Bellatrix is a bold, adventurous new album by Stockholm-based metal quintet Frantic Amber – a collection of songs based on a theme of female empowerment as embodied by a host of exceptional women warriors from around the world, and from the endless pages of history. It is also a truly potent statement of intent from a band that is highlighted by a majority of the lineup comprised of similarly powerful, strong and impactful women.
Frantic Amber was formed a little over a decade ago, but it took a few years to solidify a lineup and develop a unique sound. Bringing in vocalist Elizabeth Andrews helped, as she added a sense of enigmatic theatricality to the band’s stage shows, as well as a vocal prowess that allows her to growl with the best of them yet retaining her unique tone and personality within her vocal lines. At the same time, guitar and songwriting master Mio Jager came into amp up the band’s compositional prowess, proving to be a badass dynamic duo with Andrews’ lyrical and melodic panache.
This combination led to the well-regarded EP Wrath of Judgement, and a number of prestigious opening tour slots. Two years later, in 2012, they won the opportunity to be Sweden’s representative at the massive Wacken Open Air Festival. A debut full length album, Burning Insight, came in 2015, as did band members Milla Olsson (rhythm guitar), bassist Madeleine Gullberg Husberg and drummer Mac Dalmanner, making for a 4/5 lineup composed of talented, badass metal women.
“I think its safe to call us melodic death metal, that’s what we play. But melodic death metal is very broad, you can get a lot of things under there, which is the great thing about it and why we play melodic death metal. We have thrash influences, we have black metal influences, we have death metal, old school, new school, hardcore, classic metal. There are a lot of flavours and a lot of personal preferences because we’re all different people. We will just put it all into a big pot,” Andrews said.
“And of course, we have our signature like the heavy riffs and soaring melodies, we have some symphonic elements and you put it all together and out comes Frantic Amber.”
Andrews was a dancer throughout her youth, but also dabbled in singing, taking both piano and saxophone lessons in her teens, eventually attending an arts school where she learned orchestral music, how to play with other musicians, theatre and more.
“I got into metal when I was about 15 and it started with korn. They were my gateway band into metal. And from there my tastes just got more and more brutal. I discovered death metal and discovered black metal. And I love it all. There are so many different types of metal, it’s really exciting to be a part of that world,” she said.
“Frantic Amber is my first original band. And it’s when I started growling too, because I had been singing clean my whole live. When Frantic Amber came together, even with the first demo when I met the band, it was mostly clean vocals and a little bit of growl. But the founder, Maria Siebecke wanted me to growl. So, I went home and practiced and did the sessions all in growl and that’s what got me in the band. And it’s been an interesting journey from there. I watched a lot of videos and lessons on how to do the screaming the growl properly, and that was 10 years ago when there were no coaches. Now you can get lessons all over the place, and I have even given some lessons too. It’s just technique and finding the sound that you want and finding a way to make that sound without hurting yourself. I still work on my technique; I still work on everything and I am still discovering new things about my voice.”
It is apt that Frantic Amber should use the medium of their pulse-pounding music, infused with intelligence and ferocity in equal measure, to highlight women who have been equally brilliant and fierce throughout the annals of history as Andrews herself could be said to be carrying on the tradition of the likes of Boudicca, Lagertha and female samurais such as Onna-Bugiesha fronting a metal band as part of a wave of female fronted and female dominated metal bands across the entire metal continuum.
“I hadn’t really thought about that. I never see myself as part of any sort of movement, I am just making music with my friends and we have a lot of fun doing it. I appreciate a lot that more and more people see beyond gender and all these things. The times of people thinking metal is not for girls is over, just get over it! It nicer now, because we got a lot of shit when we started,” said Andrews from her home in Denmark (the rest of the band works out of Stockholm, Sweden.)
“I am not personally doing any sort of political or social campaign or anything like that. I just have a need to express myself and music is one of my channels. It’s just as simple as that. And I go out and play and have fun at the concerts and it is art to me. This whole album is something we have put out to the world and we are very proud of it. It’s a statement. Still, it’s an honour to be thought of that way as part of something bigger.”
That ‘statement’ of which Andrews speaks is both musical and lyrical, as the incredibly compelling subject matter has meshed wonderfully with a fuller more comprehensive and layered production that gives each song a diverse, but still cinematic quality, befitting the heroic tales contained within each tune. It was a deliberate strategy to give Bellatrix a sense of epic scope and something one needs to listen to from beginning to end in order to soak in the full sense of drama and significance of the concept.
“There is the television series Vikings and also some of these characters are starting to make it to the film screen, which is pretty cool, and people now have some inkling about some of these female warriors. It’s also kind of a ‘girl power’ thing, so we thought it would be fun to do songs about female warriors. We knew we wanted some sort of overall theme for the album, so we went back and forth about different concepts and this is kind of where we landed. And we all thought it was a good idea,” said Andrews.
“So, I started reading a lot, and I hadn’t read a lot of historical texts like this, so it was very interesting. And there are so many warriors who are women that it’s very fascinating and inspiring for me. I read a lot of material to select who I would move forward with for the songs. And that was on me, because I write the lyrics, but I definitely got some insight from the other guys. I would find someone and asked what they thought about this woman or that woman, asking which one they thought had the more interesting story. We did agree at the start that we wanted to include different warriors from different parts of the world and different eras, so we can have kind of a broad worldview.
“That also made the task more tangible, but still very challenging to choose these characters: for example, there are a lot of female samurai in the samurai era. It was normal for women to be trained in the martial arts to be able to defend their homes, especially when the men were out at war. There are a lot of female samurai, so it was hard to choose which ones to write about, and for the song Joshitai, I chose the most brutal story, featuring Onna-Bugeisha. I just couldn’t not choose that one. So, it was a cool process.”
One of the revelations that Andrews encountered during her extensive study was how much each woman had in common, regardless of the time in which they lived or their culture.
“They are all very strong women, all very brave women. There are different life situations but most of them were fighting for their right to live for their tribe or people. Many were invaded, the war was happening all around them, so most of their activities were actually defensive. For example, the pirate Grainne Mhail [anglicized form Grace O’Malley]. She wasn’t attacked but it was her way of life. She took over for her father who was an Irish lord and pirate. She had her own fleet and was strong enough to be able to strike a deal with [English] Queen Elizabeth I where she would agree to only attack non-English ships. And she spoke with Elizabeth as an equal, which was pretty amazing,” she said.
“Two of the ones I sing about were actually in the army. Khutulun was in the Mongol army [in the very early 14th century] and was leading parts of the military under her father and her cousin, the Kublai Khan. There was also the Arabic military leader Khawlah bint al-Azwar, who lived at the time of Mohammed [7th century A.D.] and was a leader of the army alongside her brother. So, they all did incredible things and I guess what binds them the most was their standing up for themselves and what they believed in and their loved ones. That’s the coolest part; these women didn’t give a damn about the customs of their culture and that women shouldn’t be fighting and should be staying home and letting the men do the fighting. No, no, they are out there fighting. They were fierce and they were leaders and thousands of men followed them into battle. That is very cool.”
Besides her scintillating vocal prowess, Andrews adds a powerfully connective stage dynamic thanks to an extensive background in dance, including many years studying ballet.
“I hope it adds something to the whole experience because I definitely try to do that. It’s very natural for me and or course it helps that I have a knowledge of my own body and balance and strength from dance. All those things I definitely use on stage, although now I am more headbanging and jumping around on stage, it’s something else, but it’s still physical and it gives me a presence on stage,” she said.
Folks in Europe will get a chance to see Andrews and the rest of Frantic Amber at a few shows to wrap up the year. She said that plans for 2020 are still being put together.
“We are really looking to get something going for the U.S. We’re trying to find longer tours over there also because it’s far away from Europe. But we definitely want to do a lot of shows for this album cycle. We hope to get on the road as soon as possible. It’s just a matter of timing to get booked and get some good bookers to work with, because we’re an independent band: we don’t have a label or anyone doing that for us. So, we’re trying to find some contacts that we can work with to get that happening. And of course, Canada is part of those plans too,” she said.
For more information on upcoming shows, Bellatrix and the band, visit http://franticamber.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.
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