This year, Julie Christmas released a collaborative album with post-metal legends Cult of Luna, an album which I have no doubt will be remembered as one of the best of the decade. Her distinctive vocal style, teetering between sweetness and vitriol and ascending into frenzied screams throughout “Mariner” is a thing of beauty, an emotional onslaught, and it made me crave for more. I started doing some research on the subject.
What I came to find is that female fronted extreme or simply experimental metal bands are indeed few, but they are fierce, powerful in the extreme and utterly brilliant at using growling vocal techniques to convey and enhance the emotional turmoil that feeds this type of music. The list I’ve compiled is short, but each and every band on it deserves more attention. That is also a criterion I tried sticking to – you won’t find Arch Enemy in here, because they’re already well known.
I would be very interested to see more recommendations from you, astute readers, so please don’t hesitate to feed this list in the comment section. And keep in mind that this is not a top – it’s merely an introduction, something to whet the appetite.
I heard this band for the first time on a bar terrace, while in the middle of a very intense conversation. “Conversation be damned”, I immediately thought, and stepped inside to ask the staff what the perfect noise was. I didn’t even get to ask – the minute they saw my face, they said: “Universe217!” I’ve been hooked ever since.
The true power of this band lies in its consistency. Each player is perfectly attuned to everyone else, and Tania’s voice is a savage thing, a force of nature connecting it all into heart-rending, deeply moving songs that have nothing gimmicky about them. Natural and unapologetic, Universe217 have spent the last decade making some of the best metal I’ve ever heard come out of Greece. The fact that they’re not hailed as a universally revered band at this point is a crying shame.
Expansive post-metal that can go toe-to-toe with the giants of the genre, no question. Irene P. brings the primal roar with startling determination, and her growls supercharge Allochiria’s songs to an uncanny degree. Every time she lets loose her staggering voice, the tracks catch fire.
In addition to the liquid heat that Irene P. radiates within this music, another distinguishing feature of Allochiria is the excellent production, at least on their latest album. It took the band four years to graduate from their debut EP to the stunning “Omonoia” LP which came out in 2014. Hopefully, we’re less than half way through waiting for another release.
Sylvaine somehow manages to sound really rather vintage, and very fresh at the same time. At times, the kinship with Cranes and Cocteau Twins is crystal clear – the same expansive, ethereal soundscapes carried by her translucent clean vocals. And then, cracks in the swirling china of her voice appear out of nowhere, especially baleful when mixed in with layers of chanting backing vocals.
The Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and singer is particularly interesting because she is the sole member of the project as far as studio work is concerned. One-person projects rarely lead to such carefully layered, contrasting architecture of sound and such intricate compositions. Sylvaine’s passion for music is infectious, and the latest album, titled “Wistful”, is truly one of 2016’s better moments.
Mischievous, disjointed clean vocals and blistering growls soar over a churning, dark musical mass throughout Oathbreaker’s “Rheia”, released in September 2016. The Belgian band’s third LP is a breakthrough for them in terms of sheer ferocity and unbridled emotional onslaught, with Caro Tanghe’s vocals drawing dazzling, sharp shapes in the air as the record progresses.
“Rheia” was engineered, mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley of Deafheaven fame, and the stylistic similarities are hard to ignore, but if anything, that is high praise for Oathbreaker.
Cairiss have forged an intriguing mixture of harrowing black metal and muscular, structured post-metal on their EP, “Fall”, released this June. I suspect the secret to this elusive blend lies in a third ingredient – a bit of progressive metal attitude thrown in the mix, a subtle but crucial desire to surprise and experiment in a moderately theatrical way. The end result is something that largely defies labels, without steering so far from the beaten track as to become incoherent.
Freya Jane Brown’s vocals are as harsh as an arctic wind, and as hypnotic as the Aurora Borealis, in quick, seemingly effortless succession. The instrumentals are thoroughly dramatic, with generous guitar solos and fantastic atmospheric swells. Cairiss is a band that shines in long-form compositions, when they’re allowing themselves ample time to explore both spectacular vocal acrobatics and intricate melodic exploration. Highly recommended to more melancholic listeners.
Read our review of Cairiss’ debut EP “Fall” here.
If Kayo Dot’s experimentalism collided with Sumac’s soul-wrenching darkness, Black Table would emerge glistening from the wreckage. Mers Sumida’s voice is truly unique – a mixture of frankly terrifying guttural roars with ice-clear harmonics, creating a thoroughly unsettling effect that has to be heard to be believed.
We’ve covered Black Table on Arctic Drones before, and they’ve revealed enticing details about the themes of their massive debut album “Obelisk”, which came out in October 2016. Suffice to say that, in true black metal spirit, the album is teaming with esoteric symbolism, wrapped up in the kind of music that will keep you exploring for months.
Lotus Thief started as the creative collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Bezaelith on bass, guitars, synth and vocals, and Otrebor – of Botanist fame – on drums. For their latest album, titled “Gramarye”, they’ve also enlisted Iva Toric on synth and backing vocals, which has brought about an awe-inspiring expansion of their sound. Bezaelith’s clean vocals carry a hypnotic quality, a bittersweet sorrow that permeates every track, and the fantastic backing vocals make spectacular harmonic structures bloom throughout the album.
Lotus Thief use extreme-metal growling more as a texture than as a statement. There is a subtlety to their inclusion, a refreshing restraint – they’re more harrowed and whispered than ferocious, which somehow adds to their impact within the context.
MAMMOTH WEED WIZARD BASTARD
Hailing from the UK, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard have only released one track so far, but what a track! Titled “Nachthexen”, this one-track album is over 30 minutes long, and is a psychedelic beast of burden, a surreal animal of startling weight and strength, with a luminous voice. Doom metal meets layered, angelic vocals – if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will.
Oddly enough, there seems to be quite a bit of humor winking behind the scenes of this band’s concept. It’s a subtle impression I get, but this lumbering, abrasive music is held together with a good-natured spirit, there’s a lingering feeling that the band is having tremendous fun creating this uncanny construct. Their first release is definitely intriguing, and I’m anxiously waiting for more.
Edit: Thank you Кирилл for pointing out that MWWB have released a full-length album earlier this year, titled “Y Proffwyd Dwyll”. I had somehow missed it in my research. Apologies. If anything, my endorsement of the band is only reinforced by this album.
Windhand’s 2013 album “Soma” was one of the highlights of the year for me. I was equally thrilled to take in the 2015 follow-up, ominously titled “Grief’s Infernal Flower” – the same grungy, deliberate and mind-bending riffs, the same plaintive, mesmerizing clean vocals, but with added psychedelic swirls in the form of more elaborate guitar work and vocal layering.
Dorthia Cottrell’s vocal lines weave an effect similar to Jerry Cantrell’s backing vocal work for Alice In Chains – the music becomes vast and somehow askew, unexpected, puzzling. This is all the more effective, as the instrumentals consist of thoroughly grounded and properly heavy doom metal riffing. This juxtaposition lies at the core of Windhand’s unique presence, and it is definitely something worth exploring.
This Polish band creates music true to their chosen name. It is music straddling the lines between many different genres and influences, thriving in the in-between. Wielebna’s vocals are shockingly versatile, switching from scathing aggression one second to soothing harmony the next, untethered and bold.
Obscure Sphinx’s most recent release came out in September 2016, titled “Epitaphs”. It is a single track, but it has such tremendous dynamic and melodic range, it is quite deserving of the album mantle. “Epitaph” is one of the best releases of 2016 as far as I’m concerned, and I do not say this lightly, as it has been a great year for new music, overall. Enjoy!