FEATURE: Fool’s Gold: Can Metal Every Get Rid of Its Sexism Problem?




Fool’s Gold


IN THIS PHOTO: Ithaca (their lead, Djamila Azzouz, has recently responded (in an article) to sexist comments in the Metal industry)/PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Gibson Photo 

Can Metal Every Get Rid of Its Sexism Problem?


IT might sound harsh to make that proclamation...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Amalie Bruun of Myrkur/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

but I am hearing about so many cases where women in Metal are being overlooked or diminished. Think about the typical make-up of Metal and how many women and black artists do you see?! The gap regarding gender is narrower compared to race but it is not exclusive to Metal – there are not many black faces in Folk for that matter. Every part of music has a sexism issue but, in terms of the perception of women, I feel Metal and its sub-genres is especially culpable. I explored Hip-Hop and Rap a while back and asked why few women are booked for festivals and why the gender ratio is so imbalanced. Some people argued women did not want to enter the genre and it was all based on merit: men were what people wanted to see and were the most popular. I find these responses flawed because there is no substantial evidence to suggest women avoid Hip-Hop and Rap for reasons of taste and preference. In fact, many do not enter the genres because there is an issue with misogyny, sexism and discrimination. In terms of the women in the genre right now, they are evident and visible but that is not being translated into gig bookings and headline slots. I know there are some great female Metal and Hardcore bands; some terrific female-fronted acts – which is more common than all-female – but there is a core of fans who feel this is not right. By that, they think Metal is a man’s genre and women cannot project the same force and quality as the boys.

I was shocked to read this article that brought together the female lead of the bands Ithaca (Djamila Azzouz) and Svalbard’s guitarist/vocalist Serena Cherry. It was a reaction to another article – that I shall bring in soon – that highlighted how so many of Metal’s best new voices are female. It is rewarding to see women in Metal striking gold and not being deterred by sexism but, as the comments and reaction to that positive article demonstrated, many Metal fans cannot accept this. I am not suggesting ALL Metal fans are sexist because this is not the case – look at the time it has taken for there to be progression and acceptance and it is quite shocking. I think Metal, more than any other genre, has a problem with sexism and the way women are portrayed. The two Metal leads responded to comments that had been made – it shows how shocking people’s views are and how there is this rooted problem with equality in the genre.

“Without exception, every female fronted metal band is shit.”

Serena (Svalbard): I’m really impressed that you’ve taken the time to listen to every 'female-fronted metal band' ever. So, you must be well aware that Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult sound nothing like Nightwish? Or Walls Of Jericho sound nothing like Myrkur, right? But despite these vast variations between women in metal, you’ve still concluded that we’re all 'shit'. Every single one of us. The term 'female-fronted' needs to get in the bin. It's defining a band by their sex, not their sound. It's reductive. It enables this dismissive, blanket way of thinking. Not all women’s voices in metal are the same... 

"This is one of the most accepting subcultures of all time. It's not about time because it's always been here. This is obviously written to make some demographic happy that most likely have no desire to be part of what we represent."

Djamila (Ithaca): Says the person whose demographic has always been represented to the detriment of everyone else. Stop telling us that our lived experiences are a lie. What do you represent? Sexism? Misogyny? Exclusion? Delusion? I can assure you, we have no desire to be part of what you represent. Take a day off, mate.



“The only ones saying women are 'suppressed' in metal always happen to be women.”

Serena: I think you'll find that the person who wrote the article is a guy. But you’ll know that, since you took the time to read it and then comment.

Yes. Women are saying they are oppressed in metal, because they are sharing their experiences, their stories of what it’s like to be excluded, diminished and dismissed by a music scene that treats them with so much hostility. You may not have experienced the disrespect female musicians experience in metal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't exist. You want evidence of the hostility? Read the Facebook comments on the original piece. Read the YouTube comments on any music video featuring a woman. Then remember that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we endure”.

I have chosen these two quotes/answers because it sort of shows some of the views out there regarding women in Metal. A lot of the other comments talked about women being sex symbols and why would a woman screaming turn a man on – the assumption being that men fronting Metal bands are there to get the crowd engorged?! Many Metal fans still see women either as sexual beings who are there for their pleasure or a huge anomaly in a male-dominated scene. Others commented about women representing a lack of quality and we need to impose a meritocracy in Metal. I had this argument when talking about Hip-Hop and feel the argument is hugely flawed. We know there is sexism in Pop and Country but there is as much brilliant music from women as there is men. Women are not a minority because their music sucks: they are being ignored because men rule the scene and make the decisions; they are the ones who are holding back progress. The same can be said in Metal. There are, as we know, so many different tones and sounds in every genre so I feel many are uneducated and ignorant regarding the changing face and blood of Metal. In any case, assuming men are dominant because Metal is quality-focused is a bad logic.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Rebe Meyers of Code Orange/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One could argue men are booked as festival headliners because they are better than women but I could rattle off dozens of female artists who are better and more worthy then most of the male acts we are seeing headlining big festivals in this country. Female vocals, in some cases, might not be as intense and vitriolic as men but, if you listen to Metal purely for the animalistic roar and nothing else then you are not really listening for the right reasons. Female vocalists are as nuanced and engaging as any men and I have seen plenty of female-fronted Metal bands where the lead can switch from intense and captivating to something more subtle and calm. Others can argue – those men who feel there is no issue – women do not listen to Metal and it is not a genre they want to go into; women are not being held back and can do what they want. Countless women listen to Metal and every genre on Earth. There is no genre that sees a huge majority of men or women listen and you could say that about every genre with a sexist problem. Country and Pop have a gender issue and these are areas of music with as many women (if not more) listening to the artists as men. The problem is not that women are listening to other forms of music and avoiding Metal: the problem is they are not being represented fairly, being given a platform and, therefore, there is this feeling they will be overlooked or not given a fair passage – the same issue that blights genres like Hip-Hop. Serena Cherry of Svalbard and Djamila Azzouz of Ithaca responded gracefully to puerile and idiotic questions and highlighted what a real problem there is in Metal.

Stephen Hall wrote this article that highlights the new evolution in Metal and the women coming through. It is rare to see a male journalist backing female artists and tackling sexist views. That sounds strange to say but there is an issue with male journalists turning their eyes away from sexism and thinking it is not their concern. One reason why I feel Metal is expanding and sounding much more varied – as Hall explains – is their influences and tones. Consider strong female artists like PJ Harvey and Kate Bush and how many men are inspired by them? I find male-led Metal can be too generic and tends to rely on a set formula. That is not the case with every single band but it is a problem. Metal, interestingly, is one of those genres that is exclusively about bands – can you think of any Metal solo artists?! If Hip-Hop is almost exclusively about solo artists then Metal’s lure comes from the thick and big sound you can get from a proper crew. I like the more traditional and older Metal sound that was pioneered by the likes of Judas Priest – some might put them in another genre but they are a Metal act – but modern Metal introduces new sounds and ideas; it is far more expressive and emotionally-rich than it has ever been. Women represent a new wave and a much more interesting voice.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Sheffield band Rolo Tomassi/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I feel a reason why many people ignore Metal and write it off is because of that thrash and sense it is all about making as much noise as possible and being very loud. I think the sexist issue in Metal comes down to a staple who think the genre should not break from its foundations and seems impure if it becomes less intense and feminine. Hall, in his illuminating article, illustrates how Metal’s women are adding fresh perspective and a much broader and captivating voice:

This past weekend, I found myself listening to the self-titled debut EP by London-based troubadour A.A. Williams, recently released on Holy Roar records. It’s quite brilliant: fragile and beautiful; dark and threatening. In a run time of just twenty minutes, Williams has established herself as one of the most exciting new artists of 2019. Inspired, I was led down a rabbit hole of some of my other favourite releases of the last few years that capture a similar sentiment. After a few hours spent in the company of some wonderful albums, I came to a conclusion that has been staring metal in the face: a female perspective is the most original voice in heavy music right now.

And the influence isn’t just a sonic one. While the sound of musicians taking inspiration from the beauty of iconic female artists like Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey or Tori Amos and melding it with the harshest elements of extreme metal has broadened the dynamics of heavy music way beyond what we’re used to, there is also a new attitude and a new kind of anger reflected in this class of 2019...

Right now, I’d rather listen to Employed To Serve, Oceans Of Slumber, Ithaca or Blood Command fuck with my preconceptions and offer me a new world view than I would another standard metal band thrash their way through another bunch of enjoyable but unremarkable genre conventions. If you’re looking for the next evolution in metal, it’s already here”.

Every single music genre can only succeed, remain and inspire the next generation if it is balanced in terms of gender. If there is inequality and voices pushing women away then it means women will not get into those genres and music as we know it will lose so many essential and promising possibilities. I get tired of the arguments that say Metal (and Hip-Hop) are man-heavy because that is what people want to hear. If one has not been given an alternative – because women are being held back – then they will always gravitate towards men. Many in the Metal fraternity claim women lack power to appeal and reveal this very unappetising sound that is not attractive or sexual. There is a toxic mindset that assumes women are in Metal to titillate and almost act as chattels: possessions of male bands who are there to look pretty but not say much. It is great writers like Stephen Hall are raving about women in music because, as he says, it is about bloody time!

Whether other genres will get the same sort of boost – not men writing about women doing well but ANYONE writing about the great women ruling – I am not sure but it is clear Metal’s face is changing and is much more interesting because of women. Even if there are so many great women coming through in Metal (and there are), it does not mean it will translate into bookings and festival equality. I am not an expert when it comes to Metal festivals but I am pretty sure the majority of their headliners and bill will be men. So many of the bookers and organisers are men and, whilst more women are taking power and having their say, so many decision-makers are men. I have heard stories of female bookers (for venues) who have been belittled and laughed at because it is felt they lack the knowledge to succeed; they do not know Metal and it is best left to the men. Maybe this sexism relates to a minority but I am still seeing too many ignorant voices shouting way too loud! There has always been gender-imbalance in Metal and sexism raging. So many songs from the past have objectified women and, therefore, fans feel this is how women should be treated. If they dare come into Metal and want to be taken seriously then, well, that ain’t right. I feel the majority mentality will change with more female-led/female bands emerging.

Every single musical genre is at its very best when you have a balance of male and female artists and you can have that emotional and vocal spectrum. If Hip-Hop and Rap’s sexism problem is slightly different to that of Metal, it is clear heads need to bashed together and people, mainly men, need to be educated. I think there are these views that are decades old and are stubbornly holding back progress. The assumption women do not like Metal or are betraying its ethics; they are not being repressed and looking for excuses to complain – this all dates back decades and, in 2019, we need to eradicate these Stone Age opinions! I shall wrap this up but I think Metal is in an interesting space right now. We have great females adding something golden and essential to the mix – as Stephen Hall examined – and, to me, the most interesting new Metal right now has a female perspective. They are pushing through a more eclectic, nuanced – able to elicit wonder and surprise the more you listen – and interesting sound. I feel the reason Metal will be able to cross barriers and recruit those who have been reserved and scared before is because of women. If people realise Metal is more than men screaming and singing about the same things then they will be attracted and, as such, real progress can begin.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Alissa White-Gluz is the lead of the Metal band Arch Enemy/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We are a way off seeing genuine equality in the genre and I feel Metal does have a huge problem with sexism that cannot be washed away with soap in their mouths, a hot shower and a slap in the face. Until the larger Metal community realise the genre needs to do more to support women and redress the gender issue – the sheer volume of men being favoured is appalling! – then we will get nowhere. I am angry that we have to have these discussions in 2019 and women need to come out and defend themselves. Only a few days ago, The 1975’s Matty Healy took to the BRITs stage to talk about music misogyny and how men are seen as ‘troubled’ when they act like dicks yet women are seen as hysterical and diva-like. How many men in Metal are making the same speeches at the moment?! It should not purely be down to women to highlights sexism and I know there are plenty of male Metal fans who are supporting them and outraged by those who perpetrate such narrow and horrifying views. From venue bookers, label owners; bands, crew and everyone else in Metal, why should women have to feel like crap and fight their corner?! Sensational bands like Ithaca are leading a charge but I do feel the toxic stink of sexism is more disturbing than anything. The most progressive and compelling Metal music around is being made by women (has a female voice at the front) and, the more stubborn male fans and those with power realise that then the sooner...

WE can see genuine equality and understanding.