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Hear Her Roar: Celebrating Women In Metal On International Women's Day

Photo of Arch Enemy

Band Photo: Arch Enemy (?)

Today marks International Women's Day, in which we remember the contributions of many great women throughout history as well as in the world today. The day was first celebrated by the Socialist Party Of America on February 28th 1909. The tradition of celebrating women on March 8th was first done in the then newly formed Soviet Union, who declared the day a national holiday. It was adopted by other Communist and Socialist countries as a holiday before the United Nations recognised the event in 1975. Today the significance of the day varies, still being a public holiday in some countries, a day of protest in others and officially ignored in a number of other nations. So, what does all this have to do with heavy metal? Marie Curie, Rosa Luxemburg, Angela Davis and Joan Of Arc may not be common names in the metal world, but we have plenty of our own heroines and ladies to rival the lords.

For a long time, the role of women in heavy metal was seen by outsiders as miniscule or worse, nothing more than objects. Perhaps women have more of a role in metal music than previously thought however. Let's take for example what's considered the first heavy metal album, "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath. The cover art depicts a mysterious woman, cloaked in black, stood right in the middle of an illustration of Mapledurham Watermill in Oxfordshire. This is only a tiny example of course, but as heavy metal grew, so did the presence of women. Bands would often sing about women, be it in the context of relationships ("Victim Of Changes" by Judas Priest for example, was comprised of two earlier songs "Whisky Woman" and "Red Light Lady,") sex "Charlotte The Harlot" by Iron Maiden or as inspirations ("Jet City Woman" by Queensryche.)

It's not enough merely for men to sing about women however, if women don't have a voice of their own. They didn't stay silent for too long, particularly thanks to the British punk movement, which saw a number of bands either fronted by women (Siouxie & The Banshees, X-Ray Spex and Vice Squad) or comprised solely of women such as The Slits. Shortly after, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, which featured the likes of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon, also gave a voice to women who liked their music harder and heavier.

Perhaps the most famous of these was London's, Girlschool, who are still cited by female musicians today. The sheer talent of the band and endorsement from such rock royals as Lemmy, made the sexist knuckle draggers pick their hands up to scratch their heads in puzzlement, before banging them just as hard as they would to any of the other bands in their collection. They were joined in the scene by other all female bands such as Rock Goddess, who themselves gained a large cult following and recently released a new album, "This Time."

Of course, it wasn't just in the United Kingdom where women broke into the metal consciousness. In the U.S., more and more women were attending rock and metal concerts, thanks in part to the sex appeal of such singers as David Lee Roth of Van Halen and the pop success of Kiss. It wasn't long until American women started putting together bands of their own, including Leather Angel (which would become Jaded Lady in 1985) and perhaps the most first famous American first lady of metal, Lita Ford. Ford was originally a member of The Runaways, along with another of rock's most beloved women, Joan Jett, before branching out into a solo career in 1980, before releasing her debut album, "Out For Blood." She would achieve more success with her next album, "Dancin' On The Edge" and would later score a hit when she paired up with Ozzy Osbourne for the ballad, "Close My Eyes Forever."

There has been a number of queens throughout history who were just as fierce and intelligent as their male predecessors and rivals and sure enough, metal needed its own queen. To find her, we'd need to take the glass slipper, or rather heavy boot, to Germany, where a band from Düsseldorf named Warlock were creating some of the best heavy metal music of the eighties. Their sound may not have been too different from contemporaries like Judas Priest and Twisted Sister, but there was one thing that changed views.

In a band full of men named Peter, Michael, Thomas and Rudy, they were being led a metal Boudicca, Dorothy "Doro" Pesch. Doro was and still is, full of explosive energy, as well as possessing an amazing voice and a passion for metal music rarely matched. Warlock would release four albums, concluding with the classic, "Triumph & Agony," before the name of the band was changed to Doro for legal reasons. The singer has always maintained a strong following in Europe and Japan and last year released a double album, "Forever Warriors, Forever United," a superb addition to her legacy.

As time went on, metal changed. It became heavier and heavier with different attitudes adopted by different scenes. It wasn't too common to see women attend thrash metal shows or perform in bands (Holy Moses being perhaps the most famous exception) and rarer still to see them at death and black metal gigs. However, in the nineties, the rise of Gothic metal saw perhaps the first sub genre actively look for female vocalists especially, primarily as part of the "beauty and the beast" style which saw clean female singing paired with male death growls. Such bands as Tristania, Theatre Of Tragedy and Lacuna Coil helped this approach rise to prominence and achieve mainstream success, particularly in the case of the latter. Whilst running parallel to this was the controversial nu metal genre, which saw female musicians take up roles in bands such as Coal Chamber, while the most famous all female band born in this style was Ontario's own, Kittie.

With a new millennium comes new views and it was in the 2000s that symphonic metal really began to take off. The wave of music included bands such as Nightwish, Epica and Within Temptation, which all garnered commercial success and gave us some of the century's first metal stars. While the genre remains popular, particularly in Europe, it seemed for a time that women were mostly welcome in metal if they could sing opera. More mainstream attitudes to this changed when Arch Enemy hired vocalist Angela Gossow to replace previous singer Johan Liiva. Her extremely low growls and striking stature shook the brains of head bangers even harder and soon, other groups such as The Agonist (whose original vocalist Alissa White-Gluz would replace Gossow in Arch Enemy before being replaced by the talented Vicky Psarakis) and Abigail Williams saw women fronting heavier and heavier bands.

This all brings us to the present day where it can be argued that some of the best music of the present day is being created by women. Classic heavy metal is being well represented by the superb Burning Witches from Switzerland, Jinjer from Ukraine are forging some of the most brutal and creative metal of our era and thrash/death metal is sounding more ferocious than it has done in years thanks to the highly talented Nervosa from Brazil, whose name even means "angry woman" in Spanish and Portuguese. Perhaps the most notable name in recent times comes from Denmark, where a model named Amalie Bruun launched her one woman band Myrkur, a combination of black metal and folk music which has created lush sonic soundscapes, conjuring images of Lars von Trier movies (not just because he's Danish too) and beautiful melodies over a haunting sound, much like nature itself.

While many female metal musicians are giving women a bigger and better role in the genre than they had before, there is still a long way to go, as evidenced by the death threats to sent to Bruun, no doubt by so called purists in between pages of Stormfront and desperate Tweets to porn stars. Women are as vital to the survival of the genre we love as they are to the Earth itself and have proven time and time again when doubted that they can hang with the men. Happy International Women's Day, ladies. Where would we all be without you?

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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