Earlier this year, metal band Nightwish’s lead vocalist, Floor Jansen spoke with online metal news source Metal Wani about the stigma and typecasting that women face working in the metal genre of the music industry.
In the interview, Jansen particularly criticized the use of the term “female-fronted metal,” to describe any metal band with a female vocalist, arguing that the term typecasts women who are involved in metal music. “Metal,” is a huge umbrella term with a plethora of unique sub genres and different styles of music that are vastly different from one another. In the context of Jansen’s statement, describing “female-fronted metal,” as its own sub genre suggests that all women in metal sound similar and can and only produce one type of metal, while all of the other sub genres and complexities are set aside for men.
The term “female-fronted metal,” is often used to refer to bands such as Nightwish and Epica: symphonic power metal bands with operatic vocals and elaborate instrumentation. However, Jansen pointed out that this style of metal is already defined by the term “symphonic metal,” and the fact that the vocalists of some of these bands are female is not entirely relevant to the actual sound of the band, as the gender of the vocalist does little to speak to what the music sounds like.
“There is already ‘symphonic metal’ behind it, so it narrows it down a little more about what the music actually does,” said Jansen. “There seems to sometimes be an entire genre called ‘female-fronted metal’, oh, so you’re in a female fronted metal band? Oh yeah? Am I? What on Earth does that say?”
Furthermore, Jansen emphasized that there are women in a wide variety of metal styles, so describing symphonic metal as “female-fronted,” ignores the involvement of women in other styles of metal. Jansen criticized the idea that the gender of a lead vocalist can somehow define the entire genre of a band’s music by directly comparing four metal bands (Revamp, Nightwish, Arch Enemy and Delain), all of whom have substantially different sounds, and all of whom are fronted by women.
When comparing the aggressive melodic death metal of Arch Enemy (as well as the metal core sounds of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz’s former band The Agonist) to the orchestral symphonic sound of Nightwish, it becomes fairly obvious that the two bands have very little in common besides the gender of their vocalists.
“The style within metal is so massively different that it doesn’t really say much whether there’s a girl singing or not,” said Jansen. “So it’s really not so important… get over it and just call it “symphonic metal.”
Jansen pointed out that there are not just female vocalists in metal, but female instrumentalists as well. That being said, metal is still largely represented and perceived as a predominantly male genre and culture, to the extent that women in metal are still treated as a rarity or oddity, despite their regular involvement in the genre. As Jansen suggests, defining a metal band’s genre based on the style of their music, and not on the gender of their members, may be an important step towards making metal music a more welcoming place for female musicians and vocalists.