Friday, February 10, 2006

"Cookie Monster singing"?

It's not what you think. Whatever you thought it was. This is a couple of weeks old but I just had to post it.

That's Good Enough for Me
Cookie Monsters of death-metal music

While the extreme branch of heavy-metal music known as death metal is defined in part by often-vile lyrics about violence, catastrophic destruction, nihilism, anarchy and paranoia, its singing style is associated with a beloved goggle-eyed, fuzzy blue puppet.

Death-metal vocalizing is also known as Cookie Monster singing, if not in tribute to, at least in acknowledgment of, the "Sesame Street" puppet that blurts in a guttural growl, his words discharged so rapidly that they tend to collide with each other.

All this was news to people at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind "Sesame Street." . . . "It's a whole new thing to me," said Frank Oz, who originated the voice of the Cookie Monster. "I've never heard of it."

Most death-metal vocalists don't seem to mind the term. "We think it's funny," said Angela Gussow, lead singer for the Swedish band Arch Enemy and one of the few female death-metal vocalists. "We take ourselves too seriously."

. . . But while the vocals in early death metal are low, raspy and aggressive, not unlike the vocals by, say, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, that extreme degree of Cookieness is missing.

To be a true Cookie Monster vocal, said Mr. Conner, who signed some of the subgenre's biggest bands, including Sepultura and Fear Factory, "it's got to be really, really guttural. It should sound like they're gargling glass."

. . . The term also signifies a level of incomprehensibility of the lyrics, which in most cases is absolute. Given the subject matter, that's probably for the best. Carcass, a band featuring vocalist Jeff Walker, sings in graphic detail of disembowelment and the mechanics of the autopsy. Bloody annihilation is another popular theme among the groups. For most death-metal bands, the gorier the better, and few gruesome details are spared.

"If you want to make music that's terrifying, you have to sing about ripping people's heads off," Mr. Conner of Roadrunner Records told me. "Singing about puppies and kittens isn't too cool."

Can't you hear the producer? "I'm just not getting enough cookie." "It's not cookie enough." "I need more COOKIEEEEEEE!!!"

I also would have given anything to have seen "Motörhead" in a print copy of the WSJ . . . and I love the fact that Motörhead is a reference point for an even more obscure type of music. Am I that old??? (Answer: Yes.)

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