Issue 2 |

Heavy Metal screaming: Skill or sham?

by on February 12, 2015

Characterised by what many people consider a distinctive yet incomprehensible Cookie Monster-esque sound, screaming is a mainstay in heavy metal music. While you might find similar techniques in pop and rock—yelling or belting—it is the non-melodic element of screaming that sets heavy metal apart from other genre types.

The heavy metal genre and its contemporaries are often closely associated with exclusionary subcultures, and have often received flak from the common listener for sounding too noisy. Even the post-hardcore genre, a strikingly watered down and accessible version of heavy metal, has failed to capture the hearts of mainstream music consumers, some of whom dismiss it and its parent genre as a part of the underground music scene. It is difficult to find a music school providing lessons in screaming, and the best screaming tutorials you can find on YouTube are brief, at best. In other words, screamed vocal delivery hasn’t received much attention because it is such a peculiar manner of oral expression. Listen to any heavy metal song and chances are you’re likely to hear—for lack of a better expression—argggh arggh blaaaargh.

However, while the underlying mechanisms of screaming may seem foreign to an untrained ear and the desired sound—or undesired, for that matter—hard to actualise, one should not be quick to dismiss screaming as simply unintelligible sound. You will be surprised to find that there are three ways to execute the heavy metal scream. Before we get started on these three types of screams, though, let me first take you through how performers enunciate their words when performing a scream.


In order to understand how the screaming technique is performed, let us begin by considering the different ways the first sound of a word is articulated. To put it simply, we are interested in looking at whether a word begins with a consonant or a vowel.

In screaming, words that start with consonants are articulated as they always have been in spoken language. That is to say that there are no significant differences observed between speaking and screaming.

On the other hand, words that start with vowels may be preceded by a rounded lip “w” or an unrounded lip “y” when screamed. In doing so, you are significantly reducing the amount of work the glottis has to do to produce a sound. This is because words that begin with vowels in English are normally preceded by a sound called the glottal stop, in which the vocal folds come together and then apart. For example, you can feel a glottal stop in the beginning and the middle of the word “uh-oh.”  Vocalists often remove the glottal stop at the start of a screamed word because it is harder to build up the airflow needed for a scream by starting with a glottal stop. Let us take a look at the differences between spoken and screamed vowel-initial words.

Take the Standard English sentence: “Amy is bold and intelligent.

The vowels in the words “Amy”, “is,”and “intelligent” are typically preceded by a glottal stop. However, the Metal vocalist will instead begin the aforementioned words with a spread lip “y” to ease the glottis into harsh vibrations—also known as a scream.

The song “.44 Caliber Love Letter” by Post-Hardcore outfit, Alexisonfire, again highlights this difference in enunciation at 1:59, where the lines:

Sifting through weathered photo albums
Looking for gloriously aged polaroids
Of places you’ve never been.

are realised as

Sifting through weathered photo wealbums
Looking for gloriously yaged polaroids
Wof places you’ve never been.

Even though it is possible to scream a vowel initial word while retaining the phonetics and phonology of spoken English, many choose not to. As per most heavy music vocalists such as Alexisonfire’s George Pettit, pronouncing the rounded lip “w” or the spread lip “y” before a vowel-initial consonant can be a surefire way of eliminating the glottal stop. This measure may be essential toward helping the vocalist execute screams.

Having discussed the enunciation patterns involved in executing a scream, let’s take a closer look at some of the more well-known heavy metal screams.


Typified by a guttural sound so low it puts Chewbacca to shame, the growl is employed in harsher genres such as Death Metal. Most people who listen to similar genres will tell you that a screamed growl sounds like a whisper with some belting to it, as you might hear in this tutorial:

Now I know my Author’s Note states that this article is by no means a step-by-step guide to screaming, but you can try whispering to yourself to understand what I mean. The glottis also plays a fundamental role in executing a growl, where rapid vibrations of glottal tissues distort the whispering sound produced by the vocal folds.

The use of growls is exemplified in the song “Bludgeoned to Death” by Deathcore quintet Suicide Silence:

 Fry Scream

Now, this has nothing to do with deep fried food and what it does to your vocal ability. The fry scream is similar to the growl except that it sounds more strident and is not quite as loud. The fry scream is produced by having the vocal folds vibrate rapidly, induced by exhaling deeply from the diaphragm.

Linkin Park’s “Faint” best demonstrates the fry scream between 2:01 and 2:10:

When the vocal folds are bunched and relaxed, they vibrate irregularly, producing a creaking sound. This is a phenomenon called “creak” or “vocal fry”, which most of us make every once in a while in normal English conversation, usually toward the end of a sentence. Performers of the fry scream make great use of this vocal fry—in order to achieve the desired sound, a vocal fry is produced before forcefully exhaling from the diaphragm.

Inhale Scream / Pig Squeals

The Inhale Scream is an implosive counterpart to the former two variants of screamed vocal methods. In order to understand how the inhale scream works, let’s begin by considering a gasp you might make when you feel surprised. Now, in order to make the little gasp coarse and loud, you can contract your abdominal muscles to exert some extra force while taking in a large volume of air.

A great example of this is Silverstein’s “Smashed into Pieces”, which employs only inhale screams:

Employing the same inhaling technique described above with adjustments to lip and tongue positions also allows the vocalist to execute the pig squeal, a subvariant of the inhale scream.  In Job for a Cowboy’s “Entombment of a Machine”, you will hear pig squeals at 0:07 and 1:07:

Deathcore, a fusion genre that merges Death Metal and Hardcore, features plenty of pig squealing. It’s a little difficult to distinguish amidst down-tuned guitar distortion, but you should be listening out for a “bree bree” sound that characterises the pig squeal. During execution of the pig squeal, there is little emphasis on accurate pronunciation of words. The sound is produced by rounding the lips and lowering the tongue while pulling it towards the back of the mouth to achieve the desired “bree”.

Conclusion: More skill than sham

Critics of heavy metal and its contemporaries tend to use the “it’s just yelling, even I can do it” argument to denounce these genres as valid forms of music, requiring more angst than skill. While it is one of the least accessible genres in modern music, however, performing the screams of heavy metal does involve plenty of skill and practice. As we’ve seen, there is an actual technique involved in executing the heavy metal scream, as well as a systematic enunciation pattern.

Indeed, trying to scream without including all of the abovementioned steps will prove to be futile. I hope this article has helped you (fan or not) unravel the workings of a scream, and shown you how metal is more than just argggh arggh blaaaargh.

Useful Terminology

Deathcore: Fusion genre that combines elements of both Death Metal and Hardcore.
Heavy: A colloquial term describing bands creating an amplified sound with distortion, most of which use screams.
Post-Hardcore: A music genre derivative of hardcore punk with emphasis on melodic singing.

9 Responses to “Heavy Metal screaming”

  1. Great article, as a vocalist who employs both traditional cleans as well as screams I appreciate and agree with the skill verdict. It took me a good year to even be a horrible screamer and around 5 to be good, whereas anyone can pick up singing in about 2 years with a good teacher. My only quip is citing Silverstein as utilizing inhaled vocals. Job for a cowboy and early Eskimo callboy are really the only ones who ever got away with those. Shane has one of the best vocal fries around, and while the original “Smashed into peices” is occasionally mistaken for inhales, they are not. They are just a really pure fry similar early Amity Affliction’s vocals. Most vocalists use a mixture of Fry and false chord (deathmetal growl technique) as it records the best.

  2. That’s encouraging Cole, thanks. I’m a beginner at the screaming side of things and was concerned about not nailing it after only a few months, but I’ve heard that inhale screaming is injurious? Great article this.

  3. Hi just want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more.
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  8. Georgia King

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