Screaming (music)

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For the genre, see Screamo.
"Unclean vocals" redirects here. For growling vocals, see Death growl.

Screaming is an extended vocal technique that is mostly popular in subgenres of heavy metal, and is also used in some genres of punk and industrial. While intensity, pitch, and characteristics vary from vocalist to vocalist, screamed vocals generally accompany heavy music, and are associated with more aggressive musical themes or styles.


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

Classical and experimental music[edit]

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 screaming songs was 'Put my speal on you' (1956).

Rock and Roll[edit]

Rock and Roll (before the advent of heavy metal and punk rock) employed occasional brief screaming bits. In 1950s, one principal screamer was Little Ritchard, beggining buy his 'tutti frutti' (1954). 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.

Punk rock[edit]

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.[1] 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"[2][3] 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).[4] Two of the most notable screaming female singers in Punk are Kat Bjelland of Babes In Toyland and Courtney Love of Hole.

Heavy metal[edit]

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.[5]

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."[5] 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."[6] 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."[7]

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."[8] Some bands relating to the death metal genre perform what is called "pig squealing", which is a squealing vocal technique resembling that of a pig. Early albums by death metal/deathcore bands such as Despised Icon, All Shall Perish, Salt the Wound and Job for a Cowboy employed the use of pig squeal vocals, but have all since abandoned it on later material.

The progressively more forceful enunciation of metal vocals has been noted, from heavy metal to thrash metal to death metal.

Black metal[edit]

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.[10]

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 almost always uses screamed vocals, although many metalcore bands occasionally make use of clean vocals while screamed vocals take precedence. Metalcore bands that employ clean vocals are usually placed in the chorus or bridge of a song, notable examples of bands that do this are All That Remains, Architects, The Devil Wears Prada, Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying. There are some metalcore bands such as August Burns Red, Unearth, Parkway Drive and Texas in July who refuse to make use of any clean vocals in their music.

Screaming in metalcore initially became a traditional standard for the genre in the early 1990s wherein the bands Converge and Earth Crisis 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.

Usually the metalcore bands that do take use of clean vocals have a different vocalist perform them, for example in The Devil Wears Prada, vocalist Mike Hranica performs the screams while guitarist Jeremy DePoyster sings the clean vocals, and Issues' two vocalists Michael Bohn and Tyler Carter perform the screaming and clean singing respectively. Although, there have been metalcore bands wherein the vocalist that performs the screamed vocals also employs the clean vocals; examples of vocalists that use this technique are Philip Labonte of All That Remains, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, Matt Heafy of Trivium, Matt Tuck of Bullet for My Valentine, Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage, Sam Carter of Architects, Tyler "Telle" Smith of The Word Alive and Chris Cerulli of Motionless in White .

Other genres of metal[edit]

Genres such as industrial metal, groove metal and alternative metal sometimes employs screaming. Nu metal also includes shouting and rapping as well as various other styles of vocals. 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". Nu metal band 40 Below Summer frequently features screamed vocals. Limp Bizkit sometimes uses screamed vocals, especially on songs from their first album.

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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In industrial metal and alternative metal, 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 Waylon Reavis of Mushroomhead, Edsel Dope of Dope, Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Robb Flynn of Machine Head and Matt Holt of Nothingface. This technique is also sometimes vaguely known as "yelling".

Greg Puciato of the mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan has become somewhat renowned for "insane" and "constant" screams,[11] while the dual lead vocalists in The Number Twelve Looks Like You use various techniques.


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 and Dennis Lee of Alesana go a step further, employing death growls instead of screams. 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.

Post-hardcore bands such as Hawthorne Heights, Framing Hanley and Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows use screaming strictly as backing vocals to compliment 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 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 eschewing the technique altogether or using it very infrequently, often at climaxes of songs. The aforementioned Silverstein, as well as The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Thursday, Alexisonfire, Funeral for a Friend, My Chemical Romance, Thrice, Saosin, Sparta, Finch, Taking Back Sunday and Story of the Year are examples of bands achieving widespread success who only occasionally made use of screaming, as opposed to bands like Alesana, A Skylit Drive, Atreyu, Orchid, The Used, I hate myself, Every Time I Die, Asking Alexandria (especially their debut album), Falling in Reverse, Underoath, Circle Takes the Square and From Autumn to Ashes, who (in comparison to these bands) use screaming rather frequently.

"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 and other genres[edit]

Nirvana, circa 1992

Most of the tracks on Nirvana's first album, Bleach feature Kurt Cobain employing intense screams into the melodies. They are also accompanied by vocal cracking in some cases which can either indicate improper technique, stylistic choice, or a combination of both. 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".

An early rock example is rock band The Doors, vocalist Jim Morrison used to scream on live performance and some studio tracks like "When the music's over", "I looked at you", "Light My Fire", contains some screams. On the 40th Anniversary Mix of Waiting for the Sun album, track "Hello I love you" includes a longer fade-out with a high-pitch scream similar to a contemporary heavy metal scream. Another early rock example is in the 1968 Pink Floyd track, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", where Roger Waters whispers the title of the song, and as the song begins to crescendo, lets out a scream not commonly heard in music prior to the song's release. Similar screams are employed on later tracks, such as "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" and "Run Like Hell", both on their 1979 album, "The Wall".

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", "XYU", "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", "Tales of a Scorched Earth", and "Jellybelly" featured lead singer/guitarist Billy Corgan screaming in a 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.

Linkin Park's singer, Chester Bennington, screams in several Linkin Park songs such as "One Step Closer", "A Place for My Head", "Lying from You", "Hit The Floor", "Faint", "From the Inside", more recent songs featuring Bennington's signature brutal screaming are "Given Up" (18 seconds), "Bleed It Out", "No More Sorrow", "Wish" (Nine Inch Nails Cover), "Blackout", "Lost in the Echo", "Lies Greed Misery", "Victimized", "Keys to the Kingdom" and the more punk-influenced, "War". To date, Bennington has screamed at least once on every Linkin Park release and has even employed screamed vocals in his side band, Dead by Sunrise.

Aggrotech bands such as Aesthetic Perfection, Psyclon Nine, Combichrist, Unter Null, Angelspit, and Amduscia all have used screamed vocals.

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 even outside of Tool. In his side band, A Perfect Circle, Keenan can be heard using an overtone scream in "Judith".

Mike Barnes of Red has screamed in a majority of the songs the band has done, most notably in "Let Go", for 12 seconds straight, "Death of Me," "Breathe into Me," and "Feed the Machine."

Benjamin Burnley of Breaking Benjamin often uses screaming vocals in some of his songs. Notable examples include "Crawl", "Hopeless", "Sugarcoat", "Breakdown" "The Diary of Jane," and "You Fight Me".

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".

Screaming is uncommon in jazz, though an example can be found on We Insist!, a 1961 album by drummer Max Roach that features wordless vocals, including hoarse shouts and yelling, by singer Abby Lincoln.

Health concerns[edit]

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[edit]


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