Let Me Hear You Scream
The growls and screams of hardcore/metal bands like Bitterness Exhumed (pictured) sound painful, but those vocal pyrotechnics might be less damaging to the singer than you might expect. There’s not much scholarly work on what happens in the throats of heavy metal singers when they perform, says musicologist Marcus Erbe of the University of Cologne in Germany. So Erbe, who has been doing field work in the heavy metal, death metal, and hardcore band scene in Germany for several years, teamed up with linguist Sven Grawunder of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and ear, nose, and throat physician Michael Fuchs of the Leipzig University School of Medicine to investigate.
The researchers used an endoscope to make videos of vocalists emitting growls, screams, and other standard-fare sounds of the genre. Initial results from six participants indicate that the performers—whose range rivals that of classical opera singers—produce their characteristic sounds with not only the true vocal folds but also with the vestibular folds and aryepiglottic folds, which are located higher in the larynx. And part of the desired sound comes from vibrating mucus in the singers’ throats—which might also help protect their voices. Several participants have voice-intensive day jobs as counselors or teachers, but none reported any voice problems, Fuchs says. Grawunder also plans to compare the sounds with those found in, for example, unusual consonants in various languages and Tuvan throat singing in Siberia.
Metal performers push the human voice to its limits, says musicologist Michael Custodis of the University of Münster who is not part of the project. To use high-quality scientific methods to study that process “is fantastic.”