June 2002: Women In Metal
A Rant by JP
Since 1970 the number of female performers in metal bands has been less than one-tenth of a percent. Since 1995 there has been a huge increase in the number of women in the genre. Even though their representation is still less than 1% overall, why the sudden increase in numbers, skill and popularity of female metallions?
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year I did a special on my radio show and I was thinking to myself, “There are so many female performers lately?, automatically thinking of Nightwish, The Gathering, Edenbridge, Dark Moor, Arch Enemy etc’ In preparation for the show I made a list and was surprised that I could only come up with a hundred or so bands that have a female performer. It got me thinking, that there has been a massive increase but they (women) still represent only a tiny fraction of the total. And of those 100+ bands a large percentage are newer bands formed in 1995 or later. Why?
A very brief overview perhaps is in order. In the first decade or so female performers were virtually non-existent. You could probably count them on one hand, Girlschool, the Runaways etc’ Around 1983 as Metal had it’s commercial explosion a few pioneers emerged, usually singers. These women often used their sexuality and sexual imagery to their advantage to get noticed. These women include Wendy O’ Williams, Lee Aaron, Lita Ford, Betsy Bitch and a few others.
As time progressed women entertainers realized that they did not always have to use the sexual imagery to succeed, that talent alone could carry a band. Bands like Meanstreak, Phantom Blue, Femme Fatale proved they could rock with relying on imagery but these acts were few and far between and unfortunately regarded by some industry types and as ignorant fans as novelties. For almost 10 years there were not many advances in metal until the sudden and massive increase in women performers, especially in Europe.
So’why now? How did this happen?
As Death metal evolved bands started to bring in new and diverse elements. One very common musical technique in metal is the juxtaposition of two sounds, one soft, one heavy, each accenting the other. Many death bands started adding female background vocals, the sweet clean style acting as a foil to the male growls. It worked, the formula was rapidly embraced as new an innovative, even though Celtic Frost had dabbled with the concept and sound years earlier. Suddenly, Therion, Tristania and others were doing brisk sales.
Suddenly dozens of bands in Europe had guest female vocalists and even full time members. The move spread into other genres, power metal especially where range, power and emotion are the standard and who better than a classically trained vocalist to front an act to make you stand out from the crowd.
By the late 90’s the trend was in full swing and inevitably there came a few negative consequences of this trend. Once the barriers were broken down a number of derivative acts appeared. Big labels started signing acts and heavily emphasizing the fact that the members were female. One such instance is Lullacry with a cheesacake, cleavage shot on the cover of their CD. Sex does indeed sell especially to metal’s predominantly male audience and the labels, managers and even band members are acutely aware of the historical connection between sex and rock’n’roll! Bands like Lullacry can have fun with the convention but there is a darker more disturbing side to the story.
A worst case scenario is the band Kittie. A slick and commercial unit deftly marketed as the next big thing, these four young attractive women were thrown into the gears of “the machine.” Despite being highly derivative and lacking in originality they were “female” and sex sells. The label got heavily involved and suddenly a lame, mallcore, clone with no future are the next big “metal” act. Ozzfest, videos, lame cover tunes, and the use of sexual imagery and lyrics put Kittie on the top of the mallcore heap but not without consequences. As the rigors of the industry took it’s toll and two members have since quit the band.
However the sheer numbers of talented female performers (not to mention industry people, mangers, labels reps, PR people, journalists etc’) seem to ensure that the current increase in numbers is not just a novelty trend but a legitimate acceptance of women into the metal community. No longer to be seen as merely sex-objects many women artists are extremely innovative, technically proficient in their chosen craft. In genre like Metal where talent is embraced and rewarded I predict that we will see many more excellent performers that will one day ultimately be recognized for their talent and not their gender.
Note: The author would like to congratulate himself on not making any jokes or rude comments about women in this editorial.
‘No, I’m not here to meet men, I actually like the music.’
By Ice Maiden
Being the only female staff member, I’ll probably have a slightly different slant to my essay. The topic for this essay was ‘Women in Metal,’ which, of course, can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. I’ll break it down in three ways: (i) my personal experiences in the metal scene; (ii) types of women I’ve seen involved in metal as fans; and (to a lesser extent) (iii) observations regarding reactions to female metal artists.
In some ways, being a female metalhead is like being a female involved in any male-dominated hobby or profession. You are either: (i) examined more closely by your male counterparts because of being female; (ii) you are treated the same way as a male; (iii) or you are dismissed offhand. Typical examples of how I am treated in some of these ways:
- I’m guessing I’m the only staff member who gets the ‘you are so hot’ emails from 12 year olds. And it isn’t because the guys on staff aren’t hot (for, indeed, they are the hottest!), and it isn’t because I actually am hot (please-I’m the ICE Maiden-how could I be hot?). By virtue of being female and involved in the metal scene, however, some men assume that you are out to seek male attention. I don’t think anyone assumes that a male metalhead is reviewing cds and shows because he is trying to meet women, but this assumption frequently happens with us gals.
- Most men at shows probably aren’t automatically assumed to be at shows just because their girlfriends like metal. However, it is a repeat assumption that I must be at a show because of my significant other-even if I’m at a show alone.
- From many metalhead women I’ve talked to, and I’ve certainly experienced this, there is a common phenomenon of having to ‘prove your metalness.’ This typically happens at a show where you meet new people. I will be asked what bands I like, or, even more commonly, ‘Why do you like this music?’ Sure, this happens to a lesser extent with men who initially meet each other and are trying to learn more about shared tastes, but while men seem to tend to assume that another man has heard of most bands, they tend to give us women a look of surprise when we show any breadth of metal knowledge. And when would a metalhead guy at a show that he really likes ask another guy ‘Why do you like this?’ I mean, it’s a silly question, isn’t it? If you are at the show, you probably like it for the same reasons everyone else there likes it. Yet it is a question that is frequently asked of women who are at shows.
- The most annoying type of metalhead is, of course, the guy who assumes that since you are female you simply can’t REALLY be interested in the music, so they don’t even bother talking to you at all.
Of course, some of the treatment of female metalheads is because female metalheads, in general, seem to fit into some standard categories. (Of course, inherent in all categories of people, there are exceptions-I’m talking generalities here.)
1. The Gothic Vampiress: Tends to dress in various forms of tight, black plastic garb, often with some form of netting and corsetry involved. Paleness and extremely dark eye and lip make-up are mandatory. Some of these gals are true Goths who have a genuine interest in a music style/lifestyle. Some find that their Dani Filth fetishes pass at their 14th birthday. Along with the ’80s Slut, these gals will most often be the ones dressed in very skimpy attire and ogling various band members.
2. The ’80s Slut: Tends to dress in clothing that is a flashback to the ’80s-tight short skirts, high heels, some form of midriff-baring top. The hair generally involves some form of blond bleaching process, normally with the dark roots showing. These gals loved the scene in the ’80s when metal was more of a societal norm. Some (not all) of these gals might be better advised to get a style update and just go to a ‘normal’ club-because what they really DO want is to meet men. Men with big hair that matches theirs.
3. The ‘I’m More Guy Than Most Guys’ Gal: These are the gals who talk, walk and act butch. Generally, they appear androgynous, or even more male than most men. You’ll often see these gals in the middle of the mosh, throwing elbows.
4. The Handbag and Borrowed Black T-Shirt Wearers: These are the gals who typically really aren’t into the music, and really ARE there because of their boyfriend. The boyfriend wanted to go to a show, so they will go along just to hang out. It’s cool that they will support a scene that they really arent interested in, so these gals get special kudos.
5. The Straightforward Concert Goer. These are the gals in the jeans wearing the concert T-shirts. They probably aren’t wearing much make-up (if any), and their hair is probably long.
6. The True Metalhead Female. The problem is that the true metalhead female might LOOK like any of the above. Or something different altogether. Which is why you shouldn’t assume that any woman you see in the metal scene is anything other than a person interested in the music, until proven otherwise.
Women as artists in the metal community face many of the same issues as women as fans, plus some additional ones. First, appearance is often the first thing mentioned about a female artist, whereas it is an issue rarely raised with respect to men. I mean, who ever hears people say, ‘Oh, that Luca Turilli, he looked HOT last night. He was wearing’.’ I’ve intentionally tried to comment on the appearance of guys in some reviews, just to make the point of how ridiculous it is. Second, female artists in metal often have to overcome the ‘novelty’ call-‘Did you hear her? She totally sounds like a guy but is really pretty!’ Again, you rarely hear those kinds of comments made about men.
I guess that the bottom line is that women in metal are just a subset of women in general. Some are there because they are interested, some are there for other reasons. Some have talent, some don’t. As in society at large, women in metal should be evaluated for the substance they bring, and not on the basis of their gender. Crikey-I almost sound like a feminist!
Women in Heavy Metal
By Michael De Los Muertos
Women in metal…that’s a big subject! I’m not sure exactly where to go with the topic (or where to go that others haven’t already covered more adequately than I could).
While I don’t think anyone has ever analyzed metalheads as a demographic group, it seems safe to say that it’s an overwhelmingly male-dominated subculture. That being said, women probably play an even more significant role in metal than they would if their numbers were proportional with the percentage of women in society as a whole.
I think women in the metal subculture probably face a lot of extra difficulties simply because of their gender. When introduced to a group of male metalheads, a woman may have to “prove” to them that she’s really a metalhead, and really into it for the music. This would be especially true if she’s dating a metalhead, because it would be very easy to make the assumption, “There are so few women into metal, that the chances are good when we see a woman who appears to be into metal dating a guy who’s into metal, she’s just along because of her boyfriend.” Unfortunately this assumption is made all the easier to jump to because it IS common to see women at metal shows who are NOT real metalheads, and who ARE there merely because of their boyfriends. (I took a non-metalhead girlfriend to a Megadeth show one time, and even gave her a metal shirt to wear so she wouldn’t look out of place). While I suppose it’s happened, how many times have you seen a female metalhead dragging her non-metal boyfriend with her to a concert?
On the other hand I would think gender stereotypes could also work in a female metalhead’s favor on occasion. Scenario for the guys reading this: say you’re starting a death metal band. You need a guitarist and place an ad for one. Out of 5 auditions, one of them is an attractive woman who’s obviously as much into death metal as any of the other guys. Admit it–if she can play death metal guitar on a comparable level with the other four auditioners, aren’t you inclined to give the gig to her? It would certainly be easy for fans to remember your band as “that death metal band with the chick guitarist.”
I can’t speak a lot about the relationship of these two scenarios to reality because of course I’m a male metalhead, not a female one. I can tell you what I think. Is it important to have women in the scene? Yes. Is it important to emphasize the differences between a woman’s approach to metal and a man’s? I don’t think so, because I don’t think there is much of a difference. I seriously doubt a woman’s reaction to Iron Maiden is going to be different than a man’s simply because of her gender. Does the presence of women in a particular band make me more or less interested in purchasing their album or going to a concert? Not in the slightest. I like Nightwish, Edenbridge and Bolt Thrower, but the presence of women in those bands is only relevant to the extent their gender makes a difference in how the music sounds and how good it is. (In Bolt Thrower, for instance, where the woman is not the vocalist, it makes no difference at all). Was Tarja nice to look at on stage when Nightwish played Wacken two years in a row? Of course. But I imagine a lot of the female metalheads in the Wacken crowd had bands they particularly enjoyed seeing because they thought a man in a certain band was cute!
Women certainly belong in metal, and it would be nice to see greater numbers of them. I’m hopeful that the “sisterhood of metal” will increase in the future.
Women in Metal
This long overdue topic of women in metal is one that can be approached from several angles. The idea that more women are involved in heavy metal BANDS is what I’ll be ranting about.
In the 80’s most “women in metal” basically meant women in metal videos. Not many women were actually playing/singing metal. Many of those that were, were in fact window dressing. For example watch a Lita Ford video or Lee Aaron’s “Metal Queen” video’it’s all about SEX! Of course, as a perverted teenager I loved it. But looking at it form the shoulders up it’s not really about their musical ability. You can argue that most of them had talent, but the real “talent” that got them exposure was not their playing. There were some females in heavy metal back then who were not just about looks and who were serious performers. For example there was Doro Pesch from Warlock. She is still putting out hard rock/metal albums under the name “Doro” today. There is also the much lesser known Ann Boleyn from Hellion and vocalist Sabina Classen who joined Holy Moses in ’84 (until they broke up in 1992). There have always been women in metal; it’s just that they were not all equally known. Back in the 80’s you would see much more revealing pics of Lita Ford in the metal rags then other musicians who didn’t flaunt it so much.
Since then, what has changed? I think attitudes have partially changed. Until the end of time, guys will always ogle over metal chicks and that’s just being human, but it’s also clear that there are more and more women who are not just in a band for window dressing. Some of that still exists of course. For example, check out Angela Gossow, lead vocalist for the Swedish extreme metal band Arch Enemy. Her promo pics are the type that makes most red-blooded males go wild’.but beneath the cheap gimmick of “flesh for press” is a brutal death growl that stands shoulder to shoulder with most male death metalers. On the flipside is Kimberly Goss who happens to be one of my favorite female vocalists. She is a co-founder/writer, vocalist and lyricist for Sinergy. Her appearances prior to Sinergy mainly come from the “black” metal scene with bands like Avernus and Dimmu Borgir. She is one example of a strong willed and highly talented female who leads a heavy metal band and she is making it because of her great voice. Another example is Elisa C. Martin from the lesser known Spanish power metal band Dark Moor. They currently are on their third album and her vocal style is in the German power metal style (Helloween, etc). It is true that most females in metal today are doing vocals, and sometimes bassists. There are not as many lead guitarists or drummers out there but of course there are always exceptions!!
There are women in metal who do not actually sound metal or who are not actually “metal” in and of themselves. A perfect example of this is Tarja Turunen from the Finnish melodic metal band Nightwish. She does not sing like a metal singer at all, yet she is in a melodic metal band. Her voice is powerful, but it’s not aggressive like say Kimberly Goss. Tarja’s vocals are opera influenced and are what sets Nightwish apart from other similar bands. One gimmick which I have come to dislike is that of mixing together the male death metal vocals with the “angelic” pop sounding female vocalists. That is the one style of female singing found in some metal bands that I am not a fan of at all and you can find examples of this in death/black metal and even moreso in the questionable gothic “metal” style.
I know I haven’t mentioned EVERY female vocalist in metal here, and that isn’t the point of my rant. What I have done is focus on some that I happen to be a fan of. More women are involved in metal bands now than before but they still are the minority. Heavy metal is still a “man’s world” despite what spin you try to put on it. Attitudes have been changing in that you don’t always hear people questioning the talent of a woman just because she’s in a band. People are open to the idea thanks to the pioneers from the 80’s and will listen before they judge. Perhaps the reason why there are fewer females in metal bands is as simple as the fact that most metal fans are not female. Go to any metal gig and look at the crowd’eliminate the women that are there with their boyfriends or are the wives/girlfriends of the bands. How many are there? Not a lot. Perhaps it’s a throw back to the traditional roles of men being more brutish, savage and ogre-like then the fragile refined woman?!? I dunno…what do you think? Let us know!
There are and always will be differences between the sexes (thank you Satan) but it’s always nice to see a women kicking ass as hard as any “dude” in a metal band. That’s my 2 cents anyway!
Links for women in metal / hard rock who deserve recognition:
Doro Pesch – www.doropesch.com
Kimberly Goss – www.sinergy.net
Dark Moor – www.darkmoor.es.org
Arch Enemy – www.archenemy.net
Karyn Crisis – www.krisis.nu
Ann Boleyn – officialhellionsite.freeyellow.com
Kathie Jarra – www.lionmusic.com/jarra
Phantom Blue – www.phantomblue.com
Lizza Hayson – www.mahavatar.net
As an addition to my above rant I had some correspondence with Angela Gossow herself!!
Some of what she had to say was “I know, I did an excellent album with Arch Enemy, I know, I am a good front person and we are touring our asses off at the moment. I don’t wear feminine clothes to get coverage, I do it cause this is MY STYLE.”
What I was trying to say above was that for Arch Enemy it’s NOT a “gimmick” used to gain attention. The band on it’s own is killer and doesn’t need a gimmick. I was trying to point put to people who think that her presence in Arch Enemy is a gimmick that she is as good as any other extreme singer and that she has the “balls” to kick ass as hard as any other, even though she is not afraid to show her beauty. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear. I was trying to challenge some perceptions that some people have. I’m sorry if anyone took it the wrong way, that was not my intention.
From an interview with Angela from the Texas regional press here is some words that relate to this topic:
Forgive me for saying so, but you are an extraordinarily beautiful woman. In a largely male-dominated genre such as death metal, you probably put up with a lot of men hitting on you. But when they see or hear you perform, do they back off? I imagine your style is intimidating to some of them.
There are some people out there, thinking sex appeal and death metal doesn’t match. I think, sex and aggression are strongly related to each other. The beast in the beauty. Some guys are shocked, when they hear me first time. But more in a positive way. I met Marco, the The Haunted vocalist recently after we performed live at Hulsfred festival, Sweden. He told me, I made him almost cry. He loves what I am doing. Needless to say, I am a big fan of his vocals. His reaction means a lot to me. I get the feeling, the stuff I am doing on stage, attracts men more than intimidating them. And it attracts women too, hehe. The best compliments I usually get from women. Female support means more to me than male, to be true. I really want to encourage women, to be feminine, sexy and kick serious ass at the same time. They don’t have to be cute and soft spoken. They can be as loud as they want to. They will still be the most beautiful thing that walks this earth. All women are beautiful.