I love heavy metal for many reasons, not the least of them the great singers. Metal's best frontmen--the Bruce Dickinsons, Rob Halfords, and the Ronnie James Dios--are insanely gifted vocalists whose voices soar operatically above--or brutally crush underfoot --the digitally-enhanced, studio-made, lightweight pop singers of today. I've definitely suffered some hearing damage over the years blasting these guys on my car radio, but you know what? It was worth it.
So who is the best heavy metal singer of all time? Everyone has their own opinion, but following are 10 that I believe epitomize the power, grandeur, range, and rage that define the very essence of heavy metal. I've included a clip from Youtube depicting a great vocal performance from each, so click through and decide for yourself.
1. Rob Halford, Judas Priest: Currently I have Rob Halford of Judas Priest ranked at no. 1, but depending on what day of the week you ask me, any of the "big three" are interchangeable in the top slot. Halford is so damned amazing. The clip from Youtube is a live performance of The Sentinel. Halford is not just singing here, but his voice is a literal instrument, a glass-shattering sound from another, futuristic dimension in which the Sentinel lives. It sends chills down your spine: http://youtube.com/watch?v=AgCe56T4HxU
2. Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden: Bruce has tremendous range, and while he may not pack the ethereal scream of Halford at his best, he has, for my money, the best sounding "metal" voice. It's strong and powerful and epic, and he hasn't lost a step with the passing of the years. In fact, I think he's singing much better now than he was at the tail end of his days with Maiden pre-split. Here's an early rendition of a live performance of Maiden's best song, Hallowed be thy Name, which captures the incredible strength and soaring heights of the "air raid siren": http://youtube.com/watch?v=7vP2hFFV57E
3. Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath/Dio: Dio's voice (and his lyrics) are the soundtrack of a Dungeons and Dragons game: He has a voice like an evil sorcerer in a fantasy opera, and its powerful and stirring to boot. I can't argue with those who think he's the best metal singer of all time. Here he is singing one of my favorites, Die Young, with Black Sabbath: http://youtube.com/watch?v=hA9d9sSWFRA
4. Geoff Tate, Queensryche: At his peak, Tate could hit notes like no one else, save perhaps Halford. He's an opera singer turned metal. Take Hold of the Flame showcases his considerable talent and that opening note (you know the one) remains an absolute marvel: http://youtube.com/watch?v=uUrnCLWqmzA
5. Tobias Sammet, Edguy: It's too bad Edguy isn't better known, especially over here in the United States. Sammet is a throwback to the Helloween/King Diamond school of metal singers, hitting impossibly high octaves with an ease that's scary: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SPI9fa-Rbow&feature=related
6. Hansi Kursch, Blind Guardian: Although more well-known than Edguy, Blind Guardian is also no household name, but with Kursch at the helm they deserve to be. Kursch can do it all, from powerful, angry, high speed metal to glorious, bardic, medieval hymns. Check this out: http://youtube.com/watch?v=pQDt7dP3Ksk&feature=related
7. Eric Adams, Manowar. Adams has a voice made for power metal and songs about dragons and warriors. Very clean, very powerful, epic, and the guy can scream with the best of them, too. Here's a good example of his considerable ability: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzJxP3Bh-eo
8. Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath. Sure, he's a running joke now and his voice is completely shot, but Ozzy had one of the most distinctive and coolest-sounding "metal" voices in the business back in the 70's and 80's. He did great work on all the old Sabbath albums, and here's one of my favorites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBsJjVS8aPA
9. Phil Anselmo, Pantera. Anselmo is very different than any of the singers above and is definitely not a classic/power metal type singer. He's all rage and emotion, but its positively contagious and damned effective in getting fists and heads banging: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONZ9bL2WGBE&feature=related
10. James Hetfield, Metallica (pre Black Album): I know, I know. Hetfield is not a great singer and is out of his class on this list. But I think he was the perfect singer for early (pre 1991) Metallica, back when they were a very, very good band. For example, I can't imagine anyone else singing Welcome Home (Sanitarium): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WElvEZj0Ltw
...Rod Stewart at no. 60?