When I started working on this piece earlier this April, I didn't have much idea about what I wanted to do outside of giving attention to an often-overlooked group in the Metal scene, the trans community. As I talked with and even befriended several musicians from different places making wildly different music, it really opened my eyes to how many in our community have to struggle with scenes that are shamefully unwelcoming and even hostile to them when they should be bringing them in with open arms to play music telling everyone against them to sit on a cactus and spin like a top. For a long while, I was convinced that I wasn't the right person to do this, but with the help of a good friend both before and during this project, I took the plunge and ended up meeting many beautiful people that are more metal than you or I will ever be as they fight like hell to be who they are, defiant of all who would dare say that they are wrong to do so.
Originally, I had no intention of writing this intro, instead deferring to the very same friend who got me in contact with some of the people interviewed here. I felt my perspective would be the wrong one, as any and all feelings and thoughts I have about the lives and struggles of the trans community are all second-hand. As time went on, though, so many horrible things have happened to them at an alarming rate, more so than the already horrific pace it had taken in the past. Bills to separate families from their trans children and to inspect the genitals of said children were introduced, mass shootings and murders have become more commonplace, and trans people and those who help them are regularly slandered against by individuals and groups who have no moral compass and only wish to see them destroyed and will believe any lie necessary to see it done. Again and again I have seen the trans community plead with people to hear their voices, to see their struggles, to stand by their side, and all too often it fell on deaf ears. It was this fact that inspired me to write this introduction, and it should have been what inspired me to do this project in the first place.
I know this is heavier than is often done here on the Crypt, but to everyone reading this, please listen to me when I say that every person here, along with every trans person out there, metalhead or otherwise, desperately needs us. We need to listen to their cries of help so we can understand what to do for them. We need to see their struggles so we can understand that they must be our own too. We need to be by their side because now, it seems like no one else will. Metal should be about community for those cast out of society for refusing to conform to it, but more often than not, we take the aesthetics of rebellion where it suits us while gladly conforming to beliefs and behaviors that hurt those we should be accepting. If that last point made you stop and think, I urge you to read on and hear the voices of those too often drowned out by poisonous propaganda intent on their destruction. I won't pretend this will turn the tide on anything, but at the very least, maybe it will get us all to listen to more than just the music.
All interviews were done online except the one with Danica Roem, which occurred over a couple of phone conversations around April and May, which explains the more conversational structure and tone. Also, if you're reading this, I am very sorry if I get some words wrong, turns out my recording equipment was rather poor.
Tell me a little about yourself and your journey through Metal. Would you say it helped you come to terms with your identity in any way?
Danica Roem (CAB RIDE HOME, she/her): Metal is a part of my identity, and that's a very important thing to mention. There are trans people in Metal just like there are in any genre of music, it's just that we haven't had a lot of representation of our people on stage in very common settings. When Mina Caputo came out and transitioned,I think it was a seminal moment for trans people in general. She wasn't even the first trans person in metal, it's just that...well, I think for a lot of trans women like myself, I was looking up to a lot of the cis women that were performing.
In 2002, for example, I remember being in the front row for Arch Enemy when they were opening for Nile in Springfield, Virginia and, like, Angela Gassow was one of my absolute heroes when I was 17. By the time I was 18 later that year, I went to see Lacuna Coil and I looked up to Cristina Scabbia so much, and it was really, like around the time I was 14 years old when I went to my first Ozzfest in Bristow, Virginia and I got there in time to see Fear Factory headline the side stage. Then it was Deftones and Black Sabbath completing the show on the main stage. Going to that show when I was 14 was just a world of experience.
At the same time, the following year, as a closeted 15-year-old in the summer of 2000, I remember seeing Kittie on the side stage. My taste in music was kind of spanning all over the map, and at that time I was still learning about metal, getting into nu-metal and stuff like that. Anyway, at the show there was Pantera and such, but going to the show and seeing Kittie, who were a band with members close to my age, being able to see these women and older girls who were performing meant a lot to me, even if they were cis. I still remember watching the Brackish video and wishing that I could perform like her.
In the next two years, I would get seriously into Swedish melodic death metal, thrash metal, and all that underground stuff. At the same time, whenever I was coming across women in metal, I was clinging onto it very strongly just because I felt like they were actually going through the real lived-in experience of what it means to be a prominent figure in metal as a woman as opposed to all the male fronted bands that I liked, but never really saw myself represented in, even though the music very much represented me in the lyrics and song structure and everything. I very much connected with the music so much, it was just needing that extra bit of femininity in my teenage rebellion and my audio rebellion, which is why I clung onto a lot of bands who had women in them. They were the bands I felt most passionate about following on tour, like Lacuna Coil and Arch Enemy. Also, I loved seeing Nightwish, and I remember seeing Lee Douglas from Anathema put on this breathtaking performance of "A Natural Disaster" when I was at Hellfest in Western France in 2010 or 2011. It was unbelievable how good she was.
So, in short, I've just always had women that I've looked up to in metal, and they've actually helped me find a place in metal as a trans woman.
Jara Pohjonen (REVEREND BIZARRE/SVARTA HAVET, she/her): I grew up in the small industrial town of Lohja in the 1980s when heavy metal (from NWOBHM to glam) was relatively mainstream in Finland. When I was about 9 years old, I wore my W.A.S.P., Iron Maiden, Saxon, etc. patches and mullet and cowboy boots with pride, and the older metalheads laughed at me – with or without malice, I have no idea. My big sister listened to extreme metal and was in the local underground scene, and she took me to some thrash/speed gigs when I was 12 or so. That was exciting, but I didn't really appreciate the drunken dudebro antics at the shows.
In lower secondary school, I became friends with Sami Hynninen (later known as Albert Witchfinder of Reverend Bizarre), and we watched MTV's Headbanger's Ball and listened to doom metal. We formed our first band, KLV, in 1991. It started out as noisecore, because we couldn't really play at first, then turned to hardcore punk and eventually went on to become some sort of progressive doom metal by 1998.
Growing up a "smalltown boy," to reference Bronski Beat, in a quite conservative and patriarchal time, I'd say the androgynous and effeminate look of the male metal musicians at least should have been somewhat empowering and affirming. But the whole thing turned out to be anything but, of course, as bands and musicians relied on aggressively heterosexual and sexist lyrics and behaviour and general hypermasculinity to absolve themselves from accusations of femininity. Nevertheless, men wearing makeup and having long unruly hair was far from the mainstream masculine norm, and I'm pretty sure I too started growing my hair long at a very young age because I wanted to follow the example set by such alternative role models as Blackie Lawless and Bruce Dickinson whose pictures covered the walls of my room. This made me a target for those policing traditional gender norms, of course.
However, even though I was bullied at school for not fulfilling gendered expectations, I don't think I thought much about gender specifically at that point in my life. I just identified as a nerd and a weakling. There was no trans visibility in the media, and the rare representations we got were usually very negative portrayals of criminally insane villains, so when I eventually started to question my identity, it was at first only in terms of sexuality, not gender at all.
In the mid-1990s, after I had moved to my current hometown Turku, I got involved with the local hardcore punk scene and the anarchist community and started playing metal-influenced hardcore punk and crust. There was a lot of discussion around feminist topics in the political DIY punk scene, all-female bands sprung up and women were very active in everything; the metal scene seemed very stale and suffocating in comparison, and I actually haven't felt truly comfortable at metal gigs to this day.
At first, I approached these two scenes as totally separate worlds, but soon I realized that there was in fact quite a lot of overlap: many doom metal musicians had punk or hardcore roots, and some of my punk friends had listened to old-school doom already since the '80s. But if anything, it was my journey through punk that has actually helped me; I even finally managed to change my name when touring with Raivoraittius, a transcore band I joined in 2016, because I could no longer handle being introduced to new people by my birth name.
From 1999 to 2007, I played the drums in the old-school doom metal band Reverend Bizarre and from 2006 to 2016 I was the guitarist and primary songwriter of the heavy hardcore band Species Traitor. Currently, I play the drums in Svarta Havet, which I joined last year, and Hengitys, which was founded this year, and I play the guitar in a new band called Fragility. They all mix metal with hardcore to various degrees
Kyarth (EMPYREAN SERPENT, she/her): Well, to start things off, my name is Kyarth, I'm still fairly young at 22, and, more notably, I'm both a trans girl and a self-taught metal vocalist, although I suppose I'm not as active with the latter as I'd yet like to be. I've also got ASD (Autism) and ADHD, which might help explain my potentially scattered writing here.
I have the memory of an average goldfish, so this may be a bit off, but for the most part I got into metal as a genre on my own terms. My biological father (left at birth but retained contact here and there) and my stepfather at the time (he and my mother have been divorced for the better half of a decade) were into the genre at a surface level, so I was able to scrounge a few Metallica, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden CDs from them at some point, though that was more so after me getting into the genre on my own. One of my uncles is a bit more into the genre, though mostly tends away from extreme metal, so that may have had some minor impact too. Most of my getting deeper into the genre came from just looking around online though, and beyond some gateway bands in the vein of the aforementioned classics as well as some more popular stuff at the time (Nu-metal and the likes), my first genuine connection that I retained was when I decided to look into metal subgenres through Wikipedia. Power metal sounded very up my alley, and given I immediately went to Blind Guardian from there, things hit off pretty instantly. To this day, they're still possibly my favorite power metal band of all time, given how hard their discography goes. This was around when I was starting high school, and I ended up getting into a pretty healthy variety of subgenres from there.
Funnily enough one of the first ever death metal albums I heard was Elvenefris by Lykathea Aflame, which I still consider a reasonably deep cut today despite being a bit of a cult classic at this point. But I was in love with that release instantly, even though it was a shame to find out the band only ever put out one album. Black metal took a bit more time to get into, but I've been enjoying it a lot more as of late as well.
Though back to high school, there was only one other person in my entire school that I knew of who had a reasonably similar overlap with my music taste. Combining that being my primary interest with the fact that I had (at the time undiagnosed) ASD and ADHD, as well as a rather reserved overall nature, I didn't really end up with any close friends beyond him. So naturally, when someone has basically no way to talk about their biggest interest, I spent a lot of time on social media meeting people with similar music tastes. Facebook was probably the one I used the most, as there were a myriad of metal music centric groups on there that I got fairly involved in. I hardly use the app today, but it certainly drew me further into the genre, especially given I actually ended up talking with a lot of the musicians whose work I listened to at the time through the app. This ended up having both upsides and downsides, the latter mostly just stemming from finding out some musicians I looked up to were actually right-wing assholes. But the positives persist to this day in the form of friends I've met and forged a bond with due to shared interests and shared experiences, which, honestly, is mostly just other queer people and leftists within the community.
In regards to the impact on my identity that said community had, the isolation resulting from my personality and disabilities are almost certainly what led me towards the metal community more than anything else. Being a social outcast and whatnot likely played some part, and thus the two ended up interconnected to some degree. It certainly wasn't the triggering factor for me realizing I was queer, but there was likely some degree of influence there, and, had I not been able to connect with all the people I did, it's possible I might not have realized it for a while more than it already took me.
Aside from all the friends I met thanks to being more community involved with the music genre, that's probably all there is to it. That being said, all the cool trans musicians and queer bands I've come to find after the fact have been pretty damn great.
Emma (LYMBOLIC SCYTHE/HEXEN KOTS, she/her): I'd say it definitely has, it'd even go as far as to say it has saved my life. I was heavily suicidal three years ago to the point where I was looking for someone to hook me up with Xanax. After work I would go out late at night, sit near the train station, smoke weed and listen to Black Metal thinking about life and myself. Especially bands like Midnight Odyssey, Spectral Lore, Mare Cognitum, etc. really helped me get through those darker times in which I found myself.
Doomstress Alexis (DOOMSTRESS/PROJECT ARMAGEDDON, she/her): For a time, I contemplated quitting metal because I thought I would never be accepted, but I was surprised by the openness and acceptance I did experience once I came out publicly. That has been my main experience as well while touring, playing fests and promoting releases, etc.
Rakhruz (LEPER ANGEL, she/her): My name is Rakhurz, real name Chloe, and I'm the musician behind the band Leper Angel. Heavy metal has always been a big part of my life, and most of my best friends, to this day, were met in the pit. When I was a kid, it was a way for me to escape my head for 40 minutes at a time or so. I'd questioned who I really was and who I wanted to be pretty much from day one and so diving into a mosh pit or experiencing how loud a Motörhead album can really get was a sort of therapy for me.
By the time I was around nine or ten, I had kind of come to the conclusion that something wasn't right with me, but I didn't really have the words to describe how overwhelmingly hollow and sad I felt at the time because the LGBT community just wasn't talked about where I grew up, and I had nobody to even discuss it with. I don't think that I could credit heavy metal with helping me come to terms with my identity, but it was definitely one of the best lifelines around when I was too scared to do what needed to be done. Out of all genres of music though, black metal was the one that really resonated with me. It was cold, angry, violent, and beautifully artistic. I know that the "music saved my life" thing is a little bit of a cliché, but there's a group of hairy Norwegians out there who's art and music helped me out when nobody else could.
P (FIRE TO THE PRISONS, any/all): I would say in some ways yes, in some ways, no. Metal has this contradiction of both being a rejection of typical gender presentation, but it can also be violently masculine and cis-hetero normative. For example, it gave me the opportunity to grow my hair out, which I had wanted to do for a while but didn't have the appropriate excuse. At the same time, I doubt it would have ever been acceptable for me to embrace overtly feminine clothing, and even today, I still feel I have to be wary with how I present myself in certain spaces (although this is not just a problem within the metal scene). It's a sad state of affairs that certain people will feel more safe wearing a Burzum shirt than I do wearing a skirt at a gig.
Having said that, seeing more women and otherwise marginalised genders becoming more prominent within metal spaces, as well as using it as an outlet to talk about the rage and anger that comes from the way that society has treated them, has helped create a vital sense of community and solidarity amongst queer and marginalised musicians and scene members. I don't think I can really understate how important that is.
Eric Wing (MORKE/BOG BURIAL, they/them): My name's Eric Wing, I'm 28, nonbinary, Minnesotan, and I'm the sole member of the projects Morke and Bog Burial. My journey was a bit abrupt, but the first music I remember actively choosing to listen to was a hair metal compilation my dad had when I was like 8 or 9, and from there I found The Big Four, Black Sabbath, and Pantera, the latter of which made me want to pick up a guitar. I wish it would have been another band in retrospect, but that's my history, so I have to own it. Around age 11 or 12, a close friend of mine showed me "Inner Sanctum" by Behemoth, and I was absolutely blown away that music was even capable of sounding like that, and I've been hooked ever since. I've subsequently had several phases going from obscure '80s/'90s thrash into the early death metal scene, into the first few years of black metal, then just spreading throughout all facets and subgenres, and listening to everything that had and would come out as time went on until I landed on atmospheric black metal around 2016 in college, which led me to where I am now, both as a listener and a creator.
I think there is something to be said about the relationship between metal's core ideologies and the need for expression/acceptance of who you are. As I was listening to Behemoth and Judas Priest and whatever else, I became enveloped by an overwhelming sense of self-empowerment, which taught me to not be afraid of who I am and to not let anything stand between myself and my identity as I saw it. As I've come across more and more bands with LGBT members and themes in the past 5 or so years, it's given me a new-found sense of confidence – a "strength in numbers" sort of feeling. Knowing I'm not the only one who does fall into those categories who wants to make extreme music was both comforting and, again, empowering.
Riley (CORVUS CORONE, she/her): Well, I'm 24, I've lived in Kansas City pretty much my entire life. I'm an engineer for my day job and music is one of my many hobbies. I guess the first stepping-stone was my dad introducing me to AC/DC when I was around 11 or 12. Now I know they're not metal, but they were kind of the first step into anything beyond classic rock or whatever pop was popular back then. Funnily enough, my first dive into any form of extreme metal was from a video I stumbled across on YouTube called "A death metal moment with Spongebob," the song used was "Pure Hatred" by The Berzerker. From there I branched out quite a bit, especially in early high school and even more so into college.
Metal has guided my identity in the sense that it's one of the purest forms of self-expression. I'm no snob, and I think that all music has the capacity to be an extremely powerful tool of expression, but it's impossible to deny how much of a range of motion metal can convey, and I think that's mostly due to how diverse metal is as a whole. It's a place to be yourself and lose yourself in a sea of anger, joy, sadness, grief, love, and everything in between. I think the notion "Metal is for everyone" is important to remember, and finding a community where I can be openly queer is definitely a key factor in my journey.
CJ Yacoub (AMUN/CANIS DIRUS, any/all): My name is CJ Yacoub and I play drums and sing for Amun and Canis Dirus. My journey with metal music began way back when I was just a kid, maybe 6 or 7, when my dad introduced me to Iron Maiden. I became obsessed quickly and from then on I've always had metal in my life in some capacity. Up until I was about 14, I only listened to mainstream metal bands and a couple of progressive metal bands, but once I got into high school, I was introduced to the world of Extreme Metal through bands like Opeth, Emperor, Gojira, and Agalloch. Ever since then I've been very involved with extreme metal and it's some of the most important art in my life.
I don't believe Metal music is directly responsible for me coming to terms with my identity, but I absolutely cannot deny that there are some aspects of metal culture that did in fact help. I believe that the general idea of individuality and doing what makes you feel best, or the whole "rebellious" image that metal has, has helped me in deeper ways when it came to my gender identity years later.
Mina Halvorsen (GLOOMBOUND, she/her): My journey through metal started in 8th grade when I started listening to stuff like Slipknot and shit—y'know, the usual stuff—and with me also starting to learn the guitar not long after, it just became a natural progression of playing and listening to heavier and more underground shit. Identity-wise, I'd say it has also helped me, at least in the way that I express myself I'd say. The music that is my passion and love has helped me when times have been difficult, but now it's not as much of a thing to help me cope, I guess. But to answer the question more directly, I don't think metal has had a main impact on me learning to love myself for who I am, and my identity, but it has had a big side role.
Alicia Cordisco (WRAITHSTORM/PROJECT: ROENWOLFE, she/her): I am a 32-year-old trans woman and guitarist/songwriter/vocalist who has been a fan of metal for over 20 years, and have been playing metal in many different capacities (from the bedroom to the worldwide record deal) for almost as long. Heavy metal was always an escape and an outlet and empowering act for me--it absolutely helped me work through things in the dark when they couldn't be seen in the light.
Melissa Moore (SONJA/CROSSSPITTER, she/her): When I was a teenager in the '90s, I had a symphonic black metal band called Solace in the Shadows. In the early 2000s, I was a member of the thrash band Rumpelstiltskin Grinder who released three albums. I also did porngrind for the quick money and I was hired or filling in as a touring guitarist for various bands (Woe, Monstrosity, Total Fucking Destruction, etc.) as well as running and working for labels. Eventually I joined black metal band Absu in 2009 under the name Vis Crom and it was my complete focus until 2017. In 2017 Absu kicked me out for informing them I was trans and then the band promptly imploded and never played again.
Now, I front a gothic heavy metal band called Sonja, which has a debut record coming out in 2022 called "Loud Arriver" on Cruz Del Sur Music from Italy. This is also my debut as a singer and my first record in over 10 years. Additionally, under the moniker Donna Violence, I've got a death metal band called Crossspitter which exists to provoke disdain against the colonizer cult of Christianity.
Carmilla Dracul (WINTER LANTERN/BLOODBELLS CHIME/MOONLIGHT SWORD, she/her): Well, I wasn't actually interested in music at all until I started learning guitar when I was like 12. All my parents listened to was Christian radio music so there wasn't much to get into, but once I got a guitar for Christmas I had a huge dad rock phase for many years, after that I just kinda skipped over any kind of natural evolution and got straight into slam and brutal death metal in high school.
I wouldn't say it had much to do with my identity. Actually, when I first started transitioning, I pretty much stopped listening to metal because I saw it as kind of a lame macho thing. It wasn't until my early 20s when I was first exposed to the really underground black metal and dungeon synth that my interest was piqued once again.
Margaret Killjoy (FEMINAZGUL, she/her): I grew up a disaffected suburban teenager in the U.S. and my first interest in music was mostly aesthetic... in early high school I was listening to Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails less because I liked their music and more because I liked their aesthetic. By the time I graduated, I was listening to New Model Army, Swans, VNV Nation, Skinny Puppy, basically anything at the intersections of punk, metal, and goth/industrial, and this time because I actually liked it musically. I hadn't come to terms with my gender identity at all. I always knew I wished I was a girl, but I didn't really see it as an option. I grew my hair out, painted my nails, wore goth makeup, and once wore a skirt to school "as a joke." I will say that goth gives a lot of space to feminine men and was pretty important to me as a place to explore.
Metal was a bit more peripheral for me in my youth, there wasn't really a metal scene around me besides like, Slayer and Metallica or whatever. Then I went to the Helsinki Metal Fest in 1999 and it kind of blew my mind so much I didn't know how to handle it. I saw Nightwish there, one of my favorite bands at the time. I liked "female fronted" or "beauty and the beast" bands (I listened to a lot of Theatre of Tragedy)... I think I've always especially been drawn to bands with both masculine and feminine voices... Swans (I'm not trying to defend Gira here, just being honest about my influences), Theatre of Tragedy, Dead Can Dance were all on regular rotation.
I actually struggled to see myself as capable of making this kind of music, because I've always had this in between voice... I couldn't do Jarboe or Gira (to use Swans again). So why try?
I got more into metal in my mid-20s because my partner at the time (a cis woman), that was her whole social life. She turned me on to the bands I still listen to more today, and consider my more direct influences: Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, Summoning, Finntroll, Amon Amarth... atmospheric black metal and folk metal have always particularly stood out to me. I'm not a particularly angry person, more melancholic and brooding, or sort of goofy in the right mood. So it worked for me.
I was "a boy named Margaret who wore dresses and skirts" at that point, still not out as a trans woman, but getting closer. And the metal scene was already a better place for exploration by the mid-aughts than it was in the '90s, or at least as I experienced it. I remember going to see Finntroll and I think every person in the band was wearing a skirt or a kilt. Though there was (maybe still is, I don't know) this sort of... "we must cling extra hard to our masculinity the further we visually stray from it" attitude around. Like, if you wore a skirt, you'd have to try extra hard to say, "yes I am a man." I didn't want to be a man, though, I always just wanted to be one of the girls.
Chelsea Ellsworth (SEED, she/her): Metal has given me the medium through which to discover my identity. At times, it has been the only successful language or interface for communicating with others who have similar or contrasting struggles with their selves and identities. I appreciate the ecosystem that Metal as a sonic and timbral force has provided for identity exploration.
Jack Whelan (SEED, they/them): For a long time, I almost felt like the synthesis between Metal and my identity has always been an antagonist one. I've always felt like there's a contradiction––I saw myself alienated within the broader scope of what the Metal "community" is, because I always felt alienated by it. Like I had to stay closeted in a certain way, unsure of how I was perceived in that community. Metal belongs to me, it belongs to everybody, but it still feels like there are aspects of the community, groups within it even, that I'm kept away from. But it's good to see in more recent years how so many more queer people, Trans people are reaching forward and pulling themselves up in new ways in Metal. It feels like a new light is being cast on the medium, it's very exciting.
Violet (Wolven Daughter/Dread Maw, she/her): I got into metal when I was about 18, after hearing the Mayhem story and thinking, "wow, this is fucked up, I have to see what this music sounds like." Something about the darkness of black metal and its philosophy really spoke to me, in a way no music has before or since. Interestingly, I hadn't really been into metal at all before that. I'd listened to a few songs by bands like Godsmack and Shadows Fall, but I went straight from that into the extreme stuff. I've always liked dark art, horror movies and such, so I suppose it wasn't really that strange, just a natural progression. As far as coming to terms with my identity, it's certainly helped me express some of the confusing feelings that being trans brings, and given me an outlet for the rage I feel at the state of things. So yeah, I would say it's been very helpful for processing those feelings.
Leona Hawyward (SKELATOR, she/her): I got into metal around 1998-1999 with Napster. Prior to that I had only really ever listened to a little J-Rock (Luna Sea mostly) and video game music. When I found out about Napster, I decided to give it a go and downloaded some stuff that was featured in that game Rock and Roll Racing, which was stuff like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc. From there I found a tribute album called Holy Dio which had a bunch of power metal bands covering Dio songs. It had bands like Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Jag Panzer, and that was really when I got seriously into metal, started buying all the albums I had downloaded, and bought a guitar and amp. It's been downhill ever since!
I don't think in and of itself it helped with my identity. That was kind of always a background thing that kept bothering me for most of my youth and my 20s, but it DID give me another thing to focus on to kind of delay dealing with the inevitable. It was a good escape.
Katy Scary (KLAYMORE, she/her): My name is Katy; I'm very loud on the Internet both in terms of musical output and just being obnoxious on Twitter. I've been playing metal for about the last 15 years, mostly with my band, Klaymore. Metal definitely gave me an outlet for figuring things out. I didn't know what I had going on at first, but having Rob Halford to look up to during all of it definitely made me feel more comfortable or like I had a space to exist. As I figured myself out, the person I looked up to in metal or that I wanted to be like shifted from Rob to Jill Janus, and I'm still striving to be as terrifying as her. There were a couple of lines from Starbound Beast by Huntress that I would think of when I was struggling with myself: the ones about climbing the mountain peak and having claws for days. Jill was one of the reasons why I grew the nails on my right hand out to an inch long at one point.
Lauren Strailey (NAMELESS MIST, she/they): I got introduced to heavy metal as a child by my dad, who would play Metallica for me. Growing up in the mid-2000s meant I had access to mp3 sharing and was able to get my hands on a lot of their music as well as that of others despite being kinda broke. When I was in high school, I got introduced to Mayhem for the first time and was just blown away by the ferocity in the guitar playing. I don't think it really helped me come to terms with my identity per se, but listening to it and enjoying it and seeing other trans people love the same kind of music helped me feel comfortable accepting myself as a girl making black metal.
Lux Edwards (SOULMASS/WRAITHSTORM, they/them): I'm primarily a death metal vocalist with over 20 years experience playing in a wide range of styles under the rock'n'roll umbrella from pop punk to avantgarde mathcore. The majority of my resume has been channeled through my local music scene, though, spending the most time in metalcore bands in the early to mid-00s and later embracing the infamous death metal heritage of Florida.
Playing in bands during the metalcore boom of the '00s was a particularly formative and eye-opening time for me as a person. I grew up sheltered, so an extreme amount of life and social experience was thrust upon me within a very short amount of time as I exited high school and grappled with what it meant to be an 'adult.'
In that blur of being surrounded by the stereotypical drugs, sex, and alcohol of the music scene, I found myself becoming aware of the mask I was putting on - a disguise of hyper-masculinity that helped me feel comfortable and included among my peers in bands and among fans. I pretended to be that person for longer than I should have, frankly. I have a lot of regrets and ongoing guilt associated with the things I saw and was a part of through those years.
Moving away from the live scene and instead embracing a small community of like-minded musician friends online to keep making music was what eventually led me to discover my real self and be comfortable with exposing that truth to the rest of the world. I was never actually the tough, masculine metalhead front I was putting up. In private, I was always the traumatized non-binary person who'd never learned how to express themselves properly.
Coincidentally, most of my online musician friends had similar experiences to share. So, strangely enough, the act of seeking friends to play music together both caused me extreme harm in the beginning, but also became my liberation in the end.
What made you want to take part in making Metal music?
Danica Roem (CAB RIDE HOME, she/her): Well, it started when I went into journalism. When I went to college in 2002, I majored in journalism because I didn't have the musical chops to play metal, but I wanted to cover it, I wanted to travel, I wanted to go to a ton of metal shows and do what you're doing right now, interviewing a bunch of bands and stuff.
I never thought that I'd have the ability to perform, but I remembered that I had a guitar when I was 16 years old and, you know, a little Fender Squier, and I had struggled to play in a band in high school. It didn't work, and I never performed. When I got into college, a couple of years in, I remember it was around February 28th of 2004 (not too long before Dimebag got killed) when I was in Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts that I started watching Opeth. They performed "The Drapery Falls" and I remember how beautiful it was and I said out loud, "I have to start playing guitar again."
Within the year, I went to Guitar Center and bought a used 1980 Dean MLX, which was that style of body that Dime was known for, and I just started playing again. I found some friends in college and we put a band together, and we sucked, but we had a lot of fun. I kept doing that after college in 2006 and spent the next 11 years running my band Cab Ride Home. I met so many friends through performing.
In 2014, I was able to start transitioning, or at least was being public about it. I was on HRT since December of 2013, but I didn't perform a show after that until October of 2014. It was the first time I presented as female on stage, and it was good, my friends were good, everything was OK. It felt like society had caught up at that point, and it was like "Hey, everything is going to be alright."
I still had a lot of learning to do about who I wanted to be while fronting a band. How did I want to present, you know, how did I want to walk, dress, sound. How did I want to use my voice, my body on stage. It took a relearning, more or less, on how to perform until I hit a confidence area where I stopped caring about how others perceived me and just went about being the kick-ass woman I wanted to be with my band, and I loved it.
Jara Pohjonen (REVEREND BIZARRE/SVARTA HAVET, she/her): I've listened to metal since I was a kid, and even when I got more into punk and hardcore, my heavy metal background kept playing a huge role in my musical preferences. But like I said, while gender nonconformity, queer politics, and other issues personally important to me were already to some extent discussed or visible in the punk scene, at least in the anarchist DIY punk community I belonged to, they seemed to be completely absent in the metal scene. Thus, one major reason for forming Species Traitor in 2006, for example, was that we wanted to disrupt the cisheterosexist macho hardcore and metal scenes by playing 'their' music while presenting ourselves and living in ways we did.
Kyarth (EMPYREAN SERPENT, she/her): There are a lot of factors to this one, really. Part of it is definitely that I simply don't have a skill set that's built for much else. I'm very likely to have an undiagnosed physical disability of some sort based on the way my body has been the past couple of years, and mental disabilities interfere with a lot of other potentially productive things I could be doing. Hell, it's difficult even just to write and record and work on music half the time. Thankfully, it's a lot easier than doing work in a social setting, or doing physical labor, or any type of work that would require strict timelines and any open-ended problem solving.
In spite of all that, I have some minor experience with a guitar and composition, as well as a pretty sturdy set of vocal chords, so music comes across as a less difficult and significantly more enjoyable and personally rewarding option. Not to say it pays the bills or anything, obviously it doesn't come close, but it keeps me from feeling too useless I suppose.
Expression is another key one, of course, being someone with ASD words tend to be difficult to figure out - you would not believe how long I take to write lyrics, and even then they feel pretty heavy-handed. As such, I find expressing things through music to be a much more communicative and fulfilling alternative. Even if people don't get exactly what the nuanced intent of a song is, or what I'm trying to convey with what I do, I hope that they can at least feel the baseline emotion behind it all. I'm sure there are at least some people out there who will find what I do and resonate incredibly hard with it, as I've done with my favorite art, so it's absolutely worth the effort for that.
As to why I decided to go with metal specifically as my genre of choice, it's definitely my most listened genre, and the way it channels emotion in such an intense manner essentially regardless of subgenre is something I've found extremely admirable. The one constant across stuff I tend to really love musically is the stuff that feels like it's really channeling or evoking strong emotions, since that strength and intensity is so easy to connect with and is also incredibly cathartic. Plus, being primarily a harsh vocalist, the catharsis of being able to literally scream about all my problems is pretty damn nice to have.
As for a more direct catalyst to my taking up actually doing vocals for songs and doing songwriting of my own, I was mostly just doing vocal covers until a friend of mine who runs a pretty big touhou metal collab group wanted me to work on a song he'd composed for a collab album in said group. That's what really got me more involved in stuff, and more inspired to actually start writing on my own. (Also, if you're not sure on what touhou metal is, touhou's a bullet hell game series with a rabid fanbase and a banging soundtrack, and lots of musicians have ended up doing arrangements of themes from said games in various styles. Unlucky Morpheus and Undead Corporation started off doing touhou arrangements if you're familiar with them, for instance.)
Emma (LYMBOLIC SCYTHE/HEXEN KOTS, she/her): Honestly, I can't quite remember. I listen to music all the time. I enjoy working on it and I learn something in the process, so why not?
Doomstress Alexis (DOOMSTRESS/PROJECT ARMAGEDDON, she/her): Growing up listening and singing to my brother's vinyl records and checking out the cool cover art and images really is what first drew me into metal. My brother also started playing guitar and then I guess that really planted the seed in my head to eventually start playing and writing music and metal.
Rakhruz (LEPER ANGEL, she/her): Because I was listening to a lot of heavy metal, my parents decided to get me some guitar lessons and a cheap Chinese fender strat clone that never stayed in tune. It played like garbage, but I loved it and played that cheap piece of shit until the frets were ground away. My 10-watt practice amp had the suggestion of an EQ in there somewhere and some of the worst built in distortion that a solid-state amp could ever offer, but I loved it and I played it daily, trying to dial my terrible amp in as close as I could to the sounds of Metallica's mesa boogies and the huge angry Marshall sounds from Slayer. I was always miles off, but I didn't care. I felt like a god.
The first thing that made me seriously want to make heavy metal music, either by myself or with others, was absolutely the second wave of black metal that came out of Norway. I'd heard Immortal's At the Heart of Winter and Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky albums at my friend's house and was immediately blown away. I had never heard anything be so violent and beautiful at the same time. Those two albums were the real first inspirations for me to pick up more instruments and write my own stuff, and I eventually started a small band called Minas Morgul that, over the years, turned itself into Leper Angel. Everything started out as a second wave inspired norweaboo thing with some Motörhead and hardcore punk influences thrown in there to balance it out a bit, but it turned into a really thrashy punk thing before settling with a style of blackened doom and the name Leper Angel.
P (FIRE TO THE PRISONS, any/all): It was growing up and seeing bands in the local metal and hardcore scene in my home town. When I went to a local metal/hardcore show and saw people doing it entirely off of their own backs, it became clear that this was something I could do and be involved with. I established friendships from that scene that still exist today, more than a decade on.
Specifically, when it came to writing my own music, metal is kind of a perfect outlet for what people associate as "negative" feelings, not just within lyrical content, but within the very performance itself. Screaming about what makes you feel anger, hopelessness, rage, or despair, is incredibly cathartic, and it's made all the more better when other people relate to and validate those feelings expressed. While I don't think the scene perfectly lives up to its own values of community and anti-authoritarianism, these are values that are worth upholding and I hope I'm able to contribute to that, in whatever small way.
Eric Wing (MORKE/BOG BURIAL, they/them): I think it's just something that came with listening to as many bands as I have that were low-budget and didn't need a lot of money to record and release something, as well as being around like-minded people both in high school and around the metal scene, particularly around Station 4 in St. Paul (if you know, you know). That made me want to just make something, but I was unsure as to what, so I just took some time to try and write riffs that weren't a complete rip-off of the bands I was listening to at the time. Some of the tracks on the first Morke album show that I failed this task.
At a more concentrated level, finding atmospheric black metal the way that I did is what committed me to creating Morke. I had discovered Panopticon and Obsequiae in particular, then discovered that Austin Lunn of Panopticon owned and operated Hammerheart Brewing Company less than 10 minutes from my house, which almost felt like a movie scene in its own right. The first day I walked in, who would serve me my first beer from there but Tanner Anderson of Obsequiae. The moment I found that out, I took that as a sign from the universe that atmospheric black metal is where my future lies, so I obliged, and now I'm here today with 6 years of Morke under my belt and many more to go.
Riley (CORVUS CORONE, she/her): I've been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. I've been writing music in some sense or another since I was 10 years old. Hell, somewhere out there is a CD-R of a few songs I made in Musescore in middle school or something. I've always wanted to make metal because I've loved metal for a very long time. Once I finally got the courage to actually record myself playing, it eventually turned into actually making singles, EPs, and eventually my first LP in 2019. The first cohesive piece I ever made was an EP called Seven Voyagers, seven short instrumental songs that I'm still fond of. These were recorded before I really knew what I wanted Corvus Corone to be. "You Will Not Be Mourned" was the first track where I think CC really came into its own, and it's been a fun ride since then.
CJ Yacoub (AMUN/CANIS DIRUS, any/all): I believe that the feeling of emotional catharsis or just being so emotionally moved and compelled by some of my favorite bands made me want to create art that could do the same for other people. Being a lifelong drummer as well, I've always wanted to drum in a band and play live. As I've gotten older, I've started getting better at the guitar and singing and composing to further this ambition to create moving art and I'm extremely proud of what I've already created and what I have on the way with my two bands.
Mina Halvorsen (GLOOMBOUND, she/her): I just wanted to contribute to my passion, make for example things I myself would like to listen to, and for other people to enjoy. Now in recent times, it has moved on to wanting to spread the same kinda passion I have to others, and especially seeing the movement in a room if I'm playing. Getting to play live more and more drives me to just make more and play more. It's an energy you never get anywhere else! I wanted to write metal as a way of expressing myself as well, it's a form of art, an art that me and many others enjoy.
Alicia Cordisco (WRAITHSTORM/PROJECT: ROENWOLFE, she/her): I saw the video of Metallica playing "The Unforgiven" in San Diego Live Shit 91 on VH1 when I was like 12 years old, and just felt that I wanted to make music like that. I wanted to touch that creativity and power. Never looked back since.
Melissa Moore (SONJA/CROSSSPITTER, she/her): It's only partially about creating the sounds to me, and so much of it is the camaraderie. It ignites the spirit of like-minded individuals and awakens an untouchable force. We are like oracles of destructive divinity - stoking the impulses for liberation that can't be felt otherwise...Maybe I'm chasing a vibe?
Carmilla Dracul (WINTER LANTERN/BLOODBELLS CHIME/MOONLIGHT SWORD, she/her): I had been making ambient music for years and had always kind of idly wanted to try my hand at metal, but when I first heard Demo 3: The Corpse Buried in the Snow by Phantom Spire, I knew right then that I absolutely had to make black metal as soon as possible. I don't know why but that demo lit a fire in me, and it's still one of my favorites out of the U.S. underground to this day.
Margaret Killjoy (FEMINAZGUL, she/her): I've never been good at being excited about something and not wanting to do it myself. I've had more hobbies and jobs than I can count. I like goth music, so I make goth music. I like neofolk, so I make neofolk music. This isn't to say I'm necessarily good at these hobbies. My background with metal is a bit weird, though... I can play guitar, but not particularly well. I come from an electronic music background—as well as piano and accordion. For a while I made my living playing accordion on the street when I was a squatter in Amsterdam. So I have a lot of experience casting spells with music—trying to convince a passerby to be transported into the aesthetic space I want them in. But not a lot of experience being in bands.
So I toyed with metal. I wrote a version of what became "To the Throat" years before Feminazgûl came about... I wrote everything but the guitars and the vocals and kept trying to find a guitarist or a singer for the project. Finally, I just learned how to make synth guitars that made me happy. Then, while fucking around with synth vocals for a different project, I figured out how to make my computer do a solid black metal scream. So one winter I holed up and wrote the first EP over the course of a couple of weeks.
That said, I'm so fucking grateful for Laura and Mer, who brought much needed organic elements to the band, and have therefore challenged me to bring my own organic instruments to it. We still record with synth guitars and drums, but most everything else we record more traditionally and our live show, whenever that happens again, will be a full band.
Lux Lucidi (SEED, he/they): I think when I started realizing my identity and started to be able to connect with it, it felt like an extreme version of the life I had already been living. Realizing that I was part of a community that was bigger than me, taking on the trauma of the collective past, the hardships, and the negative aspects of what being trans means. Over and over that experience is overwhelming, depressing, and extreme––I found that in Metal, as an extreme form of music, I could connect with that experience. It just felt right for what I was heading towards.
Will McGovern (SEED, they/them): Before joining SEED, I was limiting myself to playing pretty traditional music within forms and idioms. That has its place and is very near to me, but in playing in SEED we're constantly moving outside of rigidity, kind of warping ourselves into a fluid space both between extremes and in extremes. It's a really cathartic experience, it really tamps you to the earth. As a person who's always dissociating and not recognizing themself in the mirror, it's important to me to find some reality, playing with SEED.
Violet (Wolven Daughter/Dread Maw, she/her): It's always been a dream of mine. I've been writing music since I first learned how to play guitar, and it's something I've always really enjoyed. Instead of learning how to play other people's songs, I wrote my own. But I never had anyone to listen to them. A couple of years ago I got involved with Twitter and when I saw people starting projects over the Internet, I realized that given advances in home recording technology, it was something I could do, too. So I learned how to play bass and drums (I'd learned how to do harsh vocals some time ago) and gave it a shot.
Leona Hawyward (SKELATOR, she/her): Like I said above, it really came with getting into the music that I had discovered and wanting to do something with it more than just collect CDs. I initially wanted to play bass, but one of my friend's dad, I found out, was an '80s metal guy and he showed me a bunch of stuff on the guitar so I got into that. It was really hard to find people around me who wanted to play so I had a bunch of false starts with getting bands started, though. It took several years of trying to put stuff together before finally finding a stable band that could record and gig. It got a LOT easier to find bands once I started playing bass, though!
Katy Scary (KLAYMORE, she/her): I sort of just fell into the metal part of making music unintentionally. When I started playing guitar, I was learning classic rock songs. I was also making EDM music back in high school. I was more interested in the writing aspect of music rather than actually playing it, and at some point I found bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray and Firewind that had a lot more going on in them than what I was listening to before and I wanted to try writing things like that instead.
Lauren Strailey (NAMELESS MIST, she/they): Being introduced to it, pretty much, heh. I had an interest in playing an instrument beforehand, but I got my first guitar the same year I was introduced to Metallica, and I learned how to play it by learning all of my favorite songs. Something about the technicality of it spoke to me when I was younger, but now that I'm older, what really speaks to me is the way black metal can be an especially wonderful vehicle for expressing my darker feelings and emotions beyond just sounding "cold" and "aggressive" and "hateful."
Lux Edwards (SOULMASS/WRAITHSTORM, they/them): I grew up listening to music. Classic rock, disco, Motown, country, show tunes - my dad's stereo system seemed to always have music playing if the TV wasn't on. From a young age, I was listening to local radio stations in my room until I started getting CDs of my own. Among that original collection were some Metallica albums, which led me down the rabbit hole until I happened across Iron Maiden.
There was probably a solid 6 months after Brave New World was released that all I listened to was Iron Maiden. I bought all of their albums I could find and got gifted the remainder for the holidays that year. That obsession turned into a craving I couldn't just satisfy by listening to the music anymore, and somehow I ended up borrowing a bass guitar from a friend for a while. It was all over from there.
What are you most proud of as a musician so far?
Danica Roem (CAB RIDE HOME, she/her): Hm, I'm gonna need a moment to think about that...no, wait, no I don't! *laughs* It was on our Scottish tour. In 2012, we performed a show in Northern Ireland, three shows in Scotland right afterward that July, and a show in Attenborough that was incredible, just the fulfillment of a dream. The Glasgow show was awesome too.
Really, we had moved so many mountains to get the band overseas, and my friends in Edinburgh showed up in full force that day. We just put on a party to remember, you know? *laughs* It was incredible, we said "our stage is your stage," we got everyone on stage we could fit, and my friends were just picking me up and throwing me to the ceiling, just...what an amazing thing.
I actually extensively wrote about it in my new book, Burn the Page, which drops on April 26th through Viking Books (this took so much longer to get done than I imagined, good lord. -Author) I encourage everyone to give it a read, I tell you. You're gonna laugh a lot, especially with that tour, it was very funny, I got lots of anecdotes about it. But yeah, the Scottish tour was really the peak for the band, just the coolest thing we ever did. Got to Slay the UK for four Days, you know?
Jara Pohjonen (REVEREND BIZARRE/SVARTA HAVET, she/her): The first and the last album of Reverend Bizarre. Not proud of the technical side, as I've never been a particularly skilled drummer, but I really like those releases musically and I'm proud of having played a role in their creation. Also, when we started Species Traitor, we were the only vocally and visibly queer metal/hardcore band in Finland, and I have heard that we might have been important to some people and scenes in terms of queer and trans representation and affirmation. Of that I'm extremely proud too, of course, but I might be even more proud if my OCPD hadn't ruined our plans to release the two full-lengths we recorded already in 2014.
Kyarth (EMPYREAN SERPENT, she/her): Well, this one's a little awkward to answer due to the fact that my biggest musical accomplishment by far is actually still not quite released yet, but it's a pretty big 10-minute composition with some reasonably involved instrumentation and a lot of vocals. Given I essentially did the whole thing alone, and being the first song I've properly sat down and finished writing to a degree I'm happy with, I've been pretty excited to get it out.
Recording guitars was a bit hellish given I'm definitely not a particularly good guitarist, but I did manage it decently enough for a demo at least. Currently just working on making sure the mixing isn't utter garbage before putting out a demo for it, and hopefully, if people don't absolutely hate it, I can get it polished up after the fact. Still a working title too, but if it happens to be out by the time this is being read, it'll probably be titled Sanguinary Luminance by Empyrean Serpent, or something like that. Aside from that, though, the best stuff I've been a part of thus far has definitely been the touhou arrangements I've provided vocals for from the aforementioned collab group, named Holmgang ov Gensokyo. I'm only on a couple of tracks, specifically "On the Edge of Paradise" from the first collab album (the remaster is way better) and "Create to Destroy" from the second.
Emma (LYMBOLIC SCYTHE/HEXEN KOTS, she/her): Unsure if it counts but my bandmate from Voices from The Void and I are working on our debut demo which I'm really proud of so far. For my solo projects, I'm also pretty proud of HeXen Kots, especially since I try to do everything with HeXen Kots out of impulse, which is also how I started that project. I have a pretty chaotic head and sometimes I'm quite impulsive and I just try to work that out in that project.
Doomstress Alexis (DOOMSTRESS/PROJECT ARMAGEDDON, she/her): Making a really great debut Doomstress record and getting to tour and play fests across the country.
Rakhruz (LEPER ANGEL, she/her): I think I'm most proud of the fact that I've gotten some of my music out there and that people enjoy it. I might not be making millions, but I never really thought about making money when I started this thing up, I just wanted to make people feel something.
P (FIRE TO THE PRISONS, any/all): It's less a sense of pride, but more the kind of humbling experience when complete strangers, sometimes from parts of the world I've never visited, take the time to say kind things about the music I've made. Really, I'm just proud that I've made music that resonates and speaks to people, because for me, that is the ultimate goal of an artist.
Eric Wing (MORKE/BOG BURIAL, they/them): My most recent Morke record, We Are the River, by a longshot. I spent three long years making that record, with much of that time spent being in the midst of the most horrible depression I've ever experienced. There's more detail on the exact events leading up to the creation and completion of the album on its Bandcamp page, but suffice it to say that I was as close to the edge as I personally could have been without falling off, yet I managed to step away and fight back. We Are the River is the result of that. I'll always be incredibly proud of it.
Riley (CORVUS CORONE, she/her): I can hear the improvement I've made on each track I've made. That says it all to me, really. I'm super stoked with how far I've come from writing simple piano compositions when I was in 5th grade to recording 60-minute albums. I've collaborated with some great people and was a part of a really cool collective, and now I'm starting a relationship with another great group of musicians. I've become more confident in what I'm making (I think my second LP sucks still but what can ya do). I'm definitely looking forward to my fourth LP release, hopefully by winter.
CJ Yacoub (AMUN/CANIS DIRUS, any/all): Currently, my band Amun's debut release, The City. We have much bigger and, in my opinion, better things on the way, but it was the first album I've ever made and I'm immensely proud of how everything came out, especially considering our age and how we did absolutely everything ourselves.
Mina Halvorsen (GLOOMBOUND, she/her): Right now I think I'd have to say all the friends I've made so far, and our collective interest and music that we have made together. I think I'm obliged to mention Gloombound as well, which is one of the bands I've started working on, but I will write a bit more about that later. Through doing music on my own for a while, it's really good to play with some people for once, and making music we all love and can be proud of, that is, yeah something to be proud of I'd say.
Alicia Cordisco (WRAITHSTORM/PROJECT: ROENWOLFE, she/her): My work in the power metal scene with Judicator (2012-2020, Prosthetic Records) and Project: Roenwolfe (2011 - Present, Divebomb Records). From record deals, to shows, to working with musicians like Hansi Kursch, to creating albums I'm extremely proud of (Edge of Saturn, At the Expense of Humanity, etc.), there's too much to succinctly say, but I continue to see the impact, however small or niche, or however wide, that music has had on this little subset of metal that I've treasured so much and it makes me very proud and glad.
Melissa Moore (SONJA/CROSSSPITTER, she/her): I'm taken over completely by the needs of the band once I discover what they actually are. Being completely attuned and consumed by rock with nothing left of me is all I really want.
Carmilla Dracul (WINTER LANTERN/BLOODBELLS CHIME/MOONLIGHT SWORD, she/her): Without a doubt that's Forlorn Seas by Bloodbells Chime. I think we really explored some new emotional frontiers with that demo, and it was a pleasure getting to work with a good friend and one of my favorite artists, Poppet, on that one. I can't wait to make a second demo or a full-length but there's always something in the way of collaboration.
Margaret Killjoy (FEMINAZGUL, she/her): Every new track is my new baby. So in terms of released music, our single A Mallach, since it's the most recent. But the full length we're working on, I've finished my part of two of the songs, and goddamn I love it and can't wait to show it to the world. I'm proud that we're nowhere near stagnating. I'm proud that we are still learning, that we're forever learning
Lux Lucidi (SEED, he/they): The people that music has brought into my life and the bonds it has made. Like, in most of the conservations that really matter to me, I'm having that conversation because I'm playing music, because of the music in some way. All the people I love, my family, everyone I care about I've met through music, through SEED or whatever else. [Laughs] It's the best stuff on earth, in my opinion. [Entire band laughs]
Jack Whelan (SEED, they/them): As someone who didn't really know how to express themselves through language for a long time, I'm the proudest of how music still feels more of an intuitive language than any other thing I've experienced. It's the only way I can grapple with ideas I don't understand. Having been through something and not having the words to explain it, I still can find an internal process to understand what I'm going through with music.
Chelsea Ellsworth (SEED, she/her): Agree that something I'm most proud of in music, in SEED or any project I've pushed with this much energy, is my ability to convey something more significant than my words can acclimate. As I've continued to make music, I've always been able to say what I couldn't express. That's been a continuing journey––I'm proud of how it's been documented in SEED, not only as a member of the group but especially as the engineer. With every recording, we're looking forward to the next thing we're going to record, excited for the next thing we're going to do, more than the last. That's probably the thing I'm most proud of.
Violet (Wolven Daughter/Dread Maw, she/her): The first release I was really proud of was an album I released under the now-defunct name Rage of Devils called Life of Horror. I was still very much learning how to make music at the time, but I think it's a really solid album. I'm also really proud of the first Dread Maw release, Sanctified Murder, as well as the songs Dread Maw did on a split with Sapientia Diaboli. That split is probably what I'm most proud of. Sapientia Diaboli is a project I really enjoyed, and I was incredibly excited to work with them.
Leona Hawyward (SKELATOR, she/her): I really love when I play a gig or show someone a song that I played on and get an emotional response from them. It makes it worthwhile. I think, if someone comes up to me after a show and says really positive things, that's what I enjoy most.
Katy Scary (KLAYMORE, she/her): Any time I see my music on a playlist with other musicians that I respect. It immediately starts to combat the impostor syndrome when I see that people think my work stacks up against other artists that I have admiration for. Same for when I'm asked to collab with people. There are 800 trillion (exactly 800 trillion) musicians out there and it's a huge dopamine flood when someone reaches out to work with me specifically. I've done more collabs in the last four months than I think I have in the last four years.
Lauren Strailey (NAMELESS MIST, she/they): In the metal world, it has to be my latest album with Nameless Mist, more specifically the 15-minute centerpiece of the album, "The Queen of Shadows". I cried doing the vocals on it. It was a really powerful experience for me, and it's easily one of the best things I've ever made.
Lux Edwards (SOULMASS/WRAITHSTORM, they/them): I'm most proud of the music I am involved with currently in my bands Soulmass and Wraithstorm. I'm making the music I want to make, with the people who I want to make it with, and there are no strings attached or webs of drama to get caught up in. I'm proud of the small collective I've become a part of and helped nurture together with other queer musicians. I love the things we have been able to create and can't wait to see what we can do to keep growing as individuals and as a community.
How does your identity factor into your creative process, if at all?
Danica Roem (CAB RIDE HOME, she/her): So, the only thing my identity played a role in regarding songwriting were personal feelings that I had in the song "Crash the Gate." That was the title track for my band's full-length album that dropped in 2017, the same year I first ran for office and won, unseating a 26-year incumbent in the Virginia House of Delegates and becoming the first out trans legislator in the country (Let's face it, that's more metal than anything we've ever done. -Author). Before we won the primary and even the general election, we dropped the album through Bandcamp and then we had a release show in July, the last show the band ever did.
The title track for Crash the Gate was really about the sort of hypocrisy that I saw displayed when I was in Catholic school, and I would hear, just, you know, blatantly homophobic things being told to us under the guise of "love the sinner, but hate the sin." I actually use that line in the lyrics:
Love the sinner, but hate the sin
Just can't buy what your sellin
Defined by those that you oppose
Forget-me-nots you dispose
Judge not, you don't
Love sells you're broke
Letters red, burn your eyes
While you thrive on blackened lies
A lot of that was felt by being a closet case in Catholic school for 13 years, and it really felt like people telling you to hate that part of you that allows you to love in the first place, you know, to express love, to be loved. That just doesn't fly for me, and it sends a terrible message to people, to hate a core part of your identity.
So, you know, that was all influenced by my identity, but for the most part, I didn't write about being trans in the band. It just didn't feel like the right vehicle for doing that, especially since we were a party thrash band.
I will say that while we mostly had party songs like "Thrash Mob" and "Hawaiian Sucker Punch," which are just super fun songs, we also took some different routes on that album. By the time you got to album closer "Nothing Unsaid," which was the best song we ever did, it was about me listening to a story about a family member of mine dying. It was really sad, and I wanted to explore other depths of sadness on some of those songs, and I think we just nailed it. The guitar solo is unforgettable, the composition is good, it's just the band's crowning achievement.
Jara Pohjonen (REVEREND BIZARRE/SVARTA HAVET, she/her): I'm not sure. I think there may be some sort of a loop in which my identity, or whatever it is I understand as identity, frames the way I approach making music, and this music in turn feeds into my sense of self. It was totally different with Reverend Bizarre, though, but then again, I didn't write those songs, and I somehow saw that band as separate from the rest of my everyday life. It was part of my past, in a sense; very organized, very rigid, and easily categorized, holding on to something that no longer was. I even played with a childhood friend in that band. In terms of lyrical themes, my own lyrics, it's of course very important, and the same goes with stage presence and presentation.
Kyarth (EMPYREAN SERPENT, she/her): There's both a direct and an indirect way that this manifests, really. The first is that, being a trans woman, both lyrically and emotionally, I've put a ton of that experience into what I've written, so the lyrics, despite being metaphorical, are definitely laced with a lot of personal feelings of transness and such. I definitely tried to match the compositions to the general mood of that as well, so I'm hoping that my solo project does resonate a bit more with trans people specifically once it's out. Also, definitely some gay shit lyrically in some of the songs I'm working on. Either way, it's definitely been a big motivational force to my writing, and I've drawn a lot of inspiration from it, so I'm sure without it I'd hardly have as much of an idea of what I'd be doing, or at least it wouldn't sound quite as cool.
The indirect part is that I do have a bit of a lack of comfort with the state of my clean vocals. Given I haven't been through any professional vocal training or anything of the sort, and I wasn't exactly blessed with a higher voice type, my range is on the more mediocre side. As such, it is very hard to actually sound feminine while performing clean vocals, and attempting to replicate female vocalists that I look up to is a lot more difficult due to my mid-range. As a result, I do tend towards not using my clean vocals nearly as much, though I have definitely been trying to overcome that personal barrier a bit more. Harsh vocals being more ambiguous makes it a bit easier not to be misgendered over my voice, for instance, but even then, it's likely going to happen no matter what. It's a conflicting feeling for sure, but something I've been working through and all.
For the moment, though, I definitely have a preference to keep things predominantly focused on harsh vocals, if not entirely focused on them. Thankfully, that does tend to work best for extreme metal anyhow.
Emma (LYMBOLIC SCYTHE/HEXEN KOTS, she/her): Honestly, I rarely do. Occasionally, I write something that's a slight nod to how gender dysphoria feels, but that's it.
Doomstress Alexis (DOOMSTRESS/PROJECT ARMAGEDDON, she/her): I'm not certain that it does directly, although maybe some emotions come through in the lyrics I write.
Rakhruz (LEPER ANGEL, she/her): My acceptance of my identity as a trans woman brought about a lot of internal calm that I'd never had before in my life, and I think that now, when I write, my music has a very meditative atmosphere that I like to lose myself in every now and again. I'm able to just close my eyes and get lost in the foggy hiss of a cranked amplifier and come out the other side with a few songs. They might not be very complex songs, but they're a good effort. That inner calm and almost zen-like approach that I have to the world nowadays mixed with the inspiration I get from my surroundings in the English countryside and woodlands really is a great mix.
P (FIRE TO THE PRISONS, any/all): I have written lyrics that specifically pertain to gender and queerness, specifically the song "Sister" from my self-titled EP. It's based on a fictional character from Alex Marshall's A Crown for Cold Silver, but the text uses this character as a way of talking about queerness and marginalisation but within a fantasy context. I have been working on songs that are a bit more personal in terms of lyrical content that will be available on my next release, but that is still very much in the early stages of development. Like all artists, I pull from my own experiences, ideas and understanding, as well as influences from media I also consume, but my identity is one topic amongst many I pull from when it comes to my creative process.
Eric Wing (MORKE/BOG BURIAL, they/them): It does to an extent. The most potent example is from the song "Rebirth" from We Are the River, as that song is directly about my experience of realizing and accepting that I am a trans/nonbinary person. It's not a very wordy song, but it says everything it needs to in order to get the point across. Otherwise, I think I keep my identity more as a grounding concept in my head, to not let myself get too enveloped by any sort of nonsense outside of the messages I want to convey, and to stay true to who I am and what I believe. In a way, that's the reason why all of my lyrical content nowadays is entwined with mental health and my own emotional experiences and ideologies; I have no interest in being fake, or projecting an image that isn't reflective of myself. I can't stand when bands do that shit.
Riley (CORVUS CORONE, she/her): Creating funeral doom metal is essentially diving deep into a whole lot of negative emotions. Being trans in the U.S., especially with how much more vocal the right wing has become about their hatred for the LGBTQ+ community over the past few years, has given me a lot of reason to channel negativity into something that's not totally self-destructive. Lyrically, Corvus Corone has consistently been about depression, anxiety, loss, and isolation. I've lost "friends" due to my identity, and I've faced tons of shit just for being queer, but I don't have it nearly as bad as a whole lot of other people. Corvus Corone has always been an exploration of my own mental illness, and realizing as an adult that I'm queer in a society that can oftentimes be actively hostile, abusive, and violent towards queer people, gives me a lot to think about. That being said, I'm proud as fuck to be who I am and I'll never stop being proud. I can only grow more as a person.
CJ Yacoub (AMUN/CANIS DIRUS, any/all): I don't believe it does directly. I've never made any songs or art about my gender identity or the journey I had with it. If anything, I think I have this idea of universalism when it comes to the art I make. I want everyone to be able to be moved by it regardless of who they are. Music has a funny way of speaking to us on a deeper level and I strive for that.
Mina Halvorsen (GLOOMBOUND, she/her): My identity has had a little bit of a thing with my creative process, but that's more lyrically. One of the songs I wrote, "The Eventide Gown," which I put out right before I came out as trans to my family and friends, is a story about a pair dying and no one caring about the widow, only the dead man, which is a metaphor for what I'd expect it to feel like if I was not accepted as who I am from those around me. Fortunately, I did not have to suffer the same fate as those I wrote about.
Alicia Cordisco (WRAITHSTORM/PROJECT: ROENWOLFE, she/her): Heavy metal was my outlet for my closeted queerness and gave voice to me truest self when I couldn't find words or actions for it in my waking life. Now that I'm long out of the closet, I love to fully represent myself in my art whether by vocally integrating queerness into the music or lyrics, or using my platform and outlets to support social advancement.
Melissa Moore (SONJA/CROSSSPITTER, she/her): The horror of this world pushes me to the outer edge to find something with actual fire that I can bring back in the form of sound. Everything in this place ceaselessly tries to snuff out any hint of your actual beauty. My reaction to the persistent darkness is what gives me no choice but to rock. I feel death with me always and all I see is dust, but I shriek heavy metal into the chasm because it feels so good.
Carmilla Dracul (WINTER LANTERN/BLOODBELLS CHIME/MOONLIGHT SWORD, she/her): I've been trans for so long that I don't really think about it anymore, so I wouldn't say it factors in much. My identity as a lesbian, however, is a huge part of Winter Lantern lyrically. Winter Lantern is a fundamentally and inextricably homosexual band.
Margaret Killjoy (FEMINAZGUL, she/her): It... does and it doesn't. When I'm alone, I don't know that I have a gender. I think gender is socially constructed, so when I'm not around society, I'm just me. My pronouns are I/me/my/mine. Yet my experiences moving through the world as a trans woman absolutely inform the themes and the emotions I want to express. When we go hard and angry, that's coming from somewhere, you know? All of us are coming from this place of rage about how society treats us based on its assumption of our gender and what position we should have as a result of that gender. I'm not a particularly violent person, but over the course of my life I've learned how to express physical violence to defend myself and my friends because of how much shit we get, and that process absolutely transforms you.
There's also something actively feminine we go for in Feminazgul. There's a reason that so many cultures have goddesses as the gods of death. I worship / work with a goddess I call Illa, a goddess of death, darkness, rot, and all the fecund wild organic stuff that life is born out of. I try not to get wildly gender essentialist about anything, but like, the moist mother earth who lets us rot, who whispers "come home to the soil," she's fucking metal as hell. Rather than a sort of masculinist anger and rage, which are super valid and interesting, we focus on something feminine. And the gods really, really don't give a shit if you're cis or trans. Everyone has their own things they bring to it.
Lux Lucidi (SEED, he/they): There's no differentiating between those two things for me––my creative process is so innately tied to my identity and the expression of my identity that I just don't see them as separate things. [Entire band laughs]
Will McGovern (SEED, they/them): I would say there were times I was making music more for other people, like, not for myself, so maybe my identity wasn't linked to those creative things. I guess maybe a cis would see it like that, like a total negation [Laughs] but I see that old relationship with creativity as me trying to actively closet myself, like, as an expression of gender dysphoria. So, I can cast dispersions at the music I was making back then, but I see it more as just an expression of where I was then, when I was trying to stifle my identity, versus where I am now. I had to struggle through that to find a better path.
Chelsea Ellsworth (SEED, she/her): Regardless of how you identify, if you start to see how things aren't as binary as you may have viewed it before, that's going to affect every aspect of your life. Politically, socially, every way you interact is going to change the more you realize how much we have ingrained a binarized understanding of gender into our society. So yeah, my creative process has changed as I've learned more about these systems. Every day we adapt our process to point closer to the true purpose of making art: to express ourselves and connect people, to make our experiences more tolerable.
Violet (Wolven Daughter/Dread Maw, she/her): I tend to write songs about many things, about whatever interests me at the time, but several songs are about being trans. But honestly I would say my identity factors more into how I present myself to the public (insofar as a modest Twitter following can be considered public). I think it's very important for queer people to be visible in metal. There aren't many of us, and openly trans artists like Margaret Killjoy and Espi Kvlt certainly made the environment a lot more comfortable for me when I was first coming out.
Leona Hawyward (SKELATOR, she/her):
I am not much of a lyricist, so I can't say that it factors into that. I'd love to write something on the topic, but I don't know that I could do it justice at this point. When it comes to the music side of things, I like to support the creativity of other people in my projects and help refine ideas, so a lot of my creative input in my bands comes from "How can we make this part flow better?", "What would sound good here?", "What is the best way I can support this part?", that kind of thing.
It DOES affect who I decide to create with. If someone doesn't respect me as a person, I won't collaborate with them at all, no matter what.
Katy Scary (KLAYMORE, she/her): For any music I'm writing that has lyrics, I'd say it affects all of it. I'm just writing songs about my life, half of them are about trying to blend in with heteronormativity or whatever other frustration I was dealing with. I've said this before publicly and some boomer will be like "I'm just here for the music I don't care if you're gay or trans or purple, etc." and it's like, my man, I would not have been writing poetry in 11th grade if I wasn't queer, the music is inherently queer. There's a song coming out on my band Owlbear's album that's just about taking estrogen. It's only getting gayer.
Lauren Strailey (NAMELESS MIST, she/they): The creative process is deeply intertwined with my identity. My black metal band Nameless Mist has and continues to be a vehicle for me to express the darkest of my emotions, many of which are related to even just EXISTING as a queer person on the Internet. Half of the songs on Nameless Mist II are about relationships I've been in, and "The Queen of Shadows" is directly about one of my abusers.
Lux Edwards (SOULMASS/WRAITHSTORM, they/them): I primarily write lyrics and vocals, so I'm fortunate to be in a position where I've been able to really express the most personal parts of myself and my gender fluidity for a long time now (well before I came out). In Soulmass, even though we were basing our songs on the lore of Demon's Souls and the Dark Souls trilogy, I always wanted to bring forward the stories and experiences of the female characters as much as the male characters. Even in one of our most popular songs, based on Artorias, the most powerful section for me to write and perform as an artist was the portion sung from the perspective of Ciaran as she says a final farewell to her dead lover.
Since coming out, everything I've done has been an expression of my trans experience. I was grateful to be the voice of the debut Wraithstorm album earlier this year, since I so strongly connected to the lyrics about gender dysphoria and the intense experiences of loss and self-destruction that are inherently a part of being trans for so many people, myself included. Alicia bared her soul writing that album and a part of me was there in it with her. It was cathartic, to say the least, and we still have more we want to express.
Soulmass recently released a new EP with lyrics inspired by the story of Final Fantasy IX, and the choice of subject matter was quite purposeful. With FFIX's themes of existentialism, what it means to be human, the nature of the soul, and learning to embrace who you are instead of what others expect you to be... would it shock anybody that a non-binary musician who strongly resonated with these ideas channeled their own feelings into their lyrics? (FFIX also happens to have one of the earliest examples of a playable non-binary character in a video game. We stan Quina in Soulmass. Let it be known far and wide.)
How supportive of the trans community would you say the Metal community is overall? Would you say it has improved or worsened over the years?
Danica Roem (CAB RIDE HOME, she/her): I would say the trans community is more supported in the general metal community today than it has in previous years due to better representation from people like Mina Caputo. Also, societal conditions have changed not just for the world in general, but also the metal community. At the same time, it is very much going to depend on where you are at any given time, state to state, country to country.
In a way, even though heavy metal is inherently anti-authoritarian, I think that what you still have are cultural norms that permeate into different metal communities where, if LGBTQ people are not well respected or well liked in the community, it can be difficult for the metal community in that area, especially if it is very homogenous, to be more embracing.
However, I do think that metalheads inherently understand what it is to be singled out for who we are. Likewise, in the DMV metal scene, the District of Columbia-Maryland-Virginia metal scene, you've seen a lot of growth in how trans people are seen and treated in the community.
For someone like me, I was scared to come out from my first Ozzfest in 1999 up to 2014 when I started presenting at shows. It took 15 years to do that, and at the same time my friends in the community were very defensive of me, which is nice. Today, I can go to any given metal show and expect no anti-trans harassment, it just doesn't happen to me. I'd be surprised if it happened to me, and if someone did and I told someone about it, I think they'd freak out on whoever did it. laughs I don't want to promote violence, I just know that the majority of people in metal would become very protective of me if that happened, and that's really nice to have. It's all different from what it used to be.
Jara Pohjonen (REVEREND BIZARRE/SVARTA HAVET, she/her): There are, of course, many different kinds of scenes, both local and genre-specific, so you can't really talk about the metal community as a whole. Also, I don't consider myself part of the metal community that much anymore, especially after Reverend Bizarre came to an end. In general, I would like to think that the situation has improved with more and more trans and non-binary metal musicians coming out and speaking out, but at the same time trans visibility is a complex issue and has in the recent years faced a rather big backlash as well.
Anti-trans violence has been on the rise for years now, and while it may to some extent have to do with cases actually being reported as transphobic hate crimes more than before, it does seem that increasing trans visibility has brought a lot of hateful jerks out of their holes. These same people quite often seem to be homophobes and racists too, and to a great extent anti-feminists even if some of their rhetorics superficially appear to centre on the "safety" of cis women – the same way homophobic and misogynist fascists weaponize queer lives and the lives of women when propagating their Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hate. Even some people in the metal community whom I used to consider my friends have started posting the same kind of transphobic and transmisogynist garbage in their social media that TERFs and right-wing politicians and religious fanatics have been spouting in the mainstream media.
Then again, I was genuinely surprised by how easy it was to get my info corrected at the Metal Archives website. And yet, deadnaming can be a big problem especially for artists who have put out releases when still using their birth name – see the discussions on the topic on Discogs, for example.
So I don't know, at least trans and gender nonconforming kids can finally feel seen and have some really cool role models, and certainly in my personal trans and queer feminist bubble things have gradually been getting better and better and I don't feel that I'd need to explain or prove anything to anyone anymore. But as for how much and in what ways this has impacted the more or less silent transphobia of the cis majority and the general metal community, I just don't know.
Kyarth (EMPYREAN SERPENT, she/her): It has been a while since I've interacted too much with the metal community in a broader context, since most of the communities I take part in nowadays tend to be much smaller overall, but I have had quite a bit of past experience with bigger communities across a variety of metal subgenres. Though there are definitely good niche communities within it, I would definitely say that as a whole the metal community isn't very supportive towards the trans community, or queer communities in general really. There's still the fairly obvious issue of NSBM existing, and as such there is a sizeable number within the metal scene both among fans and artists that essentially oppose queer rights.
You also tend to see a lot of boomer mentality among fans of the genres, given metal has been around for some time by now. It's certainly ironic seeing shitty traditionalists and conservatives being a bit of a present issue in a genre that was originally very counterculture and to this day tends to be fairly counterculture oriented in its innovation. Unfortunately, it's definitely a present issue.
There are also many metalheads who are just in it to be edgy assholes for no reason, and these types tend to love to pull the whole "oh the whole purpose of the music is to be offensive bro it's supposed to upset people bro," and there are many more who somehow think that trans people are somehow catered to by the majority of people, and as such think they're counterculture by being shitty transphobes. It's obviously a complete denial of reality, but hey, it's fascist tendencies we're talking about, so of course it is.
Even disregarding people who are outright antagonistic towards trans and queer individuals in the metal scene, the majority tend to be indifferent, and a lot of them love defending their transphobic buddies. Especially among musicians, it's pretty easy to tell who's in it purely for clout and to try and get as many people to side with them as possible so that they can sell their stuff. There are quite a few who will cover for transphobes and similar shit for the sake of said clout, and thus if the majority of people are doing nothing to contest bigotry (which they won't, because conflict is scary and risks your clout), then it persists. It's certainly been an issue I've seen a lot of and have had to deal with a decent bit of myself, and I'm sure it'll be so for a while unless people start actually holding both the artists and fans in their communities and scenes accountable for their words and actions. Unfortunately, accountability is incredibly hard to find in this genre, so things tend to just stay the same at the moment.
Thankfully, I would say things have gotten a little better overall, at least from just the amount of queer individuals who have been more active in the scene. I think that as long as trans acceptance across the world gets better, then things will inevitably get better in subcultures as well, but given the amount of fear mongering against trans people from myriads of politicians nowadays, it's harder to say whether that will happen or not. On a smaller scale at least, I continue to meet tons of leftists and other queer people fairly consistently, so I have a decent amount of faith that things can turn out alright. Ideally, the more trans individuals there are filling spaces within the metal scene / community, the harder it'll be to keep us down, and I, at the very least, plan on being pretty damn loud about it if I can.
Emma (LYMBOLIC SCYTHE/HEXEN KOTS, she/her): The first part is a bit hard for me to answer. Outside of Twitter, I don't really hang out with metalheads all that much. I don't really like going to shows all that much either since I don't like crowds, so I don't think I can give a fair judgment on this. I can't really give fair judgment on the second one either since I only really talk about metal with my circles on Twitter who are all really nice and accepting, so I think my views on this are a little narrow.
Doomstress Alexis (DOOMSTRESS/PROJECT ARMAGEDDON, she/her): That's really difficult to say. Personally, I can say that the overall metal community has been supportive of me individually and my band. There are always going to be detractors of something that is new or different to a larger populace, especially as it becomes more public, but I'd like to think that it has improved. Social and cultural mentality doesn't change at the click of a keyboard, and I try to be optimistic and patient. I don't know that even 20 years ago we'd be having this conversation. I was even written off a record from a previous band back in 2009/2010 that I contributed to song and lyric writing as well as recording the record at my house, so things have definitely improved from my standpoint and experience.
Rakhruz (LEPER ANGEL, she/her): I would say that it has had a rocky start, but it's constantly improving. From my rather small corner of the black metal underground, I've experienced nothing but love from people all over the world, even in places that are often known to have fascist and extreme NSBM bands like Russia, Finland and Poland, and it's always felt like it really is more about what you offer than what you are as long as you're a good person. You'll always find places and people that subscribe to extremely hateful views on the LGBT community, but we are a community, and we'll continue to fight against that whenever it rears its head as we always have.
I know that not everyone can say the same thing about the metal community where they are from, and I accept that my position as a white person in western Europe does improve my odds exponentially when finding people that don't care about who I am, but the overwhelming positivity and celebration of our differences as people that all come together to enjoy a sick nasty caveman riff should be enough to bond us by blood. If you're going to hate, hate positively.
P (FIRE TO THE PRISONS, any/all): My answer would probably be, "It depends." In some ways I think it has improved quite noticeably. Having more and more trans and non-binary musicians within the scene has definitely helped and given me more confidence in what I do. I don't think representation should be seen as an end goal (for me, that would be queer liberation), but I do think it is an important step in the right direction. It helps further support the argument that rage and anger is not the exclusive domain of cis-hetero masculinity.
However, I think there is a particular camp within metal that has become more vocal and pernicious in recent times, and that is the "apolitical" metalheads. The ones who insist that they don't want politics in the scene and care to claim only about the music. Not only do they give cover to fascists within the scene, who want people like me to not only be excluded, but would likely hurt or kill us if given the chance, but it also creates problems for marginalized people whose very existence is labeled as "political."
For these people, representation outside of cis, heterosexual, white men is seen as an intrusion of politics into the metal scene. It's a curious stance, as these same people will often defend Nazi or otherwise far-right bands inclusion within the scene. It's pretty transparent that it is not politics that offends them, but rather our audacity to exist unapologetically within these spaces. I feel if the metal community truly wants to foster inclusion, it needs to do better in attacking and undermining these attitudes which are unfortunately still noticeably prevalent throughout the scene.
Eric Wing (MORKE/BOG BURIAL, they/them): I'm not particularly active in either community, as I just keep my close circle of friends and prefer to leave it at that, but I would say there's definitely more support than there ever has been before. Things have gotten better, but they still have a long way to go. There's no real way to predict how things are going to go, as far as that's concerned, but I'm inclined to believe that it's going to keep getting better, and that the support will outweigh the mindless hate. We just need to keep empowering each other and lifting each other up. A rising tide lifts all ships.
Riley (CORVUS CORONE, she/her): Overall, I've felt very welcome. I think a lot of people tend to forget that metal has been gay for a very long time. Sure, there are fringe groups of turbo-douches that spew hatred left and right, but the metal community is hundreds of millions of people, there are bound to be some shitters lying around. Especially now, we have bands like Hirs and Cloud Rat that are radically queer, I've seen shit from the people behind Primitive Man and Thou being vocally pro-queer. I honestly think that metal is becoming a great place to amplify minority voices.
CJ Yacoub (AMUN/CANIS DIRUS, any/all): For the most part, I think it's pretty supportive. There is a very loud minority of transphobes that seem to fall in line with the bands and acts that promote or associate with toxic masculinity or religious ideals or anything extremely traditional, but I find that's more of a reflection on our modern society as a whole rather than our metal community. I have yet to experience transphobia of any kind, but I have seen it before so I'm not really sure what to make of it quite yet. It's not a very big part of my identity so it's not in the public eye very much.
I've only been trans for about a year now, and only been involved in the communal metal world for about 6 or 7 now and many of those years I was not paying any attention at all to the trans community. I'm only 20 as I'm writing this and only recently became educated about the trans world. I can't really comment on if things have gotten better or worse, but I hope they have been getting better.
Mina Halvorsen (GLOOMBOUND, she/her): Speaking from my own experience, I would say that the metal community is very accepting. I rarely ever see anyone in the circles I am in, or on the slightly larger circles on the Internet, ever being a bigot. I think I've only ever had good experiences. Of course, there are parts of even the metal community that are full of bigots, and yeah, there isn't much that I can do at least, so I tend to try to ignore that that part of the community even exists. Just like they probably ignore my existence haha. Now I'm only 20 so I probably have much more to see, but from when I became a part of the community, to when I came out, to now. I'd say it has improved, at least a little bit. And so has the world, it's moving forward and it's... what should I say, calming, to say the least.
I've been Mina Halvorsen of Gloombound. If you'd like to follow my personal account, I'm @ineffablewinds on most platforms, and my band should be @gloomboundband on most platforms. We in Gloombound have recently recorded a 2-song demo which we should be able to put out in the coming month and a half I'd say, SO STAY TUNED FOR THAT!! Thank you for interviewing me! Stay gloomy hihi :)
Alicia Cordisco (WRAITHSTORM/PROJECT: ROENWOLFE, she/her): Not very overall. Not everyone is bigoted, obviously, but some people still have that color blindness about them and have a tendency to straightwash or overlook queerness in metal, or not allow art that doesn't assimilate and forgo its queerness into their space. There's just too much centrism and apathy at large. But there are powerful platforms and bigger voices advocating for change, and there are more of us coming out and joining up every day. The future of metal is intersectional, and reactionary scenes will be left behind.
Despite society worsening, I do think our subculture has continued to move in a positive direction. Metal is inherently countercultural, and these days that often overlaps with queerness, and I think we are seeing that more and more. The reactionary subsets are still there, of course, but metal is big and diverse enough that we can carve out our own spaces as well as find acceptance in many. I think metal will continue to move in the right direction, even if it feels slow at times.
Melissa Moore (SONJA/CROSSSPITTER, she/her): Trans people are at the gigs now. Soon it will be more. There are a lot of cool people into metal.
Carmilla Dracul (WINTER LANTERN/BLOODBELLS CHIME, she/her): So for me personally, basically everyone has treated me pretty normally. I've had a couple of weirdos harass me and there are, of course, some vocal transphobes in the scene (like a certain German shitheel who shall remain unnamed) but for like, 90 percent of people I interact with in the scene it's been a non-issue. I can't say if it's gotten better or worse because I haven't been here very long, but I think a big part of how relatively chill it's been is just how many trans people there are who make and listen to black metal in particular. I'm willing to bet basically every fan of modern black metal has at least one trans artist they listen to, whether they know it or not.
Margaret Killjoy (FEMINAZGUL, she/her): I kind of live in a bubble. I'm a middle-aged woman who is good at what she does (I'm not going to fuck around with false humility. We're not "the best" but we're not trying to be. We make the music we want to make, and we do it well, and many people like it). So in some ways, I... don't need support. I need people to realize they can't stop us. Not from like, "taking over the world and being the next Slayer" or whatever, but from forming communities and having interactions and casting spells and participating in an increasingly diverse and beautiful scene. That said, there are trans people in the scene who do need support, who aren't curmudgeonly hermits rapidly approaching their crone years. I hope we can be part of supporting those people. And the scene that I see wants to offer that support. When we first started playing, I wasn't sure what people would make of us. At the start, Feminazgul was intended as a bit of a fuck you to a male-dominated scene. We quickly realized we didn't need to always be that, because we connected with people who support us (there's that word again, I guess we all need it sometimes, or want it), including plenty of cis men who've been excited about us since the start. Frankly, Feminazgul, and the metal scene, helped turn me away from misandry, because I started seeing so many amazing men... because the metal scene is amazing, and at the moment it's still mostly men, which means there are amazing men in it. I'm glad that there are more and more amazing women and nonbinary people as well in it. I mean, there are shitty men, and shitty women, and shitty nonbinary people, in the scene too, but why focus on them when we can help it?
I don't know how it's been recently, because frankly I live alone in a house on a mountain with my dog, and one of the people in the band is immunocompromised so we're not really fucking with shows right now. It's probable that it's getting both better and worse at the same time, the same as the rest of society. The divide is deepening, and I don't know what that will mean. I know that more people actively support trans people now, and I know that an awful lot of people have decided we're all pedophiles who need to be hunted down. I bet you'll find both kinds of people in the metal scene. I choose to make community with people who have my back, though, and there are plenty of people like that.
Lux Lucidi (SEED, he/they): My experience in the Metal community is somewhat limited to Boston and online, people I've met in bands, labels, people from different cities we've played with. I think as a whole SEED is accepted as trans people by metalheads. But I would say my experience as a person in the band who is perceived as and misgendered as a woman, people love to push that identity onto me without my consent. Pretty often. That's one of my major problems, like, how bro-y the Metal scene can be. How often an identity I don't align with is pushed on me. With that said there's obviously huge issues in the Metal community: bad politics, bad takes, and bad behavior [Laughs], and we just don't want to have to be constantly engaging with that. We want to build something that is based in community, based on accepting people, listening to people.
Jack Whelan (SEED, they/them): Look, like, I don't need every single metalhead to just suddenly get it. I'm not trying to expect some dude who thinks his favorite band is Peste Noire to instantly jump over––I'm not trying to replace extremity with extremity. I'm trying to go up and make some people examine their views, knowing that they're not going to get it completely. I want to be one of the people that can talk to someone and just be like "Hey my pronouns are they/them, I don't really feel that gender shit you do, do you wanna talk about it?" I realize that this is sometimes just an opportunity to get my ass kicked, and I've gotten my ass kicked before, and I have felt unsafe at shows. It's no joke––I just want something to change. This scene is for everybody, you like to say it's for everybody, so prove it.
Chelsea Ellsworth (SEED, she/her): The biggest thing that I've seen have an impact on the level of acceptance towards Trans people in Metal is basically that the people who are not in danger at shows, people who feel comfortable, need to give shit. They need to publicly make an effort and publicly care for the needs of trans people, or any marginalized group, at shows or in the community at large. Showing compassion and respect is the most important element for having a healthy community in Metal.
Violet (Wolven Daughter/Dread Maw, she/her): On one hand, more supportive than it's ever been, I think. I've been very lucky to have found a very supportive community online, of both other queer people and allies. On the other hand, I've encountered multiple instances of transphobia online from the metal community; I once got a death threat for making a joke about black metal on Twitter. But when that happened, the community had my back. I like to think, or at least, like to hope, that the out-and-out bigots are in the minority.
Leona Hawyward (SKELATOR, she/her): I think the metal community has a long way to go, honestly. It seems to reflect society at large, which is sort of disappointing because I want it to be better. For sure, it's better than it ever was in the past, but there is a long way to go in terms of equality and representation. There's a lot of sentiment of acceptance when it comes to metal being inclusive, but when someone starts being homophobic, it feels like the community either laughs at it or lets it slide. You try to advocate for yourself or other trans people, and you get shut down and told off. Go to any metal group on Facebook, and it's easy to find transphobia or homophobia, or ableism, or racism, for that matter. It feels like it's "You can be anything you want as long as you don't talk about it and take abuse about it." Look at the response with what happened with Absu a couple of years back. It was easy to find all kinds of transphobia surrounding that news, not just from the remaining members of the band itself but from lots of their supporters.
I know bands that say progressive things and have thrown really shitty insults at some of my other trans friends. Some of my trans musician friends in the scene have gotten bullied after coming out just for advocating for themselves. After Weaponlord broke up in 2019, I joined a hard rock/metal band here, and didn't tell them I was trans. We jammed for like 4-5 months, and one day when I showed up with an amplifier of mine that had a trans pride sticker in it, I was out of the band within two weeks because "The vibe wasn't right," despite being told things were going fantastic two weeks prior. That said, the people in the circles I run in here in town with and online have been amazing and supportive for the most part (except the above). I know my bands have my back and so do my friends, and my friends' bands. I feel lucky in that regard, but I know I can't expect that from the scene at large.
It's also disappointing that when I do want to listen to music that speaks to my experience, I have to generally go to the punk scene for that. You can find bands easily that cover these topics. GLOSS comes to mind immediately. I know that Behind Enemy Lines had a song against conversion therapy that mentioned trans people in 2001, and they were at the time, a bunch of straight, cis guys. I can't think of anything similar from metal bands except for in the past few years, and I can only think of a few bands and those bands all have gay or trans people in them. Most of those bands are in more extreme genres, too. I can't think of anyone offhand that touches on these topics in trad metal or power metal.
Katy Scary (KLAYMORE, she/her): I mean, it depends on where you look. The pockets I interact with are very supportive. I've personally run into very few issues, but I'm sure it's more of a struggle for someone trying to do something more mainstream. The only time I'm ever worried about something negative happening is when I'm on a bigger platform than my own. I did a Judas Priest cover on a YouTube channel with like 200k subs and the guy was like "if anyone says anything transphobic I have no problem just deleting it and blocking them," and then the first comment on the video was literally like "fuck yeah, trans rights" and there were zero issues in the comments. I'd say things have improved over the years but that doesn't mean there isn't a long way to go.
Lauren Strailey (NAMELESS MIST, she/they): I'm shocked by the amount of support the metal community has given to trans people, especially after seeing how little there was a decade ago when I first started questioning my gender. I think the most vocal transphobes in the community have gotten much louder over the years, but I think that directly correlates to how much more welcoming the metal community has gotten. A decade ago, if I'd been putting out black metal as a trans person, I can't imagine I would have gotten more support. Now, though, there's enough of a movement that I can not only be open about it, but PROUD of it. It's especially heartwarming to know that by just existing and making music, I'm helping take back metal and especially black metal from the nazis and fascists who have been infesting the genre for decades. I think the metal community still has a long way to go, but it's a much better community to be a part of now than it was 10 years ago, that's for sure.
Lux Edwards (SOULMASS/WRAITHSTORM, they/them): The metal community, if it can even be called that for trans people who have tried to be part of it, has a long road ahead before trans inclusion will feel anything other than disingenuous to us. The socio-political stigmatization of trans people is inherent to every community right now, even the trans community itself. The vocal majority of cis people in the metal community, self-proclaimed allies or not, continue to ignore trans expression in favor of maintaining a status quo of "brotherhood" where everybody should get along and nobody should question the politics or behavior of others. It's peak liberalism at best and outright erasure at worst. We exist, but are rarely acknowledged. Our opinions are met with the highest level of scrutiny, because we dare to challenge the status quo. It's frustrating that the metal community, which is so often labeled as counterculture and anti-establishment, is itself an amendment to the greater social contract it seemingly so desperately wants to be set apart from.
Are things improving? I think that question can only be answered when more trans and queer musicians bring their voices and experiences to the community. It's happening right now. As our numbers increase, it'll be harder to exclude us. It'll be harder to ignore us. We'll be louder and prouder in community spaces and that will hopefully embolden true allies to rise up and support us in greater numbers. I'm trying to remain hopeful, but given the direction of political rhetoric and lawmaking in the USA in particular, it is difficult not to fear how the metal community will react to the greater visibility of trans people in the years to come.
If you're reading this, please prove my doubts to be unfounded. When the time comes to defend a trans person being misgendered, bullied, ostracized, or assaulted, do something about it. Take action. If bands or friends you know are actively supporting causes and ideologies that harm the trans community, don't just let it slide for the sake of the music or your friendships. Hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions. Take an active interest in the metal community's well-being for everybody instead of passively enjoying the benefits of the status quo afforded only to cis people.
As informative and important as all these perspectives are, they largely exist from the point of view of creatives in the scene, who have a very different place than the average fan. I can't possibly interview every single trans fan in metal, but to end this, I would like to share the thoughts of one trans metal fan, the woman who inspired me to do all this and even vouched for me several times when asking for interviews. If nothing else, may it show every trans person in metal reading this that they are not, and will never be, alone.
Tell me a little about yourself and your journey through Metal. Would you say it helped you come to terms with your identity in any way?
Hi my name is Esther (she/they), I've been into metal since I was like 7 and I began my transition three years ago, I'm 29 now.
My journey through metal has a mediocre origin. Basically, my older brother asked me to come listen to some music on the computer one day, and it was some pretty entry-level stuff, though one of them stuck out and it was Venom's Black Metal. If I had chosen to further explore extreme music by infatuating myself with any of the other bands he showed me like Rammstein, Metallica, or System of a Down, I would have gone down a much different and probably much more generic musical rabbit hole. Venom stood above the rest of the stuff my brother showed me, however. It was extreme, dirty, subversive, fun, and, most importantly, had cool riffs. Of course, I still enjoyed a bunch of the other stuff, but Venom gave me a better jumping off point compared to the rest.
The YouTube algorithm back then was something else, too. When I was maybe about 12, I'd surf YouTube's recommended sections to go deeper and deeper into metal, eventually to the point where I'd proudly display my love for bands like Scanner, Nasty Savage, Frightmare, etc., etc.
In terms of how it helped me come to terms with my identity, it was definitely a good springboard for growing my hair out, lol. I mean, for most of my life I've had long hair and felt reviled whenever my parents suggested that I cut it short. I also think the excessive machismo from metal subculture was a good protective shell for me to ignore my gendery feelings.
What was it like being involved in the scene before and after you transitioned?
Before transition, interacting with people in general was kind of a disaster. I was almost always insecure (very visibly) and tried to play up the whole tough and cool act, decked out in band patches and obscure merch. I felt pretty at home with the metal community; at least I didn't feel as weird; at least I had a group that shared my niche interests, and a lot of my high school friends were into the same music too. But I mostly had to go to shows for this kind of comradery, and when I got to college, a lot more people were into "metal," but there was nobody into metal.
When I moved to China (which I lived in for seven years), I started a Speed Metal band called Slashing Machine, which was awesome to be a part of, even though I'm pretty sure my neurodivergence made me very unreliable when it came to following through with writing lyrics. But yeah, the Chinese metal scene was super cool, a lot of metal heads in Chengdu were super into early Sepultura, and I feel like you could hear it in their sound. Since then, I went to Japan for a year and saw Sex Machineguns live, which was fucking awesome, and then I went back to the states following a pretty bad break up with my ex due to me coming out about being trans and not wishing to push aside my feelings anymore.
So after I got back to the states, Covid happened and my show-going days were definitely not happening much then. That, and I was starting hormone replacement therapy and got a few trans surgeries as well, and I wasn't really confident enough to present myself at shows being in the early stages of transition.
My experiences with the scene was kind of locked into my computer screen and seeing about 50% of metalheads chill with trans people and the others were either "whatever" or vocally conservative, which I think it's funny when people think traditional Christian grandma views are tough and iconoclastic. Mega poser energy from those dudes.
What is it about metal that made you identify with it?
The attitude of it, seizing what you need with bravado and confidence. I always thought genres with the closest connection to the subculture have that quality, it's just not a very defeatist subculture, in my opinion. I wasn't going to become a victim of conformity at all costs, and I guess I never knew how much it meant to me that this music was (in the most eye-rollingly edgy and cheesy way possible) imbuing me with self-confidence to take my life into my own hands. Also, I like good riffs, and the aesthetic rules too.
Side note, I thought it'd be hard to translate the rather androgynous heavy metal look into a more overtly feminine look, but heck, I think I did a pretty good job keeping the same style but translating it to match my gender identity more.
Has it been difficult connecting with trans people and cis allies in the scene? What advice would you give for those who don't currently have those connections?
One of the first things I did when interacting on trans Discord servers was ask if anyone else liked the same music as I, so I had met some people that way and the reverse way of asking metal servers if anyone else was trans. I also scoured the Internet for bands with trans members so I could try to connect with them and see if their experiences are similar to mine. My advice would be to do all of that because it's a good starting point, and a safer one since it's online.
Have you ever had to deal with transphobic harassment? What can cis people do to help when that happens?
Most transphobic comments towards me don't bother me as much anymore because I literally know enough science about the subject that most transphobic arguments look idiotic to me. Like it's a self-diss at this point when they attempt it. Poor babies can't read research papers or make logical inferences.
I have received transphobic harassment from my parents and ex, who shamed me for telling them how I was feeling and why it was important to me. When I was further along in my transition, my own mother refused to rehire me to help her with her business because she said her condition was that she could deadname and misgender me in front of customers. She has outright told me that she believes others are trans, but not me. She has also told me weird religious things like "God would laugh at you for feeling suicidal from not being able to transition" and other off the wall things.
When I reapplied for a Chinese company I worked at for two years (an offer they gave me), I told them I was all for it but I just wanted to update them with my new name and pronouns. They told me "sorry I think the clients would mind" and never responded to me after.
My advice to cis people is actually hold people who do these kinds of things accountable. Being transphobic isn't a small flaw, if they are unwilling to try to understand something they don't know much about, it means they are a bigot because of ignorance or cruelty. They could hypothetically treat you the same way once you aren't "perfect" to them anymore. Friends of people like this only hand wave it away because they aren't affected by their views, but when it's you on their chopping block you'll know they aren't the person you thought they were.
Basically, yeah if you can get them to understand, that's awesome, rehabilitation is possible and great, but if they don't care then, it's OK to yell at transphobes and remind them they are in the wrong and they are a shitty person. Tolerance doesn't mean putting up with abusers, duh.
How supportive of the trans community would you say the Metal community is overall? Would you say it has improved or worsened over the years?
I honestly see it kind of split, and it's really dumb because there is this wave of "traditional American Christian conservative views are actually cool and rebellious" just because some bozos saw a lame half-hearted attempted from some mega-corp of rainbow capitalism. Y'all know we know those corporations don't actually care about us, right? Like you all aren't that stupid, right? I probs want to see those corporations reduced to ash more than you do. Of course, large institutions SHOULD be supportive and inclusive, but we can all recognize disingenuous attempts. The backlash against corporations attempting inclusivity is much worse, though, it's like seeing a tone-deaf uprising that just aligns people with the absolute most unmetal people in existence.
Soooooooooo, this relates because metalheads kind of like being counterculture, but I guess with how time has passed the idea of who to be against is muddied. I think it's more true metal to go with what it's been mostly against in its history, forced conformity from tradition. So here I am not conforming to Christian views and conservative views that I must be only the assigned gender at birth. I have no clue how there are metalheads that want others to conform, what is metal about if not freedom to ya? Or does their definition of freedom mean saying slurs and being abominable? Waste of freedom if you ask me.
Anyway, I think people going against the metal ethos and trying to make it exclusionary are extreme posers. Like, stand up for the genre and aesthetic to keep on track with the sound and look of the subculture. I'm not gonna have some dude that thinks Disturbed is heavy calling me a poser for being trans.
Besides all that, the other 50% are chill, they are awesome and know what's up in the scene, both ethos-wise and musically.
The last words are yours, friend. What would you like to say to everyone, cis, trans, and all?
Trans rights, listen to Risk's The Daily Horror News, and I don't know if I could come up with a better thing to say than Lemmy, but here is his quote and advice for people:
"Have fun, don't hurt each other and screw politics, OK? And you'll be alright. Believe in rock 'n' roll. That is the only religion that never lets you down."
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