The heavy metal and hard rock scenes boast some of the most theatrical singers this side of opera and Broadway. Metal’s typically intense lyrical style needs to be delivered with a heighted sense of fervor and passion. Quite simply, many of the artists we cover here on Noisecreep write the kind of music that lends itself perfectly to the love and tragedy one would witness at a dramatic stage play, at least emotionally speaking.
Some singers take the high drama theory to heart and inject their live performances with a visual component that matches the assured power and fury of the musical side their respective bands are bringing. These are vocalists who give up every ounce of themselves on stage, night after night, country after country. Noisecreep is paying tribute to these showy singers with our 10 Most Theatrical Rock Frontmen list.
The Godfather of what would come to be known as “shock rock,” Alice Cooper’s ghoulish image and macabre stage show made him an enemy to the mainstream while instantly crowning him a hero to disenfranchised teenagers everywhere when he first invaded the music scene in the late ‘60s. Cooper’s trashy take on rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but his use of guillotines, live snakes, blood-caked mannequins and other horror movie-inspired props in his live shows certainly was and that definitely makes him a natural choice for the 10 Most Theatrical Rock Frontmen.
Bruce DickinsonIron Maiden
Bruce Dickinson is pushing 60, but don’t tell the Iron Maiden frontman that. Anyone who has witnessed one of Maiden’s tour appearances over the past few years can attest to the singer’s acrobatic performances. Dickinson sprints and zip lines across arena stages with the speed and agility of a man more than half his age, all the while never missing a note. Add to that his dramatic vocal delivery and wardrobe changes and you have one of metal’s most theatrical showmen.
David Lee RothVan Halen, solo
If you were lucky enough to witness Van Halen live in the ‘70s and ‘80s, then the image of David Lee Roth, mid-air, rocking a ballet split, is burned into your memory. The move was imitated countless times throughout the years (cough Bullet Boys cough), but DLR did it best. Part Las Vegas showman, part circus performer, the colorful frontman still delivers one of the most energetic stage shows around.
Maynard James KeenanTool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer
Taking a cue from Peter Gabriel during his time fronting Genesis in the ‘70s, Maynard James Keenan takes the whole theatrical thing to the extreme. The Tool singer, who also fronts A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, doesn’t just throw a mask on when he goes on stage; he becomes the character. From head to toe, Keenan not only transforms himself physically, but he also takes on another persona for the entirety of the concert. That’s the sort of dedication usually reserved for method actors.
KISS’ pyro, multi-level stages and skyscraping drum riser is stuff of concert legend, but at the heart of it all was bassist/vocalist and co-leader Gene Simmons. For a band known as much for its iconic image as it is for its music, Simmons’ “Demon” character was the most popular of the four. The sight of him belting out ‘God of Thunder’ while blood drips down his throat is just one reason while he makes our 10 Most Theatrical Rock Frontmen list.
Ronnie James DioDio, Rainbow, Heaven and Hell, Black Sabbath
Whether he was battling a towering dragon or wielding a sword almost as big as he was, Ronnie James Dio always delivered the goods on stage. The late vocalist converted hockey arenas in the mid-‘80s into the kind of mystical landscapes that fantasy artist Frank Frazetta would dream up. Check out Dio’s 'Finding the Sacred Heart: Live in Philly 1986' DVD for footage of the influential singer and his band at the peak of their powers.
King DiamondMercyful Fate, solo
Beginning with Mercyful Fate in the early ‘80s and into his current solo career, King Diamond has taken Alice Cooper’s theatrical formula and upped the creepy factor. The Danish singer’s live performances are full-scale productions featuring actors and Broadway-worthy stage props. Diamond acts out his concept albums decked out in demonic face paint and using a microphone stand made of real bones while his band rips through the music with reckless abandon.
Rob ZombieWhite Zombie, solo
A lifelong fan of vintage horror films and comic books, Rob Zombie has taken his love for those two worlds and created his own mini-universe. The ex-White Zombie singer has spent millions on his stage shows throughout the years, sacrificing his own bottom line to give his fans a show to remember. A Rob Zombie concert is like witnessing a classic DC comic strip and an episode of ‘The Munsters’ set to live hard rock.
Papa Emeritus IIGhost B.C.
The leader of Swedish Blue Öyster Cult worshippers Ghost B.C., Papa Emeritus II strikes an imposing figure. Taking on an image of some kind of satanic priest, the singer stalks the stage like he’s giving a sermon, never breaking character in between songs. Last year, Noisecreep attended a Halloween event and even saw a few people dressed as Emeritus. His visual presence is so strong that Emeritus has become to Ghost B.C. what Eddie is for Iron Maiden.
Closing our 10 Most Theatrical Rock Frontmen list is the intergalactic humanoid barbarian known as Oderus Urungus. The commander of GWAR, Urungus (aka Dave Brockie) is one of metal’s most engaging live performers, not only singing, but also interacting with the group’s many gross-out stage stunts. As repulsive as GWAR’s performances are, can you imagine what the inside of Brockie’s mask smells like after one of their gigs? Now that’s metal!