Addison Herron-Wheeler’s slim text, coming in at 89 pages, explains itself in the title: Wicked Woman: Women in Metal from the 1960s to Now. These types of books are easy to pick apart when an author even implies that he or she is going to cover all of something. Published in 2014, immediately, I asked, “Where’s Halestorm?” The majority of what you get with Herron-Wheeler’s book is easy to Google. In fact, search “women in metal” and you’ll get a whole string of names and pictures right at the top of your computer screen. There’s even a Wikipedia page called “List of female heavy metal singers.”
The author begins with Jinx Dawson in the 1960s, a woman who fronted the band Coven and purportedly influenced — and was later plagiarized by — Black Sabbath. They even had a band member named Greg “Oz” Osborne — all before Black Sabbath formed. In fact, “Black Sabbath” is the title of a Coven song. Jinx claimed to be an actual witch and the band truly part of the occult, all just a day’s work worshiping the devil. They were not simply creating a metal aesthetic. The devil horns fans know is credited to Dawson connecting the gesture with the genre. Gene Simmons tried to copyright the symbol and say he started it, but photos of Dawson pre-KISS and her threat to sue made him shut up.
Herron-Wheeler creeps into an academic argument: that priestesses were the creators of music, an idea presented in Music and Women: The Story of Women in their Relation to Music by Sophie Drinker. But Herron-Wheeler simply dumps a quote from Drinker and then fails to use reasoning to make her assertions sound, leaving the reader to think, “Well, I guess that sounds right.” This is the second book coming from a woman about women in metal that has failed to meet basic academic writing standards, which upsets me as the former composition teacher, but breaks my heart as a reader because I see the potential and the passion each writer has.
The first book was What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Metal by Laina Dawes. As I said with Dawes’s book, perhaps more financial support would have helped Herron-Wheeler craft a better book, which is why I never regret paying for such books. Wicked Woman was self-published, and for a book that lacks the editor of a large (or even small) publishing house, it’s nicely written at the sentence level. But the person who pushes to make the content stronger appears absent.
Herron-Wheeler gives credit to Sarja Hassan for the photos at the beginning of each chapter, but they were so small I couldn’t make them out. There’s also an illustrator credit to Hannah Swann, but I can’t remember a single illustration in the book. Perhaps something with the cover? As it is, I do not recommend Wicked Women, despite the author’s clever new thesis about old rituals and music coming together piquing my interest. It’s just not argued clearly.