Screaming (music)

For the genre, see Screamo.
"Unclean vocals" and "Harsh vocals" redirect here. For growled vocals, see Death growl.

Screaming is an extended vocal technique that is mostly popular in "aggressive" styles of Western popular music including many styles of heavy metal and some styles of punk rock (especially hardcore punk) and industrial. In metal, the related death growl vocal technique is also popular. Intensity, pitch and other characteristics vary between different genres and different vocalists.


The following is a summary of notable genres in which screaming is often used:

Classical and experimental music

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 CavalleriaRusticana 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, 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 roll

Rock and roll (before the advent of heavy metal and punk rock) employed occasional brief screaming bits. In 1950s, one principal screamer was Little Richard, beginning with his "Tutti Frutti" (1955). Elvis Presley also screamed some of the lyrics to Jailhouse Rock (song) in its original 1957 recording, although recordings of live performances of the song in Presley's later career featured him strictly singing the words.

By 1960s, the first take of John Lennons'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 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 explosion of the 1980s.[1]

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."[1] 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."[2] 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."[3]

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."[4]

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.[5]

Black metal

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 around the band's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant days, 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.[6]

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. As metalcore began rising in popularity and started to become more influenced by metal rather than hardcore, vocalists such as Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying began employing more of a death growled-influenced scream while Matt Heafy of Trivium uses a barked-sounding lower-toned scream rather than the higher screams of most metalcore. A few bands employ a dual vocalist set up, one who performs clean vocals, while another is dedicated to just screamed vocals, such as The Devil Wears Prada.


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 employed the use of pig squeal vocals, but abandoned it on later material.

Alternative and nu metal

Alternative metal and nu metal bands sometimes employs 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. In Papa Roach's major label debut Infest singer Jacoby Shaddix can be heard utilizing a high pitch scream in "Between Angels and Insects" and at the end of hit single "Last Resort". 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.

"Between Angels and Insects"
Sample of Papa Roach's "Between Angels and Insects" from Infest (2000). The song features a high-pitched scream in its bridge

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Linkin Park's singer, Chester Bennington, screams in many Linkin Park songs, most notably the 18 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, and in "Wasting Time" for 14 seconds straight. Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan is known for "insane" and "constant" screams.[7]

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.[8] 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"[9][10] in which a group of people shout along with the vocalist (this style is very common in punk rock, most prominently Oi!, streetpunk and hardcore punk).[11] One of the most notable screaming female singers in punk is Brody Dalle of The Distillers


Kenta Koie, lead vocalist of electronicore band Crossfaith

Electronicore is a stylistic fusion of post-hardcore and electronic music, specifically electronica. Most to all Electronicore bands use some sort of screaming. Many electronicore bands employ some clean vocals usually in the chorus and bridge of the song, which is a common theme in modern Metalcore. Many electronicore bands do not have the clean and unclean vocals done by the same person, like I See Stars, who have Zach Johnson do the screaming and have Devin Oliver sing (although following Johnson's departure from the group in 2015, Oliver took over both clean and unclean vocals) or like Attack Attack! (early), where Austin Carlile and Caleb Shomo did the screaming and Johnny Franck did the singing. There are some bands, like Capture the Crown, Enter Shikari, and Asking Alexandria who have their screamer do the clean vocals. There are some bands, like Crossfaith and We Butter the Bread with Butter who do not use any clean vocals whatsoever. Usually bands that are electronicore have their keyboardist and programmer do the screaming, like I See Stars, Attack Attack! (after Austin Carlile left), and Crown The Empire.

While many metalcore and deathcore bands use keyboards and synthesizers, like the Crimson Armada, Betraying the Martyrs, I Killed The Prom Queen, and Upon This Dawning (early), they are not cited as electronicore. While electronicore has become its own form, it is a fusion of two different forms that already use screaming in them.


Many crunkcore (a subgenre of electronic music) bands have used screamed vocals, such as Blood On The Dance Floor, Brokencyde, Breathe Carolina, etc. Screaming is very popular with the crunkcore genre, as it is also very common. Many other electronic artists, such as Skrillex, Diplo, Deadmau5, etc. have also included some screaming into their work.


Dennis Lee, lead screamer of the North Carolinian post-hardcore band Alesana

Post-hardcore music is usually imbued with a vulnerable, emotional vocal tone. Bands such as Silverstein and Pierce the Veil use primarily clean vocals and add screams in the chorus or to start a verse. Early post-hardcore groups (such as Rites of Spring and Embrace) often featured screamed vocals that were more or less similar to that of 1980s hardcore punk and anarcho-punk.

Some bands such as We Came as Romans use a not-as-screeching tone in its screamed vocals, while vocalists such as Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember go a step further, employing death growls instead of screams. A few vocalists, such as Nicholas Matthews of Get Scared, Craig Mabbitt of Escape the Fate, and Dennis Lee of Alesana employ both screams and death growls. Davey Havok of AFI employs screaming, with more of a high-pitched scream in earlier albums and a raspy tone in Decemberunderground. Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw uses various types of screams, ranging from very high to midrange. Jesse Lacey of Brand New uses more of a raspy "shout" in the band's music which differs from the usual aggressive vocalization in other bands, while Alex Varkatzas of Atreyu uses a "fry" screaming technique.

As with metalcore and electronicore, most post-hardcore bands do not have the same vocalist providing the screaming and singing. Examples of such bands include Alesana in which rhythm guitarist and pianist, Shawn Milke does the clean singing while Dennis Lee performs the unclean vocals. Other examples include Funeral For a Friend, where Matt-Davies Kreye performed the clean singing and former drummer Ryan Richards provided the unclean vocals with Matt performing both clean and unclean vocals following Ryan's departure in 2012 (with guitarist Kris Roberts performing screams for older material live), A Skylit Drive, where Michael Jagmin sings clean vocals and rhythm guitarist Michael LaBelle screams. More examples include Dance Gavin Dance which have Jon Mess screaming and either Jonny Craig, Kurt Travis or Tilian Pearson sing and In Fear and Faith, with Cody Anderson providing the screams and Scott Barnes singing. However, there are some post-hardcore bands such as The Color Morale, Scary Kids Scaring Kids and Touché Amoré who's lead vocalists provide both clean and unclean vocals.

Post-hardcore bands such as Hawthorne Heights, Framing Hanley and Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows use screaming strictly as backing vocals to complement the more prominent clean vocals in order for their music to have a rougher sound,[12] while other bands such as Escape the Fate, Blessthefall and Senses Fail use a moderate amount of screaming mixed with clean vocals to allow for a much smoother sound in comparison to most post-hardcore bands.

By the early 2000s, the amount of screaming in any given song or album could vary widely from band to band, with some bands using it very infrequently, often at climaxes of songs. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Thursday, My Chemical Romance, Finch, Taking Back Sunday, The Used and Story of the Year are examples of bands achieving widespread success who only occasionally made use of screaming, as opposed to bands like Atreyu, Asking Alexandria, and Underoath, who use screaming rather frequently.

"This Is What Rock n' Roll Looks Like"
"This Is What Rock n' Roll Looks Like" (2011) shows the application of a death growl by a female singer in popular music.

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Alternative rock

Nirvana, circa 1992

Most of the tracks on Nirvana's first album, Bleach feature Kurt Cobain employing intense screams into the melodies. Cobain later adopted a screaming style which was less raspy and perhaps more representative of the "proper" technique. The band that influenced Cobain the most, the Pixies also used screaming in a large amount of their songs, with Frank Black's unique style of screaming contrasted with Kim Deal's backing vocals is very notable in songs such as "Tame", "Rock Music" and "River Euphrates".

Cobain's bandmate Dave Grohl is also notable for screaming with his band Foo Fighters. Grohl states he screams to make the songs "have maximum emotional potential".[13] Some tracks of the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins such as "Zero", and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", featured lead singer/guitarist Billy Corgan screaming in a very high-pitched vocal tone. Muse's vocalist Matt Bellamy screams during several early Muse songs on their first album Showbiz. Songs such as the title track and Yes Please showcase Bellamy's screaming technique.

Maynard James Keenan of Tool has taken use of screamed vocals on a few Tool songs such as his extensive scream in the intro to "Hush" or in the song "Ticks and Leeches" where he employs intense screamed vocals almost through the entire song. Keenan has also employed screams in his side band, A Perfect Circle, primarily in "Judith". Benjamin Burnley of Breaking Benjamin often uses screaming vocals in some of his songs, such as "The Diary of Jane". Jared Leto, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of Thirty Seconds to Mars, introduced his screaming vocals in the band's second studio album A Beautiful Lie while incorporating clean vocals as well. He can be heard screaming on songs such as "The Kill", "Attack" and "From Yesterday".

Health concerns

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, formerly 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. However, with proper technique, screaming can be done without harm to the vocal cords. Melissa Cross is a vocal teacher who specializes in this, and has taught many vocalists such as Randy Blythe and Angela Gossow.[14]

See also


  1. 1 2 Walser, Robert. Running with the Devil:Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press, 1993, p. 14.
  2. David Konow, Bang Your Head:The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal. Three Rivers Press, 2002, p.228.
  3. Purcell, Natalie J. Death Metal Music:The Passion and Politics of a Subculture. McFarland, 2003, p. 11.
  4. Weinstein, Deena. Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology. MacMillan, 1991, p. 51.
  5. Ian Christe, Sound of the Beast:The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal. HarperCollins, 2003, p.239.
  6. Hopper, Jessica (2009) "Back to the land with the Wolves", Chicago Tribune, May 15, 2009, retrieved 2011-12-24
  7. Cristman, Greg. "Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan & Red Fang played Terminal 5 (pics, video & setlist) ------- East of The Wall playing Brooklyn". Brooklyn Vegan.
  8. Dave Laing, One Chord Wonders:Power and Meaning in Punk Rock. Open University Press, 1985, p. 54.
  9. "Demiricous One (Hellbound) review". Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  10. Tacos (February 17, 2006). "Aiden Our Gangs Dark Oath review". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  11. Brian Cogan, "Oi!". Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture. Greenwood Press, 2006, p. 146.
  13. Micallef, Ken (2011-05-11). "THE FOO FIGHTERS TAKE A LOW-TECH APPROACH TO HIGH-INTENSITY ROCK". Electronic Musician. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
  14. "Melissa Cross, The Zen of Screaming testimonials". Retrieved 2011-04-22.
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