There's a great scene in Metal: A Headbanger's Journey where Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy talks about how death metal "is not a boy's club anymore." I wonder who broke that glass ceiling?
Not that we knew it was happening at the time. I first saw it 2001 at Jaxx, a now-defunct Springfield venue where my high school friends and I drove to see death metal bands on the weekends. The headliner was either Nile or Dying Fetus, but more importantly, Arch Enemy opened the show and tore the place apart. Their songs were tuneful and structured, like the thrash metal I worshiped, yet complex enough for my friends who were into technical death metal. Best of all was the lead singer, a ferocious performer with a gargantuan below. She had just joined the band and hadn't appeared on an album yet, and it felt like we were getting in on the the best secret in all of music.
That Monday at school, my friends and I were still talking about the show when one of us offered, "I don't think I've ever seen a girl in a band like that before." He was speaking for all of us. Of the dozens of death metal bands that we were listening to, not one of them had a female singer (or maybe even a female musician?). But it hadn't crossed my mind that we were seeing anything strange that night. Angela Gossow looked and sounded just like a great death metal frontman, and it made perfect sense that an already successful band would pick her to replace their founding singer.
Of course Arch Enemy would go even further with Gossow on board, with albums like Wages of Sin and Anthems of Rebellion pushing melodic death metal to even heavier levels. I started putting "Silent Wars," "We Will Rise" and "Burning Angel" on mix tapes. The next time I saw Arch Enemy was on Gigantour, on a coliseum stage where they blew away Opeth and nearly stole the show from Megadeth and Lamb of God. The third time I saw them, as headliners, they were louder and better than ever. One would be hard-pressed to find a better gateway death metal band--one that had obvious hooks but was still as brutal as brutal gets--than Gossow-era Arch Enemy.
Gossow's gender would inevitably come up for all of her screaming career, whether in that scene of A Headbanger's Journey or her excellent takedown of Revolver's idiotic "Hottest Chicks in Metal" issue. It wasn't about her being a woman, as she said in the latter interview, but it does stand as a neat footnote to her story, just another boundary that she crushed. In an era when Chris Fronzak is taken seriously as a frontman and Miley Cyrus is viewed as a feminist, good old Angela Gossow feels more important than ever.
This week, Gossow announced that she is leaving Arch Enemy to be a band manager, where she will almost certainly continue to be a force and an iconoclast in the death metal world. I don't know how The Agonist's Alissa White-Gluz will live up to her predecessor (although she certainly has the right influences), but I'm glad we'll be seeing Gossow's impact on Arch Enemy and death metal in general for years to come.