The Women Leading the Way in Heavy Music
Heavy music is at a real creative high-point in 2017 after over a decade of relative stagnation perpetuated by the hark-back bands of the various metal revivals. From thrash metal to black metal, the bands responsible for these various revivals, while certainly not being bad artists, were hardly creating something new or exciting (seriously, do not try to say with a straight face that you’ve never heard the formula that has made Municipal Waste’s career). However, the new wave of heavy artists making their mark in today’s scene are already marking themselves out from the crowd in that it seems that we have an entire generation of artists with something new to contribute. Better yet, many of these artists are proving vital in eroding away one of the longest standing problems in heavy music; it’s reputation as a boy’s club. Women are at the apex of many of these new artists leading the way in the underground, leaving many of the all male bands that still dominate the scene by numbers in their wake. This article is dedicated to highlighting the musicians that are proving once and for all that heavy music is breaking its former patriarchal chains in emphatic fashion.
Justine Jones (Employed to Serve)
Fronting the band that are making a serious name for themselves in the UK’s underground metal scene, Justine Jones is arguably the most exciting vocalist in a vibrant, exciting group of young British bands. Her performance in Employed to Serve’s latest release, The Warmth of a Dying Sun, is a vocal performance that rivals the finest hours of the underground scene’s greatest icons. A powerhouse of a vocalist with a penchant for unleashing the most virulent of primal screams, Jones is the leader of one of the most musically challenging and visceral bands on the planet. In the mould of Converge’s Jacob Bannon, there is little room for a singalong with Justine Jones’ vocal approach, however, the sheer scope of influences from extreme music and the way they are seamlessly integrated into Employed to Serve’s sound is enough in itself to justify her place on this list.
Caro Tanghe (Oathbreaker)
When it comes to redefining how we think of extremity in music in this post-modern world of ours, there are few more important reference points than Oathbreaker. Their 2016 album Rheia is as close as one could get to documenting a mental breakdown on an album, and is one of the most uncomfortable yet fascinating listens of recent history. The purpose of extreme music, rather like a horror movie, has always been to make the consumer feel uneasy, and this was achieved in the 80s and 90s through images of gore, death and destruction. However, in more recent years this has become somewhat of a laughable trope; a pastiche of the dangerous and exciting concept it once was. As a result, the lines of extremity have had to be redrawn in recent years, and Rheia is perhaps the perfect example of an artist capturing this zeitgeist. Caro Tanghe is the mastermind and centrepiece behind this modern opus, weaving a captivating and heart-breaking canvas of her struggles with an abusive home life and its effects on her mental health. The lyrics are at many points inaudible due to the prominence of black metal influenced vocals in Tanghe’s approach, however, reading the lyrics along to the music of this album is enough to make even the most hardened listener feel uneasy. When combined with a strong amount of influence from the likes of PJ Harvey and Kate Bush in the more melodic moments of the album, Caro has an ability to jar and harrow the listener in a way that traditional extreme metal vocalists only dream of.
Imagine Lorde became possessed by the devil, that’s what you get with Chelsea Wolfe. A singer with a vocal style ready-made for number one singles, Wolfe has taken delight in snubbing any attempts to homogenise or dilute her artistic vision. Innovating a genre of her own dubbed by some as ‘death pop’, her musical influences sit most closely in league with the likes of Sunn O)), Swans, Cult of Luna and Neurosis; alongside the aforementioned vocal style it is easy to see why Chelsea Wolfe has captured the imaginations of many. Her 2015 release Abyss was one of the most critically acclaimed releases of the year and with good reason, she paints a canvas of despair and darkness quite unlike anything else. Unlike the rest of the artists on this list, Wolfe also stands out in her notable lack of guitars, instead opting for thick, layered synthesisers to give the impression of slowly suffocating the listener in noise as opposed to bludgeoning them with sheer force.
Reba Meyers (Code Orange)
Code Orange are the name on every metal fan’s lips in 2017, combining the beatdown hardcore style of their formative years with their newly established post-metal influences, their most recent album Forever, has established itself as a genuine classic. Although she is not the primary vocalist of Code Orange, Reba Myers is an indispensable part of this goliath in several ways. Firstly, as part of the riff-machine that has established them as leaders of the pack, Reba is undoubtedly one of the most talented young guitarists in heavy music. Secondly, her vocal contributions on Forever have added an entirely fresh dimension to the music of Code Orange; particularly on lead single Bleeding in the Blur. In addition, her haunting vocal performance on album closer Dream2 draws striking similarities to the aforementioned Chelsea Wolfe, again teasing an entirely unheard side of the enigmatic Pennsylvania five-piece. Reba Myers is a superstar in the making, and it’s just a matter of time until that potential is recognised.
Larissa Stupar (Venom Prison)
Larissa Stupar is a death metal vocalist with a difference, a one-woman barrage of visceral rage against the patriarchal machine. Her approach to lyricism channels many of the larger than life gore tropes of the 1990s, however, the narrative of this lyricism comes from an intriguingly unique place. In an Uma Thurman-esque vengeance spree, the lyrical narrative of Venom Prison’s music firmly takes aim at misogynists, patriarchs and male sex offenders. Not only is Stupar’s presence as the leading light of the modern British death metal scene revolutionary, the fact that she has taken her place as the media’s elected face of death metal in 2017 as a result of her lyrical and vocal approach is a genuine game changer for a genre that had been going in circles for many years. Death metal is a hard genre to change, it has sounded the same way for over 25 years, however, Venom Prison have established themselves as a truly unique prospect in the midst of countless business as usual bands.
Stefanie Mannaert (Brutus)
Channelling Bjork and Mastodon in equal measure, Belgian three-piece Brutus have released one of the finest debut albums of 2017. At the forefront of this unique proposal is drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaert, a performer who manages to impress in equal doses with both her vocal ability and drumming. Although Brutus certainly do not sit in the same category of musical extremity as the aforementioned artists, the emotional brevity of Mannaert’s vocal performance on top of the occasional blasts of icy cold extreme metal serve to keep the listener on their toes at all times. The nuanced and angular approach of Brutus draws strong comparisons to the UK’s own genre-benders Black Peaks, a band whose own debut Statues has established them as one of the hottest properties in modern rock music, and if Brutus are able to capture the wider media’s imagination in the way that Black Peaks have then the future is bright for them; particularly when there is a standout performer of Mannaert’s standard leading the way.