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The rationale behind growling on death metal?

The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 02:04:32 AM
The most common explanation I've seen is that it matches the gory/morbid lyrics; but that really can't be given how death metal bands cover a wide range of topics in their lyrics that have nothing to do with gore or even anything morbid.

Another explanation I've heard is that it is meant to express frustration and anger towards the particular subject the lyrics are about. But I am not too sure about this either first due to the diversity of the lyrics and also I think screaming/shouting/shrieking would likely be better choices for that.

Is it simply that it fits the intense music? This is of course highly subjective, given the diversity of the genre both in terms of music and lyrics.

In any case, just putting some thoughts forward to get the discussion going. What's your view?

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 03:12:19 AM
Good question, I have wondered the same thing. My best guess is that the vocal style developed along with the guitar styles. Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower and others detuned their guitars to a much lower register than is common. Then, they added an inordinate level of distortion, to make the guitars sound less like guitars usually do.

Could be the same thing was done with the vocals, intentionally or otherwise. Old death metal did not have really low vocals, but they were still harsh and gravely, like the distortion on the guitars. As guitar tuning dropped, vocal register dropped.

Maybe a dumb guess from my oversimplified perception of the history of metal. But I have one more observation that may support the idea. Black metal does not use such low-register guitar sounds, and the vocals are usually much higher than traditional death metal. Maybe this is the same kind of thing. The music makers just have a sense that the vocal register should match the guitar sound. Just a guess.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 03:27:19 AM
That actually makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider that in death metal the vocals are seen as another instrument (which is why actually understanding the singer is not given as much importance as in order genres); it is reasonable that the down tuning and increase of distortion of the guitars should be matched by the rest of the instruments, vocals included.

Good thinking!

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 04:25:19 AM
I still can't do much to explain the reason that someone decided to start growling in the first place.

You could probably trace it back to punk music, where sloppy vocals became acceptable in the '70s. After that, hardcore came along, and singing became less melodic and more forceful. Then you had the straight-on yelling and shouting in Black Flag and the like by the mid and late '80s. Could be that death metal style growling evolved directly from the shouted vocals from hardcore in the '80s.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 04:33:40 AM
But didn't death metal emerge from thrash as the result of an ongoing push for making more and more extreme music? I think that as far as shouting goes we could probably place growling as the next logical step from the shouting done by bands like Slayer. This shouting vs. growling is also as far as I know a key differentiator between thrash (no matter how extreme it gets) and death metal.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 04:40:03 AM
That's a good point. I only guess what I do because hardcore/punk bands were shouting and yelling before Slayer (or any metal band) was, as far as I know.

But then, if I make that claim, we could nitpick the distinctions between thrash, speed metal, hardcore, crust, and all that nonsense, without really getting anywhere.

The low-pitched growling is almost for sure a direct evolution of the yelling and shouting from the thrash and speed metal bands, though.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 05:10:40 AM
In death metal, the guitar is the primary instrument, forming the main melodic voice of the music. On top of that it is loud, distorted and sometimes even atonal. It would sound quite odd to have another melodic line using the human voice to go with that, which is why growled vocals - largely rhythmic, though with variations in pitch and broad tone to give it a lyrical character - work there. It does fit the aesthetic as well, as mentioned in the first post. This argument works for other extreme metal as well.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 11:42:32 AM
...which is why growled vocals - largely rhythmic, though with variations in pitch and broad tone to give it a lyrical character - work there.

Thanks for the input trystero! Would you mind expanding on this a little bit if it is not much trouble? I ask because I really have no musical background and that sentence sounds a little obscure to me but I would like to get to know better this aspect of death metal. Thanks in advance!

As an aside, what about doom metal bands that use very distorted and low tuned guitars yet use clean vocals with their music? What would be the main difference here that makes growls more fitting for death metal? The fast/chaotic nature of the music? Which I think is debatable as there is plenty of slow death metal as well yet growls are used.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 11, 2013, 04:18:51 PM
As for the doom metal question; a lot of doom metal bands are blatantly aping Black Sabbath, particularly in the vocal department. It's just sort of a tradition thing, I suppose (since I don't know a lot or care a lot about doom [but that Pallbearer album from last year was really cool]). In the same way, you see heavy metal bands to this very day (and every day til now) with singers that sound like Rob Halford. Non-metal people rip into these bands for "unoriginality" but sometimes tradition trumps innovation (especially in metal).

The more modern bands that break farther away from the Sabbath style are called death-doom, as far as I know. Hooded Menace comes to mind as a good example but there are a lot more out there. Sometimes I see Incantation referred to as death-doom, even though it's pretty normal for death metal bands to have very slow sections in their songs, so that sounds like a redundant descriptor.

Re: The rationale behind growling on death metal?
December 12, 2013, 12:58:21 AM
Thanks for the input trystero! Would you mind expanding on this a little bit if it is not much trouble? I ask because I really have no musical background and that sentence sounds a little obscure to me but I would like to get to know better this aspect of death metal. Thanks in advance!

That may seem more complicated than it is, all I mean is that the vocals are not monotone, they try to approximate singing, but are not melodic. When Frank Mullen is growling in the slow section of the song Pierced from Within is a fine example of what I mean.

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As an aside, what about doom metal bands that use very distorted and low tuned guitars yet use clean vocals with their music? What would be the main difference here that makes growls more fitting for death metal? The fast/chaotic nature of the music? Which I think is debatable as there is plenty of slow death metal as well yet growls are used.

It isnt an absolute thing, so it is certainly debateable. Part of the reason is historical; development from thrash shouted styles etc. Part of it is aesthetic. But yes, fast riff changes is one reason, even in slower death metal there is a lot of change; POWER is needed. As far as doom in concerned, bands that tend to use clean vocals may also tend to use riffs in a more harmonizing fashion, particularly in heavy metal derived doom. For an example consider Candlemass`s second album. When Marcolin sings, note the riffs. Doom metal is almost all death or heavy metal at its core, usually you will find clean vocals in the heavy metal derived variety.

You could have death metal derived doom with clean vocals and have it work though. For me, when I considered this question I just imagined whether the songs I was hearing would work with a clean vocal line and in most cases they dont. Consider how singing would harmonize (just sound good with) tremolo picked triplet notes? The aesthetic element is more important for me, growled vocals sound manly and animalistic to me. It is after all, still directed sound from the human throat carrying word information and musical information; singing by an extended definition.