Rants, Feelings & Opinions

The Uncompromising Female Sexuality of Metal Bands Vastum and Couch Slut

August 12, 2016
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Female sexuality is not only complex—it’s a tug-of-war between arousal and revulsion (sounds cool, right?). Matthew Sanders explores this dichotomy, specifically in the music of girl-powered metal bands Vastum and Couch Slut.

“I want to talk about all those dirty, little girl things,” are the first words you hear on Couch Slut’s debut album, My Life As A Woman. Written out they seem vaguely innocent, Lolita-esque, like they’d fit into the coquettish bubble-gum-pop-and-a-wink of a Katy Perry song.

But hearing it is a different story. Megan Osztrosits, Couch Slut’s vocalist and lyricist, starts singing and it feels like she’s tearing the words from her body. Like another metal band, Vastum, Couch Slut’s music is unsettling, and yet still uncompromisingly sexual. These two bands express a side of female sexuality that is different from what we normally see and hear—and what society expects—in popular culture.

For years, scientists and society dismissed female sexuality and desire as passive. As sexuality writer Michael Castleman M.A describes it in a post for Psychology Today, women were considered simply “fleshy receptacles for male lust,” and were socialized to believe that “ladies” had no sex drive. Right.

However, only recently have scientists begun to really focus on female sexuality and desire, and studies are confirming something most of us already know: that female sexuality is complex; a tug-of-war between the body and the mind, arousal and revulsion. An example of this is the “rape fantasy.” When Salon’s sex writer Tracy Clark-Flory asked Daniel Berger, journalist and author of What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, why rape fantasies are so common among women, Berger suggested that one reason was “The force of culture puts some level of shame on women’s sexuality, and a fantasy of sexual assault is a fantasy that allows for sex that is completely free of blame.” In other words, fantasies and expressions of arousal and revulsion, like rape fantasies or many others under the BDSM label, can resist the shame and boundaries that society places on female sexuality and desire.

A recent example of the shame culture places on a woman’s sexuality can be seen in the reactions to Nicki Minaj’s video for her single “Anaconda.” Minaj’s music videos are frequently wildly decorative expressions of female sexuality and desire. And yet, if you look at the cesspool that is Youtube comments for responses to her video for “Anaconda,” a gleeful feminine twist on Sir Mix-A -Lot’s “Baby Got Back (I Like Big Butts)”, it’s her sexuality that is used to dismiss her music. Ahh yes, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s track was certainly a funny work of art, but “Anaconda”? Shameful!

And yet, with Nicki Minaj and “Anaconda,” we are still in the trappings of the “pretty” in pop culture. This is not to say “pretty” is wrong in any way, but “prettiness” is certainly not the whole equation of female sexuality. Bands Vastum and Couch Slut, on the other hand, present a side that is unsettling and unnerving. It’s not safe or pretty—it’s sexual and deeply human.

Couch Slut’s “Lust Chamber”

Let’s start with Vastum, whose music is like a Bataille novel for your ears. Vastum play Old School Death Metal (OSDM). The genre is a dirge of distortion, growls, weird rhythmic changes, and menace. The lyrics usually evoke the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft and the fantastically gory sexual violence of slasher films like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) or Toby Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

But where so much of OSDM’s lyrics feel gimmicky and for shock value, Vastum’s lyrics are psychosexual and leave you downright queasy. Take lines from “Repulsive Arousal”, the last song from their second album Patricidal Lust, for example:

Violated, a sickening pleasure
 Disgusted by the fantasy
 Mind conquered by lawless desire

 Towering figure reappears
 Larger than the night before
 Millisecond glimpse of that everchanging face
 I freeze in repulsion, the revelry
 Nausea mingled with excitement
 I take him in completely

Vastum’s “Repulsive Arousal”

Gone is everything “pretty” and safe for a complex play of fantasy and fear. Vastum’s expression of sexual desire is a tug of war between the body and the mind, arousal and revulsion, “Nausea mingled with excitement.” As Leila Abdul-Rauf, guitarist, co-lyricist, and co-vocalist in the band, described their music in an interview with Noisey: “There’s nothing really “sexy” about it! We describe sex in this really vile way that’s graphic, it’s horrific. It’s just really dark and ugly. And hairy, and sticky.” While Vastum’s music is never explicitly presented from the female perspective, that gender neutrality leaves its complex and unnerving, “hairy and sticky”, depictions of sexuality for women as well as men. 

couch_slut_medium_imageMy Life As a Woman cover

Couch Slut’s music is explicitly about being a woman and sexual. Nowhere is this clearer than the title of their album, My Life as a Woman and it’s accompanying album cover: an illustration of a woman giving a blowjob. Couch Slut faced the all too similar dismissal of expressions female sexuality and desire due to that album cover. North American album printers refused to print it despite the printers claiming that, save for racism, anything was fair game before seeing the cover. A woman giving a blowjob: not fair game. Other incredibly violent album covers from metal, though? Fair game. Eventually, the label printed the album cover outside of North America.

Couch Slut’s expression of female sexuality and desire continues into their music. It’s unrepentantly angry, noisy, and exhausting. Harmonies coalesce and then shatter like a hard slap. The genre? Can rage and aggression be a genre? I often find the “evilness” in metal to be posturing. It’s fun but it rarely feels “real”. That’s not the case with Couch Slut. Osztrositz’s voice spirals from a soft clean singing voice into agonizing howls of sexual aggression and violence. Few singers have ever been more effective in metal, period. Even the song titles, “Lust Chamber”, “Carpet Farmer”, and “Split Urethra Castle”, are unsettling in their telling suggestion of sexuality and violence, desire playing out as a fight between arousal and revulsion, a heady mix of hate, fear, revenge, and underlying sexuality.

Couch Slut’s music video for “Lust Chamber” makes this visible. Grindhouse streaks and sickening neon filters flash over a stream of images of hardcore gangbang pornography, women orgasming, women fighting, and leering faces. It’s tough to watch and listen to, but at the same time exciting and cathartic. It’s definitely not “pretty.” Osztrosits herself during an interview on the podcast “As The Story Grows” described her music as “therapy” and it comes across in the incredibly blunt yet complex depictions of female sexuality and desire the music and music video expresses. It’s an outlet for very real feelings. Like Vastum, Couch Slut’s depiction of female sexuality and desire, with all its unease and rawness, is human.

Female sexuality and desire is, despite society’s dismissal, complex and multifaceted. While it commonly appears in “pretty” or safe forms, Vastum and Couch slut present another valid side of it through metal. It’s unsettling and unnerving, and uncompromisingly human.

Matthew Sanders is a writer and graduate researcher in film studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

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