Courtney Love would have been an amazing heavy metal singer. Now, let’s be clear – Hole was no wimpy, hippy-dippy indie rock band, and they sure as hell made some noise. However, as much as Hole’s brand of punk-ish, Nirvana-esque alternative rock captivated the MTV generation, it didn’t fully capitalize on Courtney Love’s one of a kind talent. This talent was on full display throughout “Live Through This”. There is something epic about Love’s performances – those graceful pirouettes between sneering rage and girlish vulnerability, jaded nihilism and wide-eyed wonder[i]. Love’s outbursts live in the red, seeming to represent entire generation’s worth of repressed shouts and screams, dripping attitude and bleeding emotion.
One can’t help but wonder, even fantasize about what wonderful musical artifacts might be created if Courtney Love had found a band that delved deeper into heaviness. One could drift happily for hours imagining Love bellowing accusatory venom at the front some unholy combination of Refused and Nasum. Or perhaps howling anguish from the bludgeoning swamps of a doom-sludge outfit. Or maybe even screeching cryptic aggro-feminist poetry for some Deafheaven-esque Black-Shoegaze band.
These daydreams are a result of scarcity. Heavy Metal is not a fertile ground for female vocalists. The nerdy, gloomy, violent, misanthropic nature of heavy metal culture keeps it squarely in the Testosterzone. Additionally, thanks to black metal, men have already taken over production of the screeching and other high register vocals necessary for Metal. Ludicra, Iwrestledabearonce, Kylesa and Abnormality, among others, have effective lady singers, but their growls, screams and shouts struggle to distinguish themselves from the sounds of their male counterparts. And unfortunately, none of them have charisma like Courtney Love. Others have tried a different tack, placing operatic, harmonious female singing over metal songs. They have burdened us with limp gothic fantasies, neutered Lord of the Rings soundtracks. In a word – Evanescence. Blech.
There’s a reason I’ve spent so much time pondering this. It’s because a Band called Jucifer went ahead and recorded the best damn Heavy Metal Song that Courtney Love never made. Indeed, “Traitors” exposes a lot of the missed opportunities inherent in woman-fronted heavy metal, not limited to Miss Love.
“Traitors” from Jucifer’s L’autrichienne is an opportunity seized. It is a blast. Gazelle Amber Valentine Coos her verses over bluesy, ominous guitar and loose, martial snares. “You want what we’ve got, and you want it fast, you know you’re gonna be popular, but you’ll never last” she whispers. The song, and indeed the whole album is about Marie Antoinette, but it could be gossip from the hallways of any high school in America. “Climb on the backs of us pioneers, with no regrets.” Valentine sings – breathy and seductive, catty and cruel – before launching into violent, all-consuming, neck-cord-engaging, saliva-spraying screams of “TRAITOR, TRAITOR, TRAITOR, TRAITOR, TRAITOR, TRAITOR, TRAITOR, TRAITOR[ii]” (this is the chorus). She has to stand back from the microphone and you can hear the room. Some of the shrieks are higher than the others, enhancing the delicious texture and humanity of the moment. It’s one of those headbanging, involuntary-grimacing passages we metalheads live for. It’s a brave event for women in heavy music. Of particular joy is when Valentine switches from her chanteuse vocals directly to the screams (And if they tell you, they sell a better brand, you just remember, THEY’RE NEVER GONNA UNDERSTAND TRAITORS). You’ll want to stand up and salute.
Courtney Love will probably never record a Grindcore EP. But we can’t walk through our days, disconsolate and haunted, circle-eyed and grey because of this fact. Especially when we have Jucifer, and “Traitors”. This song and the entire L’autrichienne are hopeful rays, visions of the chances claimed and exploited, rather than the ones that hover ever-unconsummated and out of reach.
[i] This kind of agility of personality is what makes early Ice Cube so interesting to listen to. He effortless pivots between gangbanger, black revolutionary, bootstrap striver, mentor, activist, ladies man and a host of other personas. On a technical level, this is also what makes Mike Patton so fun to listen to, as you never know what crazy sound is going to come out of his mouth next.
[ii] Internet lyrics suggest “turn it up” which makes no sense, but could be the case. I prefer my interpretation.