All of us metal fans probably agree that several different kinds of music fall under the category of “female fronted metal”. But is this term really harming the scene and is it time to get rid of it?
Before there was “female fronted” there was “gothic metal”.
We asked around at Female Metal Event 2016 and Metal Female Voices Fest XIII and encountered different opinions, but Liv Kristine, who has been in the industry for a long time, put us on the right path to understanding where the term comes from. On the following video she states:
“I was, uh, one of the founders in the mid-nineties already and that has changed a lot. Back then it was like, ok, if there’s a [female] voice in metal – that’s gothic metal. And it’s an angelic voice, whatsoever. But then girls started to do growls…”
Remember that? She’s right! Although not all the first bands featuring female singers were, in fact, gothic metal bands, as soon as a female voice was included in the band the “gothic” label was stamped on it. Of course, THEATER OF TRAGEDY fit the concept, but women became more involved in other kinds of heavy music and still got pushed into the same “genre”. Later NIGHTWISH, EPICA and more famously EVANESCENCE were also labeled “gothic” in spite of the big differences in their styles. Probably at this point, someone noticed that a female voice doesn’t equal gothic rock/metal since not all gothic bands have female voices and not all bands with female voices play gothic metal. As a replacement umbrella term, the “female fronted” expression came into use.
No one said it’s a genre – it’s a crowd-sourced term.
My theory is that the idea of “female fronted” rock and metal came out the goodness of the fans’ hearts, who enjoy women* performing heavy music. I have heard fans comment to this effect, saying women’s voices have a special quality to them, more feeling or just a nice contrast to the harsh tones. There’s also the possibility that the term was born from marketers or promoters grouping up bands with something in common (a female metalhead) to give them an extra push in an industry full of men.
I have never heard the term “female fronted metal” being used explicitly as a musical genre in a professional context – to be honest, one would have to be a damn bad music journalist not to know this. “Female fronted” defines and is used by a community that supports women in the metal scene.
Although there are more and more women* making metal every day, not only behind the mic but also on other instruments – as a matter of fact, female* metal musicians are still a minority. And they still face some sort of discrimination, be it in form of people not taking them seriously as musicians or event organizers turning their band down because there’s already a “band with a girl*” in the billing (as VUUR’s Marcela Bovio, RAINOVER’s Andrea Casanova and DIABULUS IN MUSICA’s Gorka Elso say in our video). And there’s certainly the aspect of sexual objectification:
“Women have to put more thought into what they wear, what they show” – DELAIN’s Charlotte Wessels on the Soaring Highs & Brutal Lows documentary.
So in my opinion: until there are just as many female* musicians playing heavy music as there are male* ones; until the day we see a rock festival’s poster with 50% female* musicians; until the day female* sound engineers are everywhere and get the recognition they deserve – we still need this term. The day there is no more sexism in metal – that day we can all loudly say with a clear conscience, that there is no need to say “female* fronted” anymore, because “no one says ‘male* fronted’ either” and we are represented and treated equally.
And whatever your personal opinion on these controversial words may be, dear reader, I’m sure we can all agree that we could use many more women* in metal and in the music industry in general and that this ideal is still worth supporting.
Do you agree? What do you think of the controversial term? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you!