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Hear Me Roar: Female Death Metal Vocalists
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and they both love metal.
Let me start with a disclaimer: I have no patience for musical elitism. The idea that one style, genre, or sub-genre of music is inherently better than another is ridiculous. It is also patently absurd that just because something is more popular, or “mainstream,” that means it is inferior. Metal, in particular, seems to be especially prone to the latter condition. If you want to explain to me why a certain band or artist doesn’t appeal to you, so be it. I will happily listen. If, however, you want to get on your high horse and spout about how so-and-so is a “poser” because they have too many fans, well, I’ve stopped listening already. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you like it, listen to it no matter what anyone else thinks.
That being said, I am going to wade right into a minefield by discussing female vocalists in extreme metal. The danger of such a discussion lies in the fact that there is a certain amount of sexism built in. Any discussion by men of the merits of women in a traditionally male dominated profession inevitably begins from a discriminatory starting point. Even those, like me, who would defend the woman's place in metal do so by treating women separately, which is fundamentally chauvinistic and patronizing. Saying things like, "she is great for a girl!" or "I can't believe that's a woman!" sound like a compliment but in reality do a disservice to the cause of gender equality.
Still, until equality is achieved, these discussions must take place no matter how flawed. To that end, I have chosen four female death/extreme metal vocalists to demonstrate that, in terms of talent and ability, women have already achieved an equal footing with men. It is only the perception that must catch up. All four of them are as good if not better than any male growler on the planet.
Angela Gossow, who recently stepped down as the front woman for Arch Enemy, is at once the most successful and the most controversial female in extreme metal. Her name is always one of the first brought up in discussions about female growlers, and she is used to defend both sides of the argument.
Gossow joined Arch Enemy in 2000 after the band parted ways with Johan Liiva. She was hired after an audition in which guitarist Michael Amott said she "wiped the floor with all the other contenders." The band released 6 studio albums with Gossow and toured extensivley, achieving a fair amount of commercial success and a devoted following. In 2014 she stepped down to become the band's manager and was replaced by her friend and protégé, Alissa White-Gluz.
Angela's looks and the band's success during her tenure have led critics to surmise that the novelty of an attractive woman fronting a death metal band superseded her vocal ability. They point to the fact that her successor is also an attractive woman as proof that Arch Enemy is more interested in record sales. However, those who support Gossow would gladly explain that she has never exploited her sexual attractiveness by dressing in a provocative manner, and she has always been a powerful voice for strong and liberated women. Objective reviewers tend to laud her vocals - "she attacks every song with sweet brutality, as if wringing blood from a rock" - and if anything, the fact that she is a female has led many to underestimate her vocal ability as opposed to the opposite.
Have a listen for yourself, and try to hear the vocals without gender. What do you think?
Alissa White-Gluz originally made her name as the vocalist for the Canadian band The Agonist. She has also made guest appearances with the symphonic metal band Kamelot. She met Gossow while touring and the two became fast friends due to their similar musical tastes and shared socio-political philosophies. White-Gluz became Gossow's protégé, and Gossow began grooming her to take over as the lead vocalist for Arch Enemy. The transition took place in 2014.
In the Agonist, White-Gluz used both clean vocals and growls, but with Arch Enemy she strictly uses harsh gutturals. She is more "traditionally attractive" than even Gossow, and she comes across as more "feminine," but as a rule she does not dress to enhance her sexuality, and she takes her craft just as seriously. Critics point to White-Gluz as proof that the band wanted another female for marketing purposes, but her hand-selection by her mentor and predecessor belies that notion.
White-Gluz does not have the same brutal ferocity of Gossow, but she has more range and brings a new element to the band's music. Take a listen, and if you would like to hear White-Gluz with The Agonist you can check them out here.
Until 2012, Grace Perry fronted Landmine Marathon, the band she helped form in 2004. Whereas Gossow is usually a divisive figure in discussions about women in metal, Perry generally provides a unifying force. This is due to a vocal style and stage presence that cannot be construed as anything other than genuine.
The website Metal Sucks says of Perry: "It’s not Perry’s appearance as a cute and willowy young woman that makes her an incredible vocalist and frontwoman (though it’s understandably startling to hear screams that gut-wrenching come out of a person so pretty). It’s her vocals, which are ferocious bellows and harpy-like cries reminiscent of shattering glass and groaning steel. It’s her stage attitude, which entirely forsakes the How We Doing Tonight banter bulls**t and instead is made of a solid mix of Doubled Over Shrieking and Leaping Into The Crowd."
If you've never heard Perry, it's time to see what you've been missing.
Since 2004, Marloes Voskuil has fronted the Dutch band Izegrim, for whom she also plays bass. The band is considered to be "thrash with death metal influences," but whatever you want to call it Voskuil's vocals are pure destruction. They are reminiscent of Gossow's, but more raw.
Little information is available on Voskuil (in English, anyway), but there is enough evidence to cement her as a talent equal to that of any man. If you have heard her and Izegrim before, props. If you are one of the many who hasn't, you are in for a treat.
One Nation Under Metal
All of this begs the question: if women want equality, why are we talking about it? Shouldn't we treat them just like men?
This Hub was inspired by a line of commentary on a metal blog which said, among other things, that all female vocalists sound the same, their voices lack power, and they are doing a disservice to their gender by being in metal in the first place. My answer to the question, then, would be yes - we should treat the women just like men, but only once they are on an equal footing with men. For this to happen, lines of thought like the one above must be consigned to the ash heap of history. In the meantime, I think it is important to call attention to the efforts of women in metal by bringing their talents to light whenever and wherever possible.
Listen one more time to the four artists above. Do they sound the same? Do they lack power? Are they embarrassing women in general with their performance?
I think the answer is obvious, and I look forward to the day when their voices speak for themselves.