Thursday, February 22, 2024

In Focus: MADAME METAL: Articulating socials ills in the reigning genre

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Metal music has proved to be a powerful platform for women to express themselves and break down gender barriers. Many talented female musicians and vocalists have made significant contributions to the metal genre, improvising on their innate skills and bringing newer perspectives. Metal music’s intensity and diversity give room for a wide range of expressions, making it a valuable space for women to be heard and empowered. This week, The Pioneer’s Tanisha Saxena tracks the journey of female voices in metal music and the gamut of challenges they have overcome in this realm.

In the crucible of musical expression, where the molten metal of human emotions and societal reflections fuses with the relentless forge of artistic creativity, one finds a genre that dares to wield its lyrical and sonic hammer against the anvil of pressing social and political issues. This genre, known as thrash metal, stands as a testament to the power of music as a conduit for impassioned commentary.

In the tumultuous era marked by the Vietnam War’s haunting echoes, the progenitors of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, did not shy away from the battle cries of dissent. Their music, a symphony of protest, reverberated through the hearts of those who had longed for peace amidst the chaos of war.

In the shadow of the Reagan era’;s looming specter, Nuclear Assault painted vivid Apocalyptic canvases with their sonic brushstrokes. They summoned forth harbingers of doom and glimpses into a world teetering on the precipice, reminding us all of the fragility of our shared existence.

From the heart of Brazil’s rainforests, Sepultura emerged as both musical emissaries and fierce advocates for indigenous tribes whose voices had been silenced by oppression. Through the raw power of their music, they denounced the mistreatment that scarred the land, stirring a fervor for justice that transcended borders.

Napalm Death, with unrelenting ferocity, cast a relentless spotlight on government shortcomings. Their unapologetic sonic assault served as a potent weapon in the arsenal of accountability, demanding transparency and change from those entrusted with the public’s welfare.

In the contemporary tapestry of Grindcore, Cloud Rat stands as a formidable voice, wielding their music as a scalpel to dissect issues of sexism and urban decay. Their compositions are not merely songs; they are impassioned manifestos, daring us to confront uncomfortable truths that persist in the shadows of our society.

Thrash metal, a genre marked by its aggressive vocals, frenetic solos, and breakneck guitar work, embodies a storied tradition of music as a catalyst for change. It is a testament to the enduring belief that amidst the cacophony of life, the power of art and expression can spark a chorus of transformation and ignite the fires of awareness in the hearts of those who dare to listen.

Vocalist Anubhuti Sehgal gives a lowdown on the history of metal music. She says: “The term ‘heavy metal’, a linguistic gem whose origins delve into the annals of history, possesses a lineage far richer than its association with rock music might suggest. Tracing its etymological roots back to the 19th century, ‘heavy metal’ initially invoked the might of cannons and, more broadly, the concept of raw power. This phrase also found itself in the realm of science, as it was employed to classify certain elements and compounds, notably in the ominous realm of ‘heavy metal poisoning’. However, it was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that the term began to echo with the thunderous resonance we now associate with rock music. This transformation was driven by the innovative sounds forged by mid-1960s British bands such as Cream, the Yardbirds, and the Jeff Beck Group, along with the legendary Jimi Hendrix. Together, they melded the elemental forces of drums, bass, and distorted guitars into a distinctive auditory alchemy that set heavy metal apart from its blues-based rock counterparts.”

The evolution reached its zenith in the 1970s, crystallized by the groundbreaking albums: Led Zeppelin’s ‘Led Zeppelin II’, Deep Purple’s ‘Deep Purple in Rock’, and Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’. These sonic tapestries wove together heavy riffs, electrifying ‘power chords’, enigmatic lyrical narratives, virtuosic guitar and drum solos, and a kaleidoscope of vocal styles ranging from the soaring wails of Robert Plant to the haunting tones of Ozzy Osbourne.

Yet, it wasn’t just the music itself that fueled the ascendance of heavy metal; it was the spectacle that unfolded onstage. Bands like Kiss, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, and Alice Cooper, driven by their craving for connection with fans, embarked on relentless tours and conjured elaborate stage performances. These endeavors transcended mere concerts, cementing a global fanbase and etching heavy metal into the annals of musical legend.

Metal music in India
Pratika, a multifaceted artiste, hailing from Mumbai, has made significant contributions to India’s music scene.

They boast a diverse range of experiences, having been involved in various capacities, including playing bass and lending their vocals to the former metal band, Chronic Phobia. Furthermore, they have actively participated in prominent events such as Great Indian Rock, BIG 69, Control Alt Delete, and Vh1 Supersonic. In addition to their musical endeavors, Pratika has collaborated with esteemed music and event companies like Bajaao Entertainment, Furtados Music, and 4/4 Experiences. Presently, they hold the esteemed position of Digital Marketing Manager at Azadi Records, an independent record label headquartered in New Delhi.

According to them, “Metal music, a roaring tempest of defiance, has etched its indelible mark upon the canvas of gender stereotypes, transcending conventional notions with resounding prowess. It is a genre that exalts in complexity, where women wield instruments with virtuosic finesse, tearing down the fallacy that musical proficiency is an arena reserved solely for men.”

Amidst the thunderous riffs and thunderclap drumming, female vocalists emerge as vocal titans, their voices resonating with power and aggression, a stark rebuttal to the antiquated belief that women should confine themselves to dulcet whispers. Metal’s lyrical tapestry, woven with threads of empowerment, individualism, and rebellion, beckons to women who have felt marginalized by the straitjacket of societal expectations.

In the realm of metal, there exists a kaleidoscope of identities, a sanctuary where authenticity flourishes, unburdened by the shackles of conventional beauty standards. Here, women can manifest their true selves, adorned in a pantheon of styles, unapologetic and unrestrained.

The mass appeal of metal
It is not only the music itself but the very community it fosters that stands as a bastion of inclusivity and diversity. The metal tribe, a congregation of souls bound by a shared love for authenticity and unbridled individuality, offers unwavering support to women who dare to defy the norm, a testament to the genre’s ability to forge connections that transcend gender divides.

In the crucible of metal’s roaring rebellion, women find a symphony of empowerment and self-expression, each note and lyric a battle cry, a defiant anthem, echoing across generations and eras, an ode to the ceaseless pursuit of authenticity on their own resplendent terms.

“Metal music’s mass appeal is a symphony of diversity and talent that strikes a chord with an extensive audience. Its sprawling landscape of subgenres, from the timeless allure of classic heavy metal to the relentless intensity of death metal and the epic grandeur of power metal, ensures that there’s a sonic tapestry to match every individual’s musical palate. Beyond the notes, metal musicians are virtuosos of their craft, their technical prowess transcending genre boundaries and captivating listeners far and wide,” says Shantanu Das, a music teacher.

Yet, it’s not just about virtuosity; metal delves into the depths of human emotion. Its lyrical tapestry weaves tales of personal battles, addresses societal issues, and ventures into realms of fantasy. This lyrical diversity resonates with a wide spectrum of listeners, offering a cathartic experience that transcends the ordinary.

“Metal’s concerts are legendary, a visceral explosion of energy and passion that electrifies the senses. They draw people into a world where music is not merely heard but felt deep within the soul. In this world, inclusivity reigns supreme. Despite its reputation for intensity, the metal community is a welcoming embrace, embracing fans from all walks of life. The pantheon of iconic metal bands, whose meteoric rise to mainstream success is etched in musical history, further solidifies metal’s mass appeal. These titans of the genre have opened the gates, inviting countless others to join the ever-expanding metal family,” adds Das.

Metal is also a genre of cross-pollination, where its boundaries intertwine with other musical realms, be it the rebellious spirit of punk, the raw energy of rock, or the classical elegance of orchestration. This fusion lures fans from diverse musical backgrounds into its magnetic pull.

In essence, the allure of metal lies in its remarkable ability to offer something to everyone. It is a genre that celebrates complexity, embraces emotional depth, and fosters a sense of belonging, making it not just a genre of music but a way of life for its devoted followers.

Challenges for women in the realm of metal music
“Listening to Western music and attending concerts often remain a privilege, primarily accessible to more privileged individuals. This stands in contrast to the West, where such cultural experiences are more widespread across various economic backgrounds. In India, the struggle for women’s rights is multifaceted, making it challenging to gain permission for activities like playing music or staying out late. However, there is a slow but hopeful shift towards progress. As society evolves, it is essential to dismantle the deeply ingrained misogyny to create a safe environment for all women. Only then can we envision a future where more women not only attend metal music shows but actively participate in creating this powerful art form. While India has seen talented women in the music scene over the years, the unsustainable nature of the industry often leads them to pursue alternative career paths,” shares Sahil Makhija, Youtuber and blogger. He plays solo under the name Demonstealer and as a vocalist/guitarist of the metal band Demonic Resurrection.

Over the years, women in metal music have confronted a multitude of challenges that have tested their resilience and determination. One of the most glaring gaps has been the persistent underrepresentation of women, both as musicians and in crucial roles like producers and engineers, within the genre. This inequity has, at times, cast a shadow on the vibrant talent that women bring to the metal scene.

Furthermore, female metal musicians have often had to grapple with the burden of stereotypes and prejudice. Their authenticity and musical skills have been unfairly questioned, perpetuating biases that have no place in the world of music. Unfortunately, some women have also faced the degrading experience of objectification and sexualization, with their musical prowess overshadowed by their appearance.

“Perhaps one of the most disheartening challenges has been the hostile reactions from certain fans and industry professionals, who have exhibited sexist attitudes that create obstacles for female musicians. The scarcity of female role models in the genre has compounded these issues, making it difficult for aspiring women to envision a successful career in metal,” explains Sukriti Bhaskar, a guitarist.

Gender bias, pervasive in the industry, has affected opportunities for women relating to securing record deals to booking festival and tour slots. The lack of gender diversity in the metal scene has, at times, been discouraging, reinforcing the need for change.

Bhaskar amplifies: “Yet, amid these challenges, there is a ray of hope. Many exceptionally talented women have broken through in metal music, demonstrating that gender should never limit one’s potential in the realm of heavy music. The industry is gradually becoming more inclusive, thanks to the tireless efforts of musicians and advocates who are determined to promote diversity and combat gender bias. As the metal community continues to evolve, it holds the promise of a more equitable and inclusive future where talent shines above all else.”

Heavy metal over the years
Heavy metal (or metal) is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. It includes a group of related styles that are intense, virtuosic, and powerful. Driven largely by accentuated sounds of the distorted electric guitar, heavy metal is today the most commercially successful genre of rock music. Heavy metal’s popularity did slump during the disco years at the end of the 1970s. However, it became more successful than ever in the 1980s, though fragmented into subgenres such as lite metal, death metal, and even Christian metal, among others. In the 1980s, heavy metal musicians and fans came under severe criticism, with political and academic groups blaming the genre and its fans for causing everything from crime and violence to despondency and suicide. But defenders of the genre of music cited absolute lack evidence and maintained that heavy metal merely articulated social ills.

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