Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Is Cookie Monster Still Here?

Why are metal bands still doing cookie monster vocals? Why do people still like it? Why do I care?

Through my teaching I have gotten exposure to some very ambitious music that falls under the heading of metal. Some of these musicians have skill levels that are vastly superior to those of a generation ago.
Here's Jeff Loomis, a young guitarist whose technique and classically influenced compositions go far beyond Yngwie Malmsteen, once considered the absolute master of this style.

OK, you might consider that tasteless shredding, but the talent and sophistication are undeniable. Other current metal bands, like Killswitch Engage and Opeth, show high degrees of talent, and broad musical stylistic range as well.

And yet...cookie cookie cookie.

Why? It's like everyone has agreed to go along with the silliest form of blatant phoniness and to behave as if it was the most genuinely serious thing to do. While researching for this post, I was amazed at how many people are seriously discussing how to properly sing this way, and trading tips and tricks.

The justification for this style, from what I can gather, is that it is the most effective way to convey the dark and disturbing thoughts and emotions, as well as the power and aggressiveness, that are central to the style. So, I guess since I am not an angst-ridden teenage boy, I could not possibly understand the value of having these dark, violent, angry thoughts expressed this way.

But that doesn't explain why grown men, professional musicians whose knowledge of music is obviously deep enough to take in a wide variety of stylistic influences, still see any validity in doing something so one-dimensional, so cartoon-ish. and yes, I'll use the P word, so pretentious. In fact this vocal style is the absolute epitome of pretentious: it is artificial, put-on, overdone, and loaded with an overblown sense of self-importance.
The ultimate measure of this is that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between a parody and the real thing.

There is definitely a horror movie angle to this. Do they not know or care that their metal growl vocals sound like they came right out of one of those so-bad-it's-funny horror films?

I totally understand that different kinds of music appeal to different folks, and that some people like music that expresses all their negative emotions for them, providing an emotional catharsis that relieves them from the need to go out and become homicidal maniacs. I get that. But I am calling out the musicians: it's just lazy to continue to fall back on on what is now an old trick. We've heard it before. Any genuine meaning it may have had has been stripped out of it. You can't sound any more silly with your phony "I'm-so-angry-I-sing-like-a-possessed-demon-from-hell" shtick. Yes shtick. It's just a routine, a gimmick. Time to get over it, and find a new one. Please.


  1. I simply can't like this enough. Contrived shock value has no shock value, it's just a parody of whomever actually innovated it, and this entire genre has been a mockery of itself for years.

  2. Likewise, why is it the vast majority of listeners of this 'genre' are white, upper/middle-class, teen/young adult males? I'm sure everybody has a bit of angst, but this shtick is primarily built upon a false construct of imagined suffering which makes it annoying, not compelling

  3. Hey Ben, its Sean. I'm not into Death Metal, which is what your post seems focused on in terms of the most widespread use of "growling vocals", but I see the value of and enjoy the use of "dirty vocals(vox)."

    Brian Posehn (whose parody you included) is a huuuge metal fan. But I get his point and yours.

    I'm not an angry person but I like heavy rock music. And most "rock" on the radio today is too slow and to me is "soft rock", so I found that my ideal type of rock music is a metal-pop-punk hybrid called "Post-Hardcore". Fast guitars, fast drums and voices you can understand. These bands tend to use clean, normal vocals with melody and harmony and intersperse the use of dirty vox to heighten the musical mood or theme of the song. In most cases it adds to the moment and in some cases I can do without. The difference being most of the time I can understand what they are saying versus Death Metal which is as you put it "Cookie Monster Vocals". A good example of a song I like where I feel the mood of the music is enhanced is Memphis May Fire - History of Mercia. Here as the music builds the dirty vox accentuate the crescendo leading back into the melody.

    Another more Pop like band is A Skylit Drive. They have a singer whose vocals are in a higher range, which is also becoming a big trend in these types of bands.

    And then there is Bullet For My Valentine. They are more metal than the others and when I saw them live it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. They sing, they shred and they scream when needed.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that I agree with you that if all you do is growl into the mic, then yes, you are doing it wrong. But there is something to be said for music that gets your blood racing. This is also coming from the same person that believes everyone needs to buy all of Allen Stone's album as well. So I'll just leave 2 of his songs in here too. :) Cheers!

    Allen Stone - Unaware

    Allen Stone - Another Break Up Song

  4. Stylized as opposed to bel canto singing has been around since at least Verdi. Think about Rockabilly, punk, Jamaican dance hall or the high nasal of bluegrass or the strangeness of Niki Minaj. It can function to express a particular emotion or state of mind, but can also act as a cultural identifier to a particular subgroup. And the fact that it ticks off the general public (especially parents) makes it even more appealing. "Yeah dad you like Slayer but you can't take Dying Fetus.
    What is sometimes missed is that many times in so called black metal (the definition is so broad it is almost meaningless) the songs are really instrumentals. A normal vocal would take the focus away from the instrumental core. So the vocals are used as just another color on the music. To see this listen to the new Wolves in the Throne Room album or Liturgy. Opeth showed on Watershed how using both pretty and guttural vocals could be very affecting.
    That being said, mindless shredding, stupid lyrics, and clueless copying is a problem with a lot of metal bands, but it always has been. Whether they were copying Iron Maiden, Metalica or even, gasp Posion.
    Hey Ben keep rockin'!

  5. I'm one of those seemingly rare(traitorous) people that can litsten to mostly anything musical as long as it's DONE WELL. I'm not a musician, but I know what makes me feel good,or bad, what stirs my heart, and what makes me want to party.
    My Slacker channels(play music like...) at work include everything from Rush, Bill Monroe, Judas Priest, Steely Dan, Harry Nillson, George Harrison, ...
    I wonder what Jeff Loomis thinks of Chet Atkins, or Roy Clark. Hmmmm. I'll bet he really likes them.
    One trick to appreciating The quality work of any single genre is to mix it up with others. I have little tolerance for someone who can say "country sucks." As with any genre, some of it does suck, but to say it all sucks just because they don't know how to appreciate the art that exists there simply exposes a fool. There are awesome vocalists, writers, and instrumentalists EVERYWHERE.
    Ben is right on the mark here with the simple question "why?"
    The reason(from my non-musician perspective) is simple, a lack of imagination, and no ability to innovate. They simply appeal to the same rebellious instinct in teens that Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, the Stones, The Talking Heads, and(dare I say it?) Disco appealed to. The appeal is nothing new. What is new is the lack of an innovative artist, or genre/group of artists who are able to set a new, and rebellious trend that can define a new generation the way those I mentioned did for their own generations.
    These younger folks can play like hell, and sing too. So can many others that don't get recognized the way these folks do because they they don't sing like "cookie monster".
    Maybe what keeps it going is that 18 year olds don't really get that this stuff is 30 years old. As for us, who have been listening to music for at least that long, it begs the question;
    How much mint chocolate chip ice cream can one person eat?
    After awhile even vanilla becomes an adventure!

    well... that's my rant, two cents, or whatever.

    Steve K.