Metal Chick of the Month – Cammie Gilbert

Holding on to everything you say… Cause’ your words they paint a picture of me…

In a very difficult year where the world sadly witnessed an increase in violence and racism against black people, and of course the more-than-necessary rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in their fight for freedom, liberation and justice, we at The Headbanging Moose want to share with all of you our humble tribute to another black woman who has been brilliantly fighting all that racism and showing to the world black women have their place in heavy music, just like other rock and metal divas who have already been honored here on our webzine like Melissa Bonny, Militia Vox, Alexis Brown, Thalìa Bellazecca and Kayla Dixon. I’m talking about the multi-talented and gorgeous vocalist and songwriter Cammie Gilbert, the stunning frontwoman for American Progressive Rock and Metal act Oceans of Slumber, a band that has already been labeled by many as “Opeth or Katatonia with female vocals”, but that in my opinion managed to craft their own sound and style, embellishing the airwaves with their delicate but at the same time scorching creations.

Born on October 8, 1987 in Shepherd, a city located in San Jacinto County, Texas, in the United States, Cammie joined Houston, Texas-based Oceans of Slumber at the age of 27, more specifically in the year of 2014 after the departure of the band’s former vocalist Ronnie Allen, who had been with the band since their inception in 2011. Cammie, who’s by the way on a solid and healthy relationship with the band’s founder, drummer and pianist Dobber Beverly, the sole reminiscent of their original lineup, became the primary songwriter for the group after joining, having already released with Oceans of Slumber the EP Blue, in 2015, followed by the full-length albums Winter (2016), The Banished Heart (2018) and more recently Oceans of Slumber (2020), all available for a full listen on Spotify. You can enjoy tons of amazing official videos of Cammie and Oceans of Slumber kicking some serious ass on their YouTube channel, including the songs The Decay Of Disregard, Pray for Fire, The Colors of Grace, The Adorned Fathomless Creation, Winter, To the Sea (A Tolling of the Bells), The Banished Heart, Strange Fruit, Suffer The Last Bridge, a cover version for Candlemass’ Solitude, an acoustic version for Turpentine, and a live in the studio version for the song This Road.

Currently comprised of the aforementioned Cammie and Dobber together with keyboardist Mat V. Aleman and newcomers Jessie Santos and Alexander Lucian on the guitars and Semir Ozerkan on bass, Cammie said that the band’s former guitarists Sean Gary and Anthony Contreras and bassist Keegan Kelly wanted to explore different influences and styles which never fit with what Oceans of Slumber were doing at that time, the kind of tension that’s absolutely normal, but she also said there were tensions as soon as she got into the band, resulting in a split between the former members not wanting to be “female fronted”. “There is a certain metal crowd that thinks its a gimmick. I’m not growling, I just sing clean and am emotional, but a lot of male singers have that emotion too. There’s just stigmas that make anything a woman does, the wrong thing for metal. We had a couple of those old school attitudes and transition wasn’t their strong suite,” mentioned Cammie in one of her interviews.

Apart from her years with Oceans of Slumber, Cammie is also the lead singer for a Houston, Texas-based project called Genoa Band together with Dobber and guitarist Christian Larson, another branch from Oceans of Slumber’s musical tree drawing upon the lyrical and atmospheric production of bands and artists like Nick Cave, Portishead and This Mortal Coil while still sounding heavy but more intimate, playing a fusion of styles such as Southern, Gothic and Dark Rock. However, there’s nothing officially released by the band and no news since mid-2019 when they announced their first single Paraffin was almost ready to be released, making me think if they gave up the idea of moving forward with the project due to everything that has been going on with Oceans of Slumber, including the recording and release of their 2020 self-titled album. You can also find Cammie as a very special guest in the 2020 album Transitus, by Dutch Progressive Metal/Rock project Ayreon, playing the part of Abby throughout the entire album. “We met a friend of Arjen Lucassen over in the UK and he was interviewing us and asked if there was anything that we wanted to tell Arjen. And so Dobber is like, ‘Yeah, if he could get any of us on an album, we’re big fans, and if you could have him listen to The Banished Heart, that’d be great.’ And so he followed through with that request. Shortly after that Arjen wrote that he loved The Banished Heart and he would love to work with me someday. And we were like, ‘Yeah, of course that’d be great.’ And then maybe a couple more months after that, it was, ‘You want to be on the album?’ And I peed my pants,” commented Cammie about her collaboration with one of her idols in heavy music.

When asked to make a list of the top 10 albums that changed her life, Cammie listed a collection of albums that usually occupy a dark corner of her mind where often emotions outweigh the heaviness of the music, including 40 Watt Sun’s 2011 EP The Inside Room, Agnes Obel’s 2013 album Aventine, Alice In Chains’ 1992 album Dirt (which by the way reminds her why she loves the kind of music that she makes), Anathema’s 2012 album Weather Systems, Eivør’s 2015 album Slør, Evergrey’s 2016 album The Storm Within, Katatonia’s 2016 album The Fall Of Hearts, Swallow The Sun’s 2015 triple album Songs From The North I, II & III, Agents Of Oblivion’s 2000 self-titled album, and last but not least, Type O Negative’s 1996 masterpiece October Rust. “I love Peter Steele. We love Type O Negative, there’s  just nothing like it. We go through a lot of his albums but that’s the main one for me. I love Cinnamon Girl, Be My Druidess and also Wolf Moon. Dobber saw them live once. Super jealous. I’ve just had to make up for it by reading the autobiography, and he buys everything he can as far as media regarding the band. It’s an experience to go through their songs. He [Peter Steele] is such a clever lyricist. It’s the funniest kind of music I feel like I listen to. It brings up my energy and makes me happy,” commented our talented vocalist about the unparalleled work by Mr. Peter Steele (R.I.P.).

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In one of her interviews, when questioned about the lack of more black women in heavy music, Cammie said that it’s due to a multitude of reasons, including sexist comments saying that her voice would fit pop or hip hop music much better than metal, and that clean singing that isn’t symphonic is connotated to sounding pop, which might influence the decision of a black woman to move towards a soul, gospel, R&B or blues direction. Cammie herself was basically told to sing in hip hop or pop and to never go anywhere near rock and metal, but no one ever told her why except for the preconceptions already mentioned. “And what Dobber heard in my voice and what he heard from me… I’m a very melancholy person. I’m in and out of bouts of depression and what I identify with metal and metal-adjacent music is, what I identify with the music that I find, if it makes me, if I’m already sad and it makes me sadder then I’m like, “This is going on a playlist.” And I like things that give me these, not give me these dark feelings, but validate my dark feelings, because I feel like that helps me release them,” said Cammie, also saying that she feels that’s changing as there are more and more alternative black and black metalhead females out there. For instance, her own parents were extremely religious, not allowing her to listen to extreme styles like Death Metal or Grindcore, but that’s different now as younger black kids and people in general can have access to all types of metal music through their phones, for example.

When questioned about the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and if metal has a problem with racism, she said that racism is everywhere, and that it’s something more people have to unlearn than they realize, especially in America. Despite being fortunate enough to not experience too many issues related to racism since joining Oceans of Slumber, she stated that she can no longer approach this subject without a multitude of emotions overtaking her resolve, nor keep the angry tears from welling up and pouring out of her eyes when black senators, mayors, celebrities and brave people online share their frustrations over America’s shortcomings. She feels like her history and the entire country are broken, with George Floyd’s death being a tipping point or a catalyst for a new generation to finally say enough is enough due to the undeniable ruthlessness in which his life was taken. “When you think about the history of America, there’s very little that’s good for anyone who isn’t white. That’s just the truth. It leaves a hollow feeling in your chest taking this information in from so many different outlets. You realize this country isn’t fixing something, it’s letting something go,” complemented Cammie about such delicate matter, also saying that in the days ahead we face the challenge of putting these emotions into goal-focused actions.

Lastly, always evolving as a vocalist and always ready to experiment with her music, Cammie is more than sure Oceans of Slumber are already starting to break out of the Progressive Rock and Metal scene, letting her inspirations guide her music and warning people who already like the band that they’ll have to let go of any expectations for what comes next, leaving us curious to see what the future holds for her and for Oceans of Slumber. Furthermore, as the fantastic vocalist  that she is, Cammie surely misses the stage and performing live to the band’s fans and to newcomers to their progressive world, and they’re already thinking of ways of getting back onstage in Houston obeying all recommended protocols of social distancing to keep everyone safe, including obviously all band members. And, of course, all of us fans of a good fusion of progressiveness, emotions and heavy music can’t wait to see Cammie back to where she belongs, mesmerizing us all with her powerful voice and showing us all black girls can and will forever rock no matter what.

Cammie Gilbert’s Official Instagram
Oceans of Slumber’s Official Facebook page
Oceans of Slumber’s Official Instagram
Oceans of Slumber’s Official Twitter
Oceans of Slumber’s Official YouTube channel

“I am a black woman in America and I am the great, great granddaughter of slaves. Memories upheld only in photographs; as a little girl I would try to imagine what their lives were like. But as it goes, reality unravelled the mystery behind my childish imagination. Now when I see old photos in civil war documentaries, I see their faces. When I watch the grainy black and white footage depicting the Jim Crow era, I see their faces. When I watch the films of the marches inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., I see their faces. And now when I sign into social media and see protestors getting tear-gassed, I see their faces, only now mine is there too.” – Cammie Gilbert

Metal Chick of the Month – Romana Kalkuhl

I was born to burn! Maiden of steel!

After a short and sweet break, The Headbanging Moose returns in full force with our metal chick of the month of July, elevating the temperature in the always hot summer in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re a diehard fan of old school Heavy and Power Metal the likes of Warlock, Judas Priest, Accept, Manowar and Grave Digger, I’m quite sure you already know our metal lady, but in case you’re still not familiar with her refined technique and deep passion for heavy music here’s a good chance for you to go after the music from her ass-kicking bands Burning Witches and Atlas & Axis. Hailing from the metallic lands of the charming and beautiful Switzerland, here comes the talented Swiss guitarist Romana Kalkuhl, ready to take the world of heavy music by storm armed with her inseparable stringed axe for our total delight.

Born in 1990 in Switzerland, Romana, whose full name is Romana Eskić-Kalkuhl (as she’s married to Swiss guitarist Damir Eskić, from the bands Destruction and Gomorra), comes from a family of musicians who have always supported her decision to become a professional guitar player. For instance, her father Meinolf Kalkuhl is an opera singer in Zurich, Switzerland, while her mother is a piano teacher. All that support resulted in the formation of her first professional band in 2009 while she was still in university. That band is Aargau-based Heavy Metal act Atlas & Axis, with whom Romana has already recorded two full-length albums, those being March of the Night, in 2011, and Confrontation, in 2014, not to mention all concerts the band has already played live. You can enjoy the Iced Earth-inspired sound of Atlas & Axis and Romana’s incendiary shredding on YouTube by listening to songs like Power and Might, Elements, To Violence and These Words, among many others, as well as the song Winter played live at the Dynamo in Zurich in 2014. Unfortunately, due to her current commitment to Burning Witches, our blonde warrior doesn’t have the necessary time to focus on Atlas & Axis at the moment, which means the band is on hold until further notice.

It was in the spring of 2015 in the city of Brugg, a municipality in the Swiss canton of Aargau, when Romana founded Heavy/Power Metal unity Burning Witches, following her personal dream of performing on stage with an all-female metal band. Earlier that year she started looking for talented women for her new project, with her longtime friend, bassist Jeanine Grob, becoming the band’s first official member. Then during a party at a festival she met vocalist Seraina Telli, from bands like Dead Venus, Rizon and Surrilium, starting a very healthy and productive partnership between them, with Seraina’s ideas and experience from her studies at the Music Academy and her bands being exactly what Romana wanted for Burning Witches. Having the one and only Schmier, vocalist and bassist for German Thrash Metal institution Destruction, as their producer and consultant (and a personal friend of Romana, by the way), and with drummer Lala Frischknecht and guitarist Alea Wyss completing the lineup after an intensive search and several auditions, Romana and her Burning Witches were finally ready to crush with their classic metal music.

Since the band’s inception, Romana and the girls have already released two full-length albums (their self-titled debut album in 2017, and Hexenhammer in 2018), one four-track live album named Burning Alive, recorded on September 30, 2017 at Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland, and now in 2019 they re-released Burning Witches / Burning Alive as a combo under Nuclear Blast. If you want to feel the power of their metal sword, simply go to Spotify or to YouTube and enjoy some flammable Heavy Metal anthems such as Wings Of Steel, Black Widow, and Executed, or many other live footage from Romana and the girls slaying everything and everyone that crosses their path like their flammable performance at Sweden Rock Festival in 2019; their concert in 2018 in Mannheim, a city in southwest Germany; and their powerful pocket show at Salzhaus Brugg in 2018.

Sadly for all fans of the band, lead singer Seraina Telli left the band earlier this year for personal reasons, being replaced by Dutch vocalist Laura Guldemond, from bands like Shadowrise and Synergy Protocol, and of course Romana had a few words to say about that change to her band. “This is, of course, a very sad moment for all of us. We have been very close for the last years and have reached a lot together. With great sadness we have to accept that Seriana wants to move on and we wish her the best of luck for that! Your time with the Witches will never be forgotten! For us as a band, it is important now to look into the new challenges and the new record — the show must go on!”, complementing her thoughts by saying that “we are super thrilled that we have found Laura so quick over our Dutch connection Sonia. We know it is impossible to replace a great voice in exact the same way; that is why Laura is the perfect choice for us. She will bring in her own strength and personality into the Witches! We will not change the identity of the band; we will continue playing the music we love! Laura is an experienced and crisp vocalist with a big range and a crazy enough personality to be one of us! Please give her a warm welcome — she has already won many metalhearts at our first show with her at the Sweden Rock Festival! We will continue to spread the magic of the witches — thanks for all the support over the years!”

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Regarding the fact that the band has become more international with the addition of Laura to their lineup, the second Dutchwoman in the band, Romana said that the collaboration between them is quite dynamic, with the Dutch girls flying to Switzerland over the weekend for rehearsals and concerts, while the rest of the time everyone practices their music from home. She also mentioned in one of her interviews that her main goal when she started Burning Witches was to have fun with the band, not because of success itself, complementing by saying that if one day that pleasure of playing with Burning Witches is over, then the band will also be over. In addition, when asked about how she keeps the band as independent and feminine as possible even with the influences of Damir and Schmier, she said that their help is based on their experience, something the girls from Burning Witches don’t have enough yet, and that Damir’s support was crucial to make everything happen, always keeping in mind the band was going to be (and will always be) an all-female metal band.

Romana’s list of idols and influences can easily be felt in the music by Burning Witches, with her favorite styles ranging from Heavy, Thrash, Death and Black Metal to Hard Rock and even Progressive Rock. According to Romana herself, the bands that have influenced her the most (and the entire band, of course) are Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Saxon, Accept, Dio and several other renowned acts from the NWOBHM. Also, in regards to her equipment, Romana has always played Charvel and Jackson USA guitars, since the beginning, saying those are the best ones in her opinion, and although she’s endorsed also by Fender (apart from Charvel and Jackson, of course) she doesn’t use it when playing live just because she has so many instruments of the other two manufacturers. And before I forget, did you know she also plays classical guitar? Our dauntless metalhead is not only a shredder, but as you can see she’s also a woman who adds a touch of finesse to her guitar lines.

When questioned about the differences and disparities between men and women not only in Heavy Metal, but in music in general, Romana said that it might look easier to be an all-female group at first, attracting a lot of attention form the media and the fans (especially when all band members are beautiful like the ladies from Burning Witches), but it only gets harder and harder as time goes by due to the systemic sexism found everywhere, complementing by saying that many people will see them as just “pretty faces” and think that it’s a man who’s doing all the job in the background. Romana also said that one of the very positive effects of her all-female band is serving as the inspiration for other women to attend their concerts and start their lives in metal, which in my opinion is indeed an amazing change to a music genre mostly dominated by men, whereas the more sexist metal fans ended up reacting very negatively to their music. Who on earth wouldn’t enjoy watching five talented women kicking some serious ass on stage, playing old school metal music? You have to be really stupid, and not just sexist, to think the Burning Witches are not a great metal band.

Anyway, as aforementioned, Romana is married to Damir Eskić, guitarist for Destruction and Gomorra (which was previously called Gonoreas), and it was actually during a Gonoreas’ concert that the couple met, with Damir having a huge influence on Romana’s playing style as he was the one who taught her a lot about the instrument (albeit she already knew how to play it from her school years). On a side note, Romana said she was impressed by Miriam Zehnder, who played the rhythm guitar at Gonoreas at that time, also saying her stage presence fascinated her a lot, showing how connected Burning Witches and Gomorra are not only because of Romana and Damir. In addition to that, Romana said her relationship with Damir is quite healthy, dynamic and fun, with Damir being for example the music collector while she’s more interested in clothes, and so on. Damir considers himself the coach, the moral preacher and the main supporter of the Burning Witches, keeping the girls happy and motivating them even in difficult situations, all confirmed by Romana who also said Damir also makes sure he gives them a motivating speech before every concert, getting them ready to rock on stage.

Both Romana and Damir seem to be extremely busy professionals, and when asked about how they manage all their duties and their relationship, including their music lessons as both are teachers at different music schools (Romana works at three different schools while Damir works at two schools and at the conservatory in Winterthur), she said although they don’t actually have time for anything else, they still manage to have a normal life as a couple, as all those things have already become a part of their everyday life. Furthermore, the couple might not have real rings, but the dates tattooed on their fingers already say it all, showing a lot of mutual respect and admiration between them, with Romana saying that although they’ve already been together for over a decade seeing each other pretty much daily, they still miss each other when they’re on tour in different parts of the world, mentioning for example how difficult it was during the two week Damir was away with Destruction this year. She wasn’t really complaining about that because she understands how hard it is to be part of a band that tours a lot and how lucky both are for being in successful bands, but let’s face it, it’s indeed tough to be away from your loved one no matter what, even if it’s in the name of our good old Heavy Metal.

Romana Kalkuhl’s Official Facebook page
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Burning Witches’ Official Facebook page
Burning Witches’ Official Instagram
Burning Witches’ Official Twitter
Burning Witches’ Official YouTube channel