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When Honey and Lemon Won’t Cut It

I’ve never been into heavy-metal music (with the exception of a brief dalliance with Black Sabbath eons ago). Driving late at night far from home, however, I often scan the unfamiliar FM band for tunes. Recently I encountered some metal where the vocalist clearly sounded as if he had gargled with razor blades as the saying goes. Actually his singing wasn’t “clear” at all; it was more a tortured hoarse screaming than singing. Frankly it was a dark and frightening sound. I wondered how any human being could produce such a sound without destroying their voice. It turns out many can’t, and some singers have severely damaged their voices from night after night of screaming on stage.

Yesterday on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Melissa Cross, a vocal coach who teaches heavy-metal singers how to sound as if they’re destroying their vocal chords without doing any real damage. (She was plugging her instructional DVD called The Zen of Screaming. Now you, too, can sing death metal!) She provided a fascinating look at vocal techniques I never knew about; she was even able to demonstrate the demonic sounds I heard that night. A quick search at Wikipedia turned up two death-metal bands, Cryptopsy and Kataklysm, and I checked out some samples at the ITMS. Yep, that’s the sound. My throat started to hurt just listening to it.

It was amusing that Terry Gross introduced the interview with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as an example of heavy-metal singing. I guess early Led Zeppelin can be considered proto-metal, but Robert Plant sounds more like an angelic choir boy by comparison.

In other music-related news, XPN played Paul Simon’s “The Late Great Johnny Ace” from Hearts and Bones on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. That album isn’t one of Simon’s most famous, but I always liked it just the same—especially that song.

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