Gender and Metal: Male and Female energy

On Friday, due in part to running late with my own deadlines and to being tied up with a string of non-stop family visiting; I had posted a link to both Doro Pesch’s rendition of heavy metal classic ‘Breaking the Law’, and the original as performed by Judas Priest. Although this was basically a last minute decision, seeing as how I was unable to put up a review or interview due to lack of time following from Thursday; I should add that it wasn’t completely done in haste since I felt that both were relevant to one of the various issues in regards to gender and metal which I believe tend to get overlooked in favour of the typical “chickie poos/chicks with balls” debate that is so often exhausted to death.

To clarify, I’m going to refer back to an issue of Terrorizer magazine which had featured an interview with Gallhammer. When asked about their workings as an all-women trio (much prior to the recent departure of Mika Penetrator), bassist/lead vocalist Vivian Slaughter had replied that in addition to such a circumstance being a natural occurence for them; she had observed that being in a previous band with male musicians outside of Gallhammer enabled her to see and appreciate how women and men exert different forms of energy through music. Since she had also cited Manowar as an example, in the respect that it wouldn’t work if an all-women band tried to play like them [presumably if they wanted to aim for the exact sort of energy and performance], I was immediately smitten with Vivian’s comments. Even more so, because I had felt that it was relevant to not only my interests in gender and musical performance on or offstage but to how I consider myself to view the whole “chicks with balls” attitude that exists not just amoung metallers but music fans in general.

To be fair, I was aware of this attitude even before I started reading other metal blogs and had discovered that the debate which attempts to dictate how women should musically perform (faux-soprano v guitarist/growler) is being perpetuated by a number of female and male metallers in the metal world. More disconcertingly to me, the aforementioned female metalheads were also using feminism as an excuse for what seemed to me to be their attempts to declare what was the “right” way for frontwomen to perform through music and how. As far as these people are concerned, any woman who doesn’t aim solely for a hard-edged style doesn’t seem worthy of any attention apart from disdain; mainly as a supposed discredit to her gender.

Being that I identify as feminist myself (and at times aggressively so), I took umbrage with this approach because I believe that it’s unrealistic to demand that women should only use one form of expression through music. There are various ways to express a reaction to an issue or event in one’s life – must techniques such as growling be the only acceptable means for everyyone (male or female) to do so in a broad genre such as metal?

By this, I should explain that I don’t mean to say that if you prefer growls to clean singing that there must be something wrong with you. It’s obvious that if you tend to prefer extreme metal to traditional metal, that you will go along with what you like. Additionally, if it happens that most of the bands you enjoy have a black or death metal-type growler; then again there is nothing wrong with you. But for the purpose of my piece, I intend to look at metal as a whole with its diverse genres and varied styles of vocal performance – from growls, roars, shrieks to cleaning singing and faux-operatic sounds.

In respect to this very topic of auditory experiences and vocal performance; I fail to see why women should only be expected to sound angry and aggressive through music, including metal.

Hence my decision to link back to the aforementioned version of Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking Law’ by Doro Pesch, often cited as being the “Queen” of heavy metal; from her album ‘Classic Diamonds’. Even though her performance shouldn’t be taken as speaking for all women who may wish to cover the song, I believe that it serves as a fitting example of one way in which men and woman can exhibit different types of energy through music. Whereas Rob Halford’s original performance can be said to show a consitently hard-edged style, Doro had purposely chosen to use a contrary direction: set against an initially accoustic-turned-symphonic backdrop, she begins the verse with a gentle tone of voice before launching into a more bombastic, aggressive collaboration with Halford.

In doing so, she not only offers an individualised female take (her own) on the song which could be said to present a more serious interpretation infused with likely emotional tragedy; but she also sings along with Rob Halford in a way that to me enables the male and female perspectives to come together for

A) a totally rock out, metal jamming session

B) the connecting of experiences by a joint cause – in this case, what it means to be “breaking the law” (see what I did, there?)

Although she starts out “soft” – which detractors of clean-singing, pseudo-operatic frontwomen appear to strongly detest and deem ill-fitting for metal women – Doro then heads off into a “harder”, heavier direction that her own interpretation of the song enables her to follow. Even though at the same time this may even result in more derision towards her as a performer – after all, she breaks into what is deemed a more conventionally “male” style only for the duet section of her cover version; what remains to me as the listener is that as a whole she doesn’t seem to reject either means of expression as a vocalist.

Whether pursuing conventionally feminine or masculine styles, it is clear that nonetheless the energy she gives off as a woman is consistently different to Rob Halford’s own vocal approach as a man. At least in the context of this particular song, it also seems to be that Doro embraces these differences rather than seeks to erase them as both a woman who has worked and continues to work in metal and symphonic, orchestral music.

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4 Comments

  1. An intriguing read, Ann. :)

    I agree, but I do think that a lot of why so many people are opposed to melodic/clean/faux-operatic female vocals has something to do with the image that some frontwomen of these styles create. You know, that just-barely-contained-by-a-corset caked-on-make-up needlessly-sexualized LOOK THERE’S A GIRL IN OUR BAND image.

    But I totally understand; that’s not the case for all female vocalists, obviously, and it does happen with the ~tougher metal women too.

    As far as the energy that is brought to the music and vocals alone though, I completely agree! This mentality that clean vocals & symphonic styles = not good for women …is not good for metal, imo.

    • Hence why I chose to focus on the auditory experience rather than the visual aspect of the issue (i.e. the heavily made-up, “girl in a band” thing that you’ve mentioned). ;)

      Although I do feel that the image you’ve mentioned is important to how female clean-singing seems to be perceived by a number of people, I reckon that it would be best to discuss that another time. Although I’m actually not a fan of bands with a faux-operatic frontwoman myself (the overall sound does nothing for me), I feel that the women I’ve referred to in my post who dismiss them as “chickie poos” are doing themselves a great disservice by dismissing such means of vocal/musical expression outright. Can’t they say that they just don’t like it and leave it at that?

      /thoughts.

  2. When I listen to female Metal vocalists, I look for the same qualities as I do with male Metal vocalists. Do they come across as real? Do the vocals “fit” the song and/or album’s music? What I think is bad is “bad”, regardless of gender. I admire Maria Brink just as much when she croons as when she growls and screams. Maria can do both, in my Metal opinion. Tarja Turunen just makes me shake my head in awe, at how remarkable her voice can sound to my ears. With Angela Gossow, she can sing Death Metal with the best of any male or female vocalists out there within that genre.

    To sum it up, I just see a place for female vocalists in every genre of Metal. Of course, there is good and bad with both genders representing Metal in vocals.

    Interesting topic you brought up. ;)

    Stone

  3. I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make, but I’m very pleased to have been in the audience for this meeting of Doro with the archetypal aggressive female vocalist. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwH8u88536s

    Actually, if I had a sensible point to make it would be the same as what Caitlin said. There is a tendency to associate non-aggressive female vocalists with a “token girl” role.

    I suppose a further point is that many (perhaps older?) people see metal as a fundamentally aggressive genre. When confronted with some chick in a velvet frock warbling away in a mezzo-soprano, there’s a cognitive dissonance. How the hell is this supposed to be metal? It’s not surprising that this type of female artist gets a poor reception amongst people who think that metal is guttural and brutal by definition.


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