WOMEN IN ASIAN METAL
Updated: Apr 20
Today, we are going to talk about a sub-genre that has become the most significant movement within metal in the last decade, a genre that challenged the norms of metal not only on stage but also in the industry in general - we will talk about the "Girl Metal Band Boom".
Japan is a country known for many things, among which are Mount Fuji, its temples, gardens, or it being the electronic land of high technology and Hello Kitty. However, in musical terms, it is widely known to be the land of dreams among music lovers. Due to the geographical spread of Japan's population on a long piece of land, its artists tend to publish atypical and extraordinary editions of vinyl, CDs, and other physical formats of music, which throughout the last decade, were becoming obsolete objects. Since then, in parallel, a new wave of female heavy metal artists began to gain popularity not only on a musical level but also on a cultural level. With giant steps, they became a phenomenon recognized around the world, not only by their fans but also by great bands of the genre. This new wave of bands known as "Girl Metal Band Boom" challenges the perception of the traditional roles of women in Japan's music industry, a culture that is still rooted in patriarchal views. Here, we present to you some of the bands that achieved a significant level of prominence within the metal scene - not only in Japan but also internationally.
Aldious (アルディアス )
Years active: 2008 - present
Genre: Power Metal
They were the pioneer group in the female metal scene in Japan, a quintet that served to pave the way for what is now known as "Girl Metal Band Boom". Aldious was formed in 2008 with Rami (vocals) and Yoshi (guitar), and in 2009 they were joined by Toki (guitar). Together, they released their debut EP "Dear Slave" and a year later founded their own record label Bright Star Records. This group of girls from Osaka City stood out for its versatility in terms of musical style from the beginning on. In their music, we can find punk-pop songs, power ballads in the style of the eighties, introductions, and acoustic interludes, and of course powerful metal riffs, in addition, unlike what one usually sees in terms of costumes for a metal band, Aldious' girls maintain their femininity in their outfits. Dresses, skirts, and many colors are what one usually sees in the Japanese band's stages.
All these factors led them to be considered as one of the best-known bands of the genre in Japan. Their first studio album "Deep Exceed" (2010) topped the list of Oricon's albums (a Japanese corporate group that supplies statistics and information on music and the music industry in Japan) and reached number 15 on the main list. Throughout their career, the band has undergone some changes in the line-up and today, the official members are: Yoshi, Toki, Sawa, Marina, and R! N. As of today, the band has six studio albums and a history of sold-out concert tours.
Cyntia was considered as the first band of the "Girl Metal Band Boom" movement to sign with a major record label.
Years active: 2011 - 2017
Genre: Power Metal - Heavy Metal
If there's one thing that stands out about women in Japanese music, it's the artistic equality that exists between them when they share a stage, whatever the genre, whether you play metal, rock, folk, indie - they all have something in common. An example of this is Cyntia, the heavy metal band formed in 2011 by Yui, Kanoko, Ayano, Airi, and Saki, who in 2013, was invited as a support band to open the concert of the South Korean pop group Kara, one of the most important K-Pop bands at that time. That same year, the band signed a contract with the record company "Victor Entertainment", which led them to be considered as the first band of the "Girl Metal Band Boom" movement to sign with a major record label.
Often throughout their career, Cynthia adopted a pop aesthetic, making it clear that the superficiality of an outfit makes you neither more nor less metal. Something that over time, was adopted by many other Japanese heavy metal bands. On a musical level, the band stands out for the distinctive elements of its sound, the interaction between the keyboard and the guitar a sound that predominates in many of their songs.
Like Aldious, the band had several line-ups throughout their career, but it wasn't until 2017 that they decided to put a halt to their work, due to a health problem that Yui, the only active founding member left in the band at that time, was going through.
Babymetal (ベ ビ ー メ タ ル)
Years active: 2010 - present
They are considered the pioneers and inventors of "Kawaii Metal", a musical genre that combines the instrumentation of heavy metal with J-pop melodies and a Japanese idol aesthetic. But let's start from the main base, the word "Kawaii" is translated as an adjective of Japanese origin used to describe something that is "beautiful" or "tender". No doubt, this word has become synonymous with much of Japanese pop culture, a definition that fits perfectly with Babymetal.
The idea of forming a group of these characteristics was born by the producer Key Kobayashi, better known as Kobametal (a fan of heavy metal music), after seeing the performance of Suzuka Nakamoto with her group "Karen Girl" so immediately, he knew that she was the right one to be the protagonist of his project. Finally, the trio was formed by Suzuka, Yui Mizuno, and Moa Kikuchi, three girls (because that's when they started), who had never been familiar with heavy metal music before the band started, but from the beginning, they became an international sensation in the rock and roll and metal industry, and obviously, as time went by, they adopted that passion for metal.
Their album, debut, sold over 37,000 copies in Japan in its first week.
By 2013, Babymetal became the youngest group of artists to perform at Loud Park, the most important heavy metal festival in Japan, where great bands of the genre like Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, or Judas Priest, among many others, played. Early the following year, Babymetal released their first album of the same name, selling over 37,000 copies in Japan their first week. They debuted at number two on Billboard Japan, topped the iTunes Metal charts in Germany, the UK, and the US, and for the first time entered the US Billboard 200 list. That same year, they were the opening act for five of Lady Gaga's concerts on her ArtRave: The Artpop Ball tour. Among the 13 tracks on the album was "Gimme chocolate!", a song that was surprisingly successful nationally and internationally, and helped them break records by becoming the first Asian artists to have an album number one on Billboard's Top Rock album chart. The song's video clip is to date the most successful in Babymetal's career with over 118 million plays.
There are many reasons why this single was so popular, but possibly the song's performance on American television on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2016 would have helped the trio reach a greater number in sales (especially internationally). Even then, the Japanese band was admired and respected by great artists of the genre. That same year at the APMAs (Alternative Press Music Awards) ceremony, Babymetal shared the stage with the singer of the legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest, to sing two of the English band's greatest hits.
Since the beginning of 2019, Babymetal has unfortunately gone from a trio to a duo unit, however, they are still betting on this challenge, because they have definitely taken this idea to a very high level.
Years active: 2013 - present
Genre: Heavy Metal
Band-Maid’s image is inspired by nothing less than the humble café hostess. Their unique take on costumes has become a core of their identity since forming in Tokyo in 2013. The five-member band has caught the attention of the international metal audience, all about defying expectations. Each lineup features one designated ‘submissive’ maid to contrast their aggressive metal style persona. But don’t be fooled by the pretty dresses, this is one band of fierce females who kick ass, both on stage and off.
Years active: 2011 - present
This rock and power metal band, originally from Fukuoka, Japan has a metalcore edge that sets it apart from its peers. In its pursuit of creating their own style, Bridear focuses on experimentation with both their sound and image, to keep them always one step ahead of the Japanese musical curve. The five Japanese girls also have a reputation for intense live performances.
Years active: 2001 - present
Genre: Metal, punk
Although not strictly conforming to the metal genre, the band makes for interesting listening as their style dips between metal and punk. Formed in Ichikawa, Japan, in early 2000, they rock an Avril Lavigne-meets-Ozzy Ozbourne vibe, and we like it.
BONUS TRACK: RINA SAWAYAMA
Origin: Niigata, Japan
Years active: 2013 - present
Genre: Alternative pop
London-based singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama is best known for her sparkly-sounding pop songs with sharp lyrics in English, covering complex topics such as depression within her family, her sexuality, and reflecting upon her own flaws. However, on her debut album "Sawayama", released earlier this year, Rina dabbled in metal for the song "STFU". In this guitar-heavy song laced with sinister lyrics and payback-verses, she raises a middle finger to the faces of people fetishizing or discriminating against her for being Asian. Just like her metal-centered colleagues from Japan, Rina is a prime example of strong Asian women who are not afraid to speak her mind and break the mold.
As the impressive lineup of comes proves: Japanese woman artists are far more than just "kawaii". They rock, dominate stages, intimidate - and serve first-class metal tracks! Before ending this article and hall-of-fame of Asian metal ladies and serving you a final bonus track, we won't fail to mention other groups that stand out in the scene like Mary's Blood, Fate Gear, Lovebites, Girls Rock Band Kakumei, and RiViNi.