Few things are as essential to the sound of classic heavy metal as the high-pitched banshee howl of its vocalists. Starting with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, heavy metal bands engaged in a vocal arms raise as successive waves of singers went ever upward into the highest reaches of their range. Forget smashing guitars, some of the metal’s highest screamers could shatter glass with their histrionic shrieking. Though make no mistake, mere shrieking it is not. The degree of skill it requires to hit those high notes, whether you’re talking natural tenors like Rush’s Geddy Lee or the vocal athletes like Judas Priest’s mighty Rob Halford, rivals that of the genre’s greatest instrumentalists. A recent online article named Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose as the best overall signer with his 5 octave range, but we thought it we’d give some shine to some of hard and heavy metal’s other great singers who thrill metalheads worldwide when they reach for the high note. These are the 10 most high-pitched singers in heavy metal and hard rock.
10. Chris Cornell
Grunge gods Soundgarden were compared to Led Zeppelin early on thanks to singer Chris Cornell’s piercing screams. While he tamed it down over the years, this recent live clip of “Beyond The Wheel” shows he’s still got the goods.
9. Ronnie James Dio
One of metal’s greatest vocalists, Dio didn’t often go into the vocal stratosphere, but when he did, as on this live version of Rainbow’s “Kill The King,” the results were thrilling.
8. Bruce Dickinson
Unsatisfied with original singer Paul DiAnno’s limited vocal range, Iron Maiden replaced him with the more operatic Dickinson, whose range is heard to great effect on the chorus to their hit “Run To The Hills.”
7. Geddy Lee
The Rush bassist is a natural tenor, and though he doesn’t always go for the highest of high notes, he isn’t afraid to let it fly to put a song over the top, such as on the classic rock radio standard “Closer To The Heart”
6. Ian Gillan
The Deep Purple singer gave Robert Plant a run for his money during his ‘70s prime but never made frivolous use of his high notes, reserving it for dramatic effect, as heard on the epic “Child In Time.”
5. Goeff Tate
Though his technique has matured over the years, early on the former-Queensrÿche singer could hit the high notes with the best of them, as heard on “Queen of the Reich” off their debut EP.
4. Axl Rose
Credited with having one of the greatest vocal ranges in rock, Axl is no stranger to the high notes, as heard on the choruses to their biggest hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
3. Robert Plant
The man who made singing in the upper registers de rigueur for hard rock and metal bands, sang the blues like a true banshee on songs like the Led Zeppelin classic “Immigrant Song.”
2. King Diamond
One of metal’s most enigmatic vocalists, the Mercyful Fate and solo star is a true falsetto and came out of the gate swinging on songs like “A Corpse Without Soul” off Fate’s first EP.
1. Rob Halford
The Judas Priest vocalist’s operatic high notes, powerful vibrato and complete vocal command, as heard on tracks like “The Ripper,” raised the bar for all heavy metal singers that came in his wake.