Greatest Extreme Vocalists: Addendum

If you’ve picked up the most recent issue of Decibel, we hope you’ve flipped through the “Greatest Extreme Vocalists of All Time” cover article.  The list of incredible voices was proposed, discussed, voted on, scrapped, argued about, re-voted on, lost, re-re-voted on, torched, shat upon, and finally selected and sent to print by some intern over at Magnet.

Whether you’re tickled or prickly about our parameters for choosing the thirty throats we honored in our countdown, you’ve got to admit that the talent on display – top to bottom – is pretty objectively undeniable.

Problem is, thirty is a pretty damn arbitrary number.  We could have expanded the list substantially and still left out as many deserving names as we included.  Today I offer six equally extraordinary extensions to the original list.  These mike-maulers have not been scrutinized by the whole Decibel masthead, and I’m unquestionably getting fired for at least one of them, but maybe they can start a broader conversation (in the comments section below) about who else merits recognition for their vocal prowess.  Don’t get mad, get into the discussion!

And if you haven’t checked out Decibel’s official list in Issue #127 (May 2015), grab a copy here before you start bitchin’ about this blog post!

Yasuko Onuki (Melt-Banana)

Are you listening to a Melt-Banana song right now?  Even if you were dropped into a noise/metal-friendly club mid-track, you’d know immediately if you were hearing Melt-Banana, and that’s why Yasuko belongs in any conversation about great extreme vocalists.  Sure, Agata deserves credit for his own ear-busting contributions to the band’s sound, but nobody else sounds like an over-caffeinated chihuahua with a chip on its shoulder.  At the turn of the millennium, System of a Down attracted/repelled rock audiences based heavily on Serj Tankian’s divisive voice; Yasuko’s constricted pipes have a similar effect.  Her dedication to psychotic auditory pollution puts her voice in the Win column.

Patrick Walker (40 Watt Sun, Warning)

Crushing doom demands light-sucking subterranean grunt/growl vocals.  End of story.  Clean sung doom?  Bullshit waste of time.  Or so I thought (and mostly still think) before I heard Patrick Walker’s performances on albums with Warning and 40 Watt Sun.  The man’s brittle braying turns those songs – otherwise workmanlike trudging through well-worn chords and tempos – into melancholy masterpieces.  Walker approaches both his lyrics and melodies with incautious vulnerability, takes the microphone and lets loose the full measure of his emotional burdens.  His voice is sorrow.  And he’s still the only clean doom vocalist I give the least shit about.

Jacob Bannon (Converge)

“Anguish” can be a tricky word to define on the fly, but why even try?  Just cue up any song bearing this man’s heart-rotting shrieks.  Bannon doesn’t offer much in the way of variety, but he makes up for it (bitter) and then some with an unerring white-hot delivery.  Like Walker, Bannon’s voice somehow conducts pure emotion.  As with all of these entries, the unmitigated excellence of Bannon’s band ensures that they’ll be considered whenever the word “great” is thrown around, but he really does infuse their bruising racket with another level of potency.  Add in his lyrics’ lip-mashing honesty and his oft-mimicked painting style and you get a true icon of a swelling scene.

Steve Von Till (Neurosis)

Members of Neurosis have consistently presented themselves as a single vision that coincidentally resides in several distinct physical bodies.  They might be separate men outside the band, but they are one when they gather as Neurosis.  Which is why it seems unreasonable to mention Steve Von Till or Scott Kelly without the other when lauding the voice of this mighty band.  Agreed:  Kelly’s bellow is a force of fucking nature, with all the grit and gristle of a difficult life gripped tightly and lived well.  But Von Till delivers his own scouring roars, his own mythical-symbolic folk-poetic lyrical style and rounds out all this extremity with the nocturnal magic of his solo acoustic work.  When Neurosis unleashes their collective beast, Von Till is absolutely one of its fiery heads.

Garett Gazay (Secrets of the Sky)

If you’re not listening to this band then you really haven’t been reading a word I’ve written over the past few years.  Whatever.  Gazay truly brings all the goods.  Death roars, doom croaks, blackened screams, haunted whispers and powerful clean singing… When a guy can do it all and sound so good doing it, he really should not be overlooked.  The band’s roller-coaster structures require a broad palette and a shifting emotional range, and Gazay makes it look easy.  The impact of Secrets of the Sky’s debut, To Sail Black Waters, is hard to overstate, and Gazay is a major contributor to that record’s might.  And a new one is on its way…

Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, etc.)

Here’s where I get fired, which is why I buried it here at the bottom of the post where (Pr)Editor-in-Chief Albert Mudrian might miss it.  (Here’s to hoping he didn’t even get as far as the Magnet joke.)  But dammit, Jeff Treppel voted for Townsend, too, so I don’t see why I should have to carry all the weight for this entry.  We’re honoring voice talent, and in that department, Townsend brings some serious game.  The man can coo a lullaby, tear the roof off a pop song with near-operatic proclamations and (to fulfill the “extreme” quotient) squeal with the squealiest of them.  Truth is, if Townsend had begun his career with Casualties of Cool, none of us would even know he existed, except for John Darnielle, who frankly knows way more than anyone without a rackful of tinfoil hats should.  But Strapping Young Lad broke the man and his skullet to audiences who love punishment, and some of us have grown to love his every facet.