New York Times on “the best voices in heavy metal”


In the 1990s, mainstream media pretty much ignored heavy metal except to report on the hair bands. The fear of radicals of an unknown quantity scared them away. Then, gradually, media began to find some things in metal they could identify with. And so it became part of the news cycle, with NPR reporting on folk-metal bands and even double-breasted suit The Wall Street Journal getting into the game.

As a result, in 2013 it’s not surprising to see a mainstream newspaper covering metal, and including some of the more extreme varieties in its article. The New York Times ArtsBeat asks “Who are the best voices in heavy metal?” and comes up with a reasonable list, considering that they’re picking from four decades of metal and no conceivable list will satisfy any single metalhead or group of metalheads:

1. Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath, Dio)
2. Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
3. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
4. Eric Adams (Manowar)
5. Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche)
6. King Diamond (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond)
7. Tom Araya (Slayer)
8. John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax)
9. James Hetfield (Metallica)
10. Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly)

Slayer made it in, as did Sepultura. How did that happen? It could be that, as with most things mass media, this data was culled from a series of press releases or advertising partners. It’s unfortunate that this is too often the situation, even at world-renowned major papers. Equally possible is that this is what an informal survey of the metalheads in the office produced. Either way, it’s good to see this list, and it probably deserves a list of its own.

As our domain name indicates (“”), we are primarily a death metal site. This means that we treat all influences on death metal, whether heavy metal or progressive rock or even Kraftwerk, as part of our world, but not really the focus. Our focus is death metal and the genres it spawned, starting with the unholy trinity of Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer back in 1983, following what Discharge unleashed the previous year. So we thought we’d do our own list of the best voices in death metal and associated genres:

1. Matti Kärki – Carnage
2. Antti Boman – Demilich
3. Nocturno Culto – Darkthrone
4. Abbath Doom Occulta – Immortal
5. Varg Vikernes – Burzum
6. Tomas Lindberg – At the Gates
7. Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance – Beherit
8. Frank Mullen – Suffocation
9. Glen Benton – Deicide
10. Tom G. Warrior – Celtic Frost/Hellhammer

This wasn’t an easy list. There are so many vocalists who perfected the death metal growl, or adopted it as their own style, that it’s hard to assess who should go on a list of only ten items. Yet each of the vocalists above contributed to a certain use of the vocal rasp or guttural howl, and thus they all deserve a place on this list, even if we’d like to add a few more (for example, Esa Linden of Demigod or John Tardy from Obituary).

We’d like to think the NYT will read this article, drop everything, and start rockin’ out to Morbid Tales, but that’s probably a bit much to expect. We hope someday they learn to enjoy this vibrant metal subgenre and appreciate it for the unique skills it requires, and the talents it has brought forth from these musicians.

Photo Credit: Kingsnake Club.

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19 thoughts on “New York Times on “the best voices in heavy metal””

  1. fallot says:

    And van Drunen shed a single tear…

  2. Hrafn says:

    Essential additions: Ross Dolan, Martin van Drunen, Corpsegrinder, Lord Worm, Attila. I personally also enjoy Akhenaten and Dagon (Inquisition) a lot.

  3. Jay Cochran says:

    Good list! Nice to see Beherit getting a mention in this category. I would add Lord Worm and possibly Attila Csihar. (the latter is obviously a hit or miss choice, but excellent on the right albums)

    Also glad you gave John Tardy and honorable mention, I’ve always felt like his approach is more “brutal” and aggressive than any modern-style Death Metal.

  4. Bertelac says:

    Craig Pillard

  5. Ben E says:

    My personal top 10

    1.David Vincent -the style on Altars only
    2.Karl Willets-Bolt thrower
    3.John Tardy-Obituary
    4.Jeff Walker-Carcass
    5.Lee Dorian- Esp on the Mentally Murdered Ep
    6.Jeff Becerra-Possesed
    8.Glen Benton-Deicide
    9.Scott Carlson-REpulsion
    10.Max Cavalera-Sepultura vocals in Morbid Visions/Schizo

  6. fallot says:

    Wanted to say that any mentions of omissions is not bickering over the list, but recognition of other greats. Craig Pillard, way up there, Altars and maybe Blessed David Vincent, many others.

  7. Dummy Burger says:

    I’d put Attila on the list. His contributions to Mayhem (1990’s) were better than the other vocalists. So eerie..

  8. metal bob says:

    Tough to narrow a list down to 10, but I would’ve swapped either Culto or Benton for Van Drunen.

    The NYT list is surprisingly not bad (only Hetfield really looks out of place).

  9. LLGHOULJ says:

    No women on the list?
    Eat rotten eggs, dudes.

    Angela Gossow (at the gates)
    Raquel Walker (liquid graveyard)

    1. Neither of whom approaches within 1,000 miles of the vocalists listed. If you want a vocalist to be on the list, they have to actually be good, not just be female.

      1. I find your lack of gender equality disturbing.

      2. Oh yes Brett Stevens, the golden throated Varg is in good company. Let’s put GG Allin up there, too.

        Geneviève from Menace Ruine should be a contender.

        And get off my dick, son.

    2. Uh says:

      At the Gates?

  10. EricSyre says:

    Top 3 death-related:
    Martin van Drunen
    Karl Willets
    John Tardy

    Top – all genres:
    Bruce Dickinson
    Ronnie Dio
    Mats Leven

  11. lol says:

    Max Cavalera LOL

  12. MKM of Antaeus for stage presence and vision alone!

  13. John S. says:

    Totally agree on Matti Kärki. My fucking god. It’s a mix between a growl, a shout and a rasp.

    Listen to his performance on “Skin Her Alive”. From 1:07 to 1:14 on my player: a blast of angst and masculine power. It feels like you’re being shouted at by a thunderstorm.

    On a black metal note: NEVER forget Ihsahn’s performance on the early Wrath of the Tyrant demo. Bat shit crazy passion right there.

  14. Preslav Hohenberg says:

    King Diamond
    Saenko – Hate Forest
    The ESSENTIAL 3!

  15. Come on everybody list your top 4000 vocalists for a top 10 list! Yeeah!

    The New York Times should not be writing about metal. The New York Times writes about bronies and other hip trends. We do not not not want that treatment for metal.

    Is it Demil-itch or Demil-ick?

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