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Sexism in Metal
June 8th, 2011 at 1:12am

Before we begin, let me first start by saying that I love women’s rights. I’m all for feminism. Women should earn the same as men, women should be able to fight on the front lines in battle if they’re physically capable (the “physically capable” isn’t sexist, it’s realistic), and I even think women should have to register for the draft the same as men. I am clearly not a sexist. Except in one place; metal.

As far as metal goes, it’s not 2011, it’s 1911. This will definitely be a tightrope affair as far as writing; trying to prove I’m not sexist while at the same time asserting that I am. The simple fact of the matter is that I have this insurmountable aversion to women doing vocals in extreme metal. I don’t mean basic backing melodies like Laura Pleasants in Kylesa. I think she’s great and Kylesa is great. What I am talking about are women that front bands that do the extreme, guttural or shrieking vocals: vocals that until recently have been occupied by males. They are the definitive hyper-masculine vocals. When someone of the female persuasion does them, my mind just can’t digest it. This isn’t some douche bag indictment that says “oh, women just can’t compete with men,” or “females just can’t measure up as far as brutality.” I’m not saying that at all. In fact, I’m saying the exact opposite.

Katherine Katz from Salome and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Stevie Floyd from Dark Castle. Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy. All of them are fantastic vocalists. But ever since I was a metal virgin, I couldn’t accept the idea of a women making that noise. I remember being in high school and my friend trying to get me into Arch Enemy by saying “dude, the vocalist is so hot though!” This friend turned out to be gay, but that’s beside the point. Deep down, it was her gender that turned me off to her vocals, and it was her good looks that served as the icing on the cake as far as me not being able to enjoy the band.

The first time I ever encountered Dark Castle was at the Scion Rock Fest, when I stumbled into Tent #1 randomly to see who was playing. It was a bit more doomy than I prefer, but I was definitely impressed by the vocals and general vibe of the band. And yet her femininity results in me writing the band off as one to respect, but not to actively listen to.

Like I said before, I’m not going to fight against this attitude as somehow not being sexist. It definitely is. What I’m trying to figure out is why I feel this way, when I’m such a booster for equality in every other regard. Why have the most extreme and brutal vocals been sanctified as an arena only to be occupied by men for me? Is this shitty attitude and perspective only participated in by me, or are there other closet metal sexists in the world? And last but not least, does this hurt female fronted bands? I mean, I’m sure on some level their gender could serve to promote the band as something new or different as a thinly veiled gimmick, but exactly how much does it help and how much does it end up hurting?

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  1. TurtleFL:

    Well… let me say as a heterosexual male, and also as a vocalist interested in doing stuff an octave BELOW everyone else, that Angela Gossow blew me away the first time I saw her… She was sexy but also one of the most DEATH METAL voices I had ever heard. Which brings me to say this: Fundamentally, heavy metal is MUSIC first, everything else SECOND. To me it is the most all-consuming form of listener-oriented rock and roll on the spectrum, and I really don’t care what the lead singers, the strings, or the drummers all look like, I care what they SOUND like. I mean, imagine getting turned off by the wart on Lemme Kilmeister’s face or getting freaked out by how big Ronnie James Dio’s hands were compared to the rest of him. Does that really stop you from listening to Motorhead or Dio? Or how about Barney Greenway’s golf shorts and plain T-shirts? If you’re a longtime Napalm Death fan you probably had no idea what the band looked like before you bought that first LP way back when. All you did was put the needle on or pop the cassette in and hear “Raaawwwrrrr!!” and you were never the same.

    The next time you’re at an Archenemy concert, go to the back of the room (away from the mosh pit) and try this: Close your eyes, chill out, and just LISTEN. Think back to how you got into metal in the first place… how DIFFERENT it was from everything else you’d ever heard in your life. Let it wash over you for a few songs, without peeking. Then open your eyes and see something … DIFFERENT.

  2. Black Metal Martha:

    Let me first say that Arch Enemy was a much better band before Gassow, but that’s my personal preference. Their past true death metal sound was awesome. Now, meh.

    But, you left out Holy Moses, a much better example of how women rock in metal. Sabina sets the standards high. Also, you should have talked about Ludicra, another prime example of female kick butt vocals. I can name more if you like.

    There are many examples of how women do NOT rock. Bands who have bimbos as singers merely to gather teenage boys as fans to merely buy albums. And this is about as sexist an act as can be committed.

    So why didn’t you look a little bit farther than the obvious? I mean, there are other and better bands out there.

  3. Jennifer:

    A thinly veiled gimmick? When people like you have this attitide, then yes, that is sexism beyond personal preference. It says “women are only death metal vocalists as a tool for fame” and it never dawns on you that maybe, just maybe the women that do them are actually fans od the genre and have a desire to perform it. Its lowering women down to object to exploit rather than being an autonomous person with their own interests and voices, which is exactly what sexism is. Its one thing to dislike the way female growling sounds (which isn’t that different from male growling much of the time) but to write off a band because the singer wears skirts and isn’t as low as you like is. What does appearance have to do with talent anyway? Fyi, unless you consider 1986 to be quite recent, then women have been fronting extreme metal much longer than you think.

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