cf. Death rattle, a sound sometimes made by the dying.
A death growl, also known as death metal vocals, guttural vocals, death grunts, unclean vocals, Cookie Monster vocals, among other names, is a vocalization style usually employed by vocalists of the death metal music genre, but also used in a variety of other heavy metal subgenres. Numerous subgenres of heavy metal, including some thrash metal, deathcore and metalcore bands, also tend to use the vocal style.
Death growls are sometimes criticized for their "ugliness" . However, death growls are just as much an aesthetic to death metal as an instrument, particularly due to the percussive nature of this kind of singing; its harsh, brutal nature meant to decorate death metal's often violent and disturbing subject matter.
Growls can be obtained with various voice effects, but the effects are usually used to enhance rather than create, if they are used at all. Voice teachers teach different techniques, but long-term use eventually wears the voice out, so any technique is actually for "less harm", not for harmless vocalization. The University Medical Center St Radboud in Nijmegen (The Netherlands) reported in June 2007 that, due to the increased popularity of growling in the region, it was treating several patients for edema and polyps on the vocal folds .
Most "correct" growls use either a variation of vocal fry or false vocal cords, both with the use of the diaphragm. Death growls are often referred to as an overtone style of singing, and while tonally very different, the majority of "good" growling techniques apply the same principles that are witnessed in "clean" vocals. These principles include timing and cues, holding a note (or gurgle) for a certain amount of time without it fraying, and being able to sing rhythmically underneath the growl while alternating between different pitches if necessary. The changes in pitch are more prevalent in the less guttural styles. Some notable examples of vocalists who use alternating pitches in their vocalization are Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, Mille Petrozza of Kreator, Chuck Billy of Testament, Jason Mendonca of Akercocke and Chuck Schuldiner of Death.
The use of growling, "monstrous" vocals for ominous effect in rock music can be traced at least as far back as "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 1956. Though humorous in intent, the 1966 novelty song "Boris the Spider" by The Who features deep, guttural, gurgling growls somewhat similar to those performed by modern death metal vocalists.
In 1969 and the early 1970s, the song "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson is notable for its heavily distorted vocals sung by Greg Lake. The songs "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath and "One of These Days" by Pink Floyd both contain brief passages of ominously growled, low-pitched vocals (in both cases studio-manipulated) against a heavy background of rock riffs. Other examples are Roger Waters's screams in some Pink Floyd songs, such as Careful with That Axe, Eugene and the beginning of Another Brick in the Wall (part 2). Punk rock bands like The Clash and the Stiff Little Fingers also regularly employed growled vocals in their early work, but with the effect of sounding tough, rather than ominous.
The advent of the growl as it is used today coincided roughly with the gradual emergence of death metal, and it is thus difficult to pinpoint a specific individual as the inventor of the technique. Different vocalists likely developed the style over time. The band Death (and its precursor Mantas) with its two vocalists — initially Kam Lee and subsequently Chuck Schuldiner — have been cited as the first (although Schuldiner would eventually switch to a more high-pitched screeching). Possessed are also considered by some to be one of the earliest bands to employ growls, as are Necrophagia and Master. Around the same time, bands such as Hellhammer, with Tom G. Warrior on vocals, and seminal act Massacre also employed a variation of the growl. The vocalists from the British grindcore band Napalm Death — consecutively Nic Bullen, Lee Dorrian and Mark "Barney" Greenway — further developed the style in the late 1980s, adding more aggression and deeper guttural elements to it, while also speeding up delivery of the lyrics.