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Bats and death metal singers use the same vocal cords to growl

bat growls

HQ Team

December 7, 2022: Bats and death metal singers have a common singing range, according to a new study in the journal PLOS Biology. The low-throat growling that metal singers use finds an echo in the lower-frequency sounds emitted by bats. 

“We were interested in: how can bats make all these different sounds? They make low-frequency calls and make echolocation calls, and they span together, like, seven octaves. And that’s really crazy,” says Coen Elemans, the lead researcher on this study. “Most mammals do three to four octaves — like the best singers in terms of vocal ranges do like five or six … And it turns out every bat can do seven.”

Elemans and his colleagues at the University of Southern Denmark used ultra high-speed video, filming up to a quarter million frames per second, to study what’s going on in bats’ vocal tracts.

“We basically found that bats make echolocation calls using very thin membranes that are basically extending from the vocal folds,” says Elemans. “We noted that there’s another set of folds just above those, and we could get those to vibrate very easily, but they were vibrating at very low frequencies.”

Elemans says humans have similar folds known as false vocal folds because they have no function in normal speech. It is this area that comes into play during the low-throated growl singing that death metal artists use.

“So the false vocal folds get lowered a little bit towards the vocal folds, and then together they get much heavier and looser and they make a lot of lower frequency sounds. But also, their vibrations become very irregular. And that’s what’s giving the rough quality of death metal singing.”

News sites collected some inside information from the practitioners of this method of singing. 

John Tardy, the lead singer of the death metal band Obituary, said the death metal growl can take a toll.

“I mean, it’s from your abdomen to your chest to your legs to obviously a lot of your throat. But it is a full-body thing for me in order to do what I do.

“It can be, you know, strenuous because we usually play most nights, if not six nights a week. So it can be a lot. But I can tell you at the end of every night, I sleep like an absolute baby.”

Chase Mason, the lead singer of the group Gatecreeper, pain is just part of the process.

“In a [masochistic] sort of way … I think that when I can feel that my vocal cords are getting kind of shredded or beat up, that it sounds better. You know, like, if there’s a little taste of blood in the back of my throat, I think that I’m doing a good job.”

Elemans says exceptional vocalists can duplicate the ability of bats. Mariah Carey has a five-octave vocal range and is known for being able to sing extremely high tones called whistle notes. “If Mariah Carey would be very good at grunting, she could also extend her vocal range even further.”

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