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Barney Greenway performing with grindcore band Napalm Death

Screaming is an extended vocal technique that is popular in "aggressive" music genres such as heavy metal, punk rock, and noise music. It is common in the more extreme subgenres of heavy metal, such as death and black metal as well as many other subgenres.


Classical and experimental music

Although screams are often suggested in stories performed in the grand opera tradition, they were never performed as literal screams, but delivered in a singing tone. The first significant example of a literal scream being required in an opera is in Alban Berg's Wozzeck (1922), where the title character screams "Murder! Murder!" in the fourth scene of Act III. Furthermore, 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, György 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 an example of the use of screaming vocals in experimental music.[citation needed] Noise music is notable for screamed vocals, examples being the well-known noise artist Masonna and the vocalist Maja Ratkje.


Several gospel recordings of the mid-1920s include screaming, such as in the Reverend J.M. Gates "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord" or Reverend J.C. Burnette's "The Downfall of Nebuchadnezzar". The screams are essentially acapella. The main singer leads with the scream and shout and a group respond following the traditional African call and response pattern. Bessie Johnson's "He Got Better Things For You" with her group Memphis Sanctified Singers, released in 1929, can be considered the first gospel song featuring screaming, backed by an instrument (acoustic guitar).[citation needed]


Blind Willie Johnson is widely considered to be the pioneer of screaming in blues music.[citation needed] In 1928, he performed the song "Jesus Is Coming Soon" with a soft screaming style.[citation needed] Vaudeville blues singer Ora Alexander was also one of the earliest blues vocalist recorded to perform screaming with her song "You've Got To Save That Thing" in 1931.[citation needed]

One of the first known R&B songs to utilize screaming vocals is said to be Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" (1956).[1]

Rock and roll

Rock and roll (before the advent of heavy metal and punk rock) employed occasional brief screaming. In the 1950s, one principal screamer was Little Richard, beginning with his "Tutti Frutti" (1955). Elvis Presley also screamed some of the lyrics to "Jailhouse Rock" in its original 1957 recording,[citation needed] 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."[2]

The first take of the Beatles' recording of "Twist and Shout" for their debut studio album Please Please Me (1963) was the only complete take, since John Lennon's voice was torn up, partly by his screaming in 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 metal

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 movement of the 1980s.[3]

Thrash metal was influenced both by heavy metal and by hardcore punk, the latter of which often incorporated shouted or screamed vocals. The first time heavy metal used screaming for constant delivery of lyrics (rather than as a temporary effect) was Chuck Schuldiner of the band Death.[citation needed] Musicologist Robert Walser noted, "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."[3] The vocal delivery of thrash metal is diverse; some bands such as Anthrax use relatively clean vocals, early Metallica vocals are very influenced by hardcore punk, while other bands such as Slayer use more "evil" shouts and yells not typically heard in 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 guttural and can be demanding to perform. The death growl is common in death metal.

Other forms of extreme vocalization can be found in black metal, which generally 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. It tends to be darker and more morbid than thrash metal, and features vocals that attempt to evoke chaos and misery by being "usually very deep, guttural, and unintelligible."[4] 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."[5]

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."[6]

A 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.[7]

Black metal

Black metal music in particular has a distinctive "screaming" style in the majority of the genre's vocals, though in varying degrees. Some black metal acts use a simple rasping sound, but others use a louder, more "grim" scream to accentuate the cold, evil, and frightening atmosphere of black metal. 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 similar to 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 more recent use of screams.

The American black metal group Wolves in the Throne Room employ long shrill screams influenced by Gorgoroth's early work.[8]

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 common for the genre in the early 1990s with bands such as Earth Crisis and Converge. Some bands employ dual vocalists, one performing traditional sung vocals and another doing screamed vocals, such as The Devil Wears Prada.

Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan is known for "insane" and "constant" screams.[9]


Like metalcore, deathcore is known for its use of aggressive screaming, though much more frequently. Vocals range from the low death growls of vocalists such as Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel to the high pitched screams from vocalists like Alex Koehler of Chelsea Grin. Some bands related to the deathcore genre perform what has been called "pig squealing" for its resemblance to that sound. Early albums by deathcore bands Job for a Cowboy and Despised Icon used pig squeal vocals, but they abandoned the sound in later material.

Alternative metal and nu metal

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 use of death growls as well as high pitched 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 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 an example of the concept, alongside singers such as Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory.

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 rock

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.[10] The logical extension of this aesthetic is shouting, and in hardcore punk, vocals are usually shouted in a frenetic manner similar to rapping or football chants, often accompanied by "gang vocals"[11][12] 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).[13]

Health concerns

Some vocalists who employed improper screaming techniques have had problems with their throats, voices, vocal cords, and have even experienced major migraines. Some vocalists of metal bands have had to stop screaming, making music altogether, or even undergo surgery due to damage to their vocal cords. One example is Sonny Moore (also known as Skrillex) 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.[14][15] Kyo of Dir En Grey, noted for his extreme vocal range incorporating both clean and harsh vocals, was hospitalised for vocal nodule dysphonia in 2012, though has since recovered.[16] However, screaming, growling and harsh vocals require traditional melodic vocal techniques to be done properly and without physical damage of any kind.[17] For example, in 2005 professional vocal coach Melissa Cross released a DVD called The Zen of Screaming, which featured instructions on how to utilize said techniques without damaging one's vocal folds. The Zen of Screaming was re-released as a digital download.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Bill Dahl (2001). "Screamin' Jay Hawkins". In Vladimir Bogdanov; Chris Woodstra; Stephen Thomas Erlewine (eds.). All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music. Hal Leonard. p. 156. ISBN 9780879306274.
  2. ^ Gulla, Bob (2008). Icons of R&B and Soul. An Encyclopedia of the Artists Who Revolutionized Rhythm. Greenwood Press. p. 176.
  3. ^ a b Walser, Robert (1993). Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press, p. 14. ISBN 9780819562609
  4. ^ Konow, David (2002) Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal. Three Rivers Press, p. 228. ISBN 0609807323
  5. ^ Purcell, Natalie J. (2003) Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture. McFarland, p. 11. ISBN 0786415851
  6. ^ Weinstein, Deena (1991). Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology. MacMillan, p. 51. ISBN 0669218375
  7. ^ Christe, Ian (2003) Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, HarperCollins, 2003, p. 239. ISBN 0380811278
  8. ^ Hopper, Jessica (2009) "Back to the land with the Wolves", Chicago Tribune, May 15, 2009, retrieved 2011-12-24
  9. ^ Cristman, Greg. "Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan & Red Fang played Terminal 5 (pics, video & setlist) – East of The Wall playing Brooklyn". Brooklyn Vegan.
  10. ^ Laing, Dave (1985) One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock. Open University Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780335150656
  11. ^ "Demiricous One (Hellbound) review". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  12. ^ Tacos (February 17, 2006). "Aiden Our Gangs Dark Oath review". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  13. ^ Cogan, Brian (2006) "Oi!". Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture. Greenwood Press, p. 146. ISBN 0313333408
  14. ^ "FFTL Sonny Moore throat trouble update". 25 October 2006. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  15. ^ Montgomery, James. "From First To Last Singer Dispels More Rumors, Reveals Why Band Left Warped". MTV News. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  16. ^ "DIR EN GREY Forced To Pull Out Of 'The Still Reckless Tour'". 7 February 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  17. ^ How to Sing Extreme Metal without Killing Your Voice, Jason Stallworth, September 17, 2020,
  18. ^ "The Zen of Screaming (Digital Download Edition)". Retrieved 5 December 2023.