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Music Opinion: Best Heavy Metal Vocalists

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Hi there, this is the Raucous Rocker. Today, I am going to do my first list(s), two top five lists of my favorite vocalists in metal. There are a lot of great vocalists and I have had trouble choosing just five for each, but they are all vocalists that I feel deserve their recognition. Most of these vocalists are from larger bands because they seem to be, for some reason, a whole lot better than ones from smaller bands (generally speaking). Also, these vocalists are not necessarily who I think are the best in the entire industry, they are just my personal favorites. So without further ado, let’s begin.

This is divided into two parts with five vocalists each, clean singers and growlers. I was planning to add female vocalists as well but found that it was too long, so I may make another list encompassing the women in metal later.

Clean Singers

These are the vocalists who just sing using their normal voices. It’s harder to sound good singing clean than it is to growl successfully, but the ones that pull it off are some of the most enjoyable singers I have ever heard. These are my top five clean singers:

5. Rob Halford (Judas Priest): Of course, Halford had to be on my list, as he is one of the most influential vocalists in metal history and has one of the biggest vocal ranges to boot. The only question people may be asking is, “Why is he so low on the list?” Well, I like him but I don’t love him. His falsetto can get kind of annoying and he’s not really pleasurable to listen to like most of these other vocalists.

4. Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath, Dio): Again, here is one of the most famous metal vocalists ever. He had a good voice, good range and lots of feeling; his voice just sounded like it was made for the music his band was playing along with him. It’s really sad that he’s no longer with us—for those of you who are unaware, he passed away in May of 2010—as he was a great source of musical talent and will be missed.

3. Dave Draiman (Disturbed): Yeah, any hardcore metalheads out there will probably kill me for putting the singer from Disturbed over Halford and Dio, but I really do like him better. Unlike the other two, he doesn’t have a really good range, but his voice is just generally very good-sounding and doesn’t ever sound strained or forced. He also does those weird vocal “effects” at the beginning of a lot of their songs which is kind of cool, although sometimes it does sound kind of odd.

2. Matt Barlowe (ex-Iced Earth): Here’s someone a lot of people (even metal fans) have never heard of, which is sad because this guy has a simply amazing voice. His range is probably as wide as Halford’s (possibly bigger) and he has two singing methods he generally uses: a deep bass voice which can be either calming or ferocious depending on how he uses it, and a very high-pitched kind of falsetto shriek (like Halford’s) which he generally uses sparingly throughout his songs to provide a sort of “climax.” He also sings with a lot of emotion in his voice and the fact that he switches voice types constantly during his performances gives him sort of an unpredictable feel. Listen to “A Question of Heaven” to hear one of the best metal vocal performances in history.

1. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden): Yes, Bruce is number one. His pseudo-opera voice just compliments the music perfectly and he can hit some amazing notes (which sound even better when he uses his vibrato). I always feel sort of sorry for the other two vocalists Iron Maiden has had over their career; they are actually pretty good but are constantly being bashed because their voices simply cannot compare with Dickinson’s. He’s my favorite vocalist ever.

Harsh Singers

These are the vocalists who prefer to use harsher growling vocals as their “singing” method. While most people don’t consider it a very refined form of vocalization (yes, I’m talking to you, mom and dad), they can actually be quite impressive then they use their vocals right.

5. Tie between Phil Bozeman (Whitechapel) and Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas): I can’t believe that I’m actually putting a deathcore vocalist on here, but here he is. Whitechapel is your standard deathcore band which has one redeeming feature: Bozeman. He has amazingly guttural lows and also seems to stay away from those really annoying inhales that deathcore vocalists tend to do. This is what deathcore vocalists should sound like.

Mike Patton, on the other hand, is a really insane vocalist who has created several kooky post-Faith No More musical acts throughout his time, the most famous of which is the bizarre Mr. Bungle. Patton is a very refreshing and interesting vocalist because of the sheer number of voices that he can produce from death metal shrieks and growls to pseudo-operatic singing and even rapping. Sometimes he can be a bit much, but he is quite a character and you can always count on him keeping you entertained in any of his musical projects.

4. Tomas Lindburg (At The Gates): At the Gates is truly a legendary band, and Tomas is a legendary vocalist. I’ve never heard a vocal style quite like his and even with all of the vocalists trying to “copy” the band’s style, no one I have ever heard has a voice similar to this. He can scream and shout like he’s possessed, and songs like “Cold” just amplify his voice, bringing it into the spotlight. The downside of his voice is that he only has one style he uses and it can occasionally become hard on the ears, especially when using headphones.

3. Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth): Another great growler, Hegg sings for Viking metal band Amon Amarth and has several different styles he uses, although he generally prefers to use a deeper growl. It just compliments the music so well and provides the perfect atmosphere for the songs, which are epic and aggressive. He never fails to deliver.

2. Bjorn “Narrenschiff” Holter (ex-Illnath): Now this is an unknown genius if I have ever seen one. It really sucks that he is no longer in his band Illnath. He is most like Dani Filth, except that he takes those annoying inhale vocals and actually makes them sound … good! I’m not really sure how to explain it, but they just work and he’s not constantly in your face and shrieking like Filth. He also has a much bigger range than Filth and hits some of the highest notes I have ever heard.

1. Jari Maenpaa (ex-Ensiferum, Wintersun): Anything involving Wintersun seems to be number one on any music list I do, and with good reason. Maenpaa is a musical genius. Not even considering the music that he writes, I can honestly say that he is my favorite harsh metal vocalist ever. He seems to have one of the most powerful diaphragms ever, as he can scream and shout very powerfully and hold them for quite some time as well. In addition, he has a very nice clean voice which he likes to use for those epic chanting background vocals. Just listen to “Sleeping Stars.”

So these are my favorite metal vocalists, both clean and harsh. Though they are all different, they all do a fantastic job in making metal great not only instrumentally but vocally as well.

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About Raucous Rocker

  • G-slicin

    No Keith Buckley from every time i die and the damned things. I’m disappointed

  • Charlie Doherty

    It took my a while to get full into Judas Priest’s catalog but man, Halford does deserve to be high up on anyone’s list. He’s got more versatility vocally than you realize-you gotta hear Halford’s thrash metal mid-’90s band Fight, which features his much grittier vocal style.

    Good list but I’m surprised Into Eternity’s lead singer Stu Block didn’t make it. That guy is like the melodic death metal version of Rob Halford (especially on tracks like “Timeless Winter”)! Unreal vocal range and totally underrated.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @2,

    Yea…and no love for King Diamond, Michael Kiske or Devin Townsend either?!

  • Raucous Rocker

    Wow, apparently no one fathoms that with a top FIVE list, there are going to be a few singers out of the hundreds that exist left off of it. To everyone who commented:
    King Diamond, Michael Kiske and Keith Buckley all annoy me, Devin Townsend I’m not familiar enough with and Stu Block was close to making it, but as I said when I can only include five clean and five harsh, there are bound to be some good ones left out.

    • Jake Washburn

      you should really get familiar with devin as he is an amazing songwriter and vocalist. or check out strapping young lad, his earlier project.

  • tatzkie

    yeah! i love disturbed, it’s good that you list him on clean vocals.

  • turtebeast

    I had no idea Patton was so versatile. He always annoyed me on epic. I’ll have to give his other stuff a go. Great list.

  • http://julesmanson.blogspot.com/ Jules Manson

    I think a very well deserved honorable mention goes to a very talented singer, song writer, and amazing guitarist from a smaller death metal band. The gentleman I speak of is the one and only Mikael Åkerfeldt of a “little” band from Sweden called Opeth. He is not only a great growler but he also has a very, dare I say it? He has a beautiful clean singing voice too.

  • josh hauck

    what about Phil Anselmo?

    • Jake Washburn

      phil anselmo sucks hard. yeah he sounded good on the records but did you ever check out any, and i mean ANY of his live stuff? its all really bad

  • Ricky Suarez

    Dio has the best clean voice, Bruce is 3rd, Draiman’s growls are better than his cleans & he can’t touch Dio, Bruce or Halford, Barlow’s range is nowhere near as wide as Rob’s with the exception of his “lows” which he wins easily and his clean voice isn’t good to begin with.