Report: GRAMMY.com - "Metal's Female Ranks On The Move"
November 5, 2007, 14 years ago
Bryan Reesman at GRAMMY.com has filed the following report:
If the clichéd debate over the presence of women in rock music isn't dead, the often gothed-out females fronting a number of today's metal bands should literally put the last nail in the coffin.
The clubs are alive with the roaring sounds of female metallions. Fueled by some extreme acts and many gothic and ethereal groups, mostly from Europe, female-fronted metal bands are proliferating in number and reaching a wider audience than ever before.
The multi-platinum EVANESCENCE proved that female-fronted rock was a serious mainstream force, and more and more hard rocking women in groups like LACUNA COIL and FLYLEAF (on a mainstream level), ARCH ENEMY, WITHIN TEMPTATION, and IN THIS MOMENT (bubbling under), and LEAVES' EYES and THE AGONIST (growing on an underground level) are showcasing their diversity across many subgenres of metal. Such activity should make female rock star progenitors like Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Lita Ford, Grace Slick, and Janis Joplin proud.
The most immediate trend is the gothic and symphonic metal wave that has recently invaded U.S. shores. Holland's Within Temptation traversed America twice over a five month period recently, while their recent tourmates, Italy's Lacuna Coil, continue to tour regularly. Holland’s EPICA and Austria's VISIONS OF ATLANTIS just toured here together. Finland's NIGHTWISH and Holland's AFTER FOREVER will arrive in the States in October, the former headlining the Nokia Theater in New York. Germany's Leaves' Eyes just played America for the third time and will return again in April 2008.
Many of these bands sell quite well. Nightwish's last album Once hit No. 1 in all of Europe for two weeks and reportedly sold more than 600,000 units there, plus an additional 90,000 in America. The last three Within Temptation albums combined have reportedly sold close to 1.5 million units worldwide. Lacuna Coil's last two albums have reportedly sold nearly 1 million units combined worldwide, a good chunk of that in the States. These groups play European festivals like Wacken, Download, and October's fifth annual Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium, headlined this year by Doro and Leaves' Eyes. And these bands are all championed by an American Web magazine/store called Sonic Cathedral.
The immediate appeal of goth and symphonic groups is their contrast of angelic female vocals, melodic keyboards, and orchestral strings with heavy guitars and propulsive rhythms. It's a sound that has yielded some ear-catching songs, such as Lacuna Coil's 'Heaven's A Lie', Within Temptation's 'What Have You Done Now', and Nightwish's 'Amaranth'. But even the seductive sounds of more atmospheric metal is often offset by male growls or aggressive singing, a "beauty and the beast" aesthetic that has flourished overseas for over a decade. But in America, the challenge still remains getting airplay, something only Lacuna Coil has successfully achieved."I’ve heard it's very difficult for female-fronted bands to get played on the radio [in America]," remarks Within Temptation singer Sharon Den Adel. "It's really narrow-minded to think that people would rather listen to a male voice than a female voice. [In Europe] it doesn't matter if you're female or male. It's more about the genre of music you play. If it's not too heavy, you'll get on the radio." She adds that her band is mainstream and radio-friendly in some counties and underground in others, depending on the success of the music in each region. "Some people see us as gothic, such as Austria, and in other countries we're more mainstream, like in Finland, Spain, and Holland."
The European press was initially reluctant to jump on the heavenly voices style of metal when it first emerged through groups like Norway's THEATRE OF TRAGEDY in the mid-1990s. "As we started to mix female voices with those doom and gothic elements, it was not brutal enough for thrash metal or evil enough for black metal, and there was a woman instead of man," recalls Leaves' Eyes and former Theatre Of Tragedy frontwoman Liv Kristine. "It was different from everything else. In the beginning we had a pretty tough time, and then the German and other European metal magazines realized that it was interesting and new and could accept it. We were on the charts of every metal magazine by the end of the year."
The gothic tag has unfairly dogged some groups. "It's often misinterpreted," notes Kristine. "Not every band with female vocals is a gothic band." Case in point: the classic metal sound of After Forever, with Floor Jansen's powerful pipes. As the glut of gothic and symphonic bands grows overseas, they are finding a receptive and growing audience in America that finds them exotic and enticing. The age range of fans is broad, with listeners ranging from early teens to middle age.
There is also plenty of crossover into other subgenres. Black metal band CRADLE OF FILTH like to include some female vocals on their albums. Kristine was featured on the title track and video for their 2004 album Nymphetamine, which boosted her profile, while the operatic Sarah Jezebel Deva has perennially recorded and toured with Cradle. Deva also has toured and recorded with THERION and MORTIIS, among numerous others, and fronts her own symphonic metal group, ANGTORIA. SINERGY's Kimberly Goss has also lent her vocals to numerous metal bands over the years.
In contrast to the more angelic or soaring vocals of bands like After Forever and Nightwish, the extreme metal of Swedish headbangers Arch Enemy, melodic metalcore of In This Moment, and the thrashing metalcore of Walls Of Jericho feature growls, shrieks, and bellows from their respective singers, Angela Gossow, Maria Brink, and Candace Kucsulain. While Gossow and Kucsulain dress down, Brink practically looks like Little Bo Peep, a persona that can throw people for a loop once she lets loose onstage."I'm one of those people that's split down the middle," remarks Brink. "I just love pretty dresses. I love collecting vintage dresses, and I feel pretty in them and strong. I love singing, but I love screaming. It's who I am. I like things that are half and half." She adds: "It's hard to get the respect of a mostly male crowd most of the time at these big metal shows. Part of me thought this dress is going to make it even harder, but I decided I was going to be me and be confident."
Such women undoubtedly toss traditional notions of femininity in rock out the window. "In goth there is a very effeminate gender," observes Loana Valencia, who does publicity and video promotion for Nuclear Blast Records and is vocalist for thrash band Dreams Of Damnation. "You don't see [a lot of] masculine, tomboyish goth women. You have the dresses, the make-up, the cascading sleeves. On the other hand, a lot of people have problems with Angela [Gossow], accepting how aggressive she can be onstage or even reconciling that with how quiet she is offstage. They don't know where to put her. Why can't she be both?"
Such a dichotomy is equally challenging and provocative for Brink, whose group has toured with Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie. "In This Moment don't have a long story, but they've obviously gotten attention," remarks Zeena Koda, manager of artist and media relations for Roadrunner Records. "Whether or not that's based solely on their music or based solely on the novelty of having a beautiful woman fronting a band is up for argument. But the barriers have really been broken down in the last five years."
Brink snarls at the fact that some writers still ask her if she thinks female-fronted metal bands are a trend. "People thought it was a trend when women wore jeans and weren't supposed to," she counters. 'And nobody liked it. But they wear jeans now and wear 'em good."