Left to right: Steve Brooks of Torche, Gaahl of God Seed, Jason Rivera of Gaytheist, Daniel Pitout of Nu Sensae
"The best singer in metal history is gay," says Kristian "Gaahl" Espedal of one of his chief influences, Judas Priest's Rob Halford. "He's the man." In 2008, Gaahl joined Halford's ranks as an out vocalist fronting Gorgoroth, a Norwegian band vilified by the European media for their anti-Christian lyrics and shocking stage shows involving the "crucifixion" of naked male and female models. But as he's taken on his latest project, God Seed, he finds himself in considerable company.
Along with the hip-hop and R&B artists who've come out this year, 2012 has seen more queer musicians release hard rock and metal records than any year in recent history, to great reception by metal heads and music critics. Meanwhile, lead singers in punk and metal bands like Against Me! and Life of Agony have announced that they're transitioning genders.
Performers thumbing their noses at hard rock's hyper-hetero traditions include everyone from Gaahl and vocalist-guitarist Steve Brooks of the sludge-metal band Torche to drummer Daniel Pitout of grungy punks Nu Sensae and singer Jason Rivera of the metal ragers Gaytheist.
Of course, over the past few decades, queer musicians have played in groups like Husker Du, Kittie, and Otep, but being queer in the hardcore world wasn't always easy, as Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum, who came out in the early '90s, can attest. "It felt dangerous then," recalls Bottum. "I got a lot of warnings. At the same time, it was exciting to be amid people asking, 'Are you sure you want to do this? You might lose fans.' I liked that volatility."
But despite hardcore and metal's seemingly macho facade, homophobia hasn't really been a problem for the new queer aggro league. If anything, their sexualities and coming-out stories have given these men ammo to be even more defiant, fired up, and outrageous -- which is exactly what their fans want. "If you're not accepting of the fact that I'm gay, I'd be pretty confused as to why you're even listening to our type of music," says Pitout. Adds Brooks, "If someone flips me off at a show, I'll blow 'em a kiss."