Metal is no longer a man’s world. All across the genre’s many subcategories, from folk to black metal, powerful female figures are putting their stamp on a genre that’s finally coming to terms with the inclusivity of the present day. Where symphonic icons Nightwish and Within Temptation blazed the trail for female leaders to step toward center stage, new blood such as SKYND and Ad Infinitum have taken the torch and run with it.
From guttural screams to the heavenly tones that offset some of the dirtiest riffs, here’s our countdown of 20 women who are driving metal right this minute.
If you haven’t heard of the colossal Halestorm and their show-stealing frontlady Lzzy Hale by now, how’s it been living under that rock? Out here in the real world, both rock and metal have been battling to claim Halestorm and Hale’s presence since the band’s first EP, (Don’t Mess With The) Time Man, in 1999. From the vitriolic masochism of “I Miss The Misery” to the heart-wrenching “Here’s To Us,” Hale’s vocal range reaches each extreme of moving emotion and devastating attitude. We couldn’t pay tribute to Hale without also recognizing her guitar talents. Check the sassy leading line from “Love Bites (So Do I)” as an example of this phenomenal lady’s ability to step beyond musical expression and into aural artistry.
True crime has never been more compelling than at the hands of Australian electronic-metal sensation SKYND and their mystifying frontwoman of the same name. Tackling a new real-life mystery with each track, covering the disappearance and mysterious death of “Elisa Lam” and the doomed cult following of “Jim Jones,” SKYND’s haunting vocals tell each tale as if they were acting out in front of you. SKYND’s dedication to her theatrical persona (plus the ability to keep her real identity a secret), her iconic look and the creation of lore around her exposition of real-life crimes is a mystery the metal world may never solve, but perhaps it never should.
Gossip Girl? We don’t know her—we know Taylor Momsen as the sultry tones commanding metal’s sassiest frontrunners the Pretty Reckless. With her gravelly vocals offset by her signature blacked-out eyes and suspenders, Momsen is an all-around powerhouse frontlady who bends all of your stereotypical expectations of a female vocalist. Take the hissing attitude of “Make Me Wanna Die,” the iconic summer anthem through “Messed Up World (F’d Up World),” the doomed “Going To Hell” and the gloriously filthy “My Medicine”—she’s not here for your entertainment, simply to make music in her own inimitable devil-may-care way.
Sharon den Adel
Where symphonic-metal outfits go through vocalists like water, Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel has held on to her throne at the very beating heart of the genre since 1996. The band that introduced you to the dark side in high school has come a long way from “Angels” and “Our Farewell” to their most recent sensation “The Purge,” but the enduring talents of the angelic den Adel at the helm remain as moving as ever. Whether your heart breaks or races along with the captivating stories told through her cherubic vocals, den Adel’s talents have kept this legendary band alive and relevant for 25 years. We’re hanging on the edge of our seats for a new album.
Most millennials were introduced to the world of metal through Evanescence’s invasion of radio airtime in the early 2000s, making vocalist Amy Lee an initial encounter in female presence in a heavily male realm. With an unforgettably haunting vocal range that can reach into your chest and pull out your heart with a single note, Lee’s trademark sound has lived in our minds since 2003’s Fallen and has no intention of letting go. From the iconic “Bring Me To Life” to her solo career’s “Speak To Me” and most notably the captivating “My Immortal,” Lee’s inimitable voice of an angel showed metal how to truly capture the mainstream.
You’ve never seen symphonic metal quite like Switzerland’s Ad Infinitum and, consequently, you’ve never seen a frontwoman quite like Melissa Bonny. With her compelling vocals at the helm, each track tells a story steeped in historic struggles and triumphs as the band members each adopt a story of survival during the time of the Black Death in Europe. Every member appears in a plague doctor’s mask except Bonny, commanding the narrative as her show-stopping range transitions from heavenly cleans to venomous screams with ease. Ad Infinitum and Bonny’s towering talents begin an epic quest through the ranks of metal, and nothing will stand in their way.
Symphonic-metal outfits face a constant challenge to stay relevant and move forward with the scene around them, more so than any other subgenre. However, the dreamy contributions of Simone Simons have kept Epica at the forefront of their genre since 2002. The band that once created “Storm The Sorrow” have matured to the lofty heights of “The Skeleton Key” with Simons’ operatic tones at the helm, bringing her angelic range to the band’s cinematic instrumentals and occasional death-metal infusions.
Since their inception in 2005, In This Moment have redefined performance art and metal all at the same time, thanks to the command of iconic vocalist Maria Brink. Challenging religious imagery alongside feminine stereotypes, Brink’s presence both on and offstage has decimated the white male dominance of the metal genre. It takes a certain conviction and attitude to pull off the likes of “Whore” and “Blood” without trivializing their core moral messages, but Brink has rewritten the book on expectations of women in the heavy music industry. Long may she reign.
Vicious, teeth-baring uncleans are the domain of Venom Prison’s Larissa Stupar, death metal’s brightest rising star. Whoever said women had to be the saccharine, angelic feminine contribution to metal clearly never met Stupar, who belts savage growls as if delivered from the gates of hell itself. The likes of “Uterine Industrialisation” and “Slayer Of Holofernes” prove devastating both live and in the studio when this unrelenting powerhouse gets her chops around them.
Arch Enemy’s screamer-in-chief makes belting superhuman notes look easy. Alissa White-Gluz’s cord-shredding talents are the result of a career that started when she formed the Agonist at the age of 19. Joining Arch Enemy in 2014 gave White-Gluz a platform to showcase her range and also gave us her contagious live presence on a bigger stage. Providing her distinctive tones to regular collaborations with Kamelot and Delain, the voice behind Arch Enemy’s “War Eternal” and “You Will Know My Name” is no stranger to framing racing riffs with her guttural chops and showing off her heavenly cleans when the instrumentals allow.
The dual vocal onslaught we know and love from Lacuna Coil compels and fascinates, thanks to the storming presence of Cristina Scabbia. Dominating the metal scene since the ’90s, the enduring Italian crew pour richly gothic melodies over devastating riffs. Scabbia’s heavenly clean vocal is the cherry on top. From unforgettable classics such as “Our Truth” to their latest show-stopping “Save Me,” her dream-like range has been an invaluable gift to metal for over two decades and hopefully many, many more.
The thought of losing founding Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen to the abyss of former symphonic singers when she left the outfit in 2005 was too much to bear. Luckily for us, Turunen kick-started her solo career the following year, and she’s been a mainstay of the metal scene ever since. The heavenly operatics that once heralded classics such as “Wish I Had An Angel” and “Nemo” now belts “Innocence” and “Tears In Rain” with the most celestial, earthbound vocals the genre has seen to date.
Easily the youngest member of our ranking, Suzuka Nakamoto, known as Su-metal, is the founding member of Japanese sensations BABYMETAL. With all the maturity of an artist twice her age, this 23-year-old puts us all to shame with her consistent energetic vocals and seemingly endless energy supplies while performing impeccable dance routines onstage. Between the iconic “Gimme Chocolate!!” and BABYMETAL’s latest “Kingslayer” collaboration with Bring Me The Horizon, there’s no denying she has a long and prolific career ahead of her.
Myrkur has become a relentless hot topic in metal since its inception in 2014, and we have only recently discovered the identity of the haunting vocals at its heart. Now we can credit multi-instrumental composer Amalie Bruun with the rise of this mysterious Danish project, led into the wilderness by her raw screams bursting through cherubic cleans just when you least expect it. Often singing in Norwegian as an authentic twist on her own style of black metal, the theatrical “Ulvinde” and “Juniper”’s lingering atmospherics merely scratch the surface of Bruun’s compelling storytelling talents.
Amaranthe’s triple-threat vocals fetch their lighter tones from Elize Ryd, the Swedish outfit’s not-so-secret weapon who brings cherubic notes to their modern take on organized metallic chaos. Also known for her additions to Kamelot, both live and in the studio, Ryd’s heavenly cords and quirky songwriting add a bucketload of atmosphere and depth to the likes of “Amaranthine” and “Maximize,” making Amaranthe’s unique versatility one that continually sets trends for years to come.
Houston doom-metal upstarts Oceans Of Slumber have found themselves on a near-vertical trajectory over the last few years, a movement fronted by the tireless energy and boundless talents of their powerhouse vocalist Cammie Gilbert. Upon joining the band in 2014, Gilbert’s towering range came to the surface as her vocals neatly expand the lulling melancholy of “Winter” and the desperate cries of “A Return To The Earth Below,” as if her vocals project both fragility and strength at the same moment.
Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey
We couldn’t separate the two ladies commanding Butcher Babies, so this slot goes out to both Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey as the double-trouble onslaught who have brought us “Monsters Ball” and “Magnolia Blvd.” If you’re looking for a nonstop, indulgent party with the possibility of a snapped neck or two, look no further than L.A.’s dirtiest metal export that have become a staple on everybody’s festival bucket list. This versatile pair have made thrash their own ever since their 2013 debut, Goliath, showed the metal scene what it had been so desperately lacking—two relentless ladies who know exactly how to have a good time.
Surprisingly the only strictly solo appearance on this list, Chelsea Wolfe has made metal her very own since her arrival in 2010, draping a veil of folk-y atmosphere and gothic depth over seductive doom-metal undertones. Combining her boundary-smashing approach with a sadistically dark visual style, Chelsea Wolfe somewhat ironically injects life into doom by refusing to conform to the genre’s ’90s stereotypes. She wraps her smooth vocal swathes around the compelling melancholy of “Feral Love” and “16 Psyche,” as if redressing the world around her in her own image.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Ukrainian outfit Jinjer tell their lyrical tales through the voice of three separate individuals covering melodic cleans, ear-splitting screams and guttural snarls and somewhat effortlessly slipping between them. The single towering voice behind this band’s meteoric rise belongs to Tatiana Shmayluk, flexing her multi-talented chops on “Perennial” and “Sit Stay Roll Over” just to increase your vocal envy. We’re still not sure how she pulls off such smooth transitions between the polar opposite personas onstage, but we can’t seem to look away.
Taking on the mammoth task of fronting the pioneering outfit Nightwish in 2013, Floor Jansen donned her new role as if she was born for it. Jansen’s inimitable honeyed tones ushered in a new age for the symphonic-metal icons, weaving her slick melodic range through the band’s trademark cinematic instrumentals. The theatrical atmospheres tracked on “Élan” and “Noise” give Jansen the room to flex her operatic range while she narrates the vibrant, tall tales we know and love from Nightwish.