It turns out, hip-hop doesn’t have a monopoly on guest vocalist appearances. Because progressive music emphasizes both experimentation and dynamic contrast, artists inevitably seek out different voices to add to their songs. Many of the following artists are fans of each other, and have toured together in the past. It’s always a fun surprise when one of your favorite singers from a relatively obscure band shows up on the record of another one of your favorite, relatively obscure bands.
I chose these songs based on a couple criteria. First, how awesome is the song? Is it worth my time? The answer has to be “yes.” Second, how essential is the guest appearance to the success of the song? Does it lend something the band couldn’t present otherwise that really makes the song? With those criteria in mind, here’s my top 5 guest vocalist appearances:
- Ihsahn on “Contaminate Me” by LEPROUS
This one was a little too easy, as Leprous is inexorably tied to Ihsahn. For many years, the members of Leprous served as the backing band for Ihsahn’s solo work. The front-man of Leprous, Einar Solberg, also happens to be Ihsahn’s brother-in-law. When you are constantly playing with one of the most famous metal vocalists in the world, whom you also happen to be related to, you can expect a contribution here and there. This is a live performance of “Contaminate Me” that I find especially entertaining:
- Paul Masvidal of CYNIC on “Sumeria” by DEVIN TOWNSEND
This was a tough call. I didn’t allow myself to repeat any bands or vocalists on this list, and Devin Townsend’s solo work, particularly Deconstruction, is full of amazing guest artists. I could have picked Joe Duplantier on this same song, in fact. I didn’t though, because I thought Masvidal delivered a unique voice that Townsend himself couldn’t capture. It’s sullen and isolated in a way I’ve never heard Devy sound. Devin Townsend can, however, deliver extreme, intense vocals when he feels like it (which I wish was more often), more in the spirit of Duplantier. Masvidal appears in the outro of this, possibly my most favorite, DTP track:
- Jonas Renske of KATATONIA on “The Justice of Suffering” by SWALLOW THE SUN
Honestly speaking, this is a band I don’t listen to much anymore. They are a little too doomy for me, but I can’t quit this track for an obvious reason—Jonas Renske. Renske is probably my favorite clean vocalist, and like Paul Masvidal, he is lending a unique, beautiful voice to an otherwise heavy track. I would also point out Renske’s contribution to the Ayreon album 01011001, which otherwise is a total dud. The sections with Renske are amazeballs, but it’s not worth sitting through the rest of it. Anywho, here’s “The Justice of Suffering”:
- Krister Linder of ENTER THE HUNT on “Departer” by Katatonia
Perhaps fittingly, we now go to a Katatonia track that features an even more unique, haunting voice, that of Krister Linder. Linder is more known for his techno and ambient music than anything, including several film scores. I don’t know the story behind this hookup, but I’m glad for it. Though both Linder and Renske have higher-pitched, haunting voices, it’s the back and forth interplay that makes this one so special. When Linder comes in with the line “Brother, in your eyes I was the stronger” it immediately emphasizes the two distinct speakers in the narrative, something Renske obviously couldn’t do alone. “Departer” is the closing track on Night is the New Day, and as Jonas Renske described it, there is no question that the album is over when this one is done. Absolutely chilling conclusion:
- Tori Letzler on “The Void Alone” by Fallujah
This is one of my all-time favorite songs, period. The whole thing is really phenomenal, but it’s the dynamic contrast between the intense vocals of Alex Hofmann and the ethereal voice of Letzler that elevates this track, and that’s why it’s my number one.
You probably noticed a theme throughout my list—clean vocalists on extreme albums, extreme vocalists on clean albums, and Krister Linder. I’m looking for that back and forth contrast. I easily could have included Randy Blythe on “Adoration for None” by Gojira, or Scott Kelly on “Crack the Skye” by Mastodon, but I didn’t think they differentiated themselves enough to really make the song, though I do love both of those tracks. That’s my list. Tell me where I’m wrong, and what I missed. I’d love to hear your list as well.