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Harsh Vocals

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The use in music of vocals that are... well, harsh. Typically this refers to vocals that are growled, in attempt to make the music sound more "evil." This is commonly associated with extreme metal, but shows up in other genres as well. See Soprano and Gravel for when this is paired up with cleaner, usually female, vocals. Compare Metal Scream, when the singer makes their vocals sound more intense by, well, screaming, and Smoky Voice.

Please note that Harsh Vocals are not the same as Screamo, which is another genre of music entirely. Most metalheads will be rather upset if you refer to them as such.


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  • In recent years, Bob Dylan has started veering into this territory when he sings. His trademark nasal groan is still present, but age has added a gruffness that may even rival that of Tom Waits.
  • Country Music singer Tyler Farr is known for having an incredibly raspy and guttural voice.
  • Albert Kuvezin's singing is all like this. This is a result of him being a VERY accomplished throat singer. Here's an example.
  • Not quite what's meant here, but Leonard Cohen did say, "Only in Canada could somebody with a voice like mine win Vocalist of the Year" when accepting the Juno Award for Best Male Vocalist in 1992.
  • Tom Waits gargles whiskey and broken glass.
  • Nicolas Reyes of the famous Gipsy Kings is notable for putting on a very coarse voice when he sings.

  • Very common in Industrial and related styles, pioneered by Skinny Puppy back in the 80s.
  • Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman mainly alternates between harsh vocals and a much smoother, crooning style - sometimes both get used within the same song for the sake of contrast. For a few musically Lighter and Softer albums in the mid-80's, he dropped the growling almost entirely.
  • Das Ich is a good example of this trope's use in darkwave.
  • Project Pitchfork prominently began using this vocal style in the early-mid 2000s. There are a few exceptions, such as "Timekiller", where the singer uses a relatively normal baritone voice.

  • All Death Metal singers (The Other Wiki even refers to this vocal style as a "Death Growl"). In the early years of the genre, "Cookie Monster" vocals were basically the only thing that separated it from just dirty, fast thrash. (in fact, a lot of Allmusic reviews of the genre use the words "Cookie Monster") Bands who go beyond strict use of deep growls (and perhaps occasional high-pitched screams) are often accused of being sellouts and posers unless the band in question has Progressive Metal leanings or otherwise has segments where cleans could actually fit the song, like in Melodic Death Metal.
  • Infamously to anyone who's played Rock Band 2, Mallika Sundaramurthy from Abnormality (as in "Visions"), who is also a rare female example.
  • Another female example would be Angela Gossow and her hand-picked successor, Alissa White-Gluz.
  • Masha Arhipova from Arkona, one of the few female vocalists to pull off the Death Metal growl.
  • The grindcore band Caninus affectionately parody the use of this vocal style in metal by having two pitbulls trade off on lead vocals.
  • The Dark Element's "Dead to Me" has guest vocalist Niilo Sevänen providing a deep-pitched roar at several points.
  • Dream Theater's James LaBrie normally did melodic vocals but has done occasionally employed harsher vocals, notable on Black Clouds and Silver Linings. The song ''A Nightmare to Remember" is also the only time the band has used the death growl technique, though that wasn't done by LaBrie.
  • Epica's and After Forever's Mark Jansen
  • Another female example is Jyou of exist†trace, although she's cut down on it in later releases.
  • Hacktivist has emcee Ben Marvin, who does this combined with rapping in contrast to fellow emcee Jermaine "J" Hurley, who uses clean vocal raps.
  • Michael Bohn of Issues, who contrasts his vocals with the smooth, poppy, R&B vocals of fellow vocalist Tyler Carter.
  • Minoru Niihara of Loudness.
  • Detonator, vocalist of the Brazilian comedy Metal band Massacration. The In-Universe explanation is that the God of Metal ordered him to cut off his nuts to make his voice more Metal. Yeah, it's THAT kind of band.
  • Marilyn Manson varies depending on the song, but when a song with harsh vocals is done live, oftentimes, it will become even harsher.
  • Buzz Osborne of The Melvins' primary vocal style can be described as this. As with Captain Beefheart, his speaking voice is quite different.
  • Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister was one of the first people to sing exclusively with a throat full of gravel.
    • One of his fans, Metallica's James Hetfield, employs lots of this. To the point one day his voice blew out, forcing him to take some vocal therapy.
    • NWOBHM/Black Metal band Venom took Lemmy's vocal approach and cranked up the aggression. Their style was hugely influential on both black metal and death metal.
  • Quorthon, the man behind Bathory, codified the phlegmy, sinister rasp associated with Black Metal.
  • A Pale Horse Named Death use harsh vocals very sparingly, such as on "Devil Came with a Smile".
  • Pantera's Phil Anselmo, one of the most influential vocalists in Heavy Metal during the 1990s, combined both machismo and sociopathy to create a sound much more terrifying than your usual, run-of-the-mill "scary" voice. You can even hear some of it as far back as Power Metal, his debut with the band during their later-disowned "glam phase". Granted, the tone itself was mostly copy-pasted from Kyle Thomas of fellow Texas Thrash Metal band Exhorder, though he would later take certain... liberties with it.
  • Mike Patton sometimes uses this type of vocal style in his music. But that's because he uses almost every vocal style in his music. His performance as The Darkness in the videogame of the same name essentially is Nightmare Fueled death metal vocals.
  • Otep's Otep Shamaya does a lot of this, and is also another rare female example.
  • Simone Pluijmers from the Netherlands, another female vocalist.
  • Psychostick takes it to the logical conclusion and has the vocals for Six Pounds of Terror performed by a small dog.
  • Max Cavalera of Sepultura and Soulfly. ROOTS! BLOODY ROOOOOOOTS!
  • For a full-on "Cookie Monster" female, Adrienne Cowan of Seven Spires, a Dimmu Borgir fan who in a few songs growls like her idols (and has downright covered them).
  • The lead singer of Skillet, John Cooper. Not only does he sing like this, it's his normal speaking voice.
  • Much like fellow metal virtuoso vocalist Mike Patton, Devin Townsend uses almost every vocal style under the sun, and is very good at implenting harsh vocals into his music.
  • Andrew and Grant of Unleash the Archers provide these.
  • Kamijo of Versailles doesn't do this very often, but there's still a few examples of this, such as in "The Red Carpet Day".
  • Vocaloid producer Yuyoyuppe has a good chunk of songs using this vocal style, done in the voices of Hatsune Miku and Megurine Luka of all people. Some notable examples are "[S]" and "For a Sick Boy".
  • Laura of Dalriada does this at times, though a majority of her singing is clean.
  • Early in her career, Floor Jansen would perform in Soprano and Gravel duets opposite a male growler. She still does, but she added death growls of her own to her repertoire on ReVamp's second and final album Wild Card, and also growls on a few Nightwish songs, most prominently "Yours Is an Empty Hope".
  • While not being actual growling, Magali Luyten's both singing and talking voice are very raspy.
  • The Halo Effect's Mikael Stanne uses a mid-register snarl almost exclusively, bar singing cleans on the choruses of "In Broken Trust" and "A Truth Worth Lying For".

  • This is a common feature of Folk Punk— musicians such as Pat the Bunny or Sean Bonette of AJJ have gravelly voices that add to the punk nature of the music.
  • Darby Crash of The Germs used this as more or less his entire singing style.
  • Dicky Barrett from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones!
  • Buster Poindexter (aka New York Dolls) singer David Johansen, best known for singing "Hot Hot Hot".
  • GG Allin sang with a rasp that became more pronounced as time went on, owing to his alcoholism and substance abuse.

  • Captain Beefheart used this voice, among many others, quite often. However, unlike Tom Waits, it was nowhere near his natural voice.
    • In his case it was more like a transparent imitation of Howlin' Wolf.
  • Carl McCoy of Fields of the Nephilim.
  • PJ Harvey's song "Joy" from Is This Desire?.
  • Frances Quinlan of Hop Along pairs this with country-inflected crooning to make some damn interesting indie rock. See here.
  • Terje Winterstø Røthing from Kaizers Orchestra when he's singing for his project, Skambankt.
  • Former KISS drummer Peter Criss was known for his very rough and raspy voice that he used to great effect when he sang. Most notably on "Black Diamond"
  • Yet another female example would be Courtney Love.
  • Screamin' Jay Hawkins. When he isn't, y'know, screamin'.
  • Dan McCafferty of Nazareth. His gravelly style is rather similar to that of Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, although both (especially Gillan) are capable of more melodic styles.
  • Little Richard.
  • Nils Frydakahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.
  • Bruce Springsteen probably has the roughest voice ever to grace the Billboard Top 10.
  • AC/DC's Bon Scott had a pretty gravely rasp on the Highway to Hell album, whether this was due to his substance abuse or a stylistic choice we'll never know, since he died shortly after the album's release.
  • Joe Cocker can easily be considered one of the first rock artists that popularized a very gritty, raw style of singing.

  • Louis Armstrong.
  • Diamanda Galás: Who made shrieking an art.
  • Another female example is Christine "99" Kowalski, the guest vocalist on Front 242's 05:22:09:12 Off album.
  • Hurricane Smith, best known for "Oh Babe What Would You Say"
  • Marianne Faithfull, since the 1970s, when her voice developed a distinctive rasp.
  • Harvey Fierstein, despite very much being a Camp Gay, has a very gravelly voice that you really wouldn't expect to hear in the show tunes he usually sings.
  • In the French Hip-Hop band Suprême NTM, there's JoeyStarr's trademark raspy and gravelly voice, which gives a more hardcore vibe to the band's songs if the lyrics weren't enough.
  • Yoko Ono is notorious for her One-Woman Wail. Not only on her own records, but also on John Lennon's first two albums. Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins and Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions.
  • Japanese Idol-fusion Girl Group PassCode has Yuna Imada, an adorable 4'10" young lady whose death-screams (which sound nothing like her real voice) punctuate 90% of the group's songs. Her fellow member Kaede Takashima also tries it in a couple of songs.
  • LADYBABY, another Idol-fusion group, has this on the majority of their songs as a stark clash with the other girls singing upbeat J-pop. The original screamer was Ladybeard, a six-foot-tall fully-bearded crossdressing Australian pro-wrestler whose shtick was that he was in fact a five-year-old girl. After he left, they had no live screamer until early 2018, when the only remaining original member recruited Emily Arima, who can growl lower than plenty of men but is praised for her mid-range screams.
    • Ladybeard's subsequent projects – Deadlift Lolita and <name-as-yet-unrevealed> – naturally have him performing the same role.
  • And a less famous female example in the form of Porcelain Black.
  • The futurepop band Pride and Fall uses these in "Turn The Lights On", which is somewhat of an Out-of-Genre Experience for them.
  • Traditional throat singing from Mongolia can sound pretty harsh for Western ears that are used to more mainstream pop music.
  • No humans or any other living creatures on Earth hold a candle to the sound of a whale, as evidenced on the album Songs of the Humpback Whale, which showcases nothing but these sounds. The singing is very loud, for it can be heard from quite a distance around. Yet "vocals" is not really the correct term here as whales have no vocal cords and generate sound by forcing air out of their nasal cavities. And what we call singing is merely a series of grunts, squeals, cries and rumbles.
  • Legendary voice actor Candy Candido was very well known for being able to sing from a high pitched falsetto all the way to a bass baritone. He was also doing the whole "gruff singing" thing as far back as the early thirties, as this clip shows. The best example of his harsh vocals is probably his rendition of "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man".

    Fictional Examples 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Death Growl


Halo Effect-"In Broken Trust"

The Halo Effect is a supergroup formed by several former members of Gothenburg melodic death metal legends In Flames, which deliberately seeks to recreate the '90s "Gothenburg sound" in their music. "In Broken Trust" features current Dark Tranquillity frontman Mikael Stanne performing with harsh vocals on the verses and clean vocals on the chorus.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / MelodicDeathMetal

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