Monday, February 14, 2005

Where did all the singers go?

That's the question I ask myself every week when I watch Headbanger's Ball. I grew up with guys like Bruce Dickinson, Jon Oliva, Ronnie James Dio. All undeniably metal, but all guys that can really wail. It's what I find missing in most of the metal I hear today. Most of the bands out there now seem convinced that in order to be heavy, it has to sound like your singer's voice box is about to fly out and smack into the opposite wall. It's just not true.

Black Sabbath practically invented metal without screaming at all.

Let me qualify this so you know I'm not just some old geezer that can't handle the new sound. There are a lot of newer bands out there that I really like. In fact, I'm more excited about what's going on in metal right now than I've been in a long time. Bands like Shadows Fall, God Forbid, Diecast and Soilwork are producing some of the best music I've heard in a long time (and yes, most of them are screamers.)

What annoys me when I watch Headbanger's Ball now is that so many of the bands sound exactly the same. I feel like I'm hearing the same song 8 or 10 times during the course of a two-hour show. I grew up on thrash -- Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, etc. They all played the same style of music but they all had their own sound. When you heard a song, you could tell immediately who it was. I don't hear that now. I was listening to Liquid Metal on XM Radio last night. They played three songs in a row, and I couldn't tell where one song ended and the next began. Three different bands, and it was so cookie cutter that I couldn't even tell when the song changed, much less tell the bands apart.

Maybe it's insecurity. Metal fans have a long history of ridiculing bands they don't consider "true metal." Maybe these guys are afraid of seeming weak. But singing doesn't mean sounding like the pretty boys in the hair bands. Look at guys like Zakk Wylde or John Bush. Both sing, and both have very masculine voices. Black Label Society's "Stronger than Death" is a great heavy album, and it doesn't lose an ounce of power because Zakk's singing instead of screaming. Or take Pantera as an example. Sure, Phil did more than his share of screaming, but he could also sing when the piece called for it. Is "I'm Broken" any less heavy for the singing? Would you give up a song like "Floods" just because it's not played 90 miles an hour with blast beats?

I understand that everyone has different tastes, and to each his own. There's obviously a market for that sound, so if they like it and can make money doing it more power to them. But would somebody, anybody, please give me a singer?

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