A band’s frontman/woman/self-aware robot is much more than just their singer. They’re the guide through a live gig and the ultimate hype machine.Whilst it’s the entire band’s job to enthrall an audience with their performance, it’s the job of the frontman to lead the charge and engage a crowd, truly making them feel like part of the show. A good frontperson isn’t just an amazing singer, but a tremendous performer, something that the world has seen bucketloads of in the last few years.
There are a great handful of frontmen that have been a key influence on me, both as a vocalist and an entertainer. I’ve been playing live gigs since I was about 12 years old. The first band that I joined went through about three different names in the space of a month, and covered Linkin Park’s anthem “In The End” at a school assembly…great memories there.
Since then, I’ve aimed to develop my own brand of stage presence and live banter as a frontman, and have found that the most effective way of achieving this has been emulating certain tendencies of people that I both grew up watching and idolise to this day.
But enough raving from me. Here are the top ten (well, twelve) frontmen that have influenced me throughout the years.
Honourable Mention – Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington (Linkin Park)
Linkin Park’s crushing debut “Hybrid Theory” (2000) was the very first album that I ever bought, and it remains a mainstay in my Spotify library today. My enthrallment with Linkin Park however, is largely down to the combination Mike Shinoda’s flawless hip-hop delivery and Chester Bennington’s signature harsh-clean singing (yes, it exists). This dynamic twosome showed us that not only could you combine two polar opposites of the music world, but that you could do them to a world shattering effect (and not whatever the hell it was that Limp Bizkit were doing…). The pair have an infectious on-stage chemistry, and feed off each other like a remora feeds off sharks (you decide which is which).
10. Freddie Mercury (Queen)
Was there ever really anybody else that I could start this list off with? Freddie Mercury really was one of the greatest rock frontmen to ever live. He absolutely oozed charisma and had the insanely high vocal range to back it up. His control of crowds was unbelievable, probably best proved by the scatting he got them to do during live performances of “Another One Bites the Dust.”. Queen had an uncanny ability to write anthem after anthem, and Mercury’s weighted presence was paramount to that.
9.Tim McIlrath (Rise Against)
You know the guy that made taping up your microphone and swinging it round your head like a furiously hyperactive howler monkey cool? That was Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. His melodically gravelled tone has not faltered at all in the last decade (which is surprising for a guy that has to sing “Prayer of the Refugee” on the reg.) and his stage presence speaks for itself. McIlrath is a man of few words between songs, but during, he’s jumping over more boxes and amps than Super Mario in mushroom kingdom. His politically charged songs ignite many a passionate flame throughout audiences worldwide, with even calmer songs striking the most resounding chords. “Hero of War” is a prime example of this, acting as a social commentary of the US army’s presence in the Middle East.
8. Ronnie James Dio (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio)
Some will be surprised that the great one himself isn’t higher on this list, but there’s a very good reason for this (trust me, those that know me know how much I love Dio). What he lacked in stage mobility, he more than made up for in raw power. What other singers accomplished through jumping, RJD could do standing. Classics like “Rainbow in the Dark”, “Dream Evil” and “Holy Diver” are still heavy metal essentials today, and Dio’s resounding tenor is the sole reason for that.I mean…the guy pretty much invented the devil horns for crying out loud! A universal symbol for rock and metal that has yet to be dethroned. The reason that he’s not higher on this list is because, despite the titanic and bombastic nature of his songs, he tended to get repetitive quite quickly. Even as a power metal fan, there was only so much magic and wizards that even a geekazoid like me could take. THAT BEING SAID, Dio is still one of RnR’s true icons, and a fallen hero that we all miss.
7. Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)
Yes, Green Day have not been on top form in the studio lately. Yes, Billie Joe’s insufferable from time to time, especially when it comes to the media. BUT, in terms of a live show, there is no denying the guy’s performance ability. He still sounds consistently angsty, even after a pretty bumpy 17 year career.The pedigree of “Dookie” and the anthemic opus that is “American Idiot” cannot be denied, and despite both sets of songs being well over a decade old, they still hold up. The dude runs around like the Duracell bunny, and manages to still make guy-liner look good in his mid-40s. If that’s not enough to land him on this list, then I don’t know what is.
6.Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)
Find me someone that doesn’t love Dave Grohl, and I’ll show you a heartless gargoyle who long abandoned hope of any happiness. The guy is just so damn happy to be on stage, wether it’s headlining Wembley or playing a small stage in a cafe in Nashville. Some may be more familiar seeing Grohl behind a drum kit (he used to play for a little band called NIRVANA…you might have heard of them), but his work as an axe slinging vocalist has almost equalled a guy who has literally grown up in some of the world’s biggest bands. Grohl recorded the entirety of the Foo Fighters debut all on his lonesome and even crafted a guitar-themed iron throne to play shows whilst suffering a broken leg. Inspirational as fuck.
5. Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead)
I discussed this at length in my piece about Lemmy in 2015, but to sum it up, Motörhead were the first band that I ever saw live and Lemmy set the bar and an almost unattainable height for what a frontman should be. His booming snarl, his distorted rumbling bass tone and his outlaw bravado, all made for an incredible stage presence, and the songs? Well, the spoke for themselves.The triple barrel blast of “Whorehouse Blues”, “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill” remains one of my favourite show closers of all time, and seeing Lemmy hoist his bass onto his shoulder like a shotgun and mow down audience members with a thundering hook is an image that I’ll not soon forget. The iron horse rolls on. Rest in Power.
4. Zach De la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine)
If the world ever needed Rage Against the Machine again, now would be the time. 2017 just needs Zach de la Rocha to pick his microphone back up and shatter worldwide political tensions with the resounding militant poetry of “Bulls On Parade.” The guy was about as furious as an outraged rhinoceros on RATM’s studio outputs, but it was live where Mr. de la Rocha made his statements, most prominently during one of the band’s final shows at The Grand Olympic Arena in L.A., where the entire band paused whilst Zach screamed “YOUR ANGER IS A GIFT!” to an enthralled hometown crowd. Not many people could make a repeated chorus of “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” sound less repetitive than Donald Drumpf’s speeches (never thought I’d sneak that comparison in), but Zach de la Rocha managed to transform the infamous chorus of “Killing in the Name Of” into one of the most venomous and fiery statements in the history of heavy music, all punctuated by a bellowing “MOTHERFUCKER!” at the end. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go break down a wall while cranking “War Within a Breath.”
3. M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold)
Easily the youngest frontman on this list, M. Shadows has proven himself capable of the highest highs (no seriously, just listen to the notes the guy can hit, I’ll wait.). Probably the most impressive part of his frontman game however, is the Phil Anselmo/Axl Rose-esque rasp that Shadows adds to his singing. The man’s a melodic buzz saw, made even more impressive by the now 2+ hours sets that Avenged Sevenfold play. I dare anyone to try singing “Beast and the Harlot”, “Buried Alive” and “Bat Country” and not feel like they’ve just swallowed a roll of burning sandpaper, the music ain’t easy. Consistent through records and live performances alike, M.Shadows is one of the best examples of a spellbinding frontman, combining witty and clever stage banter with the hard rock vocal chops to back it up. If 15 year old me were writing this list, he’d probably be king of this frontman castle. BUT, the next two entries on this are on another level by comparison!
2. James Hetfield (Metallica)
Frontman of the world’s biggest and most popular metal band? Basically the creator of modern metal’s harsh vocal style?Yeah. James Hetfield definitely belongs on a list like this. Metallica were one of the first heavy bands that I listened to, and the first album that I heard by them was 2003’s “St. Anger” ! (listed by many as the band’s worst album). In 2005, a friend handed me 1991’s “The Black Album” and started me down the dark path to heavy metal fandom. It’s easy to pigeon hole James Hetfield as the gruff voiced old man with more ways of saying “YEAH!!” than Randy Savage (there is a soundboard, LOOK IT UP), but Poppa Het’s songwriting took metal music to the next level. His band’s back catalogue includes furious riffgasms like “Battery” and “Creeping Death” next to ballads like “Nothing Else Matters” (yes, it’s a ballad, shut your filthy mouth). Put these alongside ironclad anthems like “Enter Sandman” and it’s clear that Hetfield is one of the greatest frontman in rock history. On stage, he can go from quiet comedy, to ripping and roaring through singalongs with the crowd. This is vital, given the venues that the band now play, James Hetfield makes sure that every single person in an arena feels equally involved. Also, he keeps bees. Can’t be all bad can he?
1.Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
There could only be one. Having seen Iron Maiden twice in my lifetime (hopefully a third come May *someonesellmeaticketplease*), I can honestly confirm that Bruce Dickinson is greatest living rock frontman. Considering that he runs and dives over the band’s elaborate stage sets like a whirling Spitfire, you would never guess that the man was pushing 60! Add onto this that he’s a qualified pilot (often flying Maiden in their own magic carpet to tour destinations), that he can still sing like a motherloving banshee AND that he recorded Iron Maiden’s latest metal omnibus, “The Book of Souls” (2015), whilst battling mouth cancer (which he has since beaten!), and it’s easy to see why anybody would love Bruce Dickinson. He’s also part of the conscious effort to keep Maiden’s newer material current and relevant, which is no small feat for a band 15 albums and 25 years into their career. Dickinson has stated, at multiple points in the band’s career, that Iron Maiden neither want to be a nostalgia band nor a cabaret act, and made it very clear that they will keep putting out new music until they can’t anymore.If that’s not the mark of a truly dedicated frontman, then I don’t know what is.
So there’s the list. A bunch of metal singers and Freddie Mercury (go figure right?). If you’re a frontman/woman/alien or if you just really love music then please do drop a comment below with your influences. I’d love to know where people get their inspiration from!