When looking at a genre as rapidly evolving and as downright outrageous as Heavy Metal, it’s easy to forget who and what set the bar for music to sound the way it does. And this is ESPECIALLY true to Extreme Metal. With a whole genre focused on making the listener feel like 12,000 bulldozers ran over their face at the same time for a constant 3-5 minutes, it’s also surprising to see just how broad the genre has come to be. Here are 10 vocalists that we feel truly influenced various movements in Extreme Metal, and due to the sheer variety, we decided to pick from all corners, harmonic to sewer-dwelling.
When Guttural Slug put out their sophomore full-length album “Megalodon” in 2013, they set a new bar for the standard of slam vocals. Samantha Michelle Smith cemented her position at the top with her signature cricket style vocal technique. The shift towards making a non-human sound, even less human, was just the cherry on top of the filthy good, brutal slamming death metal riffage that simply never gets old. And if you’re doubting whether or not she actually sounds like a cricket, just 30 seconds into “Eyes of the Cyclops” will get rid of all said doubts, rest assured. Having left Guttural Slug in 2015, Samantha Michelle Smith is still active with various bands, which you can check out here.
Sitting as president of Unique Leader Records, it would be plain wrong to feature brutal slamming death metal in this list without mentioning Matti Way. Being in roughly 15 bands over the course of his career, Matti Way let his rotten vocal chords shine on most of Abominable Putridity‘s discography. Incorporating (and founding) many guttural vocal styles with all his projects, as well as his contribution on the promotional and advertising side of things, Matti Way has undoubtedly deserved the status he achieved in the extreme death metal scene. Abominable Putridity‘s “Remnants of the Tortured” is an excellent showcase of Matti Way’s natural brutality.
Knoxville, TN’s very own Whitechapel have been putting deathcore (and themselves) on the map on a constant basis since 2006. With no introduction necessary, frontman Phil Bozeman takes the #8 spot on this list. Having joined Suicide Silence on stage in memoriam of their late vocalist Mitch Lucker, Phil Bozeman’s is often the first voice people hear when they check out deathcore for the first time. With his vocals evolving, getting more complex and intricate as Whitechapel‘s discography widens, we feel his most impressive performance is around the 1:20 mark in “Devirgination Studies”.
In a male dominated industry, it’s not often we see more extreme-oriented, female-lead bands in the mainstream. Having headlined major festivals around the world, Arch Enemy brought a female face to the Swedish melodeath scene. Filling in the shoes of Angela Gossow (Angela had stepped down from her position as vocalist in order to manage Arch Enemy full-time), Alissa White-Gluz did not shy away from her opportunity to carry the torch and influence people around the world as the frontwoman of a death metal band. Despite her shift toward cleaner vocal styles in recent years, she goes back to the roots in Arch Enemy‘s most recent single, “Handshake With Hell”.
Forming in 1993 out of Vaasa, Finland, Rotten Sound were an unlikely group to end up being one of the most admirable grindcore bands of all time. Continuously the world with a genre everyone thought was a fad, Rotten Sound are fronted by Keijo Niinimaa. With not much major competition coming out of Finland, Niinimaa brought the nordics to the forefront of the grind scene through the 90s and 2000s along with Sweden’s Nasum. With Rotten Sound still very active today, and with a new record in the making, Keijo Niinimaa barks away on stage and in the studio, making us back in here in Finland proud at this tough-as-nails status we’ve achieved in the scene. Check out his ferocious performance in “Self”
The late, great, LG Petrov, who sadly passed from bile duct cancer on the 7th of March 2021 at the unfortunate age of 49, is arguably the first person people think of when discussing the origins of the sheer extremity that is Swedish death metal. With a voice Metal Hammer described as “utterly unmistakable, glass gargling, slurring belch” as well as “throat shredding”, LG Petrov is noted for his complete dismissal of cleaned-up, good-sounding vocals, instead opting for a sheer, raw, freaky, and straight up terrifying vocal delivery, which put the Swedish death metal scene from the 90s onwards to this day. Despite his signature brutal delivery, he also is able to hold a VERY clean baritone. In fact, his cleans tend to send even more chills down my spine than his absolutely chilling screams. You can hear both styles Entombed‘s “Bitter Loss”, from their era-defining studio album, “Left Hand Path”.
Few can talk about death metal without mentioning Death. Whether Death or Possessed released the first death metal album, something we CAN’T argue about is how defining Chuck Schuldiner’s voice was for music to come past his time. Having been called “one of the most significant figures in the history of metal” by Kerrang!, ranked 10th place in Joel McIver’s book “The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists “in 2009 and 20th in Guitar World’s “The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists” in March 2004, it’s no surprise he’s hailed as The Godfather of Death Metal. Though he was uncomfortable with his nickname, saying he did not “want to be credited for all this death metal stuff,” his unfortunate passing in 2001 from a brain tumor lead to the solidifying of his status as nothing less than an icon. With a guttural yet comprehensible, ripping vocal screech, Chuck Schuldiner got right in the face of his listeners, on his first ever album none the less. Check his sinister, pioneering vocal delivery on Death‘s “Evil Dead”.
Going back to the topic of Swedish extremity, it’s extremely hard not to mention Tribulation‘s first album, aptly named “The Horror”. Released in 2009, Tribulation entered the scene long after Entombed first laid the foundation for the Swedish sound. However, the utter velocity of “The Horror” renders it a more-than-worthy album to end up putting frontman Johannes Andersson on this list. “The Horror” is one of the few death metal albums that holds its own, I was truly shocked when I found out it was released in 2009 and not 1989. Known as the bassist/vocalist of the band, Andersson also took over drum duties for the debut release. Though Tribulation quickly changed their approach after their debut release, heading towards a more gothic and harmonious sound, they retained the chilling horror, the blistering velocity, and the ripping terror of their early sound. Even though “The Horror” and Tribulation in general are not as well known as other Swedish bands and albums, they definitely do NOT deserve to get slept on. Try your best not to destroy everything while you listen to “Crypt of Thanatophilia”, trust me, you won’t be able to resist it.
Hailing from New Orleans, Phil Anselmo was one of the pioneers of the New Orleans sound with his band Down, which alongside acts such as Goatwhore, Eyehategod, Crowbar, and Soilent Green, brought that dragged out, sludgy, agonizing sound from Louisiana and delivered it to the rest of the world. However, NOBODY can talk Phil Anselmo without mentioning his legendary work with Texas groove Gods, Pantera. Joining Pantera in 1988 (6 years after their formation), Phil took the bland glam metal project and injected it with his New Orleans filth, making his introduction to the world with “Power Metal”. The subsequent album “Cowboys From Hell” was an instant 90s hit, snowballing Pantera into becoming one of the biggest and most influential metal acts of all time. Having played in Tushino Airfield, Moscow, as part of the Monsters of Rock 1991 lineup hosted as a special edition free-for-all festival in a collapsing Soviet Union with Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Metallica, and Pantera, Phil Anselmo’s angry yelling style just got more and more infamous. Pantera‘s 1992 album, “Vulgar Display of Power”, takes from hardcore influence as well, bringing an even more violent tone to their already heavy ass groove. In an album where I personally feel Phil Anselmo hit his prime, none would be a better introduction to the madman than his very, very appropriately named “Fucking Hostile”.
Ah, Obituary. When looking at 80s death metal from Tampa, these guys really do stand out. Ever since their debut release “Slowly We Rot”, the world as been blessed with John Tardy’s harrowing cries, taking the gritty music and icing it with a slick layer of horror. John Tardy claims he performs his vocals with the intent to fit the sound of the music, and has also stated that some of his “singing” is just noises rather than words. This in no doubt inspired future generation vocalists to focus on the sound rather than the annunciation of their lyrics, proving just how creative the vocal world in extreme metal can get. Sharing the stage with his younger brother Donald Tardy, John Tardy fronts Obituary on vocals alone, actively touring the world to remind us all exactly who was killing it from day 1. Hear his signature crying vocals in “Find the Arise”.