Where Did the Metal Scream Come From? And How Do Metal Vocalists Avoid Destroying Their Vocal Cords?

Do met­al singers take vocal lessons? Sure­ly not the greats of old! Did Bruce Dick­in­son, Rob Hal­ford, and Ozzy Osbourne take lessons? Or did they dive into the debauch­ery head­first, scream­ing?

Iron Maiden’s Dick­in­son has been rumored to have received opera train­ing. This is not true. Instead, he stole his vocal tech­nique from his “den­tist ex-girl­friend,” he says. “As an ex-pupil of the very pres­ti­gious Chel­tenham Ladies’ Col­lege, she’d had quite exten­sive singing lessons, and she kept a note­book.” It changed his life.

Ozzy’s gui­tarist Zakk Wylde tells a fun­ny sto­ry of the Black Sab­bath legend’s wife Sharon order­ing him up a coach… just once… a “man with a brief­case,” says the burly shred­der, sent to take care of “our Joe Mon­tana.” But Osbourne did end up work­ing with a vocal coach, Kath­leen Rig­gs, more reg­u­lar­ly in lat­er years.

Judas Priest’s Hal­ford? He doesn’t men­tion a coach, but he does talk a lot about care and train­ing. “My form of extreme singing,” he says, “it’s like a work­out, you know…. Your vocal cords are mus­cles — they get burned out, they get tired.” As for his pio­neer­ing screams of over 40 years ago, he mus­es, “I some­times think that’s a bit of a curse that I sang and record­ed those cer­tain songs so long ago, when I was a younger guy with a younger set of vocal cords.” He near­ly wrecked his voice, he says, with cocaine and Jack Daniels.

It’s not opera, but met­al singing is a seri­ous­ly ath­let­ic activ­i­ty and has only become more so as its vocals have grown more extreme, even if its fash­ion sense has not. As clas­si­cal­ly trained singer and actress Melis­sa Cross — the “Queen of Scream” — relates in the video at the top, she first became a met­al vocal coach when a pro­duc­er friend called her in dis­may: the singers he was record­ing couldn’t get through a ses­sion with­out cough­ing blood.

Where did the met­al scream come from, and why is it so preva­lent if it’s such an unhealthy way to move one’s vocal folds day after day with­out train­ing and tech­nique? Vikings, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,”; Led Zep­pelin, Black Sab­bath, AC/DC, and Judas Priest, of course… babies…. These are all points of ori­gin for today’s extreme met­al singing, say hosts LA Buck­n­er and Nahre Sol in the PBS video fur­ther up.

The two talk to Cross about scream­ing with­out bleed­ing, and met­al vocal­ist Natal­ie Kreuger talks about how warmups and opera-like breath­ing tech­niques are essen­tial to main­tain­ing vocal fit­ness. And if you need more con­vinc­ing that met­al singing requires seri­ous pow­er and sta­mi­na, take a look at the 10 longest live screams in met­al, above. Let’s hope they all heed the exam­ple of the elder met­al gods.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Ori­gins of the Death Growl in Met­al Music

Sci­en­tif­ic Study Reveals What Made Fred­die Mercury’s Voice One of a Kind; Hear It in All of Its A Cap­pel­la Splen­dor

96-Year-Old Holo­caust Sur­vivor Fronts a Death Met­al Band

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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