Culture

Cookie Monster and the Heavy Metal Growl: Let’s Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

(Image by skeeze from Pixabay)

Eddie Trunk, cultural arbiter of all things classic hard rock and heavy metal, and plug-in master of ceremonies for events featuring same, said it:

I need vocals and melody. I know there are a lot of different styles of metal out there and there’s a large number of fans who love the more extreme styles, like death metal. That’s not for me, that’s just my personal taste. A song must have some sort of singing and some level of melody in the vocal for me to like it. I’m not saying that everybody’s gotta sound like Freddie Mercury or Geoff Tate or Dio, but there has to be some melody.

Beyond that, although I was unable to find an online quote, I’ve actually heard Trunk double down on his opinion, to paraphrase: Due to the advent and dominance of ‘Cookie Monster’-style vocals, heavy metal will never again enjoy mainstream success.”

He’s probably right. The Cookie Monster singing style (aka “the growl,”) meant to evoke the voice of Satan, or at the very least some evil, foreboding entity, will likely never catapult a song into the upper regions of the mainstream charts.

The uninitiated may ask, what is the Cookie Monster vocal style?

There are scores of CM purveyors across the metal firmament, at all levels of notoriety and success. But there is probably no better example than Six Feet Under’s Chris Barnes, who punctuates his textbook gutturals with piercing screeches.

Here’s Barnes at the peak of his powers–this is how it’s done:

Six Feet Under “Silent Violence”

Though mainstream chart success is probably forever out of reach, millions of rock fans have embraced the raw aggression and blatant menace of the CM style, which firmly established its place in the genre, and to some degree crowded out conventional metal vocal stylings. It is not by any means a newsflash to impart that Eddie Trunk, who has earned respect for his indefatigable touring and staunch advocacy, is not a fan.

The question becomes, when was the last time a hard rock or metal band enjoyed dominant mainstream chart success? For hard rock, there’s a plethora of notable records, but nothing recent. For the highest-charting hard rocker, we go back to 1989, Guns and Roses, and their splashdown hit, “Welcome to the Jungle” off the 300-million selling Appetite for Destruction. Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991), Green Day’s Dookie (1994), and The Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) all had significant impact. Australian rockers AC-DC have proven generally impervious to hard rock and metal trends; their records always make a showing.

For metal it’s easier. We return to the halcyon days of 1991, and Metallic’s eponymously-titled “black album,” the band’s second after a tragic bus roll-over claimed the life of legendary original bassist Cliff Burton. After signing up new bassist Jason Newsted, the biggest of the Big Four roared out of the studio with the most accessible metal album since Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance, and its anthem for the ages, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.”

While vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield’s vocal on Metallica’s “Sad but True” is definitely hard-edged and aggressive, it can still be described as “singing.”

Metallica “Sad But True”

Therein lies the rub. Many people, even inveterate heavy rock fans, including Eddie Trunk and Beavis and Butthead, don’t consider the CM style to be “singing.” Such guttural and nether-worldly vocalizing is pronouncedly an acquired taste, but the sub-genre must nonetheless must be considered the dominant style across the contemporary metal scene.

Witness “Raven’s Flight,” recently released from Swedish death metal band Amon Amarth and closing on over three million YouTube views, for proof that the Cookie Monster growl retains its staying power.

Amon Amarth “Raven’s Flight”

There are also some hybrid forms, which combine CM with interludes of more melodically familiar flourishes. Eddie Trunk would stamp his approval on Machine Head’s epic “Locusts,” a plague warning that mixes growling with melodic vocal interludes:

Machine Head “Locusts”

But for the voice-of-impending-doom purist, whose ears and brain have acclimated to (and perhaps been jaded by) a perdition-raising aural hellscape, only extremis roaring and bestial exhortation can fill the bill. As CM became the trademark sound in metal vocals, women got into the act.

Here, Once Human’s Lauren Hutton demonstrates that you don’t have to be male to raise a monsterific ruckus:

Once Human “Eye of Chaos”

Even the most devoted headbangers don’t have to go out on any limb to agree with Mr. Trunk (although the rock commentator did receive some blow-back after his assertion that metal was done-for chart-wise due to the growl revolution.) It’s inescapable that this deathly, damned and often gory singing will never come within a mosh pit of mainstream success.

On a side note however. We don’t really know how Lucifer’s singing voice would sound, do we? Not unless we’ve been to hell and back. For all we know, God’s once-loved and hopelessly fallen angel might not sound anything like the undying generations of devilish CM metal vocalists.

For all we know, Satan might sound like this:

William Shatner “Space Oddity”  

Now that’s frightening.

BTW, fans who love the scarified relentlessness of Cookie Monster metal also still dig the classic hard rock and metal singers (Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Priest’s Rob Halford are great examples).

So, lighten up Eddie Trunk. Guttural growling is good. For evidence, wrap your mind around this, from the creature who inspired it all:

Cookie Monster “Me Want It, But Me Wait”

PJ Media columnist Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. Follow Mark on Twitter.