Many non-listeners assume heavy metal singers are relegated to barking, screaming, gurgling… basically inhuman noises exclusively. And sure, many of our favorite bands do all those things quite well, but there’s so much more to explore within the genre.
While present from the beginning of the genre’s history, clean singing can be a heated topic among some metalheads; in particular, it can be shocking to some folks to hear vocalists who are typically more aggressive-sounding switch up their singing. However, clean singing is not just an accouterment to metal, it can help re-center a song’s atmospheric heaviness.
Considering many of the metal vocalists that are working today, here are the 10 greatest clean singers currently working today.
Prior to Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses, Corey Taylor didn’t do much clean singing in Slipknot, but with the release of that record, the Slipknot singer showed off that he has some amazing singing pipes. “Vermillion” is one of the band’s most gut-wrenching songs, and a big component that amplifies the emotional tension of the track is Taylor’s singing. This is a quality that appears in other Slipknot songs like “Snuff.” When working alongside Slipknot’s instrumentation, Taylor’s voice is another element of their unique take on melancholy.
Courtney LaPlante has one hell of a captivating range; for a lot of folks, it must have been one hell of a shock to watch that viral one-take performance. In the djenty-progressive vehicle that is Spiritbox, LaPlante’s singing aids in casting a dreaminess that appears in much of their music. LaPlante’s voice also serves in creating an overall sonically catchy experience, allowing the band to easily jump from song to song.
For a lot of folks, their favorite era of Killswitch Engage is the Howard Jones Era, and for good reason: the man’s got range. Original Killswitch Engage frontman Jesse Leach brought some singing to the band’s music prior, but when Jones joined the band, he brought forth a whole new dimension of melody, which in turn opened up the instrumental side of Killswitch Engage to explore even more creative territory. For as deep as Jones’ voice can get, it also carries such a profound loveliness.
Vessel (Sleep Token)
Sleep Token may be one of the biggest bands in mainstream metal right now. Their singer Vessel’s range is a huge part of this, taking center-stage of the band’s wide variety of songs. Vessel provides an incredible blend of bravado and gentleness through his voice and a rich atmospheric quality. His voice has such textural quality that it is soothing to listen to on its own (and the instrumentation of the band only further highlights how beautiful his singing is).
On Around the Fur, Chino Moreno began to introduce more clean singing to Deftones’ music. Moreno offers listeners a deeply fascinating dream-like quality to his voice; also considering his abstract approach to his lyric writing, Moreno’s voice serves as a profound vehicle for immersing the listener in a psychedelic experience. His vocals elevate the band’s already surreal, shoegaze-like music, and help set Deftones apart from the ’90s nu-metal pack in a huge way.
Over the course of his musical career, Matt Heafy carries one hell of an impressive singing voice; from his beginnings with Ember to Inferno up to the most recent Trivium album In the Court of the Dragon. It’s astounding to hear how far Heafy has come. When singing, the Trivium frontman unleashes as much thrilling and emotional energy as he does through his screaming.
Stefanie Mannaerts (Brutus)
Brutus’ instrumentation makes for a powerful blend of dreamy and technical hardcore, and Stefanie Mannaerts’ voice perfectly fits in with the music. Mannaerts’ voice is brilliant and helps to elevate the rest of the band’s highly emotive instrumentals. If the strings are stirring and droning with an air of melancholy, Mannaerts matches that. If the drums are ferociously going off, Mannaerts offers a similar ferocity through her voice.
Mike Patton is one of the greatest vocalists of all time (period). While he has been known to lay down some abrasive screams and uniquely bizarre vocal sounds, the Faith No More frontman also has an untouchable classical range. Considering the plethora of projects that Patton has been a part of throughout his career, his singing techniques bring a plethora of styles and uniqueness to each act.
Manuel Gagneux (Zeal & Ardor)
While Manuel Gagneux is never short on delivering some viciously intense sounding screams and growls, his singing is the more fascinating aspect of his voice. The pitch and tone he presents throughout Zeal & Ardor are reminiscent of vocal styles that have been present throughout blues, soul, and R&B music, and Gagneux blends all these styles together to further elevate his already captivating and remarkable brand of avant-garde metal.
Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage)
Of course we would have both Killswitch vocalists on our list of best clean singers. In Jesse Leach’s case, he would define his singing voice later on in life; while his singing on Alive or Just Barely Breathing is good, the frontman introduced a much greater vocal range and deeper articulation to his singing voice in the band’s 2013 album Disarm the Descent. While some may prefer Jones over Leach, you shouldn’t rule out the latter’s heartfelt and amazing singing.