When it comes to categorizing what makes a great heavy metal vocalist, there are a lot of factors that come into play. First off, there's the matter of subgenres. Mainstream, Swedish, death, black, melodic -- as much as I hate to pay attention to this bottomless list, it's a fact of the industry.
And then there are the standards by which you measure a great metal singer, typically including power, vocal range and variation in tone. It also matters if you like clean melodic singers (Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Dave Draiman of Disturbed), or harsh growlers (Amon Amarth's Johann Hegg, At The Gates' Tomas Lindburg).
Arizona has spawned some fantastic heavy metal bands and vocalists, and there are others who just like to call the desert home. It's crazy being able to walk around the local grocery store and run into such figures as Alice Cooper or Max Cavalera from Soulfly. There's a little church in Scottsdale where you can find Megadeth's Dave Ellefson preaching on occasion. Maynard James Keenan of Tool churns out music at his vineyard estate outside of Sedona.
If you frequent popular local tattoo franchise Club Tattoo, you might find yourself face-to-face with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington. And to see Sacred Reich's Wiley Arnett, just head to his restaurant Rehab Burger off one of the busiest streets in the Valley to try a famous peanut butter and jelly bacon burger. There are also Valley favorites like Eyes Set to Kill and Digital Summer, currently on tour with Volbeat and Trivium.
It's easy to list off some of the best metal bands on the local scene; in fact, there are dozens of great local metal shows every month. But what's more difficult is to narrow down the best vocalists -- and that's what we decided to do, handpicking some of the best heavy metal singers in the Valley of the Sun (listed in no particular order) based off of style, strength, passion and following.
Rich Fourmy of Pelvic Meatloaf
Pelvic Meatloaf one of the first bands in Phoenix to throw a CD release party back in 1995, and Fourmy's lyrical content deals with age-old industry problems, personal battles and respect. C'mon; everyone loves themselves some recollection to the days of '80s thrash. Fourmy's vocals are articulate, smoldering and yet gravelly in that ol' lovely Anselmo style.
Prophet (Patrick Flannery) of St. Madness
Flannery may be one of the most beloved, well-known figures in the entire local music scene, not just in heavy metal. St. Madness won a Los Angeles Music Award last year, and have been bringing their theatrical, face-painting stage show for the last few decades. Yes; his vocals are adrenaline-driven and Southern outlaw-esque with clear lyrics that speak to the soul--but he's beat cancer in the public eye and is one of the most positive people you'll ever meet, and that spills over into his lyrics and stage presence.
Brian Herring of Storm of Perception
Storm of Perception derives from Prescott, but the band's story and music is just too good to pass up. The melodic metal outfit is known for Viking helmets and cigar smoking on stage, moves from intricate metal breakdowns to classical keyboard interludes, and for being one of the first acts signed by Alan Niven--the former manager for Guns N Roses and Great White--on his Tru-B-Dor record label. Herring's vocals are high and might, just like a Viking's should be, but with a handful of growls, catchy choruses and aggressive sweeping screams thrown in.
Delk Vader from Eroticide
Death/black metal band Eroticide is known for extremely theatrical and controversial stage shows and lyrics. We're talking sliced up naked females and nuns beheaded with a chainsaw on stage. Oh yeah, and with perversion, sodomy, murder, art and revenge listed among the band's influences, it's not surprising that frontman Delk Vader wears a strap-on penis that emits blood and semen. But what he lacks in manners, Vader makes up for with his range spanning deep guttural growls, borderline sensual speaking interludes, and high-pitched melodic singing and aggressive vocals dripping with bitterness and condescension.
Justin Chard of Ella Kaye
Don't let the fact that the band is named after a gold-digging character from the The Great Gatsby fool you. This metalcore/death metal band is heavy to the core, with slow grinding breakdowns that provoke instant moshing and endless headbanging. Frontman Chard offers up the kind of grueling vocals that the melodic metal fans might not find easy to comprehend; however, his delivery is gritty, raw and measured out in doses that actually allow the listener to process the lyrical message.
Todd Christopher of City In The Sea.
Todd Christopher and Jeffrey Christian split vocal duties for Sumerian Records-signed City In The Sea, and while they are both talented, I have to give Todd Christopher the overhand in this piece since he takes care of the heavier parts. I've seen this band perform in front of thousands of people (2013's Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest), as well as just 12, and in both settings, his impressive heavy roars cut cleanly through the crowd and gained the attention of anyone nearby. Plus, considering he's barely legal to drink, his vocals will only get stronger as his art progresses.
Halo Isgod of Element a440
Halo brings the dirty, creative, industrial metal element to this list. He has crafted his own vocal brand, drawing from Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and a few other influences, often while wearing a strait jacket and whipping his crazy long black hair around his custom-made mechanical microphone (you gotta see this thing).
Billy Zane Luna from Back From Ashes Back From Ashes offers up some great radio-friendly hard rock/metal vocals. The aggressive instrumentals and distinctive double bass pair up with the frontman's melodic bridges, strong carrying roars, and screams. Think Sevendust meets Soilwork. You can also tell that Billy is extremely passionate about what he does, which makes sense since the band has claimed that a lot of their inspiration comes from positive vibes, love and family.
Nolan Castles from Warhead
Warhead has evolved into a versatile heavy outfit with influences from classic metal, underground thrash and speed, and a pure drive for rock 'n' roll. If you're a fan of double bass, you can't go wrong here; this is one thing I know for sure. One thing I can't quite put my finger on though is Castles' style: it's reminiscent of the aggression from classic rock, and the tenor of power metal vocalists (think Iron Maiden). But then sometimes it will completely take you off guard with a demonic growl and change to deep tones.
Christian Lee from Sectas. Guitarist/vocalist Lee is influenced by such figures as Trent Reznor, George Lynch and Jerry Cantrell, and that clean projective style is definitely shown through his music. Raw, fluid, and ascending, Lee practices what the band preaches: that in order to have harmony you need to put your ego down.
Correction: This post originally included a video from Back from Ashes that featured the band's former singer. This video has been removed.
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.