Zoltan Bathory said “Every vocalist has a signature” when he was asked what it was like to work with Rob Halford on Lift Me Up. For some reason that statement just stuck in my head and it got me thinking. I came to the conclusion that the so-called “SIGNATURE” is the difference between bands that stand out above the noise of the internet and the bands that don’t. The signature statement isn’t just relevant to vocalists either. All the band members need to have a signature sound.
Why did Korn rise above all the other bands from their scene in 1993 to get a record deal? They had the signature vocalist in Jonathan Davis. Love him or hate him, one thing is undeniable, he is original. Munky and Head delivered a signature guitar sound, based on down tuned seven string grooves and effects. The bass and the drums delivered their own signature groove’s fusing, hip hop, R&B, funk and metal.
Why did Pantera rise to a metal god status? Dimebag and Vinnie are in their element. They are locked in so tight, it became the Pantera signature groove. Suddenly all the other bands out there started to have the drums and the guitar lock in like Pantera. The other element is Phil Anselmo. As a Dimebag fan, I still blame Anselmo for Dimebag’s death. If Pantera remained together, Dimebag wouldn’t be playing a venue with crap security. However, one thing is also undeniable in this. When Phil changed his vocal style from Rob Halford metal god, to a combination of Rob Halford metal god meets hard-core god, another signature sound was born. Suddenly, a host of bands sprang forth.
Why did Machine Head have a rebirth in 2003 and since then they have continued to go from strength to strength? Machine Head came out at a time (1994) when Groove Metal had already done its victory lap (as the labels had already over saturated the market with crap bands). Burn My Eyes, stood out because it still contained that Eighties thrash metal vibe, merged with groove metal, so they went on a two year victory lap for it.
By the time, The More Things Change came out in 1997, the musical scene changed again as it was starting to move to a more Industrial metal sound. The More Things Change is a continuation of what they did with Burn My Eyes, however the climate was different, so the album suffered in promotion from the label, who was chasing the big dollars by signing industrial bands.
By the time The Burning Red came out in 1999, the scene changed again as it was moving to Nu Metal. Then Supercharger comes out in 2001 and it comes out at the time when Nu Metal is finishing its victory lap and Metalcore is on the rise. The Trade Towers fall, their clips get pulled from music shows, because they have falling buildings and their label drops them.
They are on their own, left to their own vices and their own influences. So what do they do? They start writing, free from the pressures and influence of the label machine. In doing so, they created the Machine Head signature sound (that merges their thrash roots, with their hard rock roots, with their power metal influences, with their groove metal influences, with their nu-metal influences ) and Robb Flynn creates his signature vocal style that a thousand other bands try to imitate. He is older, he is angrier and he is more melodic. If you want to have Robb Flynn’s vocal style, you need to have lived his lifestyle. You can’t have the same impact, if you come from Orange County and had parents rolling in the green.
Why did Disturbed rise above all the other bands that came out in 1999? The music is nothing original, and you can say it is a clone of the nu metal movement. What set Disturbed apart is the unique signature vocal sound of David Draiman. He is that unique and special, no one is even bothering to clone him or copy him. There is a band from Sweden called, Days Of Jupiter that comes very close to filling the void that Disturbed has left behind when they went on their self-imposed hiatus.
Why did Metallica become the premier thrash band, and not Slayer, Anthrax or Exodus or Megadeth? In my opinion I believe that Slayer and Megadeth are up there as well, however if you look all over the internet, it is Metallica that has the pull and the numbers. Two reasons – James Hetfield and the Compositions. James delivered that signature bark and it wasn’t just a bark like all the other bands and the NWOBM bands, it had a melodic sense to it. Second, it was the compositions. As much as people like the fast 4 minute songs, it is the longer compositions that set Metallica streets ahead of the others. Then when all the other thrash bands started to go into the longer form, Metallica changed the rules again with the Black album.
So if you want to be an artist, you need to have a signature sound and to get that signature sound, you need to mine your life experiences and influences.