How to Sing Extreme Metal without Killing Your Voice

By Jason Stallworth

September 17, 2020


From the low death metal growls to those metal screams, singing extreme metal vocals is one of the most unique, awesome, and anti-mainstream styles.

But one of the most common questions that I get is how do you sing extreme metal without killing your voice?

In this post, I’m going to teach you how to sing death metal properly without damaging your voice.
**I’m also going to show you how to find your own genuine death metal voice!

I’m going to give you the basic rules of singing death metal (what it really is, and what it is not). And I’ll also share my five death metal vocal methods with you.

You’ll also find some video tutorials I made so that you can see and hear exactly what to do.

Rules of Singing Extreme Metal

death metal vocals jason stallworth

First, you have to change your way of thinking about death metal vocals. Many metal singers think that it’s all about yelling or screaming.

That’s actually not the case unless you want permanent damage to your voice. Rather…

Singing death metal is an organic vocal effect that you learn to master. And it’s actually the opposite of what many think…

  • Death metal vocals have more to do with control and restraint.
  • When you’re singing in your normal voice, it’s all about projecting your voice. In most cases, that results in volume, which is a result of you opening your vocal cords.
  • With death metal, you’re not projecting. Instead, you’re holding back a little and releasing that air at a slower rate as you’re singing.

Think of a metal guitar sound being played through a tube amp (and, yeah, I mean a real tube amp, not an amp sim!). You have that air-push coming through the speaker. And I’ll talk more about that later in tip #5 when we get to the metal vocal tips.

Now think of your voice as that speaker cabinet. It’s pushing out that air but with some restraint. You’re maintaining some of the deep belly breath so that you can release that air at a slower rate.

This allows you to not only have better control of your vocals but longer-lasting vocals. I’ll explain how that works later as well.

In addition, if you try to sing death metal the way you would normally sing, projecting with open vocal cords, two things will happen:

  1. You’ll run out of air too soon
  2. You will lose vocal control

Here’s a video I made for you that’s specific to those low, death metal growls:

Here’s a recap of what we’ve talked about so far and the tips given in the video:

  • Death metal is an organic vocal effect
  • Death metal vocals are not yelling or screaming
  • Singing death metal is more about restraint with a controlled, slower release of air
  • Death metal is not yelling or screaming
  • Your throat should be relaxed when singing death metal
  • Contract your core muscles while singing to gain more control over your voice

5 Tips for Singing Death Metal

Alright, now I’m going to share five practical tips you can use to sing death metal without hurting or damaging your voice.

A couple of these, especially the first one, will be based on common sense. But read through that anyway because that’s where most people fail – when they feel that they are above the basics. Don’t be that person!

The other tips are going to be some things that we talked about earlier, but more in-depth! So this is going to be pretty exciting…

1 – Proper Warm-up

Since death metal is not regular singing, many feel they do not need to warm-up. But that’s the biggest mistake any singer can make.

**Before you do anything, and this is part of warming up your voice, make sure you hydrate, preferably with water.

And I know that some of us like to have a couple of drinks, but don’t drink too much alcohol before or while singing as this will dry your throat out, which means you’ll have to drink more water to offset that, and that means you’ll have to pee more!

That’s not a good combination if you’re going to be on stage for a long time. So, seriously, hydrate yourself.

Now, let’s talk about a proper vocal warm-up for death metal vocals.

You may find this to be strange but I recommend warming up using your normal singing voice. This is going to help you maintain better control and in a weird way, warming up with your normal voice actually makes singing death metal easier. I’m not sure how that works, but it’s something that I’ve found to be more effective.

Here’s a basic vocal warm-up routine:

  • Start with a low, comfortable range
  • Take the sound of ‘e’ and sing that note as a scale, going up a little each time, and then go back down
  • Now take the sound of ‘z’ and do the same
  • Take the sound of ‘ah’ and do the same
  • Take the sound of ‘ooo’ and do the same

**I got this concept from Melissa Cross’ Zen of Screaming, which is a DVD for extreme vocals but also comes with a CD for basic vocal warm-ups. I go through 6-7 of these every morning.

Alright, let’s move on to the actual methods that will help you sing better death metal vocals and not kill your voice!

2 – The ‘Breath-hold Technique’

Breathing is the key to singing in general. But they way you’ll breathe singing death metal vocals is a bit different from your normal voice (unless you consider your death metal voice your normal voice!! …but you get what I’m saying).

Here’s the difference…

  • Regular singing – You’re pushing that air out as you project your voice
  • Death metal singing – You’re doing what I call a ‘breath-hold’ which means you’ll maintain a lot of the air while singing, and release it out slowly

That’s really the key difference between the two vocal styles. And it almost sounds backwards!

Most people think that something as extreme as death metal with growls and screams would take a more aggressive approach. But to do it right, it’s the opposite. It’s all about control and restraint.

3 – Tongue Position

This is a quick tip but extremely helpful to our style of singing. And I want you to perform this exercise below

  • Sing out a regular note in your regular voice (doesn’t have to be a crazy high note or anything, but just something where you sing and sustain a comfortable note for a few seconds)
  • Pay attention to your tongue during this. You’ll notice that your tongue is naturally sort of pushed forward (not out of your mouth, but pushed forward a little)
  • Now sing a note in your death metal voice
  • But instead of pushing your tongue out forward, make a conscious effort to pull it back slightly (not all the way back into your throat, but push back a little, keeping it firm)

This method of slightly pulling your tongue back is going to help you maintain more control over your vocals as you’re pushing that air out. It may seem like a strange approach, but it works.

4 – Throat Position

Another method for death metal vocals has to do with how you position your throat while you’re singing those gutturals, deathly screams, and growls.

And this goes back to the contrast to how this style of singing is perceived versus what it really takes to effectively pull it off.

When you’re doing those low growls or death screams, you need to make sure that you’re throat is relaxed.

Remember, death metal vocals is an art of control and restraint. Not aggressive yelling or screaming at the top of your lungs.

If you’re throat is tight, that usually means that you’re straining. And that can damage your voice.

If you relax your throat without forcing air out, you’ll find that you have a natural death metal voice coming out. That’s something you can work with and define.

5 – Air-push

Remember earlier when I talked about the sound from a real tube amp? Think of your death metal voice in that same respect.

Here’s how this works…

  • First, take that deep belly breath
  • As you start to sing that first ‘death note’ (that sounds cool, right?), you don’t push the air out all at once
  • Instead, hold much of that air back as you slowly release a little at a time
  • Once that note or phrase is complete, take another deep belly and do another slow release

You see, your air isn’t pushed out to the point where you’re focused on that one note. It’s held back to that you have that sustainability.

It’s almost like doing yoga. You breathe in deeply. And then as you perform the next phase of the movement, you slowly breathe out.

The thing about death metal vocals is you will run out of air much faster than normal singing. This is the trade-off for not projecting or screaming.

**Here’s a video I made for singing those black metal screams. This takes a very delicate approach in order to not damage your voice, and that’s what these tips I just covered are based on…

What About Vocal Effects for Death Metal

Many singers want to use effects such as overdrive and distortion to make their voice sound harsher.

I’m personally not a fan of this type of effect unless it’s in a specific part of a song. I would much rather you practice and develop a natural, organic death metal vocal style without any effects (other than a touch of reverb or delay).

**I do have another post where I give you all of the hardware and software components for recording death metal vocals here: Complete Guide to Recording Death Vocals

Find Your Own Death Metal Voice

There’s one more extremely valuable tip I want to share. And this is really going to hit home…

I often get questions like:

How can I sound like Corey Taylor?
How can I sound like Johan Hegg?
How can I sound like George Fisher?
How can I sound like Howard Jones?

My response is always the same…

Don’t try to sound like other metal singers. Instead, focus on developing your own style of death metal vocals.

That’s probably the most important tip I can share with you. And, look, I get it. We all get inspired by the metal vocalists that we love to listen to.

Here’s the thing. Some of that is going to naturally come out when you start singing because it’s what you like and it’s what’s in your head.

Just don’t get caught up in trying to sound exactly like someone else. Be authentic, and be you.

Always remember that you have something very unique that no one else on this earth has. No one can replicate you.

So don’t try to replicate someone else. That’s already been done, so focus on creating something new and allow yourself the freedom to let it all come naturally.

**All of the information in this post comes from my own trial and error when I was recording my first album with vocals.

Masterpeace is a hybrid between melodic death metal and thrash metal.

Masterpeace is on all major digital music platforms and available on CD. You can listen and find out more here: Masterpeace album

I really hope these tips for singing death metal helps you! If it did, please share with the world of metalheads!

Keep it Metal,

Jason

Jason Stallworth

About the author

Hard rock and heavy metal recording artist, songwriter, and musician.

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