One of the more polarizing topics in the last couple of years is female vocalists in punk. You either love em or you hate em. I personally love them. I think there's a certain abrasive / snotty quality that the female voice's higher pitch offers a complement to the often frenetic paced punk tunes they're singing over. If I had a criticism for female vocals, it is that effects are used a lot that the aforementioned vocal quality I just talked about is lost in the mix. The other side of that coin is that reverb drenched vocals are great so it is another point to the argument that female vocals are cool. In the last few years, there has been a surge of great female-fronted bands in hardcore punk. However if you want to which band is queen of the female-fronted genre, look no further than Birmingham, England's Sacrilege.
A common conversation with detractors of female fronted hardcore punk bands might go something like this:
"I don't like female vocals"
"What about Sacrilege?"
"Well that's different, you can't hate Sacrilege."
When you discuss the best female-fronted subculture bands (punk, hardcore, metal), Sacrilege is always the first band brought up. The rest of the discussion is to determine who is second best.
The band came out of the early 80s UK crust scene. This is the same scene that gave the world Deviated Instinct, Hellbastard, Axegrinder, Napalm Death, and Bolt Thrower. Sacrilege is fronted by the Lynda "Tam" Simpson. Earlier I said a lot of female vocalists utilize heavy reverb, Tam was one of the first to do it. When we think of the best uses of reverb in hardcore punk vocals, Sacrilege's name is almost always at the top, gender notwithstanding.
The band's output includes two demos and three albums. Their first album Behind The Realms of Madness is an essential album both in the crust and thrash scenes. Its pacing is so methodical. The riffs are something that thrash bands in the USA were a few years away from arriving at themselves. The d-beat driven drums never fail to keep pace and, at times, dictate it. Lastly, Tam's vocals are almost paradoxical. When you hear them, it's clear they're a female's, but never once do you make the mistake of presupposing that she is some kind of dainty flower. She have been conscious of this fact when recording: that she needed to sounded menacing but also convincing. Too often when a woman wants to sound "mean" on record, it usually comes off as very forced and laughable. Tam's vocals bear a sense of anxiety, urgency, and anger to them that speaks to a lot of feelings women grapple with daily. It's almost as if Nora from Ibsen's A Doll's House was given time in a recording booth to air out her grievances with daily life. The record itself is perfect. Most thrash records usually have one overbearing element like the guitars or vocals. Behind The Realms of Madness is a perfect blend of biting guitar work, sublime vocals, and strong drum work. It is essential listening. "Shadow From Mordor" is also one of the hardest songs ever written.
Included is Sacrilege's complete discography (yes, even those metal records most people don't like).