I remember when I first started going to doom metal shows in high school. I would sneak out my parents apartment and watch bands like Indian and Cult of Occult tear up one of my favorite venues in the world, Glazart. I interviewed dozens of bands there and still work with the main booking agent. One thing that really got me though was the fact that at these shows, unlike at a lot of the death metal shows I would go attend, there were actual girls and beyond that there were girls in a lot of the bands too. I remember being a little confused at first – while I never wanted metal to be a ‘no girls allowed zone’ it had always felt that way – it was just the way it was supposed to be… right?
I think one of the things that has helped to remove sexism in doom metal is the genres clear ties to both classic rock and punk. Furthermore, while yes, there is a culture of exclusivity and secrecy around doom metal it isn’t as focused on traditionally male attributes. Death metal or thrash have always concentrated around traditionally masculine traits like speed, anger and brutality, and often pulls girls with a tomboyish streak. Meanwhile doom has always seemed to place the emphasis on slowing down and being at peace with your inner sadness, it is far more emotive. Though more traditional metal subgenres place an emphasis on getting wrecked, doom metallers have always seemed more likely to want to light a jay and chill out with their buddies.
The musical themes in doom always felt more universal anyway. Even someone like my mom, a pretty normal white woman in terms of music taste, can get behind a band like SubRosa (Except when they do ‘the scary demon singing’) and their powerful lyrics. When I first met the band I drunkenly rambled about how I loved the way that their music was inherently feminine but not especially sexy, and I still do. A song like Blood Ceremony’s Witchwood is a whole lot easier for the casual music fan to identify with than Cannibal Corpse’s Hammer Smashed Face (Also doom has no real history of lyrical content that encourages violence against women, but that’s a tale for a different day) or even Metallica’s One. This isn’t just because Blood Ceremony, unlike Metallica, are actually a good band, but rather because Blood Ceremony and bands of their ilk deal with far older and more potent concepts than many of their metal peers.
Beyond that – ever since the early days of the genre, with bands like Coven and Black Widow, there has been a place for women in the music. This inherently occult musical tradition has always had women involved – but it feels like the genre has only really come to embrace the role of women in the last few years. There has been a rapid shift in the culture, embracing bands like Jex Thoth and SubRosa alongside or even over their longstanding male dominated peers like Pentagram and Sir Lord Baltimore. While yes – a lot of this could be attributed to third wave feminism think that there are things at hand here that speak to the power of the entire genre.
It seems to me that females in doom, as well as punk and grunge music seem to be more tied in to a sort of pagan Goddess type image rather than a sexual one. While there are no real clothing standards for women in doom, those who cultivate a grandiose and feminine, but not sexual image seem to be the ones getting the praise. Instead of frankly creepy pictures of frontwomen splayed across t-shirts (I recently went to an Epica show that featured some of the neckbeardiest merch imaginable), doom seems to place more of an emphasis on the role of the actual musician and the image of the band, not the individual members – which is really how it should have been in the first place.
In the rest of the music world if a band has a female member who isn’t a vocalist it’s a big deal, largely because women aren’t really encouraged to learn rock instruments. It sucks, and there are really cool initiatives helping to move us away from that. (Also Nita Strauss, all hail Nita Strauss) Doom metal has a much smaller gender gap largely because the genre so steadily relies on nonconformity. I mean – all of the music can be traced back to about five Black Sabbath albums and this means that people have always had to push the boundaries in other ways. It create s a much more open environment similar to what we see in punk rock. But even punk rock (And more specifically hardcore) emphasizes some very masculine ideals and has a tendency to attract creepy neckbeards. Doom has always been a tiny community and as a result has wound up being a welcoming place for people of all creeds. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that doom also sees a greater racial diversity, outside of course for thrash, but that’s a whole different story.
What does this mean for your band though? Simply that you need to be willing to embrace concepts that may feel strange and unfamiliar in order to grow your audience. While we are gradually experiencing this kind of shift, in doom the change is pretty much there. It shows that there is a place for women in rock music and it’s rapidly growing A band like The Moth, one of my favorite live acts out there, prove that badass hard living women can play some kickass doom metal and if you’re trying to block them out with elitism or abuse then you should leave the hall. Beyond that, even The Moth, with their burly riffs and bellowed vocals have a certain femininity to them that doesn’t feel gimmicky. Doom musicians have come to embrace the fact that this whole scene needs everyone it can get – and the more talented people the better it will be.
Maybe there is something about your sound that inherently makes women not like it – but that seems kind of sexist to me. What doom shows is that if you place a focus on the power of your songwriting, not just in a sonic sense but also a quasi-spiritual one then you can find a much deeper sense of meaning. Doom comes from a world where the only boundaries are those laid down by Black Sabbath nearly fifty years ago . You need to acknowledge you own boundaries and break down those that shut others out. Maybe the best way to bring women into music is to stop thinking of them as ‘women in music’ doom certainly seems to have done that. Music is about inclusion, not discrimination, and if you can’t get past that and have your bands work, aesthetic and perspective not reflect that – then you may want to re-evaluate your position in the scene.