For Those About To Squawk: Metal Bands With Non-Human Singers

Parrot, pit bulls give extreme metal some extra bite.

Believe it or not, in his spare time the lead singer of the crushing death-metal band Hatebeak likes to whistle the happy-go-lucky theme song from the "Andy Griffith Show." From time to time, he'll lure dogs into his kitchen so that, when the opportunity's just right, he can sneak up behind them and chomp on their tails. He's also into preening -- really into it.

His name is Waldo, and he's a 9-year-old Congo African Grey parrot. And yes, he can screech and growl like Deicide's Glen Benton.

Triac frontman Blake Harrison -- who, along with fellow sound engineer Mark Sloan, is the human component of Baltimore's Hatebeak -- said his side project is the world's sole avian-fronted metal outfit, and they're definitely the only death metallers sponsored by an organic birdseed company.

Like most good ideas, Hatebeak were born out of sheer boredom.

"You know, my friend [owns the parrot] and Waldo learned these brutal growls," Harrison explained. "I don't know actually from where -- we think some of it's from mimicking water going down the drain, that sort of guttural noise. So, we're goofy dudes, and myself and Mark didn't have a band at the time, so we decided to put something together. Once we came up with name Hatebeak -- that was the big clincher."

The parrot's owner, Harrison said, is also an avid metal fan, which might further explain Waldo's extreme vocal and musical proclivities. Hatebeak (the band's logo resembles that of Hatebreed's) are much more than a gimmick, though -- they're a statement on the metal scene, Harrison said. "It's also our way of injecting a little lightheartedness into a scene which can't laugh at itself, or very frequently takes itself way too seriously."

And the band's Web site is further proof of this mission: It warns that Waldo is "not Jimmy Buffett's parrot," and that "try as one might, [you'll never] escape the claw; nothing can dodge the talons of hate." The site further contains a disclaimer: "For the last time, it really is a parrot -- not the loser from 'Six Feet Under.' "

Harrison said he and Sloan typically bring recording equipment to Waldo's owner's home and record the parrot's blood-curdling squawks from his newspaper-lined cage. Depending on the parrot's mood, the process can be either smooth or extremely difficult. Then the duo hit the studio, where Waldo's vocals are tweaked to fit with the music they've written. At other times, Harrison said he'll write songs around "the stuff that comes out of the bird's mouth, because he kind of does what he wants, when he wants." Hatebeak's music is punishing, nest-crushing and grim: "We want to raise the bar as far as extreme music goes," Harrison explained.

Hatebeak have released two split 7-inches on Reptilian Records since forming. The first, 2004's Beak of Putrefaction (a spoof of Carcass' 1988 opus Reek of Putrefaction), contains the title track and "God of Empty Nest" (which was inspired by Morbid Angel's "God of Emptiness"). In 2005, the group issued Bird Seeds of Vengeance, a title borrowed from Nile's 2000 album Black Seeds of Vengeance.

This summer, Hatebeak will release their first full-length disc, Number of the Beak (obviously a play on Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast). The album will feature nine new songs, along with tracks from both 7-inches. Some of the new tracks? "The Thing That Should Not Beak" (riffing on Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be"), "Death From a Cage" and an undetermined Death cover.

Alas, Hatebeak are a studio-based enterprise: There never has been, nor will there ever be, a live performance of "Bird Bites, Dog Cries." At least not with a live Waldo: The decibels alone would probably ensure the bird's doom, Harrison said, and considering Waldo's owner shelled out a couple of thousand dollars for his feathered friend, there's no chance he would permit an onstage attempt. "If there was a chance we could do this live," he said, "I'd be in Japan right now, making billions of dollars."

Hatebeak, however, aren't the world's sole animal-fronted extreme-metal band, and there's some debate as to whether they were even the first. At around the same time the 'Beak took flight, Most Precious Blood guitarist Justin Brannan launched his own grindcore side project, Caninus. That band is fronted by two growlers who can't throw the devil horns but have plenty of bite in their barks anyway: pit bull terriers Budgie and Basil. The band also features MPB drummer Colin Thundercurry (known by his Caninus alias Curry Lightning) and Rachel Rosen, a.k.a. Belle Molotov.

Caninus have three releases out on War Torn Records, including a split 7-inch with Cattle Decapitation and a CD entitled Now the Animals Have a Voice. According to Brannan, known in the band as Sudz Exodus, Caninus also started out as a joke. But the reaction was so overwhelming it spawned a full-blown band.

"The two dogs are just very vocal, and we'd always play around with them -- like tug-of-war and stuff -- and they both had really great growls," he said. "We all grew up listening to Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death and Terrorizer, so we figured it would be funny to do a song with them growling over the music. It was a joke that we were going to put on the end of a Most Precious Blood CD, and we started passing the track around, and people were freaking out about it. We got offers to do records, and we just ran with it."

But unlike Hatebeak, Caninus have a message: "Animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, and trying to spread the word about adopting homeless animals," said Brannan. "The whole purpose of the band is to spread those messages, because Budgie and Basil are adopted, rescued dogs."

The whole idea behind Caninus was giving people what the band's members assume people really want. "All these death-metal bands have dudes that are trying to sound like animals, so we figured we'd give people the real deal," Brannan said. "So instead of having some dude living in his parents' basement, growing out his hair, trying to growl like a rabid pit bull, we give you the real deal. The music is for real, and we're all fans of death metal and grindcore. We're not poking fun at it -- it's all in good fun. And the dogs are the stars. We're the anonymous, disposable human beings."

The debate over who came first -- Caninus or the 'Beak -- for a time created some tension between the two camps. But one thing's clear: these metal menageries have started something. "Some girl wrote to me and told me her and her friends want to do a band with a pig singing," Brannan said. "But it's not really going to be a pig -- it's going to be them making pig noises. And I was like, 'That's really f---ing lame.' "