Since the dawn of distortion, heavy music has been closely associated with catharsis and the release of negative emotions. But as Hawxx guitarists Anna Papadimitriou and Hannah Staphnill see it, metal has the potential to be all the more powerful, disruptive and healing if its intensity can be harnessed and redirected towards specific societal ills.
“Metal is usually this blank canvas that people can project their feelings onto,” says Anna. “But we want to take that a step further and concentrate that catharsis specifically into feminist rage.”
Their debut full-length record, Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones, does just that as it fuses Anna’s guttural seven-string riffs and Hannah’s “noisy, atmospheric squealing” with lyrical themes that decry violence against women and champion self-empowerment. The band also prioritises creating safe gig spaces for female, trans and non-binary fans, with the aim of mobilising “people that are usually on the margins of these gigs to take up space and be confident.”
As Anna puts it: “If you’re moshing, but you’re moshing in a ‘My body, my choice’ kind of energy, it’s a whole other experience.” Their messages have galvanised a strong following since their earliest single releases in 2019, with hundreds of fans coming together to crowdfund the recording of Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones.
Musically, Hannah and Anna’s dual-guitar dynamic is where the magic happens. Both Jackson endorsees, they play Pro Plus Series Dinky Modern six-string and seven-string guitars respectively and rely on Neural DSP Quad Cortexes for all their tonal needs. Together, they meld technical ability with an altogether more conceptual approach to noise making.
“It’s not about how fast you can play,” says Hannah, whose specialty is providing animalistic whammy wails atop her bandmate’s bludgeoning rhythms.
“It needs to sound like pain or it needs to sound disgusting, and I guess it’s more like how you might compose soundtracks, because it’s about what the guitar needs to convey.” She adds with smile: “I have written myself into a corner though, because now I can’t play without a whammy [bar].”
But the pair never showboat their considerable chops just for the sake of it, aiming instead to “de-wankify” some of the more clichéd metal techniques. For example, Anna describes the looped verse and pre-chorus lick of Reckless as a minute and half of minimalist “sad tapping”, and you’ll hear traditional Greek rhythms from her childhood getting the heavy Hawxx treatment on If Not Now Then When.
“Every song is its own world and we kind of serve that song to the best of our abilities,” stresses Hannah. “I think that’s always important,” adds Anna. “We don’t ever aim for flashiness…”
- Earth, Spit, Blood & Bones is out now on Precarious Cheese.