Screaming (music)

Screaming is an extended vocal technique that is mostly popular in "aggressive" music genres such as heavy metal, punk rock, and noise music. In the more extreme subgenres of heavy metal, the related death growl vocal technique is also popular. Intensity, pitch and other characteristics vary between different genres and different vocalists.


Classical and experimental musicEdit

Although screams are often suggested in stories performed in the grand opera tradition, they were never performed literally, always being sung. The first significant example of an actual scream in an opera is in Alban Berg's Wozzeck (1922), where the eponymous character screams "Murder! Murder!" in the fourth scene of Act III. Even more strikingly, Berg's unfinished Lulu, written mainly in 1934, features a blood-curdling scream as the heroine is murdered by Jack the Ripper in the closing moments of the final scene. In Mascagni's 1890 Cavalleria rusticana the final line "They've murdered Turiddu!" is spoken, not sung, and often accompanied by a scream.

Other composers have employed screaming in avant garde works in the twentieth century, typically in the post-World War II era, as composers began to explore more experimental compositional techniques and nonstandard use of musical instruments (including the voice). Composers who have used shouting or screaming in their works include Luciano Berio, George Crumb, Gyorgy Ligeti, Charles Mingus, Meredith Monk and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The use of hoarse vocals in choral and orchestral works continues today in some productions such as film scores; mainstream examples include some works by Don Davis and Wojciech Kilar.

Experimental music genres often feature screamed vocals if vocals are employed in the music, as a form of alternative expression rather than conventional singing. The song "Paralyzed" by the outsider musician the Legendary Stardust Cowboy is a prime example of the use of screaming vocals in experimental music. Noise music is notable for screamed vocals, examples being the well-known noise artist Masonna and the vocalist Maja Ratkje.


Kansas City blues musicians began shouting in order to be heard over music in the loud dancehalls. The shouted vocals eventually became a characteristic for these bands. Key members of this movement include Big Joe Turner and Howlin' Wolf. One of the first known songs to utilize screaming vocals is said to be Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" (1956).

Rock and rollEdit

Rock and roll (before the advent of heavy metal and punk rock) employed occasional brief screaming bits. In the 1950s, one principal screamer was Little Richard, beginning with his "Tutti Frutti" (1955). "Love Me" was a screamer in parts for Elvis as well as "Any Way You Want Me". Earlier in '55 at Sun on numerous cuts like "Trying to Get to You", Elvis used his scream. Elvis Presley also screamed some of the lyrics to Jailhouse Rock in its original 1957 recording, although recordings of live performances of the song in Presley's later career featured him strictly singing the words. Tina Turner used screaming in "A Fool in Love" (1960), her first recording as a lead singer, on which Juggy Murray commented, "All of those blues singers sounded like dirt. Tina sounded like screaming dirt. It was a funky sound."[1]

By the 1960s, the first take of John Lennon's recording of "Twist and Shout" for Please Please Me was the only take, since Lennon's voice was torn up, partly by the screams that peppered the song. Lennon, inspired by Arthur Janov's Primal Scream therapy, screamed in his later songs "Mother" and "Well Well Well" on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

Heavy metalEdit

While occasional screaming has been used for effect in heavy metal since the genre's dawn in the late 1960s (with singers such as Robert Plant, Ian Gillan and Rob Halford employing the technique frequently), screaming as a normal method of lyrical delivery first came to prominence in heavy metal as part of the thrash metal explosion of the 1980s.[2]

Thrash metal was influenced both by heavy metal and by hardcore punk, the latter of which often incorporated shouted or screamed vocals. The first instance of screaming used as a constant delivery of lyrics was Chuck Schuldiner of the band Death. Musicologist Robert Walser notes, "The punk influence shows up in the music's fast tempos and frenetic aggressiveness and in critical or sarcastic lyrics delivered in a menacing growl."[2] It should however be noted that the vocal delivery of thrash metal is incredibly diverse; some bands such as Anthrax use much cleaner vocals, early Metallica uses very hardcore punk influenced vocals while other bands such as Slayer use more "evil" shouts and yells, bearing little resemblance to hardcore punk. More recent bands within metal's various subgenres, such as Carnifex, are known for making use of multiple variations of both screaming and growling.

Screaming in some subgenres of heavy metal music is typically demanding and guttural. The death growl is common in death metal.

Separate forms of extreme metal vocalization can be found in black metal, which has a higher-pitched sound, and deathcore, which uses either a low growl or a high pitched scream.

Death metal, in particular, is associated with growled vocals. Death metal, which tends to be darker and more morbid than thrash metal, features vocals that attempt to evoke chaos and misery by being "usually very deep, guttural, and unintelligible."[3] Natalie Purcell notes, "Although the vast majority of death metal bands use very low, beast-like, almost indiscernible growls as vocals, many also have high and screechy or operatic vocals, or simply deep and forcefully sung vocals."[4]

Music sociologist Deena Weinstein has noted of death metal, "Vocalists in this style have a distinctive sound, growling and snarling rather than singing the words. Making ample use of the voice distortion box, they sound as if they had gargled with hydrochloric acid."[5]

The progressively more forceful enunciation of metal vocals has been noted, from heavy metal to thrash metal to death metal.

To appreciate the music, fans first had to accept a merciless sonic signature: guttural vocals that were little more than a menacing, sub-audible growl. James Hetfield's thrash metal rasp was harsh in contrast to Rob Halford's heavy metal high notes, but creatures like Glen Benton of Deicide tore out their larynxes to summon images of decaying corpses and giant catastrophic horrors.[6]

Black metalEdit

Black metal music in particular has a definitive "screaming" style which constitutes a vast majority of the genre's vocal work, though this is done in varying degrees. Some black metal acts use this approach as a simple rasping sound, but others use a louder, more "grim" scream to emulate the cold, evil, and frightening atmosphere black metal would portray. Vocalists like Ihsahn of Emperor, Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved and Pest of Gorgoroth use loud screaming in their vocal work, while other vocalists take differing approaches; for example: Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir once used a style on par with loud roaring in the band's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant days, and vocalists such as John Gossard of the San Francisco band Weakling and Pasi of the Finnish band Darkwoods My Betrothed used a style that sounded more like wailing mixed with the genre's present screams.

The American black metal group Wolves in the Throne Room employ long shrilling screams influenced by Gorgoroth's early works.[7]

Some folk noir bands (often ones that have come from the black metal scene originally) use guttural growls and shrieks occasionally, mostly for dramatic effect. Examples include Empyrium and Uaral.


Metalcore is a genre that employs both screamed and clean vocals. Screaming became more of a traditional standard for the genre in the early 1990s with bands such as Earth Crisis and Converge who also took use of this vocal style frequently. Some bands employ a dual vocalist set up, one who performs traditional sung vocals, while another is dedicated to just screamed vocals, such as The Devil Wears Prada.

Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan is known for "insane" and "constant" screams.[8]


Like metalcore, deathcore is known for its use of aggressive screaming, though at a much more extreme rate. Screams range from the low death growls of vocalists such as Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel, to the high pitched screams from the likes of Alex Koehler of Chelsea Grin. Some bands relating to the deathcore genre perform what is called "pig squealing", which is a squealing vocal technique resembling that of a pig. Early albums by deathcore bands such as Job for a Cowboy and Despised Icon employed the use of pig squeal vocals, but abandoned it on later material.

Alternative metal and nu metalEdit

Alternative metal and nu metal bands sometimes employ screaming as well. Jonathan Davis screams in most of Korn's earlier songs. American nu metal band Otep frontwoman Otep Shamaya is also known for her usage of death growls as well as high pitch screaming. Serj Tankian occasionally performs both exhale and inhale screams, which are especially notable on System of a Down's first two albums. Limp Bizkit sometimes uses screamed vocals, especially on songs from their first album. Some bands combine screaming techniques with clean vocals to create a concrete sound with a noticeable change in tone, Chino Moreno of Deftones, who is famed for combining his high-pitched, aggressive screams with his calm and melodic singing, is a clear example of the concept alongside singers such as Corey Taylor of Slipknot.

Linkin Park's singer Chester Bennington screamed in many Linkin Park songs, most notably the 17-second scream in the track "Given Up". Michael Barnes of Red has screamed in a majority of the songs the band has done, most notably in "Let Go", for 13 seconds straight.

Hardcore and punk rockEdit

Yelling and shouting vocals are common in a type of punk rock known as hardcore. Early punk was distinguished by a general tendency to eschew traditional singing techniques in favor of a more direct, harsh style which accentuated meaning rather than beauty.[9] The logical extension of this aesthetic is shouting, and in hardcore, vocals are usually shouted in a frenetic manner similar to rapping or football chants, often accompanied by "gang vocals"[10][11] in which a group of people shout along with the vocalist (this style is very common in punk rock, most prominently Oi!, street punk and hardcore punk).[12]

Health concernsEdit

Some vocalists who have employed musical screaming have had problems with their throats, voices, vocal cords, and have even experienced major migraines from screaming incorrectly. Some vocalists of metal bands have had to stop screaming, making music altogether, or even undergo surgery due to screaming in harmful ways that damage the vocal cords. One example is Sonny Moore of the band From First to Last, who had to leave the band as vocalist due to the damage it was causing to his vocal cords, which required surgery to repair. [13][14] Kyo of Dir En Grey, famous for his extreme vocal range incorporating both clean and harsh vocals, was hospitalised for vocal nodule dysphonia in 2012, though has since recovered.[15] However, with proper technique, screaming can be done without harm to the vocal cords[citation needed].

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gulla, Bob (2008). Icons of R&B and Soul. An Encyclopedia of the Artists Who Revolutionized Rhythm. Greenwood Press. p. 176.
  2. ^ a b Walser, Robert (1993). Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press, p. 14. ISBN 9780819562609
  3. ^ Konow, David (2002) Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal. Three Rivers Press, p. 228. ISBN 0609807323
  4. ^ Purcell, Natalie J. (2003) Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture. McFarland, p. 11. ISBN 0786415851
  5. ^ Weinstein, Deena (1991). Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology. MacMillan, p. 51. ISBN 0669218375
  6. ^ Christe, Ian (2003) Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, HarperCollins, 2003, p. 239. ISBN 0380811278
  7. ^ Hopper, Jessica (2009) "Back to the land with the Wolves", Chicago Tribune, May 15, 2009, retrieved 2011-12-24
  8. ^ Cristman, Greg. "Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan & Red Fang played Terminal 5 (pics, video & setlist) – East of The Wall playing Brooklyn". Brooklyn Vegan. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  9. ^ Laing, Dave (1985) One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock. Open University Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780335150656
  10. ^ "Demiricous One (Hellbound) review". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  11. ^ Tacos (February 17, 2006). "Aiden Our Gangs Dark Oath review". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  12. ^ Cogan, Brian (2006) "Oi!". Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture. Greenwood Press, p. 146. ISBN 0313333408
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