How a New Era of Stars Are Bringing Metal to the Masses

Social media has brought a whole new dynamic to the spread of information. Of course, there are the corporate and political implications of it (which I’m not going to get into today). But there are also things as simple as keeping up with your favorite bands.

Within metal, it’s now giving the most talented a chance to stand out amongst the pack.

Fifteen years ago, MySpace and online forums ruled the internet. Today, it’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – but especially YouTube. That’s because the video platform is far and away the heaviest traffic-driver of any social network.

Eighty-one percent of adults use YouTube, making it the most-visited platform, and it’s no wonder then that musical artists are garnering millions of views as a result. In fact, acts from Twenty One Pilots to Nirvana have videos with billions of views – for a new generation of music consumers, you could say this platform really “smells like teen spirit” (sorry, I had to do it).

As heavy music advances into a new decade, it’s starting to make a resurgence – much thanks to platforms like YouTube where underground artists and specific subgenres have created a niche culture of their own. When it comes to breaking into the mainstream, however, talent is not enough. Marketing that talent is turning out to be key, and some bands have cracked the code.

Spiritbox is one of the recent bands to break through, and YouTube has certainly played a role. The progressive metalcore group has music videos with view counts in the millions, not to mention their viral vocal one-takes by frontwoman Courtney LaPlante.

“Circle with Me” finds Courtney LaPlante doing what she does best, seamlessly transitioning between screams and cleans. The track is Spiritbox’s most popular on Spotify with more than 13 million streams.

The one-takes are the perfect culmination of everything this band has going for them: stupendous production, loads of skill, and likable members (especially the charismatic, blue-haired LaPlante). There’s something special about hearing a single take of the track, as if hearing an unadulterated, uncut performance validates her talent – and fans have latched onto this.

LaPlante’s one-take of “Circle with Me” has more than two million views and is accentuated by the vocalist’s impressive one-two punch of cleans and screams (what many in the comments refer to as the voices of both an angel and a demon). Her rotation between furious guttural screams and ethereal clean singing would make her idol in Evanescence’s Amy Lee proud.

It’s poetic justice for the frontwoman, who got her start in metal filling in for Iwrestledabearonce in 2012 on the Vans Warped Tour. With little time to prepare, fans were brutal to her (“Where’s Krysta?” and “Krya’s better,” attendees would yell during IWABO’s early sets with LaPlante). I would imagine, 10 years later, they’re eating their words right about now.

Spiritbox’s breakthrough is an important moment for metal – even if some metalheads still express disappointment in the band’s practiced restraint and slower pace. Personally, I appreciate the sheer heaviness of it all, a merging of metalcore, progressive metal, and alternative metal. Part of that means giving the songs room to breathe.

Spiritbox are far from newcomers to the metal scene. LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer played in Iwrestledabearonce in the early 2010s before starting their current metalcore project in 2016 (Photo Credit: Travis Shinn).

Spiritbox couldn’t be more deserving of the success, which is in turn earning them the label as the “future of metalcore.” But that wasn’t necessarily by design.

Guitarist Mike Stringer, married to LaPlante, said as the band got underway, “I’m not gonna care about defining the genre…I’m gonna write music that I enjoy and hopefully Courtney enjoys it.” The group is grounded in their approach, allowing their great music to carry them upward – and the results speak for themselves.

Last year, the band released its first full-length LP, Eternal Blue, and saw its songs surpass 80 million Spotify streams. The record entered at #13 on the Billboard charts and topped numerous publications’ end-of-year lists. LaPlante described it to Metal Hammer as “finally, at age 32, the realization of my true voice.”

Fans sure love her voice, too, since in that timeframe, she’s had three vocal one-takes receive more than one million views. In addition to “Circle with Me,” her live studio renditions of “Rule of Nines” and “Holy Roller” (one of my favorite cuts off Eternal Blue) have added to the band’s viral notoriety.

“Rule of Nines” is one of Spiritbox’s two non-album singles, along with “Blessed Be.” The band released eight singles before they dropped their debut full-length, Eternal Blue, last September.

“It’s time for singin’ and then some screamin’,” LaPlante quips at the start of “Rule of Nines.” This bit of dry humor is all the more entertaining when you brace for what’s to come: a powerful voice that’s spectacular in all its range and dynamics.

Spiritbox’s virality is admirable, but it’s nothing compared to what Jinjer – another progressive metalcore band with a female vocalist – has done with their own studio performances.  The band’s 2017 live session for “Pisces” has surpassed 60 million views – far higher than the studio version’s 24 million Spotify streams.

The Ukrainian’s viral video is a full-band performance, but frontwoman Tatiana Shmailyuk steals the show – like LaPlante, rotating between angelic cleans and demonic screams.

Jinjer’s full-band performance of “Pisces” isn’t their only live recording to surpass one million views. Shmailyuk’s one-take of “Judgment (& Punishment)” has more views than any of Spiritbox or Lorna Shore’s solo vocal performances.

The video is an excellent entry point for new listeners and may even be one of the best metal performances I’ve seen on YouTube, a platform perfect for something this impressive to get shared again and again.

These viral videos have spawned an entire subculture of reaction videos from fans, which may not be providing much substance for their own sake. Mostly, they’re just random dudes watching the videos in awe (I do love Nik Nocturnal’s content, though).

But as a whole, reaction videos are helping spread the word throughout every nook and cranny of YouTube, and that’s good news for the bands they’re hyping up.

For a reaction channel, Nik Nocturnal is more than just another metal fans chasing clout off the backs of bigger bands. His personality has helped him make a name for himself, relating to subscribers by bringing out his own inner “fanboy.”

Even more extreme subgenres of metal are gaining traction, with deathcore and progressive metal finding their own corners of the social media world. Beyond the reach of massive artists like Whitechapel and Suicide Silence years ago, I never imagined bands on these heavier, less-accessible fringes would get as big – if not bigger – in recent years.

Lorna Shore is eponymous with the recent surge of deathcore, blending their style with elements of speed metal and black metal to create one of the most menacing sounds in modern metal. But it wasn’t until Will Ramos joined the band in 2020 that they started to gain traction, quickly becoming a viral juggernaut with their song “To the Hellfire.”

I admit, following allegations against former vocalist C.J. McCreery, who was kicked out of the band for abusive behavior, I stopped paying attention to Lorna Shore. But once I finally caved in to the group’s newfound hype, I realized – like so many others – that Ramos was something special. 

“To the Hellfire” made waves across metal publications and forums when it dropped in 2021. It was the lead track off Lorna Shore’s …And I Return to Nothingness EP, Ramos’ first release with the band.

“To the Hellfire” is the band’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a deathcore epic that plays out like an carefully curated opera of heavy elements: machine gun-style double bass drums, throbbing breakdowns, doom riffage, a backing orchestra, and – of course – Ramos’ vocals. He’ll leave your jaw on the floor with what comes out of his mouth – from dense, garbage disposal-sounding lows to raspy screams that sound like a literal zombie.

If it’s a triumph that Queen’s biggest song became a hit given its runtime, then the fact that Lorna Shore’s distinguished single has eight million views on YouTube and 16 million streams on Spotify is a moment in time for metal. At the end of last year, Loudwire named it the “best metal song of 2021.”

With Ramos at the helm, Lorna Shore has become one entertaining beast to watch (not to mention, too, that they’ve found a bright future without an abuser at the helm).

Just ask Elizabeth Zharoff, a popular vocal coach under the moniker The Charismatic Voice who devoted an entire video to dissecting Ramos’ “To the Hellfire” performance. “In comments on YouTube, you guys can’t stop talking about it,” she says, reaffirming the virality of the band’s breakout song. She later affirms their comments (“He sounds like a demon!”).

The Charismatic Voice is no stranger to discussing metal songs, though the vocal coach seems far from the metal type. She was so impressed by Ramos’ technique on “To the Hellfire” that she later hosted an interview with him on her channel.

If you thought Ramos sounded impressive in the studio, just sit back in awe at his live vocal one-take of the track – like the recording, also a viral hit.

Just a few days ago, Lorna Shore returned with another soon-to-be-viral single, “Sun//Eater,” which garnered a quarter of a million views in just 12 hours. The band turns the backing orchestra up to 11, making the song another epic of desperation and intensity – and Ramos dazzles yet again.

Lorna Shore is at 240,000 Facebook followers now, but just imagine where they’ll be when their next full-length drops in the fall.

Like Will Ramos, Slaughter to Prevail’s Alex Terrible has made a name for himself as an vocal virtuoso in the past half-decade – and YouTube is a big part of it. With almost a million followers on the platform, he has carved his niche as a supremely talented screamer from Russia (his growl demonstration alone will make the hairs on your neck stand up).

Slaughter to Prevail would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill deathcore band, and many in the metal community already feel that way. But their rise pinpoints just how savvy the act is, with an all-engrossing frontman, mosh-ready metal tracks, and a memorable mask-donning mascot (similar to Disturbed’s “The Guy” or Iron Maiden’s “Eddie the Head”) to keep a hold on listeners.

The Russians know what they’re doing, and they do it well.

Alex Terrible is one fun dude to watch. Whether he’s showing off his vocal prowess (gutturals, grows, etc.) or covering popular pop and rock songs, it’s no wonder his YouTube channel took off.

Kostolm is basically Whitechapel crossed with self-titled-era Slipknot, and it’s just as killer as you’d think. There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments, from the closing breakdown on bouncy opener “Bonecrusher” to the demonic nu metal melodies of “Baba Yaga.” The band’s chug-heavy deathcore approach pulls no punches and may just knock your teeth out.

Both tracks have millions of views on YouTube, the band’s videos merged with Alex Terrible’s own YouTube channel, where they compete with dozens of his own vocal covers and tutorials that went viral before Slaughter to Prevail even signed with Sumerian Records in 2016.

Sure, Alex Terrible gets pretty over-the-top with his vocal touches on Kostolm, but that’s part of the appeal. Whether he’s chanting in Russian like a possessed Cookie Monster or initiating crafty mosh call one-liners (also mostly in Russian), he’s a must-watch to see where he’ll go next – and, just like Ramos, it’s no wonder he’s become a viral sensation.

Slaughter to Prevail’s live shows are mosh pit heaven, especially during a breakdown-laden track like “Bonebreaker.” Doesn’t the band’s hard-hitting performance make you want to throw down? (Photo Credit: Alexey Makhov).

If Slaughter to Prevail is a metal meme carving its own niche in the metal world, then Brand of Sacrifice is as nuanced a part of the heavy music zeitgeist as it gets. The extreme metal act literally was created with the very specific intent of honoring vocalist Kyle Anderson’s favorite anime, Berserk, through deathcore epics about the manga.

Yet, as Revolver explains, the Canadians are “transcending all enveloping niches as they rapidly take their position as one of metal’s most exciting new multidisciplinary acts.” They’ve found their identity, hooking listeners in the process.

A big part of this is Anderson’s vocals, which bring genre stalwarts like Phil Bozeman and Mitch Lucker to mind. He’s a blast to listen to, as are the instrumental maestros alongside him, who guide the music with lots of technicality and finesse (it’s clear Meshuggah is a big influence on their time signatures).

Brand of Sacrifice combines the intricate technicality of deathcore and the accessible structures of metalcore, and vocalist Kyle Anderson fronts it all with his own vocal mastery.

Across the band’s two albums, they’ve showcased a deathcore sound with elements as extreme as progressive metal and as accessible as metalcore” – “Underoath-approved” and “System of a Down-loving,” as the members describe themselves.

Brand of Sacrifice may not have grown to the level of, say, Spiritbox or Slaughter to Prevail, but they have the potential to get there someday.

It helps that they’ve pushing the boundaries of their progressive deathcore sound, recently collaborating with We Came as Romans on a reimagined version of “Darkbloom” that adds a brutal “stank face” feel to the Octane metalcore track. As Anderson says to Revolver, the band is focused on “incorporating more influences from other genres…in a way that feels as crushing as possible.” 

For Brand of Sacrifice, the possibilities are endless. The same can be said, then, of Tallah, a metalcore band that’s taking nu metal revival further than anyone could’ve imagined.

The five vocalists I’ve talked about in this article all have earned their own merit fronting some of the newest big names in metal. They’re proof that charisma is just as important as skill in growing a fanbase.

The fact that Mike Portnoy’s son is their drummer got the attention of the metal community right away, but what’s keeping fans engaged is an amalgamation of members all bringing their own relentless musicianship to the table. It starts with frontman Justin Bonitz, who – like Alex Terrible – was a viral YouTuber long before his current project.

Bonitz has certainly made a name for himself. In addition to his YouTube covers under the name Hungry Covers, many of which have view counts in the millions, Bonitz is known for his stage presence and on-stage antics – even getting arrested for fighting a security guard and landing in prison following a 2019 show in Pennsylvania. 

Tallah’s Justin Bonitz has perfected his own brand of vocal delivery, from his range of techniques to the goofy faces he makes while unleashing his ferocity. His vocal channel has more than 100,000 subscribers.

As a vocalist, Bonitz is as versatile as they come, and he’s a professional who’s mastered the craft of singing, yelling, and screaming – all of which he spews across Tallah’s turntable-scratched metal canvas. In “Kungan,” he channels his inner Jonathan Davis, leading a beatbox breakdown in the middle of the song. Then, in “L.E.D.” his low guttural transforms into a tortured yelp in the same breath.

For fans of Korn and Slipknot, Tallah is as good as it gets, recapturing the magic of the sludgy, grimy late ‘90s nu metal sound (just listen to the rawness of those drums). If Matriphagy was any indication of the band’s ceiling, then it’s anyone’s idea how far they can go – with Bonitz commanding the fivepiece’s multi-layered chaos.

Tallah’s hate5six performance of Matriphagy is my favorite thing the band has done. The set highlights their busy stage presence and Bonitz’s physicality, which brings aggressive performers like Jason Aalon Butler Greg Puciato to mind.

Plenty of groups combine metalcore and nu metal nowadays, from Cane Hill to Conform to Blood Youth. But acts like Tallah and Slaughter to Prevail have that something “extra” that have helped them transcend their own niches of the metal world. Call it viral appeal, call it good marketing, they simply know how to get folks talking about them.

Talent is not enough on its own. Plenty of metal bands have talent but never get any attention, because they don’t have anything that makes them stand out. But when you have a vocalist like Courtney LaPlante, or Will Ramos, or Alex Terrible, you’re in possession of something truly special: prodigies in their profession who command the conversation about their performances.

Just as vocalists like Oli Sykes, Frankie Palmeri, and Danny Wornsnop took their bands to the next level with personality and marketability in the 2010s, these new standouts in the metal world are bringing the more extreme subgenres of metal – from progressive metalcore to deathcore – notoriety that may just rival their forefathers. It helps that they have YouTube at their disposal, too, which has accelerated word of mouth and given us instant access to the next viral hit.

Along with Dying Wish, Loathe, Wristmeetrazor, Wage War, and many other heavy acts I didn’t get to in this article, we’re seeing a movement of metal bands with purpose beyond merely flaunting talent. We’re seeing stars in the making, and they’re at the top of their game.

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