Recently, VH1 Classic saluted Iron Maidens: 10 All-Time Great Heavy Metal Front-Women, and the response was so thunderous, we decided we had to follow-up with another tribute to regal female metal might.
Of course, any proper homage to music’s most extreme queens must also include mighty bows to hard rock pioneers such as Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart; along with pumped fists in honor of punk poet Patti Smith,’80s icon Pat Benatar, and even folkies on the order of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, whose innovative techniques and musicianship profoundly influenced Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, and others.
By leaping skyward from the shoulders of those giants, women in heavy metal today rock as hard, as powerfully, and with as much commanding innovation as any of their male peers. Plus they do in an endlessly expanding realm of hard-and-heavy subgenres. Without further ado, then, let us now praise 10 more all-time great heavy metal front-women.
Joan Jett: The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
“Dead End Justice” – The Runaways
Joan Jett is heavy metal. Joan Jett is also punk, new wave, hard rock, hardcore, and every other down-and-dirty, loud-and-kickass musical category you can think of. It all adds up to this remarkable woman ruling for decades now—like Elvis, Lemmy, Freddie Mercury, and precious few others—as a true human embodiment of full-blown rock-and-roll.
Jett’s original band, the Runaways, was an electrifying punk-metal hybrid with a Kiss sense of hard-pop in which she traded lead roles (off and on) with vocalist Cherie Currie and guitar ace Lita Ford. After the Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts rose up to blow away the universe. Their reign commenced in 1982 with the record-shattering #1 smash “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and Joan has never relented since.
Lest anyone fret that Joan Jett is not quite “heavy metal,” per se, just take a listen below to how she handles AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” No more need to be said from there.
“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” – Joan Jett
Lee Aaron “Metal Queen”
Canadian firebrand Lee Aaron stormed forth from the Great White North of Rush, Anvil, and Voivod in 1982 with The Lee Aaron Project, a bracing, take-no-prisoners debut after which the power-piped begat the era-defining albums Metal Queen (1984) and Bodyrock (1989).
Evolving through the post-grunge commercial metal drought of the ’90s, Lee formed her own record labels and issued multiple releases that expanded her own versatility to include alternative rock and a wide range of jazz formats.
Today, Lee Aaron remains in demand as a knockout performer in all her chosen genres, regularly belting out songs at blowing away fans at rock, metal, and jazz shows—and sometimes a combination of all three!
Amy Lee: Evanescence
A handful of hotheads may balk at Amy Lee as being “too pop” or “too mainstream” to qualify as “true metal,” and they’re entitled to that opinion. The rest of the world is content to rock out at and marvel at the sonic skills and superhuman stage presence of Amy as she has piloted her band, Evanescence, to a decade-and-a-half of operatic commercial hard rock dominance.
Beyond Amy’s own accomplishments, the aboveground success of Evanescence has powerfully pointed mass worldwide audiences in the direction of other female-fronted gothic and alt-metal wonders on the order of Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation, and Liv Kristine of Theatre of Tragedy and Leaves’ Eyes. Amy Lee’s dark tide has raised a lot of magnificently metal ships.
Dawn Crosby: Détente, Fear of God
Both “rad” in the awesome sense and radical in terms of calls for rebellion, Dawn Crosby piloted underground L.A. thrash squad Détente on a scorching run that continues to reverberate today.
The group’s 1986 release, Recognize No Authority, is a landmark of socially conscious outrage metal that ranks high in the pantheon of hard-and-heavy revolutionary classics by political rockers from Sepultura to Rage Against the Machine.
After Détente’s bust-up, Dawn shifted gears musically—but not in her intensity as either a performer or champion of the oppressed— as the vocalist for Fear of God. The group’s 1991 debut, Within the Veil, is a triumph of slow-build, gothic-leaning metal. The band followed that with Toxic Voodoo in 1994, and then fate tragically intervened.
By numerous accounts, Dawn Crosby was a dark and troubled talent (as so many are), and in 1996, she died from liver failure. Détente and Fear of God may have largely flown below the mainstream’s radar but, with Dawn wailing up front, their impact and influence will rock on into eternity.
Ann Boleyn: Hellion
“Screams in the Night”
Adopting her stage name from the decapitated wife of King Henry, Ann Boleyn broke into music by way of the mad rock-and-roll impresario Kim Fowley, who recruited her to play bass alongside Joan Jett and Lita Ford in the Runaways.
While she never ended up an official Runaway, Ann instead built her own following as a legendary overnight deejay on KROQ, hosting a show whose title would coin the name of an entire rock genre: “Speed Metal Hell.”
Not content to merely spin other people’s records, Anne formed the group Hellion in 1982, firing off a full-throttle self-titled debut EP a year later. The band stunned crowds in a manner that saw Ronnie James Dio take them under his tutelage, although their heat burned so hot, Hellion Mach I went down in flames before they even issued a bona fide long-playing album.
In 1985, Hellion’s original line-up split from Ann to form Burn. Ann, in turn, rose from the ashes to front an all-new Hellion that launched forth monster releases that include Screams in the Night (1987), Postcards From the Asylum (1988), The Black Book (1990), Live and Well in Hell (1999) and Will Not Go Quietly (2003)
The Great Kat
Beastly in the best sense, ferocious violin virtuoso and lightning-clawed guitar shredder The Great Kat (born Katherine Thomas) exploded on to the metal scene in 1987 with Worship Me or Die! It’s a still-stupefying incendiary collection of original compositions that announced a new talent that could never be slowed down, held back, or pent up.
Since then, Kat continues to slay all comers with live performance displays of seemingly impossible technical wizardry and a steady succession of releases that combine her classical music roots with her volcanic lust for metal at its fastest, hardest, and most complex. Kat also sings like a she-demon in simultaneous agony and ecstasy while her hellfire music blazes ever onward.
Leather Leone: Chastain
“I Am Sin”
Bubbling up from the same cauldron that brought forth Metallica, Exodus, and much of thrash as we know it, Leather Leone fronted the all-female San Francisco metal squad Rude Girl for a time before taking over lead vocal duties for the group Chastain.
Tearing it up with the hardest and heaviest of the Bay Area thrash boys, Leather led Chastain on a triumphant run of brain-blasting LPs that include Mystery of Illusion (1985), Ruler of the Wasteland (1986), The 7th of Never (1987), The Voice of the Cult (1988), and For Those Who Dare (1990). Leather also released a 1989 solo album, Shock Waves, before she took a long stretch off from any new music in 1991.
Twenty years later, one of original thrash’s first mighty female voices reemerged as the singing half of the Sledge/Leather Project, a new group featuring Rude Girl drummer Sandy Sledge. Check out their 2012 record, Imagine Me Alive.
Lzzy Hale: Halestorm
“Love Bites (So Do I)”
After more than a decade of performing together, guitarist, pianist, and vocalist extraordinaire Elizabeth “Lzzy” Hale (that’s right, there’s no “i” in Lzzy) teamed with her drummer brother Arejay Hale to form the hard rock/heavy metal marauders Halestorm.
The group issued a live EP in 2005, then spent the next four years preparing their proper, self-titled debut long-player. It spawned the hit “I Get Off” and launched Halestorm into an ongoing march across Planet Rock that has since included their winning the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for the song, “Love Bites (So Do I).”
Floor Jansen: Nightwish, ReVamp, After Forever
The Finnish symphonic metal powerhouse Nightwish has produced no less than three such unique songbirds: Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon, and, most recently, the classically expert dramatic soprano Floor Jansen.
Floor initially rose to the top for her vocals with After Forever from 1997 to 2009. She followed that by founding the prog-metal group ReVamp before finally providing her pipes to Nightwish in 2012 following the departure of Anette Olzon.
Lori S.: Acid King
Sludge, doom, stoner rock, heavy-psych—call it what you will, but the loud, long, down-tuned riffs and cosmic grooves of this hypnotic, slow-head-banging metal phenomenon (from which arose the Melvins, Kyuss, Electric Wizard and Mastodon) has in no small part been hurled into its own murky, bong-scented stratosphere by a multitude of female musicians.
In terms of front-women, current stoner doom boasts the remarkable likes of Laura Pleasants of Kylesa, Christine Davis of Christian Mistress, Miny Parsonz of Royal Thunder, and Alia O’Brien of Blood Ceremony. Beating all those loud-lunged ladies to the altar, though, was Lori S. of Acid King.
In 1993, guitarist and vocalist Lori formed the San Francisco power trio Acid King, which takes its moniker comes from the nickname of notorious true-life heavy metal teen murderer Ricky Kasso. That sort of sick joke sensibility informs much of Acid King’s aesthetic, although the group’s density and intensity is never a laughing matter.
Over the course of their more than twenty years together, Acid King has taken their time between releases (which includes the 1999 masterpiece, Busse Woods). The grand news, now, for fans who have been holding their smoke since 2005’s Acid King III is that the band is ready to unleash their fourth album later this year, titled Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere.
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).