Cammie Gilbert of Oceans of Slumber
Cammie Gilbert just has one of those voices. It picks you up by the neck and shakes you. But gently. Heavy metal has its throat growlers and its melodic singers. (Of course, Alexis Brown does both quite well.) Cammie falls into the latter category. She has the type of voice that works in a number of genres, but she uses it to front heavy metal outfit Oceans of Slumber.
The addition of Cammie took this previously all-male group in a different direction and they benefited from it. Their first album Aetherial got them some notice, but it was not a breakout success in its 2013 release. They had a good group going, but nothing made it stand out in the world of heavy metal.
Enter Cammie Gilbert in 2015. The group releases an EP, Blue, consisting of several covers. Among them is a stunning 13+ minute version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” With the EP, Cammie helped the group create a unique identity and provide a more original focus in progressive heavy metal. Furthermore, Blue had been an indie release, but was picked up by a label once it gained traction.
They brought this traction to this year’s release Winter. This album was one of the most anticipated among heavy metal fans and it did not disappoint.
Winter appears the very definition of prog metal: deeply rooted in the drive that makes harder sounds but not afraid to put a soft touch on the grime. Cammie’s voice does much to lend that touch and it works out excellently.
The group released the title track “Winter” well ahead of the album’s release. This is when I first heard of the group. I checked out the track and dug the sound. I loved seeing Cammie fronting the band and hoped to find more as I awaited with other fans for the group to finally release the album. That was when I was disappointed with Aetherial but only because I realized Cammie was not yet the group’s vocalist.
Blue. I’ve gotten to like prog metal more over time, especially with industrial making its place in the late 90s through the likes of Nine Inch Nails. However, I don’t find too many women, particularly Black women, fronting prog metal bands. I don’t know if the group decided to change direction first or found Cammie and decided it was best to adapt to her voice, but this was a match made in metal.
Blue (and repeated playings of “Kashmir”) held me until Winter’s release and I’m happy to say a heavy metal album made it to some of my favorite music released this year. Cammie Gilbert is one of the vocalist I’ve been most ecstatic to discover this year. She shows that heavy metal need not always be rough in order to have an edge and melody can be just as progressive as the growl.
Kayla Phillips of Bleed the Pigs
I probably first heard of Bleed the Pigs through the blackrockandrollmusic Tumblr where I find many artists today. I know I downloaded almost all of their albums and EPs once they became available on Bandcamp. I also know I enjoyed the music.
I know I just praised Cammie Gilbert for her incredible voice, but sometimes good old metal screaming works just as well. And Kayla Phillips provides a great share of that metal rage through her vocals. She brings that rawness that metal is known for in her vocals and performance. She also brings a bare honesty and wisdom that adds to her charisma and strength off the stage.
Bleed the Pigs emerged in 2013 from Kayla’s Nashville home, coincidentally also home to Alexis Brown. Kayla shares Alexis’ death metal vocals but has more in common with old school metal growlers and is classified as grindcore. Admittedly, at times I often have no idea what Kayla’s saying in her vocals but get caught up in the raw energy she exudes in her performance. It’s what got me on tracks like “Stuck” from their Mortis Fatum EP from 2014. They also released the Overcompensation for Misery EP that same year. And an EP of two Nirvana covers. Yeah BTP was busy in 2014.
In 2015, the group continued to release their work. They began with an album they split with the group Thetan, meaning they did half the album and Thetan did the other half. They also contributed the track “Jeb for the Ruler of the (Formerly) Free World” on the album Spazzin’ to the Oldies: A Tribute to Spazz. In the middle of the year, Bleed the Pigs released the two-track EP Mind and Matter.
The music was not the only place where Kayla used the strength of her voice. She reminded metal audiences of the potential metal has as an outlet for Black female expression in a powerful essay she penned for Noisey magazine. She connected her experience in metal to an area that may have surprised a few fans: the Black Lives Matter movement. In her essay, Kayla explains the necessity of Black women’s rage in metal during this politically heavy climate. Essentially, she makes a similar case Laina Dawes makes in her work What Are You Doing Here? Heavy metal provides a much needed outlet for Black women to express their rage and disenchantment, particularly when we live in a state of fear and disillusionment in this current political climate.
Kayla also took to the pen to express a more personal matter that perhaps explains the slow down in the group’s creative output. In an open letter on Tumbler, she revealed the band’s guitarist David Hobbs had sexually assaulted her. The breach of trust not only involved this sexual assault but also David’s leaving the band, putting Kayla in both a creative and financial bind. However, she has vowed to regroup and continue Bleed the Pigs as soon as possible. In the meantime, hopefully Kayla has the support she needs to heal and carry on with her life.
Carla Harvey of Butcher Babies
I’m certain I first heard of Butcher Babies from Tumblr. I connect with many metalheads and others who look for Black acts in various subgenres of rock. So of course I noticed Carla Harvey looking very much like a metal vixen, the ones I used to see in music videos from the 80s. Along with Heidi Shepherd, she fronts Butcher Babies.
One of the things I like about them is that they do remind me of groups I would see on MTV’s Headbangers Ball on the few occasions I dared watch it. They self-released their self-titled EP in 2011. However, what I didn’t know is that they released the EP along with an indie comic book at Comic Con International in San Diego. Carla wrote the comic herself with illustrations by Anthony Winn. However, it makes sense considering the group often incorporates horror antics in their stage shows and visuals.
By 2013, the group had a record deal and released their first studio album Goliath. Their effort puts them in several subgenres of metal including thrash and groove metal. Their work also shows a clear punk influence. The lead single, “I Smell a Massacre,” puts them in a line of metal and hard rock artists such as Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. However, the band cites the Plasmatics as its primary influence, taking its name from the song “Butcher Baby.” Carla mentions her admiration for Wendy O. Williams and the fact that Black musicians were a part of the band.
In 2014, the group released a second EP Uncovered. This EP included a rather fun cover of the novelty classic “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!” Of course, their version has more of a death metal edge, turning the comedic classic from Napoleon XIV into a nightmarish vision that works well with their Butcher Baby image. However, that year they also announced plans for their second album.
Take It Like a Man was released in 2015. Of the album, Carla said, “We all come from different places and backgrounds, but every member of this band had to fight to be the person he or she is today. That’s the whole basis for the record. It’s not a gender thing. It’s the inner strength you have to find in order to pull your boots up and keep moving forward, whatever the situation may be.” Mid-year, they released the lead single “Monster’s Ball.” In August, they did a great piece of self-promotion that fits well in the social media Internet age. The group made an official album stream on YouTube. The stream features video of every track on the album. It’s all a performance, giving fans a glimpse of the group’s performance style without any horror antics, just the frontwoman charisma of Carla and Heidi.
Most of us did not see Black women in heavy metal in the 80s because MTV did not show them. We did not know Militia Vox or Sophia Ramos. Internet resources have allowed us to retrieve them. However, with Carla Harvey, we do get an idea of how they may have performed and the aesthetic they may have brought to the stage. With Carla, we get a continuation of the legacy they created.
Allyssa Lowe of Atomic Tanlines
I’m not sure when I first came across Atomic Tanlines but I know I downloaded “BDSM vs Tupac” before I found the entire four-track Demo EP from 2013. At about eight minutes, all four tracks segue together to create what sounds like one epic track. While it can fit into the heavy metal aesthetic, Allyssa Lowe (also known as Ally Play-Nice) considers herself and her band a punk outfit. And quite frankly, the short and fast songs that come together as one support that observation.
While the group appears to have released only this one EP, Ally has been busy making a name for the Atomic Tanlines. The group appears to have made a name as a must-see live act with Ally as a dynamic frontwoman whose “performance recalls the original days of punk rock–confrontational, chaotic and charismatic all at once.” It is also worth noting that Ally is only 23, so she may still be putting together her musical direction and making moves to become a standout in the rock genre, accounting for the lack of press on the group.
There is not much information about the group available, but they are still active as far as I know. The group seemed to be a local favorite around the Dallas area in 2013, which makes sense given that Ally is from Denton, Texas. More importantly, she is known as a radical punk singer in the local scene. Apparently, “Dirty Queer Rocknroll” means a lot to the QUILTBAG communities in Dallas.
In fact, queer identity plays an essential part in Ally’s creative identity as well with her music dubbed as Queercore. However, she does insist that Atomic Tanlines is a band and not a political identity. In an interview in 2012, she stated, “I’m just tired of being put in a box. For some reason people are getting real hung up on what kind of band we are. Okay, some of us are queer (actually all of us are now with the new lineup), some of us are of color; yes, these things mean a lot to us and we want to play events and things that support issues we hold dear, but we are not opposed to playing other shows. We want to play all shows. We are just a fucking band. We have our beliefs, but first and foremost we are a band and want to bring the ruckus everywhere.”
Her actions have also made her a champion of the DIY movement, but she also brings a more practical philosophy to it: “What DIY means to me is not having to rely on anyone anymore to do what I want to do. I am finally free. At the same time, I very whole-heartedly believe in DIT: Doing It Together. It’s only recently that I have actually found a community and have not felt isolated by my peers.”
For now, it’s difficult to find anything written about Atomic Tanlines after 2013, but punk and rock communities, particularly on Tumblr, keep an eye out. However, they are a great example of why queer voices must be front and center in punk and heavy metal communities.