Arizona has spawned and been home to some pretty influential acts in heavy metal, from Soulfly to Sacred Reich, Maynard James Keenan to Alice Cooper. But while the more renowned acts helped lay the groundwork for the local scene and style, every city has its key players that dominate the current landscape, whether it's their talent, contribution to the community, passion for the genre — or a combo of all three.
And while many of our great artists aren't yet a household name outside of the state, they still deserve a little heavy-metal list love. So we've answered the call to compile lists that celebrate the best heavy-metal artists that Phoenix has to offer — and this time around, we're focusing on the best grooowwlleeers that are currently gracing the stage behind the mic.
Cole Jacobsen, Lago
Even though Lago has been on hiatus as of late, they've consistently been a stand-out in the local metal scene. Jacobsen's ominous vocals are almost exclusively done in the form of growling, and it pairs up perfectly with the double bass and soaring guitar melodies for an equal balance of light and dark. For about 20 years now, Jacobsen has been performing with various bands, and he developed his style by copying bands whose vocals he liked (Incantation and Immolation are big influences for him). In time, he learned how to get his diaphragm involved to really give his growl that guttural sound. The band has show booked for this August, and they have just started writing their second full-length album.
Nathan Gearhart, Vehemence
As the lead vocalist for veteran melodic death metal act Vehemence, Gearhart's vocals have the ability to span a wide range, from deep guttural growls to mid-level, to almost tenor and melodic — in fact, a few other vocalists on this list have claimed that Gearhart "puts me to shame." His timing is on point, and the strength behind how long he can carry his growls is impressive — check out "Forward With Motion" to see all these characteristics rolled into one track. Back in October 2015, the band published its first studio album in more than 10 years.
Wade Taylor, Atoll
Taylor’s vocals have been featured in several death metal acts in Phoenix (Ghost Horizon, Atoll, and Avarice). In both of the current death-metal bands he fronts, Atoll and Avarice, the instrumentals provide a powerful backdrop to his rumbling grunts and growls that wash over the listener as the focal point throughout much of the music. His style is all about utilizing as many techniques as possible, which Taylor self describes as "pigs being butchered." Slam-death-metal act Atoll debuted their latest single on May 25, while Avarice, strongly influenced by extreme metallers like Cattle Decapitation and Cannibal Corpse, will release its first EP later this summer.
Justin Chard, Ella Kaye
Fans of both extreme and melodic metal have always appreciated Ella Kaye, for both the halting, grinding breakdowns with intricate guitar melodies and Chard’s brutal vocal work. Chard uses his throat to push, rather than his diaphragm, which is how he originally developed his style. While he might have started out with improper technique, he practiced to bands like Carcass and old Haste the Day, ultimately creating a style that comes off as raspy and growling. He draws out his syllables in growling bellows, with poetic lyrics and the type of raw intensity and live delivery that is difficult to pull your eyes away from. Ella Kaye has really come into its own and found its identity; they've even recently wrapped up a new EP that showcases guitarist Jake Randall on clean singing to align perfectly with Chard’s aggressive tactics.
Rich Fourmy, Pelvic Meatloaf
Fourmy's songwriting, dedication to the music, no-holds-barred attitude (it’s pretty much a guarantee that Fourmy will say whatever is on his mind, whenever), and tight delivery are a few of the reasons that Pelvic Meatloaf consistently makes our top metal lists. Not only has he been the frontman for Pelvic Meatloaf since 1990, but he also has fronted other bands during the time, including a Satanic rap group from Compton, AZ. Fourmy’s aggressive vocals resonate with pounding growls, snarls and grunts, only rivaled by Pelvic Meatloaf's guitarists’ pursuit of the heaviest riffs possible. Coming from a punk rock background, his earlier growler influences includes Max Cavalera from Sepultura and, of course, the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. Pelvic Meatloaf is currently working on new material, and has not played a local show yet in 2016, but will be playing this summer a few times. Better catch 'em then — after that they won't be playing until December.
Chase H. Mason, Gatecreeper
It’s impossible not to find yourself headbanging along with Chase Mason's smooth growling bellows that front the band Gatecreeper, a notable up-and-coming band in the Phoenix death metal scene. This band may be Mason's first go at being a frontman/vocalist (he's been playing in bands since he was 13 years old, mostly on guitar), but his unique style shows a lot of promise for the future. Sure, Mason admits he just tries to sound like a caveman (influences include John Tardy from Obituary) — but from an outsider's perspective, if there were a heavy metal Roy Orbison, he's hit the nail on the head. Gatecreeper's music is a mix of all the best things metal has to offer: the doublebass and frenetic guitar interludes of thrash, the undertones and melody of doom and sludge, and the breakdowns of power metal. The band's album 4-Way Split comes out this June, so be sure to take a listen to the track "Carved Into Stone."
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Ruben Munoz, Scattered Guts
Ruben Munoz began fronting bands at the age of 17, and since 2010 has been the vocalist for Scattered Guts. His powerful vocals are complimented by heavy, low-register guitar riffs and relentless drums, creating a virtual assault on the senses that is unexpected and unique. Munoz definitely feels like he is a product of the local metal scene, playing what he wants to hear and see while evolving his vocal style —particularly the growls and screams. The band’s aggressive style has been called Arizona-style stoner thrash, and they frequent the bill several times a month on death-metal shows all over the Valley.
Clinton Rackley, Fatal Malady
While Rackley's style leans more towards clean vocals, there's no doubt this guy can growl along with the best of them. Whether he's opening up a track with a drawn-out, sandpaper-y scream, or interjecting grinding howls that pierce right through your soul, Rackley is a pro at dishing out his powerful growls at the perfect point in every song. His voice resonates with the influence of the vocal styles from bands like Megadeth and Godsmack, providing a perfect compliment to the sludgy Southern metal style of the other music made by the skeleton face-paint-clad members.
Chris Cannella, Autumn's End
Autumn's End has been described as melodic technical death metal, progressive, acoustic, doom … the list goes on and on. Really, the band is all about incorporating the best style that works for each song. But that's what happens when all the members are on board to create "a new extension of their eclectic death metal sound on a new technical level." Cannella is a driving force in that venture. When singing in heavy metal style, his piercing, thrashy vocals vary from growls to menacing snarls, ultimately showing his ability to emit growls in a range of registers.
Paul Benson, Unholy Monarch
Paul Benson uses his experience as a live audio engineer to develop his style: He isn't a fan of cupping the mic, his four tones range from guttural to high, and he focuses on the best tone he can get with the most annunciation possible. Unholy Monarch is known just as much for their brand of desert thrash metal as they are for a killer live show, which makes sense — all the members have thousands of shows under their belts, separately and collectively. Benson came on board as the vocalist in 2012, and he specializes in brutal, guttural groans and growls, coupled with a higher pitch vocal range. Unholy Monarch is currently in the pre-production phase for their sophomore full-length album.