Metal music was, from its beginning, dominated by men. However, many female musicians have made a name for themselves as metal performers. These female metal bands—or female-fronted metal bands—have made waves as the best in the genre.
German heavy metal band Warlock formed in Düsseldorf in 1982. Though all the members but one were male, the band was headed by frontwoman Doro Pesch. She became a significant figure in the development of heavy metal in Europe, particularly with women in the genre. At the time, the European metal scene was almost exclusively male, and she made a statement with her work as both the lead singer and the main promotional face of the group.
They achieved moderate success in Europe throughout the decade and eventually branched out to the international scene. They were known for their many references to the occult as well as their heavy power ballads, which were a consistent feature on each album. They are best remembered for their MTV hits All We Are and Für Immer.
Halestorm is undoubtedly one of the best-known and most successful female-led metal bands of all time. Formed in the early 2000s, they are known for their lead vocalist and guitarist Lzzy Hale, who began the band with her brother and several friends. In fact, they unofficially began playing as a band in 1997 when she and Arejay Hale were 10 and 13 years old.
They made history in 2013 when they became the first female-fronted band to win a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance—for their song Love Bites (So Do I). The following years saw them reach increasing popularity with singles such as Freak Like Me and Here’s To Us. They were nominated for a second Grammy Award in 2019, this time for Best Rock Performance, for their single, Uncomfortable.
3. Arch Enemy
Europeans seem to have a unique gift for the more intense forms of metal, particularly death and thrash metal. This is perfectly exemplified by the Swedish band, Arch Enemy. Formed in 1995, they have been influential in popularizing the genre of melodic death metal. This genre uses many of the elements of traditional death metal with more complex, layered melodies and harmonies.
For the first five years of its existence, they were fronted by a man, Johan Liiva. However, since 2000, it has featured a woman as lead singer—first German vocalist Angela Gossow, then Canadian singer Alissa White-Gluz starting in 2014. Though not as well known as some other female-fronted metal bands, they remain a highly influential group on the European death metal scene.
Nightwish is a Finnish death metal band that has been performing since 1996. Though largely composed of male musicians, they have always had a female lead singer—first Tarja Turunen, a classically-trained singer whose powerful voice helped make the group extremely popular both in their native Finland and throughout Europe.
Subsequently, the band was fronted by Swedish singer Anette Olzon and later, Dutch singer Floor Jansen. Female vocals have always been a significant draw of their music, along with unique musical instrumentalization. Notably, they use uilleann pipes—played by English musician Troy Donockley—a one-of-a-kind choice in the death metal genre.
They broke into international popularity in the late 1990s and have remained one of the leading metal bands in the world ever since.
5. Butcher Babies
Some people might say that metal has fallen by the wayside in favor of mellower genres such as pop and indie rock. However, the female-fronted Butcher Babies, formed in 2010, might prove that theory wrong. The American band was created by frontwomen Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd. Their name and style were strongly influenced by punk rock musician Wendy O. Williams, who was known for her wild, sexually aggressive, and often violent antics onstage.
Both Harvey and Shepherd have said that they take their cues from other female musicians in the metal and punk rock genres, particularly those who defied societal expectations and made waves in an industry dominated by men. Much of their performance and musical style are also inspired by classic horror films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Otep consists mainly of male musicians, but with its name and image taken from frontwoman Otep Shamaya, it deserves a mention on this list. The nu metal band is undoubtedly one of the most popular and successful metal groups of the 21st century, having been nominated for both MTV and GLAAD awards. While metal doesn’t often cross into mainstream music, they have consistently placed on the Billboard Hard Rock charts since their early days.
Founded in Los Angeles in 2000, they got their start after a sponsorship by Sharon Osbourne. Their first record deal came before they even released a demo—their live performances were so strong that they were signed on immediately. Their debut album, released in 2002, immediately hit the charts in both the US and the UK.
They have the unique ability to find mainstream appeal. Their music is usually classified as nu metal, though it draws inspiration from subgenres such as hip hop, gothic metal, and death metal.
Vixen was one of the earliest female metal bands, formed in 1980. They were a swift success, with their first album climbing to number 41 on the Billboard charts. During the 1980s, they frequently opened for some of the biggest hard rock and metal bands of the time, including KISS, Bon Jovi, Scorpions, and others.
They changed their lineup several times throughout the 1980s and 1990s but consistently maintained an all-female membership. Their biggest hit was 1988’s Edge Of A Broken Heart, a power rock ballad that hit number 26 on the Hot 100. This song has sometimes been used to describe them as a one-hit wonder band, but in reality, they had two singles in the Top 40 at the time—Cryin’ was released the following year and peaked at number 22.
Metal bands are stereotypically known for their loud, aggressive vocals that seem to favor volume over melody. That couldn’t be further from the truth for Dutch metal band Epica, whose symphonic metal style has led to countless beautiful, singable songs. This might account for their success, particularly their ability to cross into mainstream music charts almost without effort.
Their earliest albums were successful, though limited mostly to Dutch charts. Gradually, they began to be more widely known throughout Europe. Several of their most recent albums have charted on the US Billboard Hot 200.
They are led by frontwoman Simone Simons, who joined the band in 2002 when she was only 17 years old. Her operatic voice has become the key to their musical style, combined with the classic death grunts provided by guitarist Mark Jansen.
Metal takes different forms all around the world, as evidenced by the Japanese band BABYMETAL. This kawaii metal girl group was formed in 2010 as a fusion of traditional heavy metal and Japanese pop music. The result is a uniquely feminine, high-energy version of metal that includes intricate dance routines, costumes, and elaborate performances.
They have enjoyed international success. They are well-known for their singles Doki Doki Morning, Karate, Paranoia, and Gimme Chocolate!! They have performed all around the world, including in the US both on tour and on television shows such as The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
10. The Runaways
Any list of female metal bands needs to include The Runaways. The all-female group formed in 1975 and made waves for both their music and their image, an unapologetically aggressive one that was unheard of in girl groups at the time. Though they were not a major hit in the US, they were a major phenomenon in Japan, where fans greeted them with the hysteria that was compared to Beatlemania.
They broke up in 1979 due to both musical disagreements and abuse at the hands of their manager. But the members, most notably frontwoman Joan Jett, would go on to form other female metal and hard rock groups that were highly influential throughout the 1980s. The Runaways are best remembered for tracks such as Queens Of Noise and Cherry Bomb.
11. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
After the breakup of The Runaways, frontwoman Joan Jett formed Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. This time, she was the only female member of the group. The band initially struggled to build a fanbase and was in danger of collapsing financially; however, after a 1981 performance at the New York Palladium, they became more widely known.
Their luck further changed later that year when they released I Love Rock ‘N Roll, which became one of their most famous songs. It spent seven weeks at number one on the charts and has become one of the most popular Billboard tracks in history.
Jett is widely considered one of the most influential and important female rockers of all time, having been called the “Godmother of Punk.” Both in The Runaways and The Blackhearts, she helped restructure the role of women in the rock industry.
Evanescence is one of the most influential hard rock and metal bands of the 21st century. Formed in 1995, they have been led by frontwoman Amy Lee since their start. Her powerful voice is instantly recognizable in songs such as Bring Me To Life and My Immortal. The band has won two Grammy Awards and many other accolades.
They are recognized for their distinctive musical style, which has alternatively been called glam rock, alt metal, gothic metal, and symphonic rock. They make heavy use of orchestral accompaniment, drawing on influences from classical music, electronica, and many other genres. Though Lee has been the only female member for most of their run, they added a female bassist, Emma Anzai, in 2022.
13. Within Temptation
Within Temptation is a Dutch metal band whose music has alternately been described as goth metal, doom metal, and symphonic metal. Formed in 1996, they became one of the biggest influences on the growing metal scene in Europe through the turn of the century.
As with many metal bands, they consist of mostly male members, with the exception of frontwoman and lead vocalist Sharon den Adel. Her contributions—she was one of two original founders of the group under its previous name, The Portal—have been significant in representing the role of female musicians in the modern metal genre.
They have enjoyed success throughout Europe, with significant strides in Asia and the US. In Holland, they were the recipients of several Dutch music awards and have broken into mainstream music charts.
14. Lacuna Coil
Lacuna Coil is one of the most famous European metal bands of all time. Formed in Italy in 1994, they have toured internationally, influencing the development of metal around the world. Their official classification is gothic metal, though their music incorporates many other genres. Though they have mostly male members, they are fronted by vocalist Cristina Scabbia. She was awarded the Female Metal Voices Award in 2012 for her performance on their album, Dark Adrenaline.
Though they remain best known in Europe, they have headlined tours and concerts with other major metal bands, including Ozzy Osbourne, System Of A Down, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and many more.
Canadian metal band Kittie is an independent band formed in 1996. The all-female group chose their name because it sounded soft and sweet, unlike their music and attitude. Inspired by other hard rock bands of the 1990s, they have alternatively been classified as nu metal or death metal. Their albums also feature elements of thrash, punk rock, and hip hop.
Though famous for being an all-female group, the members have rebelled against the label. Drummer Mercedes Lander has said she dislikes being classified by gender because all-male metal bands are not classified in this way, and she prefers to be categorized by their music alone.
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