Death Metal music with violent themes is characterized by vocalizations with unnaturally low fundamental frequencies and high levels of distortion and roughness. These attributes decrease the signal to noise ratio, rendering linguistic content difficult to understand and leaving the impression of growling, screaming, or other non-linguistic vocalizations associated with aggression and fear. Here, we compared the ability of fans and non-fans of Death Metal to accurately perceive sung words extracted from Death Metal music. We also examined whether music training confers an additional benefit to intelligibility. In a 2 × 2 between-subjects factorial design (fans/non-fans, musicians/nonmusicians), four groups of participants (n = 16 per group) were presented with 24 sung words (one per trial), extracted from the popular American Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse. On each trial, participants completed a four-alternative forced-choice word recognition task. Intelligibility (word recognition accuracy) was above chance for all groups and was significantly enhanced for fans (65.88%) relative to non-fans (51.04%). In the fan group, intelligibility between musicians and nonmusicians was statistically similar. In the non-fan group, intelligibility was significantly greater for musicians relative to nonmusicians. Results are discussed in the context of perceptual learning and the benefits of expertise for decoding linguistic information in sub-optimum acoustic conditions.

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