best women in metal
[Photos via D_Drive/Spotify, Nita Strauss, Tetrarch/Jeremy Saffer, Bleeding Through/SharpTone Records]

With bands such as Lacuna Coil and Nightwish fronting the charge for the ladies in a scene largely dominated by men, there’s no need for the term “female-fronted metal” in 2020. The women powering the metal realm without a microphone in their hands deserve credit for shattering the glass ceiling.

In the spirit of celebrating these phenomenal musicians who don’t always take center stage, we’ve collated 20 inspiring women in metal, from guitarists to drummers, legacy bands to rising stars and lineups comprising only women to the solo ladies doing it for themselves.

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Diamond Rowe – Tetrarch

Tetrarch’s visceral nü-metal revival is inseparable from the magic that guitarist Diamond Rowe produces whenever she touches the strings. Established in 2011, Tetrarch have already supported Avenged Sevenfold on their rise through the metal ranks. Commanded by Rowe’s punishing approach to riffing and ripping neat solos that never outstay their welcome. With Rowe at the helm of a new generation of women in metal, the future has never looked more powerful.

Nita Strauss – Alice Cooper

The axelady-in-chief of Alice Cooper’s current band, Nita Strauss has been showing the metal world who’s boss since 2003. One of the genre’s most prolific ladies, Strauss has provided her riffability to the likes of Consume The Fire, Critical Hit, Femme Fatale, rock guitar royalty Kane Roberts’ 2019 solo album and the supergroup Metal Allegiance. Her addition to the Alice Cooper group in 2014 brought Strauss the opportunity to show off her chops on Cooper’s classics, both on tour and on record for 2017’s Paranormal, while also pulling together her own storming solo album in 2018.

Gina Gleason – Baroness

Seventeen years into their glittering metal career, Baroness remain one of the hottest properties in metal, and with very good reason—at the heart of every track lies the electric mastery of guitarist Gina Gleason. Take away her contagious contribution to the likes of “Take My Bones Away” and “Shock Me” and you lose a staggering amount of the band’s infectious character. Armed with their continuing relevance, Baroness’ true sparkle lies at the heart of Gleason’s classic rock-esque solos.

Orianthi

A guitar legend in her own right, Australian face-melter Orianthi has a vibrant history of collaborations and guest stars, from rehearsing for Michael Jackson’s farewell London shows This Is It just before his death to shredding for Alice Cooper’s touring band. Orianthi’s slick approach lets her licks do the talking. And even though her solo material shows off her vocals too, she’s a guitar wiz first and foremost. Aside from her prolific solo career with four albums under her belt, Orianthi provided her axewomanship to a duo act RSO, combining forces with ex-Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. What a career!

Lita Ford

More recent fans will remember Lita Ford for her glittering solo career. But let’s not forget this guitarist started out in the short-lived but never forgotten Runaways. Ford provided her slick work on the strings alongside Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. From those young punk roots grew a heavy metal goddess who has worked alongside Ozzy Osbourne, Twisted Sister, Queensrÿche and W.A.S.P., producing solo records since 1983 and still performing to the same standard to this day. Is there anything she can’t do?

Mio Jäger – Frantic Amber

Swedish melodic death metallers Frantic Amber are a breath of fresh air in a genre so saturated with all-male outfits. Who said women can’t be terrifyingly heavy too? Japanese lead guitarist Mio Jäger, formerly of Ice Age, arms herself with a Flying V and a relentless pace that could give anyone else a dose of whiplash. Make no mistake, this scarily talented lady can also turn her hand to vocals when the occasion calls for it, providing her chops to Arcane Reality and Dragonhammer in the past.

Denise Dufort – Girlschool

Bands don’t get much more infectious than London’s Girlschool, founded in 1978 and still going strong to this day. Frequently connected to their contemporaries Motörhead in both stage manner and offstage antics, collaborating on countless occasions under the name Headgirl, including an unforgettable cover of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ “Please Don’t Touch.” Outstanding drummers such as Denise Dufort were few and far between in Girlschool’s heyday, when the new wave of British heavy metal reigned supreme, but that minor gender setback never seemed to impede the band’s success or their ability to secure hotly contested appearances on Top Of The Pops.

Marta Peterson – Bleeding Through

Metalcore as a whole is a dauntingly male-dominated subgenre where it seems women fear to tread. We like to think the unstoppable legacy of Bleeding Through’s keyboardist Marta Peterson is changing that. Since 2003, Peterson has provided her own brand of immersive atmospherics to the likes of “Love Lost In A Hale Of Gunfire” and “Death Anxiety,” adapting from rapid-fire rage to melodic poignance in the blink of an eye. Let’s face it: We all wanted to play the keys once we discovered the consummate badass-ery of Peterson.

Miyako – Lovebites

Frankly, we’d nominate every lady in Tokyo thrash-metal act Lovebites if we could. The queen of shredding, guitarist Miyako doesn’t ever seem to break a sweat through some of the most complex solos. Lovebites meteoric international success since their foundation only four years ago speaks volumes for the band’s commitment to their cause. They produced three albums and two EPs in the time it takes most thrash outfits to conjure one. 

Britt Lightning – Vixen

Saint Paul, Minnesota’s answer to Mötley Crüe, Vixen are the epitome of hair metal’s golden age. Probably best known for their hit “Edge Of A Broken Heart,” Vixen are very much still alive and kicking 40 years after their formation and are rumored to have recorded a new album last year. Taking on a band whose legacy dates back five years before she was even born, guitarist Britt Lightning joined Vixen in 2017 with huge shoes to fill, but she makes hitting every note of those classic riffs look easy.

Merel Bechtold – Mayan

From the great mind of Epica‘s Mark Jansen comes the multi-vocal symphonic death metallers Mayan, an unpredictable outfit forged in 2010 and crushing all expectations of two subgenres that rarely cross paths. Behind all the vocal chaos lies the work of Merel Bechtold, holding everything together with her powerful riffs since 2014. One of the most surprising acts to come from the scene for some time, Mayan are definitely ones to watch to see what they can possibly conjure up next and how Bechtold smashes her chugging input.

Prika Amaral – Nervosa

With maturity of a band twice their age, Brazilian thrashers Nervosa are smashing the glass ceiling of this genre. Founding member and leading axelady Prika Amaral forged the band’s punishing mission statement with a preference for sinfully heavy riffs, producing such relentless solos that could rival thrash’s Big Four. With a fresh lineup for 2020, the only way is up for this ambitious act.

Simone Dow – Voyager

Progressive metal is a notoriously difficult subgenre to describe. But luckily Perth, Australia’s Voyager need no description when no two songs sound the same. Thanks to the effortless approach of guitarist Simone Dow and her ability to soak up any metal inspiration around her, the outfit’s glittering melodics and punchy breakdowns coexist harmoniously without any necessity for genre box-ticking. After 21 years together and seven mind-bending synthwave-esque albums, Voyager were even shortlisted to represent Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest this year, and we’d have loved to see Dow shredding on that famous stage.

Liz Buckingham – Electric Wizard

Don’t adjust your devices: You’re not really watching archive Black Sabbath footage melted in with Led Zeppelin—this is the sound of Electric Wizard, the kind of doom-metal throwback we need in an equally mind-bending 2020. Whether you’re stoned out of your skull or you just wish you were, the lulling guitar contributions of Liz Buckingham make this Dorset, England band so uniquely disturbing and totally compelling. Joining the band in 2003 and fitting into the lineup like she was always there, you’ll be hard-pressed to look away from Buckingham’s commanding presence whenever Electric Wizard come to town.

Wata – Boris

We’ve never seen a guitarist as laid back as Wata from Tokyo’s Boris. Experimental metal is an understatement when it comes to this psychedelic outfit who’ve been messing with minds since 1992. No two tracks ever sound the same, but Wata’s mastery of her instrument is obvious under any circumstances. From the out-of-this-world “Statement” to the face-melting rage of “Loveless,” with the versatile chops of Wata on board, Boris still have a lot of (very strange) life left to live.

Romana – Burning Witches

Swiss shredders Burning Witches are quite possibly the only band who can successfully play guitars with full-on French manicures. Either way, these charismatic ladies are right at the start of a vibrant career, pulling off contagious anthems such as “Dance With The Devil.” Shredder-in-chief Romana is a riff-raging powerhouse. She is living proof that women who play guitar can ace their job and look badass at the same time.

Yuki – D_Drive

Instrumental metal bands are as rare as hens’ teeth, and the fact that Osaka, Japan’s D_Drive have remained at the top of their game since 2009 is a real testament to their talents. Unstoppable shredder Yuki is at the heart of that success. Putting on a compelling show of jaw-dropping riffs and captivating melodies, Yuki makes you forget there aren’t any lyrics to follow. D_Drive craft a gripping live experience that has to be both seen and heard to be believed. 

Elvira Alchemida – Blackthorn

If the new Lord Of The Rings series isn’t soundtracked by the bewitching Blackthorn, there’s no justice in the world. These Russian women will leave you emotionally exhausted but somehow still craving more carnage. Guitarist and all-round badass Elvira Alchemida has reined in the band’s chaos with her commanding shredding since 2007. She provides the gritty, chugging backbone to an outfit whose domination of metal is no doubt around the next corner.

Mercedes Lander – Kittie

The indomitable ladies at the helm of goth/nü-metal rebels Kittie have been bending genres with dark abandon since 1996. Founding member Mercedes Lander oversees the carnage with her nonchalant approach to destructive drums. With a nü-metal revival in the cards and the outfit still considering their future as a band after 24 years together, it’s possible Kittie could make a return to the scene, with Lander’s palpable aggression behind the kit leading the way.

Yoshi – Aldious

Japanese ensemble Aldious craft some of the most contagious power metal. As if regenerating the golden age of DragonForce and Blind Guardian, conjured by the awesome talents of five relentless women. Founding member and guitarist Yoshi commands the show at all times. She expertly adjusts the mood of her jam-packed riffs, from intimidating to seductive, with the flick of her talented wrists. Somehow cramming six rapid-fire albums into their 12 years together, the movement known in Japan as the “girls metal band boom” of the 2010s, which brought us the likes of BABYMETAL, owes its initial success in part to the pioneering talents of Aldious.