Girls Don’t Like Metal is a new column by Natalie Zed (aka Natalie Zina Walschots), developed exclusively for Canada Arts Connect Magazine. This biweekly column examines gender issues, feminism and sexuality within heavy metal music. Each post will come in the form of an interview with a member of the heavy metal community, including artists, writers, magazine and website editors, road crew members, merch folks, sound techs and fans. Interview subjects may identify as female/femme/trans/genderqueer or be allies, and share a deep love of, and commitment to, heavy metal.
The inspiration for this column came from the title of an article published on Metalsucks in October of 2011: “Public Service Announcement: Girls Do Not Like Metal!” The article, written by Sergeant D of the infamous Stuff You Will Hate site and intended as a piece of satire, posited the idea that women don’t actually enjoy heavy metal, but rather pretend to in order to attract male attention. While it was framed as a piece of satire, the tone of the article contained a snarling meanness that made me wonder if this opinion is something that the author genuinely believes (not to mention the slut-shaming). But even more disturbing than the article were the comments that followed. It was clear that many of the readers actually shared the (debatable) satirical opinion of the article in a very real and distressing way.
This article, phenomena like Revolver’s Hottest Chicks In Hard Rock special issue and calendar and the discussion that followed inspired me to launch several new projects devoted to the contributions of women to heavy metal. These women are strong and vibrant, tough and intelligent, passionate and brilliant and often hilariously funny. This space is devoted to my sisters in arms and the allies who support them.
When I began developing this column, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview Kim Kelly. Kim is an active and dynamic member of the metal scene. A skilled and prolific writer, a dedicated promoter and PR specialist and one of the finest merch slingers on the continent, Kim has devoted her time, attention and eardrums to heavy metal. She is a woman I have long admired, someone who gives her all to her projects and has made her greatest love her full-time work and life.
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How would you define your role/job/niche within the context of heavy metal music?
Some heretical amalgamation of scribe, entrepreneur, road warrior, merry blasphemer, masochist, blue-eyed devil woman, mercenary and firebrand, if I were one to wax poetic. More tangentially speaking, I am an opinionated extreme metal journalist and writer for a number of print and online publications (Terrorizer, Invisible Oranges, The Atlantic, NPR, Metalsucks, Hails & Horns, Loud! and lots more).
I’m also the publicist and sole owner/operator of my company, Catharsis PR, an occasional blogger, NYC gig promoter and merch slingin’ road dog for Corrosion of Conformity, Black Tusk and Saint Vitus (to name a few). I was 15 when my first piece of metal-related writing was published, and in the ensuing almost-decade, I’ve fought tooth and nail to make that scrawny, Bathory-obsessed kid’s dreams come true. So far, so good.
How did you find metal, or how did metal find you?
It crept up on me, that’s for sure. I grew up in a super-rural woodland area without much exposure to, well, anything really, until I started reading metal magazines and sneaking out to shows in Philadelphia. By all accounts, I should be barefoot and pregnant in a rickety, wood-panelled kitchen right now, but, luckily, the metal gods intervened. When I was 12 or so, I had a few friends who introduced me to the kind of shitty nu-metal that pervaded the early ’00s, and from there, in my early teens, I moved onto the accessible brutality of Swedish melodeath, into the classics of American death metal and grindcore, and then further out into the cold of black metal’s first and second waves (I owe everything to Quorthon). From there, it just got worse, until I ended up in the festering sonic cesspools I love so dearly. I’m into a lot of crust, neo-folk and old country music as well, but for me at least, heavy metal is the law, black metal is war and doom shall rise.
What does metal give to you? Why do you adore this genre so much and devote so much of your time and energy toward the celebration and advancement of very loud noise?
Metal has given me a place in the world to call my own; it has given me joy, purpose, solace, a path to follow, a tribe. Its influence has seeped into every possible aspect of my life. This is not just a style of music; it is a way of life, born of excess and alienation, strength and power, misanthropy and emotion, Satanic lust and whiskey funerals. This music—this loud, aggressive, intricate, primal, cerebral, primitive, beautiful, wretched, godless noise—speaks to me like nothing else. Black metal saved my life, and I can say that with a straight face. Everyone’s got their cross to bear, their gaping wounds and badly stitched-together scars; everyone’s got their something, and those who have the guts to keep fighting will find a way to keep going. Giving up was never an option for me, and during the darkest of days, the raw, bleak, anti-human hatefulness that came grating out of my speakers spoke to me in the only voice I could understand. Friends come and go, family fractures and fades, but, hell, records are forever, and even if your favourite band put out a shitty new record, you’ll always have the demos. Metal is eternal.
It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated, but that strangeness, otherness, the darkness that permeates our world and keeps us isolated from the mainstream—it’s really fucking special. Extreme music requires extreme commitment. There will never be any danger of our “losing” extreme metal to those who don’t truly worship it. It will always belong to us. Outsider music for outsiders. Forever underground.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? How does this definition of yourself (feminist or not) work within the context of your relationship to heavy metal?
If the definition of a feminist is “someone who believes in equality between the sexes and supports female empowerment,” then I definitely fit the bill. Beyond that, I’m not too sure; I honestly don’t know as much about feminism as I should (I’m working on it, I swear!). I do, however, know what it’s like to be a young woman in the extreme metal scene and metal music industry, so that’s the perspective I write from: my own. I spend quite a lot of time (and ink) discussing the issues that women face within this scene, and doing what I can to spread awareness and heap well-deserved praise upon the legions of metal warrior women out there in the trenches, behind the scenes, onstage and off, who keep the black flame burning and spit upon the laughable tenet “Girls don’t like metal.”
Heavy metal has long been seen as a boys’ club, music for disillusioned, white, middle class youth, but women have been slinging axes and making power moves since the genre’s inception (not to mention way before Iommi lost his fingertips). The audience is still predominantly male, but more and more women are making their presence known and voices heard, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Being a female metaller isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and while it’s something I would never back down from, it can get ugly. Scores of metal songs gleefully exhort violence towards women in their lyrics, but that doesn’t bother me, though other people may take terrible offence to this kind of sonic torture porn. It does bother me, though, when the fake woman hating in their liner notes comes to life. I personally have dealt with plenty of misogyny and sexism, both inadvertent and explicit. I’ve been insulted, hit on, disparaged, touched, condescended towards, propositioned, ignored, laughed at, leered at, grabbed at, sexually assaulted, dismissed as a “groupie,” a “little girl” or just “someone’s girlfriend,” had my metal knowledge, credibility, and intent called into question time and time again. I’ve had to scream, threaten, and get violent with individuals who don’t understand boundaries or show me the proper amount of respect. Even little things like getting emails addressed to “Mr. Kelly” or being asked, “So, who in the band are you dating?” can be terribly aggravating or discouraging. Sometimes it seems as though the only roles women are allowed within this world are the Madonna, the untouchable, über-feminine metal goddess with comic book proportions, or the Whore, the grody scene slut who’ll drop to her knees for any Neanderthal with a dirty ‘stache and a B. C. Rich. And guys wonder why women seem less inclined to enter this world. To enter the eternal fire, as it were.
That’s not to generalize or say that all metalheads act this way. Quite the contrary—the vast majority of metal fans I’ve come into contact with (and there have been literally thousands by now) have been the kindest, most respectful, down-to-earth and fun individuals imaginable. There are bad eggs, but the entire genre doesn’t deserve to be painted with the same brush. Sexism and disrespectful behaviour occur within every subculture, music scene, tribe and group, after all. I just wish there was less of it in mine.
When you are asked to “introduce” someone to heavy metal, how do you go about doing so? Do you take them to a show, refer them to writers, put together a playlist, etc.?
You mean to desecrate a pair of virgin ears? You know, it’s not often that I end up listening to music with someone who’s not into metal already, and if I do, it’s generally an old friend who’s content to listen to my Merle Haggard records or stoner rock instead. Otherwise, honestly, I usually just say, “Listen to Black Sabbath, then Hellhammer; you’ll figure it out.” Sums it up pretty well, I think.
How have you seen the role of women, including appreciation for the work of female artists, as well as a place for female fans, change since you began to identify with the scene?
It’s been amazing seeing the number of ladies in attendance at gigs climb higher and higher, and seeing women taking a more active role in the business/media side of things as well. When I first started getting into black metal, I didn’t know a single girl who gave a shit about Vlad Tepes. Now, I have tons of girlfriends across the world who are all about filthy, bestial, occult metal.
Metal is a tribe, and being able to connect with fellow female metallers really emphasizes that we are truly bonded by blood. The whole “women in metal thing” has become less of a novelty and is edging closer and closer to becoming a true “of course there are chicks here, why wouldn’t there be?” situation. We have pioneers like Doro, Jo Bench, Runhild Gammelsæter and Liz Buckingham, who shattered stereotypes and influenced countless musicians. We have Marissa Martinez of Cretin and Kat Shevill of Winds of Genocide, who shared their transitions from male to female with the world and were welcomed with horns held high and open arms. We have newer female musicians blowing up the underground (Adorior, Laudanum, Wooden Stake, Christian Mistress, Occultation, Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult) and beloved bands with well-respected female members reforming (Noothgrush!!!). It has never been a better time to be a lady hesher, and I am so very proud of all my sisters in steel.
What should we be listening to right now?
Hellhammer and Bathory—always. Otherwise, I just picked up a handful of new records from Ride For Revenge, Teitanblood, Weapon and Cruciamentum, some classics from Demoncy, Bestial Holocaust and Conqueror, and am pretty much constantly listening to Necros Christos, Horna, EyeHateGod, Amebix, Satanic Warmaster, Diocletian, Archgoat and Sperm of Antichrist. Oh, and check out Ensorcelor, Ash Borer, Void Meditation Cult, Bell Witch, Pilgrim and Lycus, and go buy the newest Altar of Plagues record. You won’t regret it. Hail death.
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Kim Kelly is an NYC-based writer, music publicist and promoter who spends most of her time travelling, either on tour hustling merch for bands like Corrosion of Conformity and Saint Vitus or crisscrossing the globe on various riff-related adventures. She has written about extreme metal and the culture surrounding it for Terrorizer, The Atlantic, NPR.org, Invisible Oranges, The Boston Phoenix, Brooklyn Vegan, Metal Maniacs, Metalsucks and many more. As well, she helms Catharsis PR, promotes shows in the NYC/Philadelphia area and spends way too much money on records. Her drugs of choice are raw black metal, Southern sludge, filthy crust punk, dusty bookshops and Dixie whiskey. Read more of her work and follow her exploits on her personal blog, Ravishing Grimness http://ravishinggrimness.blogspot.com/, and on Twitter: @GrimKim.