London-based alternative metal group, Hawxx, have a purpose. That purpose is a mission. Their mission is a movement. This movement is a campaign. As a feminist band, they want their music to be ‘a collective experience of love and rage, holding women and queer people at the centre.’ Heavy rock with a justice warrior agenda is not as rare as you think, but seldom do you encounter it in the domain of down-tuned guitars and mosh-friendly poses. Hawxx are like a female Manic Street Preachers armed with Tesseract riffs and the dynamism of Oceans of Slumber. Welcome to the world of identity politics as a heavy metal ideology.
There are many reasons to roll your eyes at the intrusion of “woke” politics into a genre of music famous for its counter-cultural dislike of the mainstream. But it should come as no surprise that those that like to exist on the margins should also find people there from marginalised groups. Calling fifty percent of the world’s population oppressed seems a bit silly based on gender, but women face the prospect of unequal pay, domestic violence, sexual assault, and the pressure of looking beautiful for the male patriarchy – and that’s in the developed world. Album opener, ‘Death Make Sisters of Us All’, is a memorial to Sarah Everard, the woman who fell victim to a predatory member of the London Metropolitan Police in 2021 and paid with her life. “I wanna burn this city to the ground / For what he did to her / Make him hear our spiralling sound/ Tap-tap, knock-knock, bang-bang,” cries Anna Papadimitriou. The heartache and anguish are real. This band feel the suffering of innocent sisters the way a Ukrainian surgeon twitches when a soldier appears in his operating theatre for an amputation.
On a musical level, Hawxx lack the imagination to back their lyrics with memorable guitar riffs. The glorious chorus event of ‘Death Makes Sisters of Us All’ is strong enough to mask these weaknesses, but they soon become apparent on ‘The Worst Thing’ and ‘Reckless’. Both score high for lyrical insight, but they saunter in a mediocre hard rock paradigm when you want the aggression levels to soar beyond righteous anger. Indeed, the thumping drums in the latter march like soldiers under the drill of a sadistic sergeant, but the high-register guitar rotations leave no discernible hook.
Fortunately, Hawxx excel in the song-writing department. They see no need to look outside the verse-bridge-chorus structure when they understand it so well. ‘Embrace the Ugly’ dares to insert a screeching Pupil Slicer riff into its armoury as it dismantles the patriarchal obsession with notions of feminine beauty. The message could not be clearer: Be proud of who you are. Let no man dictate how you should look. Sometimes, the message arrives in a rush of hard rock adrenaline. Other times, they play with the subtleties of prog metal. ‘Trust Your Rage’ allows drummer, Jessica Dann, to pay homage to Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake in the middle-eight with a succession of mathematical equations. It’s the type of music the BBC and NME can get behind with Kerrang! following in pursuit (they once invited Jeremy Corbin to be a cover star!).
The power chords stride in menacing formation in standout track, ‘If Not Now, Then When?’ This is Hawxx at their best, as agitators against an establishment that overlooks violence against women. “We defend captivity / Like rats in mazes think they’re free,” declares Anna Papadimitriou. Listen how she scorns society’s acceptance of this status quo with a sustained call of “sick!”. Vitriol like this can make you uncomfortable, but you need to hear it. The same cannot be said about the infantile punk-nu metal hybrid of ‘Bite (Holiness in Fuck)’, which seems like a cheap strike against Christianity by declaring, “There’s holiness in queerness.” Likewise, writing the line, “I didn’t ask him to die for me,” is a delusion of grandeur bordering on narcissism.
One cannot deny the energy and enthusiasm of this record. It would be even better with musicianship levels that match the urgency of the vocals and the intensity of the lyrics. Only on ‘Soul-Breaking Machines’, can you ignore the bland guitar riffing, thanks to a wonderful display of emotional purring from Papadimitriou. Imagine how much better the angry slow-motion protest of ‘Fathertongue’ would be with more extravagance in the guitar department.
Hawxx have the melodies, the vocal lines, and the militant edge to their music, but their guitars have no shape. That’s a problem for a band that identify with hard rock and metal. Surely, they can rectify this on their next record?
Release Date: 03/11/2023
Record Label: Precarious Cheese Records
Standout tracks: Death Makes Sisters of Us All; If Not Now, Then When?; Soul-breaking Machines
Suggested Further Listening: The Warning – Error (2022), Kittie – Spit (2000), Oceans of Slumber – Starlight and Ash (2022)