The heavy-metal subgenre of death metal has long been recognised as a male-dominated scene that values displays of power, aggressiveness, and ‘hypermasculinity’ (Herek, 1987). The increase in female performers (primarily vocalists) in the genre appears to have done little to change this perception. The theory of heavy metal generally as ‘masculinist’ has prevailed among scholars since its introduction in Weinstein’s seminal sociological study of the genre ( 2000). More recently, Gabby Riches has argued that the pervasive notion of heavy metal as ‘masculinist’ is outdated, and interrogates the issue from a feminist, post-structuralist perspective, focusing on the participation of female fans as embodied practice.
This paper intends to go one step further and, building on Donna Haraway’s theories of posthumanism, will examine the embodied and (technologically) disembodied practices of female death-metal vocalists. These vocalists have mastered the once exclusively male technique of extreme guttural vocals—the ‘death growl’—and thus appropriated the masculine voice. In this way, the female growler plays with the listener’s gendered aural comprehension of the voice; her voice is gendered as masculine. This raises questions about our perception of her identity, performative intention, and the role of the body in these performances.
This paper will argue that female performers of the death growl present a postfeminist and posthuman condition, in which the body is no longer a definitive object, but a material-discursive phenomenon that muddies the gender/human/animal boundaries and disrupts established notions of gender and feminism.