by allowing air movements in the lung where the power source is, and amplifying the sound through the vocal tract to achieve reverberation. It is a misconception therefore that only the gifted ones are able to pull the growls off. And you, as a metal head musician, has an edge to turn that small, ordinary creaky sound into an extreme form of a metal growl.
Levels of Death Metal Growls: How to do them?
The hollowest sound of growl you’ve probably heard of falls under the death tone. To do this correctly, you need to go as far as you can in your throat to trigger the vibration in your mouth. Going deep will definitely hurt your throat at first but keep in mind that this naturally happens when experimenting. Try not to loose the depth as you release the noise once you’re confident with your range. As soon as you’ve mastered how to warm up your voice in doing the death growl is to set your volume which would then determine the three levels of aggression:
As if imitating a dark, demonic sound, a low range growl (low guttural) will give your listeners an eerie feeling. Doing this can be tricky because it has no volume so it doesn’t have to be loud. There should be a sound of subtle rumble but try not to focus on it. Instead, focus on how you shape your mouth and your tongue as they play vital role to achieve this range. Widen your jaw, relax your diaphragm and curl your tongue to make a more hollow sound. Not rolling your tongue would make a completely different reverberating sound. Most often than not, listeners struggle to comprehend the lyrics at this range because of strong grumble and vibration. Now adding a volume up would lead you to the middle range, the most common extreme growl among metal bands that we know, hence called the regular death growl. This is what Korn’s vocalist Jonathan Davis is known for, who mastered the variances of the two levels to create a primitive range of aggression. Similarly, Lamb of God has also a respectable identity of headbanging vocal range while clearly pronouncing every word.
Songs that evoke the feeling of extreme frustration, anger, and other strong negative emotions often involves the more aggressive metal range. Bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Betzefer often use this range to accentuate the intensity of music. At this level of aggression, do exactly what you did to do the middle range and simply add more volume and air as you release. Levels of aggression is simply about adding volume.
Pain is a part of mastering all the three metal growls which raises a long debate among musicians how doing extreme vocal effects could gradually affect your vocals. This might be true especially for musicians who are still on their quest into finding their own range of roughness. Two most important things to remember is to do breathing exercises to let your vocal cords expand, and know the difference between using your throat and using your diaphragm. The sound has to come from the gut to release a natural powerful tone which then prevents you from not hurting your throat – simple as that. Remember not to push your vocals in the wrong way and know the discomforting symptoms that should tell you when to stop. The key is to do it correctly.