The human voice and percussion were likely the first two modes of musical expression. Even an acoustic guitar or a simple trumpet must be constructed, and so come less naturally to us than the primal, almost juvenile, acts of making noises with our throat and striking objects. Even so, drummer vocalists appear in heavy metal only rarely.
The relative rarity of singing drummers only adds to a mystique that already exists. Performing extreme metal music is physically taxing, but screaming vocalists and high-speed drummers all knowingly expose themselves to serious injury. Guitar, bass and synthesizer require endurance and dexterity, but metal drumming and singing can require athletic exertion. Combining the two roles in a single person, especially one who does both at once, suggests a kind of uncanny physical and mental prowess.
2017 may prove the year of the singing drummer. Both Spectral Voice and Bell Witch recently released adored and anticipated records. Both bands let their drummers lead their vocal charges, or at least share it with another lead singer. That said, they are far from the first bands to let their percussionists take the microphone as well. For the sake of history, here are the top ten singing drummers in metal. (Note: only bands whose drummers perform vocals live are considered in this list. Sorry, Fenriz and Nicke Andersson).
10. Paul “Evo” Evans (Warfare, Evo)
NWOBHM-punk crossovers Warfare occupied the same booze-soaked gutter that Tank, Venom and to an extent Motorhead did. In fact Jeff “Mantas” Dunn of Venom and Algy Ward of Tank both contributed to Warfare at one point in time, but the band’s sole original creative force remains drummer and vocalist Paul “Evo” Evans. Evans released a surprisingly good new Warfare album this year after an extended hiatus.
9. Dale Crover (Melvins)
Dale Crover rarely sings lead in any Melvins songs, and the Melvins don’t always play songs I’d call metal, but the band’s vocal harmonies play a key role in their sound. Crover’s dynamic style adds definition to the noisy riffing of his more-interviewed bandmate King Buzzo. He’s a marvel to watch, so energetic that many listeners have missed the little microphone sitting next to his mouth.
8. Brann Dailor (Mastodon)
If this list were weighted on pure percussive talent, Dailor would land at #1. His body of work, especially his fill-heavy dynamo performances on Leviathan, cements him as one of the genre’s most talented percussionists. His clear, expressive singing also demands respect; listen to the first bars of “Oblivion” for proof. The last time I saw the band Dailor sang many of Brent Hinds’ parts. That said, Dailor’s vocal contributions all come from the weakest records in the band’s discography with the exception of Crack the Skye, so he winds up at #8.
7. Mike Browning (Nocturnus [A.D.])
Former Morbid Angel drummer Mike Browning moved the death metal genre forward with Nocturnus. The band’s incorporation of synthesizers and science fiction themes, especially on their classic debut The Key, had little precedent and helped the band stand apart from their Floridian peers. That said, Nocturnus A.D. isn’t always the most reliable live act. But who cares, so long as Browning keeps performing “Destroying the Manger.”
6. Gil Moore (Triumph)
Canada’s second great hard rock power trio after Rush aren’t a metal band proper. Decibel readers may know the band best for their radio hit “Lay it on the Line”. Dig beyond the dad-baiting shlock, though, and one can find the band’s triumphant early prog metal deep cuts (pun intended). 1981’s Allied Forces in particular brings the fury, thanks in no small part to Gil More’s soaring voice.
5. King Fowley (Deceased)
Perpetually underrated in spite of their solid discography and unique sound, Virginia’s Deceased use horror story tropes to build a bridge between early death metal and classic speed metal. The outfit employs mostly-clean vocals, melodic riffs and verse-chorus-verse structure without making any consumerist concessions. Founding member King Fowley rarely plays drums live, but is known to sit behind the kit while singing on select occasions. If he pulled double duty at every show, Deceased would have landed higher on this list.
4. Dimitrios “Archon Vorskaath” Dorian (Zemial, Agatus)
As Archon Vorskaath, Dimitrios Dorian composes all the music in avant-garde Greek project Zemial, plays multiple industries in the perpetually underrated Agatus, and even played drums on this year’s Locust Leaves album. He’s a progressive black metal swiss army knife, capable of slotting into any role lead or supporting. That said, in Zemial he mans the drum kit while screaming.
3. Dan Beehler (Exciter)
Exciter’s 1983 debut LP Heavy Metal Maniac remains a speed metal classic, thanks in no small part to founding member Dan Beehler’s tight drumming and confident singing. He’s been in and out of Exciter and hasn’t always handled vocal duties, but the band fires on full blast when Beehler’s in the hot seat. He resumed singing in 2014 after an extended hiatus, and at present Exciter performs with its three original members in their original roles, though they’ve yet to release new material with Beehler on vocals.
2.Chris Reifert (Autopsy)
San Francisco’s Autopsy continue to influence new bands with their sludgy and primitive style of death metal, and also boast a near-flawless discography. Much of their signature caveman plod comes from Death alumni Chris Reifert who also commands a recognizable scorched-throat voice. Reifert and company reformed in 2010 and have released a steady stream of competent material since. In fact, they have a new EP, Puncturing the Grotesque, to be released on December 15th this year.
1. Proscriptor McGovern (Absu)
There are vocalists and there are front men. The former sing, the latter entertain. Proscriptor McGovern is a front man. He entertains even while drumming for Absu. One of the first black metal bands from the United States, Absu hold a rarified place in metal history, and have the long, distinct discography to prove it. They sound like few other bands thanks in no small part to Mcgovern, who commands an expressive shriek and has a real talent for distinctive tom fills and lightning-quick snare changes. While the band hasn’t released new music in some time, they still perform live decked out in flamboyant BDSM-ish costumes that recall the connective tissue between early black metal and bands like Motley Crue. McGovern in particular dazzles with a shining headband and an over-the-ear microphone. On their last tour, McGovern stepped out from behind the kit during encores. When Slayer passed on hiring McGovern they made probably the largest mistake of their careers in my estimation, but I’m happy about it. There’s no way Kerry King would let McGovern ham it up the way he does in Absu, and a world with a frontman McGovern is a world I can still believe in.