Has Hardcore Usurped the Celtic Frost Grunt?
BY GREGORY ADAMS
One of the strangest, and likewise sickest trends I’ve noticed through the past few years of hardcore is the resurgence of a good old “ooh”. Primal and to the point, vocalists are currently punctuating intros, mosh transitions, and all kinds of circle pit-inducing moments with a from-the-gut grunt. From a functional standpoint, it’s a quick and efficient move, one tailor-made for folks that want to take part in a gang vocal pile-on without the hassle of studying a lyric sheet. Across a plenitude of big-name hardcore releases this past year alone, the vocal approach is seemingly omnipresent. But where did this all come from?
Through the contemporary lens, you could argue Kentucky slammers Knocked Loose brought this to the forefront with their 2016 single “Counting Worms”. It’s a wild song, its intro a masterclass in hypnotic harmonic tension. Vocalist Bryan Garris goes meta with a couple of lines about the connection between songwriting and self-care, but when the band pivot towards a disgusting slam riff, the hardcore vocalist drops the tune’s most iconic, bulldog-like bars: “arf arf”.
It’s certainly memorable. It’s also been memed like crazy. As a testament to hardcore’s metoric rise within the broader musical landscape, tens of thousands of people flocked to get a group grunt going at the band’s now legendary Coachella set this past spring. And yet, is an “arf” really an “ooh”? I’m not so sure.
Bear with me, here, but I’m going to draw it back even further to the Alpine climate of the ‘80s, and suggest that Celtic Frost guitarist-vocalist Tom G. Warrior is the godfather of the contemporary hardcore “ooh”. Take “The Usurper,” the second track from the Swiss outfit's 1985 full-length debut, To Mega Therion. The Warrior lets loose no less than five great “oohs” on here, each conveying their own world of emotion. Frustration, despair, exultation — it’s all there. And while the extreme metal anthem is injected with some pretty slick “heys” — not to mention a random, half-line guest spot from an opera singer — those “oohs” are the main course.
Today (July 19) marks the mighty Tom G. Warrior’s 60th birthday, so to celebrate I’m going to respectfully shout out a few times where modern hardcore usurped the Celtic Frost-style vocal approach. If you know of any other good grunts, absolutely let me know.
Drain “Feel the Pressure” (2020)
I became aware of the trend around the time this Santa Cruz crossover crew dropped their California Cursed album. The record’s opening, chunkified “Feel the Pressure” has vocalist Sammy Ciaramitaro letting out a hearty, traditional Warrior grunt at 0:42 (and later at 1:52), but he levels up his grumble game before the first verse. Few onomatopoeic deliveries can set it off quite like his electrifying “ooough-ah, ooough-ah, ooough-ah.” Legendary.
I generally think of this style of vocal coming out of the NorCal scene, as heard on records from the likes of Spy or the much-missed Gulch. Glad to say Sammy’s still giving the grunts a go on Drain’s new Living Proof album (he pops off a nice sub-sonic one in “Devil’s Itch”).
Check out my recent interview with Drain guitarist Cody Chavez, via Guitar World.
Punitive Damage “Big Man” (2022)
If you’ve been with Gut Feeling for a while, you know I’m a big booster of Vancouver’s Punitive Damage. Last year’s blistering This is the Blackout was in constant rotation. While there’s so much to love about the record — from hard-grit street punk to Johnny Thunders-dangerous rock ‘n’ roll soloing — that it taps into the grunty zeitgeist doesn’t hurt either.
In particular, check the way vocalist Steph Jerkova punctuates anti-authoritarian treatise “Big Man” with a curt “ooh” at 0:07, and later with a comparatively exasperated, extended motif on the outro.
You can find out more about the searing sustain and spite-filled solos of This is the Blackout in last year’s feature through Gut Feeling.
Militarie Gun “Do It Faster” (2023)
Militarie Gun is a curious outlier on the list, with the L.A.-based outfit currently cross-pollinating post-hardcore with elements of jangle-pop and ‘90s alterna-rock on their astoundingly hooky new Life Under the Gun LP. The album is also rife with a number of “oohs,” with the band’s Ian Patrick Shelton taking the underground vocal aesthetic into brave new plains.
“Very High” has a great, reverb-caked bellow just before the second verse, but high-energy album opener “Do It Faster” is chock-a-block with round vowel vitality. They’ve certainly grabbed Post Malone, who went viral this past week after going full bulldog while listening to the song backstage with Ian."Ooh Ooh," indeed.
You can read my interview with Ian Patrick Shelton on the making of Life Under the Gun over at Northern Transmissions.
Gel “Only Constant” (2023)
East Coast groups are putting their stamp on the Celtic squawk, too. Take New Jersey quintet Gel, whose recent Composure album concludes with a fabulously filthy chromatic stomp-out called “Only Constant.”
Interestingly, vocalist Sami Kaiser pitches her grunt at 0:13 into a higher range than most hardcore vocalists would, almost making it more like a throwback disco call than the sound of an unsettled cave-troll. Starts the pit, either way.
No interview to plug, just go listen to Gel!
If you’re looking for an entry point to Celtic Frost, I’d definitely say start with “The Usurper,” and all of To Mega Therion (I've likely listened to the band’s tweaked-up remix/remaster of the track from the Tragic Serenades EP the most, but I digress).
If, however, you’re looking for a highlight reel of Tom G. Warrior’s greatest grunts, you can absolutely digest that in one concentrated dose via the wonderful supercut below.