Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Maze of Thoughts: Women and Heavy Metal

Metal's most popular woman, Doro.
At heavy metal's inception, women were at the mercy of piercings, tattoos, and black garb (Don't believe me? Scoot on over to Google images and key in "heavy metal women!"). A "necessity," these traits conformed to a common stereotype giving street cred and recognition among a testosterone-dominated style of music. If a woman's appearance didn't match one of those characteristics, fans scratched their heads and took her less seriously, a tradgedy all things considered.

Today, a good portion of women (and men!) are as clean-cut as any pop artist. As metal has gained a larger following, people from all walks of life have dedicated their every waking moment to writing, crafting, and ultimately releasing heavy music. The juvenile idea that both genders must look and behave crudely has largely vanished, although it remains the perception for outsiders peering in.

Modern day tends to subject women to "Is she hot?"-type questioning from male fans, who scowl in disgust if a female musician is not blessed in the looks department. Instrumental skill, regardless of depth or technical prowess, is not an absolute requirement. In fact, if a woman received a particularly good set of genes from her parents, she will serve as "visual entertainment" for the majority of her followers, even if her fingers are fast shit on the fretboard. With such an attitude, a woman's value as a musician is diminished to nothing more than eye candy. 

Doris Yeh (Chthonic)
Likewise, some women revel in their ability to profit from their physical appearance. As much as I like her, Doris Yeh, a truly stunning woman in every sense of the word, is guilty of using her looks to manipulate fans with merch sales in mind. She is undoubtedly worthy of her place in metal sensationalists, Chthonic, but her photo shoot, included in the Set Fire to the Island single, is merely an extra to entice potential buyers. The same applies to vocalists like Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist), who are admittedly easy on the eyes but also draw attention by being outspoken about animal rights and veganism. 

Only recently have listeners taken the collective female contribution earnestly. Europe, in particular, is known for its sprawling underground filled with patches of women, as is the United States, a country that entirely pushed metallic music from the mainstream after the eighties. Asia--specifically Japan--has its fair share scattered throughout the scene, too, and they appear popular; we can all breathe a Sigh (Dr. Mikannibal rocks!) of relief that women are recognized somewhere, at least. 

But what each scene, regardless of geographic location, shares is the female creative mind, and how it interprets music. Many times this is different than what men piece together, offering a unique texture and stylistic twist in the writing process. For instance, in the mid-nineties, Novembers Doom recorded a track called "Amour of the Harp" filled with beautiful, operatic vocals thanks to the delicate quiver of the female voice. Prior to this, women's presence in metal was sporadic at best, with big artists like Doro (and Warlock) and Lita Ford (pop rock) puncturing the mainstream.

Post 2000 metalheads saw a shift. With the rise of the Internet, accessing music has become much easier, in turn revealing women (and bands) who would otherwise go unnoticed. Thanks to digital media, emerging from the woodwork has grown relatively simple and enabled musicians to move forward--many of them female.

Mallika Sundaramurthy (Abnormality)
Countless groups after the millennium hold at least one female member, the most interesting being Light Bringer and their soaring melodies. Front-woman Fuki's vocal abilities range from delicate croons to powerful, high-pitched thrusts toward the heavens and beyond. 

Alternatively, women also attempt harsh groveling or deep growls and, more often than not, succeed with flying colors. From those, my newest fascination is Abnormality's Mallika Sundaramurthy, who, if you didn't know any better, could be mistaken for a man. Her vocals are the very definition of discord and perhaps the most enjoyable (of the extreme variety) I've had the pleasure of hearing in recent memory.

Before their 2012 break-up, Susan Gerl found refuge in God Dethroned as a second guitarist on the album, Passiondale. Sonically, her guitar playing was no different from what men mustered and reached from blistering, tremolo-picked assaults to melodic interludes bridging the gap between serenity and brutality. Unlike her more outgoing counterparts, Gerl's work was not as immediately noticeable, proving that women do indeed work behind the scenes--with or without instruments--and excel. 

Of course, there are the usual suspects like Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy) and Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil); two vocalists I find overexposed and overrated. I prefer to stick with others because they seem to take their work a little more seriously without letting any sliver of success go to their heads. A quick run-off includes: Sabrina Classen (Holy Moses), each member of Aldious and Rock Goddess, Heo Ju-Hee (Newk), and Sabrina Valentine (Seven Kingdoms). Heck, I could keep going on and on.

Think about it: what was traditionally a man's game is no more. Women have dominated, destroyed, and demonstrated how business is done. While the majority of heavy metal is still occupied by men, women have made great strides to prove their ability as musicians, bringing creative and seldom heard ideas along for the ride. No longer will they be discredited and ignored in favor of their male counterparts, who some ignorantly claim are the only ones capable of performing properly.

Women are determined to break down the misconception that they can't run with the best. Judgding by the examples above, and the continued progress no doubt happening as I type this, they've already done their part to better themselves, enriching the music and surprising many fans in the process. The popular opinion be damned; being female is metal and shall be for years to come.



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