For a couple of months I had a serious love-hate relationship with symphonic metal. I loved the grand sweep of it, the orchestral elements, the extremely technical singing, frequently by women who DIDN’T sound like teen pop idols with heavy backing riffs. Often the rest of the music was a bit simple, though I could have put up with it. After all, good singing is a huge thing for me and good female singers in metal are few and far between. There was one issue I couldn’t overlook that I routinely ran into – ballads. I kind of dislike ballads. Hate may be a more accurate word if I’m honest.
Ballads break otherwise great albums for me. The slow pacing, the usually boring, overdone lyrics and themes, the total loss of energy. I prefer music that keeps moving and exploring. As in albums that don’t have three amazing songs, one pretty good ballad and three other crappy ballads that make me want to nap. Enraged napping sucks. So I found a few albums I mostly enjoyed and looped them: Nightwish’s Once, Xandria’s Ravenheart and Neverworld’s End with some Symphony X to break it up. It wasn’t enough. It will never be enough. So I’ve been looking for female fronted prog-metal bands for a while.
Female metal singers really are out there, even in progressive metal. You just really have to dig. So I decided to hunt up at least a couple bands I could actually listen to an album from. My requirements were simple: interesting music and decent female vocals. While my preference is for mezzo sopranos and more smoky, deeper voices, there are a LOT of soprano singers, and some of them avoid the ultra-girly, pop sound that so turns me off.
To-Mera is a well-known secret of the prog metal world, and they routinely come up on lists for progressive metal with no note that there’s a female vocalist at all. It’s got some lovely heavy bits and technical instrumentals, plenty of jazzy interludes, and Julie Kiss has a very light, bright voice. It’s a bit on the lighter end for me, but sometimes you don’t need music to completely crush you. I don’t think they’ll be knocking Haken, Ihlo or Between the Buried and Me off my playlist, but they’ll likely come up now and then.
Here’s a heavier song, Blood!
Stream of Passion
A dutch progressive metal band with symphonic elements, this is an act that’s sadly done with. There are four albums to peruse and though I found the sound to be very symphonic rather than progressive, it’s still good. Marcela Bovio has a very clean, gentle voice. The songs are also a little on the gentle side for me, with balladic overtones that mean I won’t be putting them on repeat anytime soon. I certainly know where to look the next time my symphonic mood pops in though.
Akphaezya has a lovely artistic, dark sound with a lot of classical elements and deeper-voiced Nehl Aëlin. It still has the heavy metal guitar riffs, thumpy bass lines and technical drums, but it segues pretty often back to that avant-garde style. A little growling here and there keeps things interesting. The music is interesting enough that this is likely to get a play-through now and then even though it’s not exactly my genre. Utopia is a really weird, fun kind of song. They’re not all this light, but if you hate this the rest is unlikely to get you.
Do you like a little electronic ambience in your music? Want something more on the prog end than symphonic? Ambeon has you covered with a really cool sound. Like Haken and Leprous, there are very well-done synth effects, plus bonus points for “exotic” instrumentals occasionally added in as well. It’s more on the ambient end of the spectrum here, and the Fate of a Dreamer album is going to get a second listen as I think it may grow on me. It reminds me of a modern Pink Floyd (DSOTM) mixed with To-Mera.
Hard and Heavy!
So you want something that makes you put on your mosh boots and thrash your glorious metal mane? You want the music dark, harsh, yet technical and poignantly beautiful at times? You want a woman who does harsh vocals that sound amazing, with only occasional “traditional” singing that also sounds amazing? My friend, have you met Divitius yet? Because you need to. And they have a new album dropping soon! This album ALSO has purely instrumental versions for when you want to concentrate on epic instrumentals. This is actually knocking something off my playlist.
Not enough? Try Unexpect (and they’re from here in Montreal, ahhhh!) – they’ve got a slightly more eclectic vibe going (less than Akphaezya) but do not doubt that it will get you headbanging like a mad-person as they change their style all the friccan’ time, and they include the perfect mix of clean and harsh vocals when you want it a liiiiiitle gentler than Divitius.
Like really long songs that make time seem irrelevant? This is a lovely, emotional music trip with mixed vocals for those who like to only occasionally be battered by harsh noises. The songs are very long with am amazing flow, coherence, and sections that go on forever. The unnamed singer has a beautiful way with harmony AND she doesn’t overwhelm the instrumentals so you get the best of both worlds. Even the growling and shrieking FIT, rather than feeling like an afterthought or genre ploy. The sound is more doom or psychadelic than “prog” in the more usual sense, but it’s got all the makings of wonderful. AND their newest album dropped in May!
Is that it..?
Of course not, there are new bands forming all the time who may not have made it to the public eye yet. There is, however, still a lack of women singers in metal when compared to men. Part of this may be with expectations, where deep male voices are de riggueur for the genre. Another part may be an image problem – female metal heads are treated a bit oddly, either propped on some weird pedestal or ridiculed, and that spotlight feeling isn’t always fun.
Female fans are also often pigeonholed as being weird/ugly or “merely” partners of “real” metal-head men, with little interest in the music itself. This isn’t helped by the fact that we women don’t usually go to shows alone because being a woman alone in a crowd can invite some really odd interactions. Thankfully, the internet makes a lot of amazing music more available to everyone regardless of sex or location and we can share the gems we find.
Have you heard any amazing prog metal women singers? What about instrumentalists? Still looking to add to my collection of amazing!