WOMEN ARE BETTER METAL SINGERS THAN MEN
After listening to Psycho’s female blowtorch, Penny Torture, and Ava Inferi’s haunting distaff elemental, Carmen Susana Simões, I realized it’s time we just chill and admit that women are all-around better at this metal-singing thing.
Is this mad exaggeration? It feels like that when I’m away from an MPEG player, but then I listen to those two radically different bands, to Psycho’s primal-scream old school death or Ava Inferi’s doomed-out, gothy whatsit, and it feels I’m not over-reaching, I’m underselling.
And it’s not just two superior releases (Ava Inferi’s Onyx and Psycho’s Pain Addict Pigs). It’s just become impossible to ignore the fact that females are not only doing equal or better work in the same genre jobs as male counterparts, they’re also making metal records that go places no male on Earth — none, nada, zip-ol-lina — could go. That 2011’s best metal so far — Subrosa’s No Help for the Mighty Ones — is an almost all-femme effort of relentless pan-genre awesomeness only adds arsenic and new lace to my argumentative cake.
All of which may have the reader thinking, “You do realize, you silly person, that you’ve just written off the work of one half the human race.”
To which I say, “Yeah, well, I guess I’m pimping a little irony here, since that’s business as usual with women and the metal press. But irony aside, please bear with me.”
We begin our show with Singapore’s four-piece, Psycho. Lead vocalist Penny Torture — now there’s a name! — is superficially similar to Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow in terms of razor-blade gargle-effect. But the real keys to the influence kingdom might be Karyn Crisis and her inflamed, fuck-knows-what’s-next id.
Whatever — listening to Torture is totally disturbing and ergo, exhilarating. As evidence, I submit “Revenge of the Raging Whore.”
People talk about brutality this, extreme that, bla, bla, bla. This is the rare track that actually makes you uncomfortable in your own skin.
It starts sans music, just Torture, growling once, twice, then thrice, until she’s balls-out, worst-case-scenario, psychotic-break screaming. When the chugging death groove death kicks in, the relief is real: Oh brutality, where have you been?
“Meat Slit Grinder” starts with a z-movie carnival barker sample charming us about “the luxury of watching grisly dismemberments” before the band crashes into another one of guitarist Bryon John’s near-Rammstein-precise filth-riffs. As for what Torture is shriek-vocalizing about, beats me, but based on the album’s name alone, you’re pretty clear of the worldview.
Listening to Torture howl, I can’t help but think of those who howled before her. Like Swans’ Jarboe, famous for her wails of murder, masochism, abuse and worse, and Diamanda Galás, the three and a half octave hellion whose Plague Mass is possibly the most grueling music ever recorded, and whose howl recently graced Rotting Christ’s Aealo.
Anyway — it sucks deeply that, no matter how much we may not want it so, we all know everything about Poison, Ratt and Whitesnake while Jarboe, Galas, Crisis, and most likely, both Torture and Carmen Susana Simões will all end up in a ghetto of metal obscurity books and sites. Even Janis fucking Joplin, who invented screaming in heavy music in the 60s, is shunted to the side by Baby Boomers so they can talk some more about, uh, James Taylor.
If you ask, you’ll be told this is because there are so very few female artists, and, anyway, they are “working in a male dominated field,” and, basically, that there’s the breaks.
This is not only makes no sense, and is a wee bit dubious — imagine if the same filter had been applied to, say, Killswitch Engage — it also has the added-on value of being a load of motivated bullshit.
Before we move on, feel free to just sort of scan over this not-nearly comprehensive list culled from memory and a half hour net search:
[Drum roll!] From A to F we have: After Forever (symphonic metal, Netherlands), The Agonist (metalcore, US), Amaran (power metal, Sweden), Amberian Dawn (symphonic metal, Finland), Angtoria (blackened symphonic metal, Sweden), Arch Enemy (death metal, Sweden), Asrai (gothic metal, Netherlands), Astarte (all female black metal, Greece), Ava Inferi (art/doom metal, Portugal), Battle of Mice (post-metal, US), Battlelore (power metal, Finland), Beautiful Sin (power metal, Belgium), Benediction (gothic metal, UK), Birthday Massacre (Hot Topic metal, US), Blood Ceremony (doom, US), ChthoniC (black metal, co-vocals, Taiwan), Delain (pop-gothic metal, Netherlands), Diathra (doom/gothic metal, Belarus), Doro (power metal, Germany), Eyes Set to Kill (metalcore, US), Eths (nu metal, French), Epica (gothic progressive metal, Netherlands) Evanescence (pop-goth metal, US), Eyes of Eden (symphonic metal, Germany), Fairyland (symphonic speed metal, France)
F to L brings us: Firebrand Super Rock (heavy fucking metal, Scotland), Forever Slave (symphonic gothic metal, Spain), Gallhammer (terror-doom/black/crust metal, Japan) The Gathering (Progressive metal, Netherlands), Holy Moses (thrash, Germany), Kittie (alt.metal, Canada), Flyleaf (nu metal, US), Hammers of Misfortune (doom, US), Iwrestledabearonce (spazz metal, US), I:Scintilla (industrial rock/metal, US), In This Moment (metalcore, US), Jarboe (unclassifiable, US), Jex Thoth (extreme doom, US), Julie Christmas (alternative metal, US), Kylesa (part female vocals, sludge, US), Lacuna Coil (pop/death metal, Italy), Landmine Marathon (death metal, US), Leaves’ Eyes (symphonic metal, German-Norweigan), Lita Ford (glam metal, US), Ludicra (shared-vocals/black metal, US),
And finally, M to W: Madder Mortem (progressive metal, Norway) Melencolia Estatica (one-woman black metal, Italy), Nightwish (symphonic metal, Finland), Octavia Sperati (gothic/doom, Norway), Otep (nu metal, US), Penumbra (gothic-progressive metal, France), Psycho (death metal), Pythia (heavy metal, UK), Rolo Tomassi (mathcore, UK), Saros (death/doom, US), Sirenia (symphonic metal, Finland), Subrosa (unclassifiable, US), The Devil’s Blood (Satanic classic metal/rock, Netherlands), The Project Hate MCMXCIX (Sweden, melodic death/art metal), Tristania (symphonic doom/goth metal, Norway), Unsun (pop-goth-metal, Poland), Within Temptation (symphonic metal, Netherlands), Walls of Jericho, metalcore, US),
Sixty-two (62) quality bands from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. If I counted bands from Latin America, Asia, and Arabic countries, we’d be talking thousands. And yet I am positive that each have suffered reviews with that “working in a male-dominated field” clause, after which editors and writers and handily consigned them to oblivion.
To which I say: It only stays “male-dominated” if you don’t cover them, bitches.
“But this is madness!”, you type. “Music and chicks—who could not love that? It defines no-brainer!”
You’d think, right? And we won’t even get into the whole issue of dudes preferring to spend quality magazine-viewing time observing spreads of sweaty, oiled, half-nude, muscled dudes, a.k.a. “Danzig Disorder.”
But I digress. There are tertiary reasons females are better at being metal singers. They don’t confuse aggression with the size of the dicks they don’t have; they’re not hobbled by a deep, spiritually mangling history of sexism; they’re free to use style and fashion as a way to reflect the content of what they’re singing about without worrying that they’ll be called “queer” or end up overcompensating by acting like complete assholes. (So far, only Dio has been man enough to dress like an elf, a velvety medieval knight, and a leathery dark lord of some sort, and never apologize or get all ironic about any of it. This is because Dio was awesome.)
Some of the other, more basic reasons are as follows:
WOMEN SCREAM BETTER THAN MEN
Consider Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, Meshuggah’s Jens Kidman, and Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall. Three radically different bands, three powerful screamers (and Puciato’s a terrific singer as well).
And yet their screams are… boring. White noise generators turned on and off.
Gossow, Landslide Marathon’s Grace Perry, and Torture all offer equal white noise value.
But as women working in a hostile environment, I think that those three vocalists have had to work harder to come up with a little bit more. Under the noise, they’ve learned to run their screams through the weird parts of their throats that control tone, EQ, and octave without resorting to something so un-metal as melody. Shrieking bio-mechanical fatales? Pretty close and very cool.
FAR WIDER RANGE OF THINGS TO SCREAM ABOUT
Look, to talk about anything, you need to talk generalities to some degree or another. With that caveat noted, I still think this one isn’t even vaguely arguable.
Whether it’s Otep’s in-your-face politicking that won her a real world “Outstanding Music Artist” nomination at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards, Julie Christmas scream-singing the surreal ineffable, or Hammers of Misfortune’s alternately medieval/industrial fantasias, the scope able to be essayed by female singers is limitless.
And guys? Satan, Vikings, drinking, girls who suck, trolls, demons, gore, being angry, etc. Again, generalities, but you know you know what I mean. What sucks is that, for many bands, it would be career suicide if a guy did what any of the aforementioned women have done.
Which makes a band like Avenged Sevenfold, grieving over the death of their childhood friend/drummer, truly admirable and brave in the grown-up way they’ve dealt with loss and mortality in their art. And so a really good band becomes a great one. And Dillinger — some incredible imagery, but… exceptions that prove the rule, etc.
VOICES YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR
Or — “Genetics bite.” Guys usually have low formatted voices. Low formatted voices tend to get lost in cheap PAs and inferior mixes where they fight for space with guitars and snare drums.
Take Moonspell’s “Luna,” one of the greatest gothic metal songs ever. Fernando Ribeiro’s baritone essays gold standard verse and bridge melodies — pity you can’t much hear it amidst the chorused guitars, big-ass drums and washy synths. Thankfully, his voice reappears during the spine-shivering choruses when it 1. jets up to alto-range and 2. is aided by– ta-da! —uncanny female vocals.
Like the existence of crabs, taxes, or Sarah Palin, it’s just lousy fact: female voices, whether screamy or clean, cut through any PA or mix, crappy or fine. It’s why, going all the way back to Ozzy and Robert Plant, metal or metal-ish singers try to sing high.
Which is why dudes cope by overcompensating. And so we get the extended helium, chest-beat acrobatics that are power metal, and the endlessly amusing existence of Kind Diamond.
STUFF GUYS JUST CAN’T DO
1. Those airy angel vocals like Ava Inferi.
2. Weird pagan shit a la Subrosa and Jex Thoth.
3. The baffling, batshit-yet-brainy mouth sounds of Madder Mortem, Rolo Tomassi or Iwrestledabearonce.
So — there you have it: tertiary and direct reasons why women really have sneaked to the top of the metal-singing class, while guys have gotten complacent and fat doing the same old, same old.