Updated: Feb 21
Although the debate on women in metal has cooled down in recent times, it is still relevant today. The term "female-fronted metal", was used many times to classify bands with female vocalists by positioning them in a totally sexist place that separated them widely from their male colleagues. In short: their label marked them as an exception to the rule.
For a long time, the media exposed them through "special editions" instead of choosing to position them normally as their male counterparts. Think how many articles you have read that start off like this: "The singer, known for being the FEMALE vocalist of the band...". For ages, the music industry has been a hostile place for womxn. The insistence on segregation of sex and sexuality was something that not only metal but also other musical genres used to separate the female image from the male majority of each bud try. In this particular music genre, many womxn managed to avoid male-dominated clichés more willing to admire their bodies than their talent. For more than three decades, several metal singers have come on stage with impeccable vocal techniques, many of these vocalists have forged unique identities with the talent of their high vocal ranges, forming an essential part of heavy metal and its sub-genres.
In this article, we will review some of the many artists who conquered metal, not only with the talent of their voice, but also with other empowering factors such as the bond between colleagues, the struggle for creativity within the metal world, and the commitment to make the music industry more inclusive and more powerful than ever. Getting rid of the term "female-fronted" is a job that takes a long process, but they are succeeding.
Origin: Köln, Germany
Years active: 1991–2014, 2020–present
Band: Asmodina, Mistress, Arch Enemy
Each sub-genre within the metal scene is highlighted by different factors that can be vocal, melodic, or intrinsic. Within death metal, without a doubt, the key to the genre is the "death growl", better known as "grunt". Although there is no precise definition of this sub-genre, for many years this vocal practice has been associated with masculinity, basically because it is a sound of extremely low vocal tones, which is generally perceived as an "aggressive" tone. German singer Angela Gossow was one of the artists who came to reconfirm that metal is not a question of gender, whatever the sub-genre. She became the lead voice of the Swedish melodic death metal band Arch Enemy in 2000 and has since established herself as one of the most prominent voices on the global metal scene.
“I'm blessed with a lot of acceptance coming from the metal scene, as opposed to most people’s prejudiced conception of this genre of music.”
The German singer left Arch Enemy in 2014, but she has remained active behind the scenes. To this day, she’s the band’s manager, and also the manager of the Swedish groups “Amaranthe”, "Spiritual Beggars", and of the German technical death metal band "Obscura". Angela knows everything about the music business, she has a lot of knowledge and marketing education, dating back to the days before she joined to Arch Enemy. "She is on the band’s side because she’s been an artist herself. Many managers have never been artists and that’s why they easily make the wrong decisions." This is how her colleague Elize Ryd (singer of Amaranthe), defines the factors that make Angela Gossow not only an empowered woman but also a human being who understands and respects equal rights.
Origin: Limburg, Netherlands
Years active: 2002–present
Band: Epica, Kamelot, Ayreon, Aina
High-pitched vocals have become a staple in heavy metal music, especially in the power metal and symphonic metal sub-genres. The mezzo-soprano singer, and leader of the Dutch symphonic metal band "Epica", has become a fundamental reference within these subgenres.
Since she was a child, Simone Simons knew that symphonic music was the way she wanted to go. Despite studying pop singing at the age of 14, it didn't take long until she heard "Oceanborn", the album of the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish, and decided to switch to classical singing. Two years later, she became the singer of Epica. Throughout her career, Simone developed different vocal techniques as the band's albums progressed, but it wasn't just her musical evolution that paved the way for her to be considered one of the most important symphonic metal singers to this day. The respect of her fans, and especially that of her colleagues within the genre led Simone to collaborate with other metal bands like Kamelot, Angra, and Arjen Lucassen.
Guided by Simone's talent, warmth, and empowered attitude, Epica has become an icon of symphonic metal. Without a doubt, she is one of the most distinctive voices in metal today.
Simone Simons also writes about beauty, food, and travel at her blog Smoonstyle.
Origin: New York, United States
Years active: 2005–present
Band: Pulse, In This Moment
She has become one of the most popular and empowered artists in modern metal. New Yorker Maria Brink, leader of the California heavy metal band "In This Moment", is another powerful woman within the metal scene who has shown how significant and essential female identities are to the genre.
Born in New York, Maria had a perhaps unconventional childhood for a little girl. As a child, she learned to take care of adult things which gave emphasis on developing her powerful personality. At the age of 25, and with a son of 11, she moved to Los Angeles in order to fulfill her dream, to be a singer.
"No-one would audition me because they didn’t want a female singer".
Her first attempts were not what she expected, in her own words "nobody auditioned her because they didn't want a female singer". Even, she confessed in an interview with Kerrang!, her own band was hesitated to have her join at first - but eventually, she convinced them. Maria showed them that she was more than clear about her own path and the commitment she was taking: not only to be part of a band but also to her own challenges, making it clear to her peers that under no circumstances could be a gender issue. It is undeniable that both her talent as a vocalist and her image on stage gave the band an outstanding identity within the heavy metal scene.
During the live shows of "In This Moment", you can meet many women among the audience, from girls below the age of 10 years to fans in their 70s. In 2019, the group shared tour with two other great bands of the genre, which have women as vocal leaders "Halestorm" and "New Years Day". Far from making that a distinction, Maria has spoken out on the importance of equality in the metal scene not only on stage but also off it. While her empowered personality and enormous talent carry a huge amount of feminine power, they all become one when in concert.
Maria's vocal capacity leads her to increase and decrease a lyrical tone in the same verse, a talent rarely seen in artists of the last decade, however singing is not the only artistic factor that this powerful woman has, she is also an aspiring artist/painter who is known by the alias of 'Maria Brink's Wonderland', you can see her work on her website.
Origin: Milan, Italy
Years active: 1991–present
Band: Lacuna Coil
The Italian band Lacuna Coil is honestly one of the few metal bands in the country, which performed internationally at a high level for several years. But, as singer Cristina Scabbia once said in an interview, unfortunately, Italy is still hesitant to open itself when it comes to metal, and the genre doesn't receive much support.
From the beginning, the Italian band stood out from many other metal bands in terms of gender equality within the line-up. If there is something that makes Lacuna Coil unique, it is the commitment they had and still have when showing that it doesn't matter who is in charge, everyone is important. Cristina is at the head of Lacuna Coil as the band's co-singer, interweaving her singing with the voice of her partner Andrea Ferro, forming a power duo that provides an intriguing dynamic and focuses the sound of the Italian band on quality music.
To make a career and especially as a bandleader, you need some of the factors like a talent, personality, acceptance and above all empathy, Cristina had more than that, which led her to become a great reference for many of the women who came to the scene sometime later. She has been in the industry for 30 years, a time when there were very few women in the line-ups in general, something that you can see everywhere today and we celebrate it.
SHARON DEN ADEL
Origin: Waddinxveen, Netherlands
Years active: 1996–present
Band: Within Temptation
During the first decade of her life and due to her parents' work, Sharon has lived in many countries, among them Indonesia, Japan, and even in Suriname - in the latter, she claims to have spent the best years of her life. However, when she returned to her native country, the reception was harder than she could have imagined since she was not accepted because she was "different". She remembers that this negative experience turned into something positive.
Her first contact with music was in her teens. At the age of 14, she was singing in a blues-rock band, in high school, she met Robert Westerholt, guitarist and founder of what would become Within Temptation, with whom she formed the band, which she initially called "The Portal". However, he was aware that things might not work out, so he had a plan B, which was also his passion, "fashion". Sharon trained in fashion management and also worked in design, spending a lot of time making clothes as a child, but then her career changed completely when in 1997, Within Temptation debuted with their first studio album. Since then, and with the passing of years and experience, Sharon's voice has become an impressive talent. She sounds like a classically trained singer, but in reality, she is mainly self-taught. For years, she has confessed to practicing three to four hours a day.
In 2017, Sharon launched her solo career which originally was not meant to be released to the general public, since for her this stage was a way to face and channel personal problems including the blockage she had to compose songs for Within Temptation. However, after a period of working on her inner well-being, and after two years composing for herself, she regained her inspiration. The strength of making that public gave Sharon a greater impetus to continue growing as an artist by giving confidence to a whole new generation.
We could make an article with a never-ending list of artists - but at this point, let it be known that we look up to celebrate countless more impressive female leaders in metal, beyond the ones listed in this article.
Other inspiring artists to mention are Tarja Turunen (Nightwish), Doro Pesch (Warlock), Floor Jansen (Nightwish/After Forever/ReVamp) Amy Lee (Evanescence), Liv Kristine (Theatre of Tragedy/Leaves’ Eyes), Amanda Somerville (Amanda Somerville/Aina/HDK/Avantasia/Exit Eden), Vibeke Stene (Tristania), Anette Olzon (Nightwish/The Dark Element/Alyson Avenue), Brittany Slayes (Unleash the Archers), Anna Murphy (Eluveitie/Cellar Darling), Alissa White (The Agonist/Arch Enemy), Chelsea Wolfe (Chelsea Wolfe), Clementine Delauney (Serenity/Visions of Atlantis), Leather Leone, (Chastain), Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), Charlotte Wessels (Delain), Lizzy Hale (Halestorm) - just to name a few more.
There is no longer any doubt that as in the last two decades especially, sub-genres within metal made their way into what is conventional metal, the rise of womxn heavy metal musicians was, is, and will continue to be significant.