When you think about metal, what bands do you think of? If I had to make an educated guess, I think you’d probably say things like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest – maybe Slayer and Cannibal Corpse – right?
When it comes to mainstream popularity, the female side of metal tends to get overshadowed. But, from its earliest days, when hard rock was just starting to show the signs of what would soon become known as metal with the likes of Heart and Joan Jett in the 70s and Warlock with Doro Pesch in the 80s, female vocalists have been prominent faces in the genre and critical to its success.
Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the outside – and that tends to taint the general perception of the genre as a whole, leading to a view of it being brutal and inaccessible with its brutal riffs and harsh vocal styles. But just beneath the surface lies a much wider variety that provides much easier access to the genre from the outside, and the music needed to transition to being able to endure, and eventually enjoy even the most extreme blast beats and harshest death grunts and howls.
From personal experience, I’ll use my mother as an example. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, when the genre hit its peak of mainstream popularity, she had a bit of experience with glam metal but, in general, the most she’d really listen to was Trans-Siberian Orchestra when they were on the radio around Christmas. From that interest alone, I was able to introduce her to the world of symphonic metal by way of Nightwish, with the beautiful clean vocals of Tarja Turunen and Anette Olzon (this was in the era before Floor Jansen).
From there comes what is known as beauty and the beast vocals. A common element in female fronted metal where their voice is paired with a harsher male voice. While most of Nightwish’s songs are just a single female voice, there are a fair few that also have male vocals by Tapio Wilska or Marco Hietala, with Wilska’s being on the much darker end that moved me toward showing her other bands using such vocal pairings, expanding her horizons into the wide world of symphonic and gothic metal.
The real change, though, came when I introduced her to the voice of Alissa White-Gluz – the beauty AND the beast. With songs like Karmaflow’s The Muse and The Conductor, Kamelot’s Liar Liar, and Tarja’s Demons in You showcasing her range and variety, she was finally able to truly start appreciating the depth of harsher vocal styles, even those of Dani Filth in The Creator and the Destroyer. Of course, it’s a long way until she’s to something like Cradle of Filth’s Cthulhu Dawn; but she’s well on her way by being able to appreciate things like Arch Enemy’s War Eternal. Maybe the next step is some of Alissa’s work from her days with The Agonist?
I’ll leave you with something completely different in hopes of expanding your musical horizons a bit more. Here’s Alissa in a dark cabaret duet with Aurelio Voltaire:
Header image by Tim Troncko.