Metal Chick of the Month – Mary Zimmer

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It’s my time to soar… I am here to stay!

Born and raised in Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin, but currently residing in “Sin City” Las Vegas, Nevada, the multi-talented Mary Zimmer, our metal chick of the month of April, is ready to set the world of heavy music on fire with her unique vocal range, stunning looks and ass-kicking onstage performance, proving why she was chosen in 2019 to become the frontwoman for Sacramento, California-based Power Metal unity Helion Prime. Not only an accomplished vocalist who can do both clean vocals and harsh screams, known for her work with bands the likes of Luna Mortis and White Empress (not to mention her years as a touring member of Helion Prime from 2018 to 2019), Mary has also been a vocal coach and instructor for more than a decade, a session musician for some amazing underground bands, and a YouTuber who discusses about singing, screaming and music theory, as well as reviews and reaction videos. Put differently, Mary Zimmer is just awesome, and I bet you’ll have a very good time knowing a little more about such skillful musician here on The Headbanging Moose.

A classically trained singer who has a Bachelor of Music from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mary has also studied additional techniques to shout and sing with The Zen of Screaming creator, Melissa Cross, allowing her to showcase all her vocal skills in bands from different styles as aforementioned, as well as her studies in audio engineering. “I got my degree in classical music fairly young at the age of 22. Even after my music degree, I did an absolute ton of research on the anatomy of the voice and tried to absorb all of the information that’s available out there,” commented Mary on her passion for technical singing. Long before joining Helion Prime, Mary was the vocalist for a band named A Touch of Evil between 2001 and 2002; for an American Folk/Gothic Metal/Ambient group named Earthen; for American Progressive Metal act Luna Mortis (and its previous incarnation The Ottoman Empire); for a band called Santa Marta from 2016 to 2019; and for American Extreme Symphonic Metal outfit White Empress from 2013 until 2016.

Perhaps the two most interesting projects she was involved in her pre-Helion Prime days are Luna Mortis and White Empress, with whom she recorded some excellent material and official videos. Let’s begin talking about Luna Mortis, formed in 2002 in her hometown under the name The Ottoman Empire, and as the vocalist for The Ottoman Empire she recorded the album Way of the Blade, in 2006, and the EP The Answer: Does Not Exist, in 2008. Then after the change in the band’s name to Luna Mortis still in 2008, Mary recorded with the band the 2009 album The Absence, presenting a much stronger sound and polished production compared to the band’s two previous releases. You can enjoy online the official videos for the songs Forevermore and Anemic World, and if you think Luna Mortis will be back in action one day, well, after their reunion back in 2013, which was not as great as the band itself expected as they had several internal issues (shortening the reunion considerably), and as mentioned by Mary herself, it was a failed experiment and she can pretty much guarantee they won’t try to reunite again. After Luna Mortis, Mary said she’s a completely different person on many levels, having changed mentally, emotionally, physically, visually and vocally, as you’ll be able to notice in White Empress.

It was in 2013 under the moniker “White Empress” (and later as Mary Z) that our unstoppable diva helped to found the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Extreme Symphonic Metal unity White Empress, having recorded a self-titled EP in 2014 and the full-length opus Rise of the Empress that same year (containing the four songs from the EP plus other original tracks). When asked about the concept of White Empress, Mary said that the band was band based around the character of the White Empress herself, an empowering and a feminine power in her own right, representing the individual inner strength and power we all have within, with the original concept being created by the band’s founder Paul Allender (better known for his superb work with Cradle of Filth for over two decades). If you want to have a quick and incendiary taste of their music, you can enjoy the official video for the awesome song Darkness Encroaching.

Mary can also be seen lending her powerful voice to different bands and projects as a guest vocalist, on top of her years as a live member of Helion Prime as mentioned before. For instance, she recorded the harsh vocals for the song Goodbye to Farewells, from the 2021 album Psychosomatic by Austin, Texas-based Progressive/Power Metal band Immortal Guardian; and vocals as “President Fox” on the 2019 self-titled album by Brooklyn, New York-based Symphonic/Progressive Metal project Valcata. Not only that, Mary was also involved in the recordings of the 2018 eight-track demo The Remains of Judgment, by Madison, Wisconsin-based Death Metal act Burial of an Era, showing another side of our multi-talented musician (and we’ll talk more about her technical skills shortly). When asked about how she became a session musician, Mary said that the fact she already had the skills necessary to record her own vocals, plus her business professionalism, made it easier for people to trust and hire her, complementing by saying that it’s important to choose if you want to be an in-person guest musician or if you want to learn how to record yourself at home and work worldwide, which of course demands some investments that can be a bit expensive for beginners.

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Regarding her career with Helion Prime, after joining the band as their full-time frontwoman Mary recorded the album Question Everything in 2020 with the band, currently comprised of our electrifying diva on vocals together with guitarists Jason Ashcraft and Chad Anderson, bassist Jeremy Steinhouse and drummer Alex Bosson. When asked what attracted her to Helion Prime in first place, she said she learned to love the guys from the band during her two years as their touring singer, enjoying singing their material, and finally deciding to join forces with them after it became logistically difficult for their previous singer Sozos Michael to be involved as needed. As Question Everything contains several songs that work as tributes to influential names in the history of science, Mary was asked which one of those people was her favorite one to sing about. “I think my favorite is Katherine Johnson. She’s the subject of the song Madame Mercury. Her story really speaks to the successes people can have against daunting odds, and she’s certainly an inspiration to folks all over the world,” said Mary, providing some inspirational words to us fans.

As already mentioned, Mary is a famous YouTuber who runs her own channel called VoiceHacks, providing singing and screaming tutorials for beginner to advanced vocalists, teaching private lessons, and training people in a variety of techniques. “I kind of became a YouTuber by accident. I’m a vocal coach and vocalist first and foremost who kind of ‘fell’ into YouTube as a result of using it as a hosting place for my tutorials and other resources for the people I teach,” commented Mary in one of her interviews, also saying that “I’ve been doing all lessons online since 2013 because physical in-person lessons are out of date and relatively impractical. Most people prefer not having to leave home for their lessons.” If you explore her YouTube channel, you’ll find several videos with important tips on how to preserve your voice while doing harsh vocals, how to reach the right key, how to fix “easy-to-correct” mistakes a lot of singers and producers make in the studio, and so on. For example, did you know that getting vocalists to aim upwards into the microphone while recording is not a good idea? “It’s way easier for a singer to sing a high note while looking DOWN! This being the case, I want all engineers to stop putting the microphone above the singer, and instead to place it straight in-front, or slightly below their mouth at a 45-degree angle,” said our talented vocal coach.

As usual, such important woman to the world of heavy music was asked several times about her view of women in metal, and her answer to that question focuses on the respect she gets as a musician instead of hearing things like “you’re a chick in a band, you’re a novelty”, also saying you don’t have to be a super model to be a great vocalist, although she truly enjoys all types of singers in the end. “I think there are a lot of particularly glamorous metal singers, I think… Simone Simons (Epica), Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), there is a lot of glamorous metal singers but then you also have your ones that just came in their t-shirt and jeans like Anneke (van Giersbergen) from The Gathering you know?” She also mentioned in one of her interviews when asked about the fact the recording industry is a heavily male-dominated business that it still astonishes her that all these years later she’s still one of the only women who knows anything about recording, albeit she doesn’t see it as a masculine or physically challenging task.

There were also three other interesting topics where Mary was asked to provide her insights on, those being the evolution in the music industry, what a manager can offer a band that’s proactive aside from contacts, and all environmental issues the world is facing. Mary said that what has changed most is the evolution from physical product to monetized music listening streaming and that has been a very positive change for all musicians everywhere, and she personally vastly prefers living in the digital era of music now. “It’s an utterly fantastic time to be a musician. There are so many resources at our fingertips. The only limit is our attitude, willingness to educate ourselves about the new music industry landscape and tools, and writing good music. That hasn’t changed, even with all the abundant opportunities for musicians, the songs still have to be good.” Regarding the need for a band manager or not, Mary said that there are good managers out there that have a good business sense, that are rooted in the genre that the band is playing and they have contacts and connections they can work on the band’s behalf to deal with publicists, tour planners, other things and just sort of be the mouth for the musician, and of course, that can be the a neutral face when dealing with people, avoiding exposing the band to negative feedback and opinions (in a good way, of course). And lastly, in regards to the way mankind is treating the environment, she said that she has three degrees in varying areas of Renewable Energy and from that education she has learned that sustainability is necessary for human survival. “The earth is a finite sphere with a finite amount of resources – a finite amount of matter and energy.  If we seek to live on a habitable planet, we must find totally 100% sustainable ways to live.  Unsustainable practices shouldn’t even exist.  I am a huge renewable energy advocate, as it is the most logical, safe, sustainable, abundant means of powering humanity,” suggesting we all watch the video or read the book Cradle to Cradle and learn about sustainability and how it changes the world and the environment.

If you want to have fun together with Mary, you can find several excellent interviews online with her as for example this one for Musican’s HQ podcast, episode 23; the one she did together with Helion Prime’s own guitarist Jason Ashcraft for Rustyn Rose from Metalnation where they discussed their new album Question Everything, Ronnie James Dio, special guests and the impact of Covid-19 on the music industry, among other topics; and this one for Audible.com where she discusses about her YouTube channel VoiceHacks. Having said all that, what are you waiting for to let Mary Zimmer and her powerful voice penetrate deep inside your soul in the name of Heavy Metal? I’m sure Mary will love to hear from you and to get your feedback on her undisputed work as the great vocalist she is.

Mary Zimmer’s Official Facebook page
Mary Zimmer’s Official Instagram
Mary Zimmer’s Official YouTube channel
Mary Zimmer’s Official Twitter
Mary Zimmer’s LinkTree
Helion Prime’s Official Facebook page
Helion Prime’s Official Instagram
Helion Prime’s Official YouTube channel

“I don’t think that metal is an intentionally sexist genre, I think metalheads are pretty broad thinking people and I think that most of them will give you a shot. If you can play you can play if you can sing you can sing. And it doesn’t really matter to a lot of them if you’re a woman or a man.” – Mary Zimmer

Album Review – Xythlia / Immortality Through Quantum Suicide (2020)

Enjoy this visionary soundtrack for our brutal, mutant universe, pushing the boundaries of Extreme Metal through the horrors of space vacuum.

The solo project of Minneapolis, Minnesota-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nick Stanger (also active in the ranks of black metallers Ashbringer), the distinguished entity named Xythlia brilliantly blends the most extreme Technical Death Metal and Grindcore with Voivod’s progressive and experimental approach and the mind-shattering guitar acrobatics of Krallice and Ocrilim, resulting in the perfect visionary soundtrack for our brutal, mutant universe, constantly changing its shape and skillfully alternating complex concatenations of schizoid death-grind riffs with short atmospheric interludes and space noises, dissonant and slanted melodies and crushing slow tempos. Engineered, mixed and mastered by Nick himself at Sound of the Northwoods in Minneapolis, and featuring a creepy and fascinating artwork by Mexican illustrator Carlos Agraz (The Art of Asty), where an alien creature performs a suicide ritual through the space and time continuum, furiously stabbing itself to death, the project’s debut album, entitled Immortality Through Quantum Suicide, testifies the birth of a new talent capable to look beyond the narrow confines of Extreme Metal, and to push it through the horrors of space vacuum. “When quarantine started, I had nothing but time to kill with a myriad of frantic uncertainty and anxiety,” explained Nick. “This record is a reflection of that. It’s a concept album that follows a character experiencing the full extent of isolation throughout infinite time.”

In the visceral opening track Death Unyielding, we already face a vile sonic devastation led by Nick’s infernal shredding, while at the same time he barks the song’s demented and chaotic lyrics (“Collider, a force that could wield the aeons / The secret to transcending time / Death will always show / Rearing its ugly head / Chaos, the beast unfolds / Devouring what’s left of this world / Day of reckoning / Waking nightmare / Chaos reigning / Death unyielding”), flowing into the also demolishing To Defy Inevitability, a lesson in Grindcore the likes of Napalm Death which also presents groovier and more atmospheric moments than its predecessor. In Initiation: Void we’re treated to thirty seconds of insanity in the form of sick riffs and blast beats, morphing into a Technical Death Metal havoc titled Tachyon Malnourishment, where Nick’s growls get more and more violent as the music progresses, with his riffs and bass punches sounding utterly metallic. Then in Antidream serene guitar lines work as the calm before a metal storm titled Ablation of Subconscious, starting in a more introspective way with Nick of course roaring like a beast while at the same time smashing his guitars and bass mercilessly, accompanied by his programmed but very organic drums in the most technical and progressive form of Grindcore you can think of.

Flesh Prison sounds infernal, rumbling and hammering from start to finish, with Nick’s riffs setting fire to the music, boosted by his thunderous bass jabs and the song’s wicked words (“Damnation / An eternity of peril / No end to suffering / Clench my fist / One more click / Body frail / Frantic mind”), whereas Post-Ironic Indoctrination is probably one of the most insane and disrupting minutes you’ll ever experience in heavy music. And that musical madness goes on in Schrödinger’s Foreskin, bringing elements from bands like Slayer and Exodus to Nick’s already hellish sound, not to mention the demented progressiveness he extracts from his violent bass, followed by The Eye Bath, another atomic bomb delivered by our lone wolf in a little over three minutes where he doesn’t stop slashing his guitar not even for a single second, therefore making your head tremble vigorously. After another round of sheer dementia titled Mutagenic Growth, it’s time for the closing tune Fester in the Nether, showcasing an eerie intro gradually evolving into more of Nick’s Technical Death Metal, blending furious riffs and beats with a reverberating bass sound. Furthermore, Nick definitely knows how to make the earth shake with his technical Grindcore, always vociferating rabidly to make things even heavier and more sinister.

Nick and his wild Xythlia are waiting for you to exterminate your senses in Immortality Through Quantum Suicide, and in order to show such insane entity of Technical Death Metal and Grindcore your support simply follow Xythlia on Facebook and purchase your copy of the album from the project’s own BandCamp page, from the I, Voidhanger Records’ BandCamp page, or from the Metal Odissey webstore. Nick might be one single man enduring isolation just like the rest of us, but we must admit he made an excellent use of his time alone to bring his unrelenting Grindcore beast to life in Immortality Through Quantum Suicide, condensing all the horrors, darkness and fears from space vacuum into a massive wall of sounds that will leave you absolutely disoriented after the album’s 23 crushing minutes are over. Let’s hope we can witness a second round (or maybe I should say reincarnation) of Xythlia in the near future, pushing the boundaries of extreme music more and more into the unknown, exploding our heads with his austere sounds for centuries to come.

Best moments of the album: To Defy Inevitability, Flesh Prison, Schrödinger’s Foreskin and Fester in the Nether.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2020 I, Voidhanger Records

Track listing
1. Death Unyielding 1:06
2. To Defy Inevitability 1:38
3. Initiation: Void 0:27
4. Tachyon Malnourishment 1:32
5. Antidream 0:45
6. Ablation of Subconscious 3:04
7. Flesh Prison 2:05
8. Post-Ironic Indoctrination 1:04
9. Schrödinger’s Foreskin 2:55
10. The Eye Bath 3:04
11. Mutagenic Growth 0:41
12. Fester in the Nether 4:45

Band members
Nick Stanger – vocals, guitars, bass, drum programming

Album Review – Sleep Signals / Transitions EP (2016)

High-quality and organic Heavy Metal perfect for enlivening us up anytime, anywhere, delivered by an extremely promising band from the United States who are just starting to pave their path to success.

Rating4

sleep signals_transitionsBlending elements of the most traditional form of Hard Rock from the 80’s and 90’s and the modern Heavy Metal played by bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, here comes the skillful American Alternative Rock/Post-Hardcore quintet Sleep Signals and their brand new EP, entitled Transitions, bringing you huge doses of electricity emanating from catchy choruses, powerful riffs and a true passion for music. Hailing for the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, this five-piece act is here to stay, aiming at disseminating their high-octane music all over the world for many years to come.

After the release of their debut album Open Your Eyes in 2015, many doors opened to the band in terms of touring and radio exposure, and based on what you’ll be able to hear in Transitions this positive trend is going to continue without a shadow of a doubt. Either by singing about deep and thoughtful themes or by simply offering you a nice soundtrack for a Rock N’ Roll party at your place, you can rest assured the music by Sleep Signals will never let you feel bored or tired at all, always driving the level of energy (and the music volume) up, no matter what the occasion is.

The opening track, Means, quickly grows into contemporary Heavy Metal/Metalcore the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, but with noticeable Power Metal influences.  In addition, lead singer Kyle Hanson has a very potent voice and makes use of it to boost the level of adrenaline in this exciting tune, with the backing vocals providing him an incredible support. Then we have The Harbinger, where the riffs by guitarists Robert Cosgrove and Colin Smith sound heavily inspired by that fantastic movement from the 80’s called NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), while drummer Taylor Madden dictates the rhythm with his complex and fast beats. And in order to make this song even more memorable, Sleep Signals managed to craft an extremely catchy chorus that will put you to sing along with them instantly.

sleep signalsIn the next tune, Digital Sleep, it’s easy to notice how much they love the music they play, offering the listener a modernized version of Hard Rock with a more aggressive attitude. Besides, it’s amazing how clear and tuneful Kyle’s vocals are and, although any of the songs in Transitions can be played on the radio and become an instant hit, I believe this one is the catchier of all five and a serious contender to become a Rock N’ Roll underground anthem.

Oceanus Borealis brings forward a Power Metal-ish intro that morphs into pure Metalcore in a vibrant semi-ballad, with Taylor and bassist Logan Rieger crafting an uplifting atmosphere for Kyle to deliver an emotional message through his vocal lines. And lastly, the title-track Transitions closes the EP in a more introspective and melancholic way. It’s undisputedly a lot more progressive than all previous tracks thanks to the job done by Robert and Colin on the guitars and Taylor on drums, not to mention its effective backing vocals. And when the song accelerates, it becomes a solid mix of old school British Heavy Metal and modern American Alternative Metal, something quite common nowadays in the world of heavy music, but usually not as good as what Sleep Signals are offering in this case.

In summary, what Sleep Signals deliver in a little less than 20 minutes sounds so solid and thrilling it’s hard to believe this band is just starting their career. Anyway, if you want to know more about them (and also take a listen at their previous material), go check them on Facebook, YouTube and ReverbNation, and don’t forget to show your support for the new by purchasing Transitions at the band’s official webstore or on iTunes. If I had to pick just a few of the several new bands I receive every week as the most promising ones or the ones with the highest potential to succeed in heavy music, Sleep Signals would definitely be among my choices. It’s good, organic and honest Heavy Metal that can be played anywhere, anytime, and that’s all we always look for in music, right?

Best moments of the album: The Harbinger and Digital Sleep.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2016 Independent

Track listing
1. Means 3:58
2. The Harbinger 3:39
3. Digital Sleep 4:02
4. Oceanus Borealis 3:51
5. Transitions 5:21

Band members
Kyle Hanson – vocals
Robert Cosgrove – guitar
Colin Smith – guitar
Logan Rieger – bass
Taylor Madden – drums