"You cannot underestimate the impact of seeing a woman blaze a trail right before your eyes." Why Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow means so much to me – and to women in the metal scene

Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy in 2008, next to a photo of Svalbard’s Serena Cherry
(Image credit: Will Ireland/Metal Hammer Magazine/Future Publishing via Getty Images | Press)

Rewind back to 2002 and picture me as a kid in a Slipknot hoodie, holding the latest issue of Metal Hammer in my hands. That April’s magazine came with a free compilation album, pretty standard at the time. I placed the CD into my boombox and soaked in the new noise on offer.

Then, a certain song made me sit up straight, eyes wide with excitement. What’s this blend of fiery guitar leads and double bass kicking me in the chest?! It was my first taste of melodic death metal, in the form of Ravenous by Arch Enemy.

And I loved it.

Frantically, I flipped through Hammer’s pages hungry for more info, letting out an audible gasp upon seeing a picture of the band. Front and centre, between four typically long-haired heavy metal dudes, stood the coolest looking woman I’d ever seen.

I replayed the song immediately once it finished, questions whirring through my mind: are these demonic growls performed by a woman?! How?! I attempted to scream along and made a pathetic, kitten-esque yelp. How the hell is she doing these brutal vocals?!

I concluded that whoever this was possessed some kind of superhuman power, and, even after flipping through every page of that April 2002 magazine, I was still desperate to know more. The internet informed me this firebrand was Angela Gossow, which was a name that would go on to change my life forever. Even non-metalheads at school were talking about “the blonde woman who screams in a death metal band”: her emergence as a metal vocalist was, without hyperbole, revolutionary. 

At the time, the only way I could afford to buy an album was by saving the lunch money I was given for school dinners, every single day, for weeks. (Needless to say, I too was Ravenous!) But I trusted that Wages Of Sin – the then-new Arch Enemy album, and the first to feature Angela on vocals – would be worth it. Sometimes you just know when a record is going to change your life.

Fast forward four years, and I’m pushing my way through the dense mass of metalheads gathered in front of the main stage at Download festival 2006. Arch Enemy were about to take the stage and I wanted to be as close to my hero as possible. I was not prepared for the whirlwind of emotion that hit me as soon as she strode out and let out a powerful scream. Warpaint stripes painted across her face, she stared down the massive crowd with a defiant look in her eyes. 

As a female metalhead who so rarely got to see women perform live, I relished in the tremendous stage presence Angela had that day. “This is for me,” I thought. Then, I turned around to see loads of other women in the crowd also looking up at Angela, and the voice in my head corrected itself: “No… this is for us.”

Witnessing Angela tear it up with Arch Enemy was one of the moments that made me believe I, too, could play in a metal band. You cannot underestimate the impact of seeing a woman blaze a trail right before your eyes in the way that she did. With her masterful vocal technique, she lit a fire of determination in me to practise singing every day. Slowly, my pathetic kitten-yelp from 2002 grew into the roar of a woman – a woman inspired by her.

After an accomplished 13-year run with Arch Enemy, Angela passed the vocal torch to Alissa White-Gluz in 2014, claiming that she was “losing the joy” of fronting a band and would rather “step down rather than pretend”. I always admired her honesty and the guts it took for her to make this decision: too many musicians plough on with performing when they visibly don’t feel it anymore. Not Angela, though – she remains a bastion for integrity in the music business. 

Despite stepping away from the stage, Angela continues to manage Arch Enemy, alongside fellow metal stars like Amaranthe, Obscura and Spiritual Beggars. Her goal, she’s said, is now to use her studies in economics to “always make sure the artist makes more money than me”.

With her new role, Angela continues to shape the world of metal for the better behind the scenes. Though it’s been 10 years since she stepped down as Arch Enemy’s screamer-in-chief, her influence will be felt for decades more to come: not just through her business practices, but through others, like me, who felt inspired by her game-changing performances.

Serena Cherry is the singer, guitarist and co-founder of UK post-black metal band Svalbard. Their new album, The Weight Of The Mask, is out now via Nuclear Blast.