The Bay Area’s heavy metal scene is known around the world, particularly for being the fertile ground where thrash bloomed. But the region’s metal community is much richer and more varied than that. Its male musicians often get the lion’s share of the attention, but there are a number of kick-ass, creative women who’ve defined the sound of their bands — not to mention redefined whole genres, including death metal, ambient metal and sludge. Their participation in the scene and support for one another have helped keep Bay Area metal alive and breaking new ground. Here are five you need to know about.
Kris Force of Amber Asylum
Amber Asylum isn’t, strictly speaking, a metal band, but it — and Kris Force — have been a key part of San Francisco’s metal scene for the better part of two decades. Force was a guest violinist on several Neurosis albums before founding Amber Asylum, whose blend of classical music, experimental noise and doom-rock presaged heavy metal’s vastly broadening borders. Aside from being an anchor to the region’s ever-shifting underground scene, Amber Asylum has served as a launching pad for many other local musicians, including cellist Jackie Perez Gratz of Giant Squid and Asunder and Lorraine Rath of Worm Ouroboros. Amber Asylum released its ninth effort, Sin Eater, in December.
Lori Joseph (Lori S.) of Acid King
Lori Joseph co-founded San Francisco doom-metallers Acid King in 1993, and her fuzzed-out guitars and mesmerizing vocal style remain hallmarks of the band’s sound. Like many musicians in the ‘90s stoner-doom wave, Joseph was heavily influenced by the grunge-rock that dominated airwaves in the early '90s, and was among the first to bring back the sound pioneered by Black Sabbath and others in the '70s. In addition to keeping Acid King together through seven albums, including 2015’s Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere, Joseph also performed with Bay Area stoner-doom legends Sleep in the early years, before they disbanded in 1998.
Chiyo Nukaga of Noothgrush
Chiyo Nukaga became Bay Area sludge-metal band Noothgrush’s founding drummer in 1994 and has been its rhythmic anchor ever since. Originally born in the South Bay, Noothgrush — a reference to Dr. Seuss’ There's a Wocket in My Pocket — soon relocated to join San Francisco’s then-thriving Mission metal community (though she now calls Oakland home). After a hiatus, the band re-emerged in 2011, has been touring worldwide and most recently released a split record with Coffins in 2013. Nukaga’s drumming keeps Noothgrush’s signature slow, crawling riffs at just the right tempo. She’s also loaned her sticks to Amber Asylum on occasion.
Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune/Vhöl Sigrid Sheie, who’s also sat in with Amber Asylum, joined San Francisco metal legends Hammers of Misfortune in 2003, lending vocals and keyboards to the band’s past four albums. Although she’s a classical pianist by training, Sheie came to the East Bay in the early aughts to play bass and sing with punk bands like Folcaino and the Oozies before returning to the ivories with Hammers’ The Locust Years. Sheie also holds down bass duties in metal supergroup Vhöl and is an adjunct professor in University of San Francisco’s music program, where she is the house accompanist.
Leila Abdul-Rauf of Vastum/Hammers of Misfortune The prolific Leila Abdul-Rauf has got plenty of musical irons in the fire these days. She’s simultaneously the guitarist and co-lead vocalist for experimental death metal band Vastum and for Hammers of Misfortune. She also released a solo, more ambient album, Insomnia, last March, and contributed to Amber Asylum’s latest. Vastum, known for its challenging, gory and sexual lyrics, wouldn’t be what it is without Abdul-Rauf’s disemboweling riffs. The band’s 2015 release, Hole Below, was among Pitchfork’s top picks of the year and earned very high marks from Decibel. Vice called it “creepy, and complex, and utterly engrossing.”