Over the past decade, an influx of singer-songwriters has been infiltrating the metal world and reinventing the idea of what constitutes heavy music.
Artists like Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, A.A. Williams and Louise Lemón, not to mention Marissa Nadler, Anna von Hausswolff and Nicole Sabouné, are all embracing darkness in a raw, visceral way, pushing boundaries of genre and style.
Though none of them play metal, they have been embraced by metal’s fanbase, touring and collaborating with metal bands and playing festivals like Roadburn.
No stranger to Hammer since her official debut, The Grime And The Glow, in 2010, California-born artist Chelsea Wolfe has been at the forefront of this influx.
She grew up surrounded by country and folk, and while elements of these find their way into her transcendental and often eerie sounds, the influence of doom and goth are equally evident.
Her metal ties are strong: she’s supported A Perfect Circle, worked with the likes of Chino Moreno, Converge and Deafheaven, and her most recent album, 2017’s Hiss Spun, might be her heaviest yet.
“All these amazing, talented women are just blowing up their own boundaries and the boundaries society tries to place on them, making music that transcends genre, and creating a powerful energy in which someone drawn to the intensity of metal can find something to relate to,” Chelsea says.
“None of us necessarily love to be compared to the other,” she adds, “but it’s natural for journalists to group musicians together who might be on some kind of zeitgeist wavelength.”
While they express great respect and admiration for one another, Chelsea, A.A., Emma and Louise also feel frustration at being constantly compared as artists, particularly comparisons made about the actual sound of their music.
“I do recognise this trend, that there are women making music that isn’t metal who are being embraced by this world,” says Emma Ruth Rundle.
“But I don’t think in a music sense that we are similar at all. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be lumped in with the same few people again and again.
"I would like my music to be more like 40 Watt Sun, or Patrick Walker’s [other band] Warning: that sort of very raw, emotional music.”
For Emma, though, the metal world is not unfamiliar. After growing up in a musical household in Los Angeles – “My parents were really into rock music – the first music I have a memory of is Depeche Mode” – she started out playing in post-rock bands like Red Sparowes and Marriages.
But it’s her solo work, the most recent of which is her gorgeously affecting, raw and dark fifth album On Dark Horses, released last year, that she is best known for.
“I would say I am a metalhead,” Emma says, adding that sludge band Thou will be coming over the next day to work on their upcoming collaboration.
Emma thinks such collaborations, plus her musical CV, are part of the reason the metal world has embraced her.
“Maybe people who were tuned into heavy music continue to follow my work after those bands,” she says.
“I think I’ve been treated very well by the world of heavy music; I feel at home in that world. I think heavy content music is able to live alongside heavy sonic music,” she adds.
“Carrying heavy lyrical feeling and emotion can hold its place alongside bands that have heavy riffs and 20 amps.”
Chelsea Wolfe (Image credit: Press/Zohn Mandel)