Vocalist James LaBrie’s “One More Time” Ignites Controversy Among Fans

The release of “One More Time”, a track from Dream Theater frontman James LaBrie‘s upcoming solo album, Static Impulse, has sparked a heated debate among his fans. Listeners were shocked when the first vocals they heard on the track were not LaBrie’s distinctive tenor but rather the heavy screams of the album’s drummer/scream vocalist, Peter Wildoer. Some fans were incensed by the use of heavy vocals featuring another vocalist on what is supposed to be a LaBrie solo album. Others loved how LaBrie was keeping pace with the current vocal trends. A third group grudgingly tolerated the screams, but loved the rest of the song.

This controversy represents a microcosm of a feud among metal fans – do clean vocals still work in current heavy metal?

An extremely brief history of metal vocals

LaBrie’s voice resembles that of popular 1980s metal singers such as Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche), and Sebastian Bach (Skid Row). These singers have tenor, operatic-style voices capable of shooting into the stratosphere.  When most people think of the 1980s metal scene, these are the voices which come to mind.

Many fans may not realize that heavy vocals (a.k.a. death growls or cookie monster vocals) have been around in an underground form since the mid-80s. Kam Lee of Massacre and Thomas Gabriel Fischer (a.k.a. Tom G Warrior) of Celtic Frost are credited by many as the originators of death grunts.  Mark “Barney” Greenway of grindcore band Napalm Death, has been credited as one of the first full-blown death growl singers.

By the late 80s, the mainstream metal scene had become a bloated parody of itself. The grunge movement knocked metal off of the map in the early 90s. When metal reemerged in latter half of the 90s, the high-octane voices of the 80s had been replaced by singers who rapped (Limp Bizkit‘s Fred Durst), shouted (Slipknot‘s Corey Taylor), and growled (Mudvayne‘s Chad Gray ).

Most recently-formed metal bands feature heavy vocals in several different ways. Some bands have a heavy vocalist, and that’s it. Others have a vocalist who can sing both heavy and clean vocals. Still others have a clean vocalist and one or more heavy vocalists. You won’t find many new mainstream metal bands with a Rob Halford type of voice.

The dilemma: clean vs. heavy vocals

In this day and age, metal fans have a plethora of bands and genres to choose from. Older artists like Judas Priest, Motley Crüe, and Ozzy Osbourne have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. We have a plethora of new artists like Trivium, Killswitch Engage, and Lacuna Coil. But some older metal fans like me are in a predicament because so many of the newer bands feature heavy vocals. Either we remain permanently stuck in the past with our old record collections, or we figure out a way to learn to appreciate growling vocals.

I have found heavy vocalists whose voices I actually enjoy. I prefer the higher-pitched screaming over growling, and it’s helpful when the singer enunciates so that I can understand the lyrics. I also prefer when the singer alternates between heavy and clean vocals. Two great examples are Pat Lachman (ex-Damageplan) and Chris Clancy (Mutiny Within). Growling can also be effective when used to express a certain emotion or to back up clean vocals. For example, in Ayreon’s The Human Equation, Mikael Åkerfeldt epitomizes the character of pain with his heavy vocals. The band Epica features Simone Simons on clean female vocals and Mark Jansen on grunts and screams. The use of a clean female voice and grunting male voice is an example of the beauty and the beast aesthetic commonly used in gothic metal.

Are clean vocals outdated?

Many young metalheads feel that a high-singing male vocalist just isn’t hard-core enough. I’ve read disparaging comments about the masculinity of singers such as Bruce Dickinson and James LaBrie all over the Internet. As a rabid Dream Theater fan, I’ve seen countless arguments on various forums as to whether or not LaBrie still belongs in the band. Some fans feel his voice doesn’t adequately express heavier sentiments, and a few people have said that his voice turns them away from the band.

Given the variety of metal we have today, I think that there is plenty of room for both clean and heavy vocalists. Different types of metal require different types of vocalists. Rob Halford’s voice is perfect for Judas Priest, but it wouldn’t match with Cannibal Corpse. By the same token, Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed would fit terribly with Iron Maiden. One of the best things about metal is its individualism. Unlike pop music, there’s no need to be trendy. Therefore, what’s the point in trashing the old-school vocalists? Their voices are undeniably powerful.

As for James LaBrie’s new song, the solo screaming parts will take some getting used to. Many fans have said that if the rest of the album has heavy vocals on it, they won’t buy it. I’m going to buy the album, because I love every solo and side project that LaBrie has put out. It’s a case of trusting one of my favorite artists to lead me in a new direction and learn different things.

Sources: Allmusic.com; Metal.wikia.com; Metalstorm.net; Wikipedia

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5 comments on “Vocalist James LaBrie’s “One More Time” Ignites Controversy Among Fans
  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Vocalist James LaBrie’s “One More Time” Ignites Controversy Among Fans -- Topsy.com

  2. I am part of the 3rd group, Where I can’t stand the screaming, but Labrie is so damn good I’ll tolerate it for the rest of the songs which are outstanding. Yes, I am old school and old, the screaming to me just all sounds the same… There is no uniquemess to the voices. To me, that is what stood out in the old rock bands. Drums are drums, guitar is guitar, bass is bass, Sure you can tell to a degree which bands had the better musicians, but even with the high notes, you can tell the difference between each singer in a band, That made them unique and not replaceable. Today’s “screaming” metal bands you could easily replace the singer with another singer and you would not notice on an album because their voices are IDENTICAL. With the exception of Van Halen and Black Sabbath and AC/DC, old bands were not able to replace their vocalist with success in the past because each vocalist had a unique singing voice that for the most part was the signature of the band. And I for one have to so NO WAY could Dream Theater could continue on without James Labrie…. and be the same band. Mr Labire is one of the most amazing vocalist of our time without question.

    • Hey Michael, you made some great points. It’s absolutely true that so many of the screaming/growling vocalists out there sound interchangeable. I think that back in the 80s, there were also so many high-singing vocalists that a lot of them sounded interchangeable as well. I guess that no matter the decade, the only way for a vocalist to stand out is to have a truly unique voice. And that’s what I love about James! Just like you, I can’t even fathom Dream Theater without him. As DT drummer Mike Portnoy often says, James is the voice of DT.

  3. Growls/screams are just one of those things that you either get or you don’t. To me, growls are no different than clean vocals in any way to listen to. They belong just as much. And while I recognize they generally do all sound similar there are distinct differences in some people’s growls that if you have an affinity for the style you can appreciate. For me, it’s just another dimension and dynamic to music that is no different than any instrument.

    • I agree-growling vocals add a variety of flavors to the music just like different guitar effects or keyboard samples. That’s why I really love bands who can strike the perfect balance between clean and screaming vocals. And James does a great job with that!

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