10 Most Truly Abysmal Vocalists

To make the Sonic Abyss’ list of the Top 10 Most Truly Abysmal Vocalists, one needn’t necessarily be in possession of the most clear and stellar set of pipes.  (For those of you who are new to the Sonic Abyss, “Abysmal” is a GOOD thing:  see Abysmal Law).  Indeed, this list is more about style and distinction (all be it in an unsung band -pun intended), for the true test of the Abysmal vocalist is that they are exactly THAT.

A vocalist.

In possession of a sound, whether a croon or a roar, that is distinctly their own voice.  As with all lists there is undoubtedly room for argument, but these are my Top 10 underrated (or un-rated) vocalists with a sense of style that is a vital part of their band’s sound…my Top 10 Most Truly Abysmal Vocalists:

1. Neil Fallon (Clutch) – What vocalist is more important to their band’s overall sound than Neil Fallon?  I can’t think of any, though there are admittedly some who are really close.  Fallon’s wit permeates his vocal style which ranges from the rant of a backwoods preacher to some truly from-the-gut melodicisms.  The thing I like most about Fallon is how conversational his style is…you just get the feeling he loves wordplay in conversation as much as in a song.  And his voice is one you won’t confuse with anyone else.

2. Toni Holliday (Curve) – I came across Curve almost by accident in my radio days.  I saw the “Doppelganger” CD and recognized Holliday’s name as the female vocalist on Robert Plant’s criminally underrated “Shaken N Stirred.”  I bought it back in 1992 solely based on this (one of the sexiest voices EVER) and wasn’t disappointed.  Her range and full breathy tone is a slice of heaven, plain and simple.  It was her own sound, which was an admitted influence on Shirley Manson as Curve’s overall sound was a major influence on Garbage.

3.  Pete Palladino (Badlees) – Man I love Pete Palladino.   The Badlees sound is steeped in some of the same roots-rock influences of bands like Counting Crows and Train, but in my opinion Palladino has it all over both Duritz and Monohan from those bands.   Whereas Duritz can sound whiny (sorry…it’s true) and Monohan can sometimes be too trite, Palladino’s husky baritone can wow you with some notes he hits and then turn around and pull you in with his intimate sense of dynamic.   When you listen to a Badlees album, it sounds like he’s singing right in front of you…looking you right in the eyes.  I can’t imagine The Badlees with any other voice.

4. Doug Pinnick, Ty Tabor, Jerry Gaskill (King’s X) – You just can’t include one without the other, three distinct voices that can each carry a song in its own way and together create almost impossibly ethereal harmonies.  Besides Ty Tabor’s unique guitar sound, it was their three voices that were equally important in creating King’s X’s inimitable sound.

5. Lemmy (Motorhead) – Hey now…I did say this is a list of vocalists with a distinct sound.  There’s no arguing that there’s just no one quite like Lemmy.   You either love him or hate him.  I just love him.  First of all, the sheer audacity it takes to be the lead singer of a band when your voice is as totally rough-shorn as his is just off the hook.  Yes ladies and gents, one listen to a Motorhead song (pick one…it doesn’t really matter which one) and you’ll never mistake Lemmy’s voice  for anyone else.   A voice spanning a career of over 30 years and garnering more respect than one could even begin to imagine.   Lemmy’s voice IS the Motorhead sound.

6. David Freel (Swell) – The way I tend to describe Freel’s vocal style is what you might imagine Lou Reed sounding like if he could sing in tune, except that I’ll take Freel’s sense of poetry and imagery over Reed’s hands down.  Distinctive in his tone whether singing the wistful styling of a song like “At Long Last” (my personal fave) or  the higher melody of “Throw the Wine” or combining the two on a song like “(I Know) The Trip” (my second fave) Freel’s style makes it easy to get lost in the sound.

7. Morrie (Dead End) – Many of you are saying “Who?!”  Morrie’s band Dead End made hardly a ripple here in the states back in the late 1980’s and it’s a shame.  Singing most of the songs in his native Japanese, his style is so powerful and dramatic that you really don’t care that you can’t understand the words.  That’s no small feat and he’s the only singer for my ears (singing in a foreign language) that I can say that about.  Mood is the key word here and there’s plenty to go around.

8. Gene & Dean Ween (Ween) – These lovable goofballs just had to be on here.  I don’t think anyone has had more fun with vocals in their career than the pseudo-brothers Ween.  From tape-speed manipulation (creating some side-splitting moments) to vocal experimentation to some of the coolest melodies you’ll ever hear, these guys have it all.   What makes it more amazing is the hooks these guys consistently create with their experimentation and fun.

9. L-G Petrov (Entombed) – Without a doubt the most hair-raising and hellraising voice I’ve heard this side of Tom Araya, albeit in a totally different way with equally extreme music.  Petrov is in possession of a roar that is the very definition of primal with just enough melody to make you uncomfortable.  One of the most distinct voices in heavy music and one that almost defies description, Petrov’s vocals are the perfect (anti-) compliment to Entombed’s trademark hand-crafted buzzsaw sound.  There’s just no one else like him.

10. Ville Vallo (HIM) – If not for the grim and gothic imagery of HIM’s music, they would probably be huge here in the States.  Even so, Vallo’s dark, seductive charm somehow maintains an element of innocence what with his smooth, confident crooning style no matter how heavy the music behind him is.  Only he (and HIM) could have ever pulled off a heavy cover of Chris Isaak’s semi-classic “Wicked Game” and arguably made the song better.  Another distinctive voice.

11.  Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) – To join an excellent band some 15 years into their existence and almost single handedly make them sound even better (read: classic) is no small feat at all and Joutsen has done it.  He has the perfect voice for the band and just might have the perfect voice for this style of heavy music.  Equally powerful from guttural roar to clean, melodic vocals, his sixth sense of melody and harmony makes his roar even more impressive because it is so undeniably deliberate.   One of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard and one that constantly leaves me in awe.

Honorable Mention:

Matt Schultz (Cage The Elephant), John Tardy (Obituary), Jeff Martin (Tea Party),  Todd Lewis (Toadies), Peter Goalby (Uriah Heep), Lizzy Borden (Lizzy Borden), Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Jon Garcia (Kyuss), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & the Banshees), Edwin (IMother Earth),  Damon Johnson (Brother Cane)