Quantcast
No Guts, No Glory: How Bolt Thrower’s Jo Bench Inspired a Generation of Metal Musicians

Members of Noothgrush, Immortal Bird, Mortals, and more pay tribute to the woman behind those world-eating basslines.

Representation matters, whether we're talking about pink and blue children's toys, eyeballing the number of women leading Fortune 500 companies, or wondering why the #OscarsSoWhite. Even in so-called "alternative" subcultures like punk, hardcore, and heavy metal, there's plenty of work to do. In a scene as traditionally male-dominated as metal, that need for representation is more than just a talking point or a snide comment about safe spaces; it's imperative, acting as a full-on catalyst for change, progress, and the further acquisition of killer riffs. 

Without trailblazers sticking out their necks to make room for those who came after, metal would be a profoundly different place—and one with a hell of a lot less to offer. Imagine for a moment how fucking BORING metal would be if women like Lita Ford, Wendy O. Williams, Liz Buckingham, Chiyo Nukaga, and Jo Bench had never squared their shoulders, picked up an instrument, and got to work?

That's right—without Jo, one of the greatest death metal war machines the world has ever seen would've been a profoundly different entity.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the very course of extreme metal itself would've been altered had she never picked up that bass. Without Bench firmly holding down the low end with unflappable grit and power, who's to say if we'd have ever been graced with "Cenotaph" or "The Killchain"'s murderous churn, or been given the divine opportunity to wreck our necks to that most emblematic battle roar of them all, "World Eater"?

Now that the cannons have faded and the global metal community continues to mourn Bolt Thrower's demise, I wanted to pay tribute to Jo Bench's enduring influence, both musical and personal. Obviously, Bolt Thrower fucking rules—anyone with functioning ears can suss that out—and her playing is a huge part of their sound, but for me, discovering that I shared a gender with the impossibly badass person behind those massive bass riffs was an incredible feeling. I came across Bolt Thrower back when the only other non-dude metal musicians I knew of were vocalists in commercial metal bands that failed to satisfy my cravings for darker, louder, heavier fare—and then, suddenly, there was Jo. She was this axe-wielding, blazing beacon wordlessly telling me, "You belong here, too," and I immediately took that message to heart.

As I've learned over the years, I'm far from the only person who felt that way. Even beyond gender, many Bolt Thrower fans relate to her longtime commitment to vegetarianism; others admire her punk ethics and take-no-shit attitude; we all worship her bass-playing acumen and powerful onstage demeanor. After Bolt Thrower announced their breakup, I reached out to a few musician friends who I knew were big Jo Bench fans, and have compiled their thoughts on her legacy below.

She who dares, wins.


Cover photo by Bert Harmsen​ for Metalshots.com
Black and white photo by Marco Manzi
All other images courtesy of the artists

Erika Osterhout
Bassist: Necrosic, Extremity, Trepanation, Scolex

What's the first memory you have of realizing Jo Bench existed? 
My friend made a mixtape for me and put Bolt Thrower on it. He said it was punks playing metal, which I have a real soft spot for, so I was hooked immediately. He also kept talking about how awesome Jo is and he'd never really gone on about any other bass players, so I thought I had better pay attention. 

What about Jo Bench—her playing, her presence, her attitude, etc—drew you to her? 
I appreciate that she's pretty humble about her playing. Having been mostly self taught myself, I'm pretty relieved when a musician in a band I hold high admits the same thing. It helps give her a very genuine presence. Her focus as a bass player is to stay tight with the drums and be reliable and consistent and she's done exactly that for decades. 

What's your favorite Jo Bench memory?
That would definitely be when [Autopsy vocalist/guitarist] Eric Cutler introduced me to her and the rest of the band at their show at the Metro in Oakland. She and Karl complimented me on my Stiff Records shirt and Eric asked for a picture with two of his favorite bass players; a memory I won't ever forget. It was cool to see Bolt Thrower and Autopsy reminisce about their European Bloodbrothers Tour in 1990. The Autopsy rehearsal space is littered with flyers and posters from that tour and other shows and they'll tell stories about their shows a lot,  so seeing the two bands hanging out with each other again was great.


Chiyo Nukaga
Drummer: Noothgrush, ex-Graves At Sea, ex-Amber Asylum

How did you feel when you found out it was a woman laying down those sweet basslines?
 I was stoked. I was already really fond of Lorax from the Melvins at the time. Jo seemed more bad ass, more mysterious to me. 

As a musician, what did you learn from her? 
You can be badass and speak through your playing, not through anything else.

What's your favorite Jo Bench memory?
I was so lucky to have played with Bolt Thrower when they played in Oakland a few years ago. It was a dream come true. I met Jo during soundcheck and she was so sweet. The whole day/evening was unbelievable. I can't remember what we talked about since I was in awe. I wish I could relive that day everyday. 

What kind of influence do you think she's had on the extreme metal community?
I think she's had a HUGE influence in so many ways, not in just metal but also in the punk community too. She's adored by so many people. Men, women, bassists, and all musicians and non musicians too. The fact that she was playing in Bolt Thrower and still had been for all of these years is just so great. She was playing in a time when it was still mostly men playing metal. 


Leila Abdul-Rauf
Guitarist/Vocalist: Vastum, Hammers of Misfortune, Cardinal Wyrm, Ionophore, ex-Amber Asylum

What had been your exposure to women playing metal prior to discovering Bolt Thrower?
In 1993 I was in a band in high school that played a show at CBGB's and sharing this bill—don't ask me why or how—was none other than the Great Kat. I particularly remembered her shred version of 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. She was a force of nature beyond words. Given it was 1993, and the peak of grunge, playing speed metal was rather uncool, so the room cleared after she started playing, save for her one camera man filming her. I was honored to be one of the three people watching (gawking).

What about her—her playing, her presence, her attitude, etc—drew you to her? 
I don't know much about her, but from reading her interviews, she seems down to earth, focused, and extremely dedicated. She doesn't draw attention to or separate herself from the rest of the band in a way that many people in bands do. From watching live videos, she doesn't sexualize herself onstage the way many female musicians feel they need to; she's a kick-ass bass player and that's all she - or anyone else for that matter - needs to put out there.  I also personally identify with her struggle of keeping a band together through several line up changes. 

What kind of influence do you think she's had on the extreme metal community?
Artistically, Bolt Thrower has proven through its longevity that death metal can defy trends and always remain relevant and fresh, that a band can gain recognition while operating on its own terms, and not sacrificing its soul for popularity; Jo has been a huge part of this. It's an attitude that is also essential to the way that my bands operate. Also, the cultural significance of Jo being the first of many women to play in a widely recognized death metal band can not be denied.

Laura C. Bates
Violinist, Vocalist: Völur

How did you feel when you found out it was a woman laying down those gnarly basslines?
Glad. I mean, I just have a love and respect for brutal basslines, I'd like to think that gender is beside the point for me… but when I saw a woman killing it at death metal and destroying the whole "it's a man's game" stereotype, I couldn't help but feel inspired.

What about her—her playing, her presence, her attitude, etc—drew you to her?
I'm drawn to her musicianship, her integrity and obviously her commanding RIFFS. She's the real deal, simply an outstanding bassist in a legendary band… I have the impression that gender is pretty inconsequential to her, that her femininity was never a hindrance or an asset to her in her long and respected career. Perhaps she would agree with me in that genitalia is boring, that what comes roaring out of your cab is what matters.

What does Bolt Thrower mean to you?
In 2015 I went to London Ontario to hear Bolt Thrower, their performance in Canada in almost 20 years. I've taken in a lot of heavy music, but it was the most captivating show I've ever experienced. All kinds of metal fans travelled from across the province and from Quebec to revel in the presence of death metal royalty… to respect Jo Bench, King of the riffs!!! Everyone was so impacted, I can't explain it, it was magic. Bolt Thrower filled me with hope for what I do...that music CAN matter that much to people.

Kat Gillham
Vocalist/Drummer: Winds of Genocide, Uncoffined, Lucifer's Chalice, Enshroudment

How did you feel when you found out it was a woman laying down those  basslines?
I thought it was really cool to see a woman making such brutal and heavy music and COMMANDING the bass as she does, I mean back then the scene was more male dominated than ever and there she was bulldozing down the gender barriers and gender stereotypes and kicking ass and sexism with that bass in her hands!

As a musician, what did you learn from her?
She taught me that gender is irrelevant when it comes to playing heavy music and that a woman can hold her own and play an instrument just as good as a man and that just because you are a woman it doesn't mean you can't create brutally heavy music with a bass, guitar, drums or throat! She is a pioneer and definitely paved the way and opened doors for women to get more actively involved in such a masculine scene as death metal/grind. Her and people like Alicia Morgan(13), the ladies in Mythic and Derketa and Corinne (Acrostichon)really opened my eyes and taught me that ladies can rock just as hard as men!

What kind of influence do you think she's had on the extreme metal community?
Her influence is HUGE! Jo is a death/grind pioneer in her own right and the music she has been involved with via Bolt Thrower has influenced and inspired COUNTLESS bands worldwide. I dare say without Jo there might have been less female musicians actively involved in the late 80s/early 90s death metal scene, for a start, but she has no doubt inspired so many women to pick up a bass, guitar, pair of drumsticks or pick up a microphone and form their own band and get actively involved in the death/grind scene.

Carolina Perez
Drummer: Castrator, Hypoxia

What about her—her playing, her presence, her attitude, etc—drew you to her? 
She never wanted attention. She really loved playing her instrument. She is amazing. I only saw them twice and it was at MDF back in 2009, I think. She was so humble and real. It was amazing!

As a musician, what did you learn from her? 
I would say to stay humble and not let gender get on the way of music because it can happen very easily in the metal scene esspecially! But you should always stay true to your instrument and yourself.

What would you want to say to her if you had the opportunity?
I would tell her how much I admire her and thank her; even though she doesn't get enough recognition, all of us ladies in the metal community know how much she did for us and metal!

Rae Amitay
Drummer/Vocalist: Immortal Bird, Eight Bells, Thrawsunblat

What's the first memory you have of realizing Jo Bench existed? 
I was borrowing a friend's bass just to see if I liked it, and they'd always recommended Bolt Thrower to me. I started jamming along to "In Battle There Is No Law" one night and I loved it so much that I called my buddy to let him know. I said, "Dude, Bolt Thrower is excellent, and I love the bass playing" -- He replied, "Yeah, Jo Bench rules!" but I assumed he was saying "Joe" and I didn't realize the maelstrom of sick low end was coming from a woman until a Google search informed me about a week later. I remember being fairly incredulous and extremely excited. I wasn't in any bands at this point and had mostly seen women being treated as ornamental when playing bass or keys in heavy genres. I thought it was insane that I hadn't heard about her before, as a bassist, metalhead, and woman. I felt like I should've known about her all along!

What about her—her playing, her presence, her attitude, etc—drew you to her? 
I was drawn to her style of sheer heaviness and the absolute lack of a gimmick. There is something both tasteful and utilitarian about her playing, it's hard to explain, but impossible to ignore. I am not someone who feels terribly comfortable or enthusiastic when people insist on calling attention to my gender, and based on interviews and stories from mutual friends, it seems like we have that in common. 

 What does Bolt Thrower mean to you?
Bolt Thrower is one of those "common ground" bands for me. I can be with a group of people who can't agree on what to listen to, but Bolt Thrower will always elicit, "Oh yeah! Throw that shit on!" Seeing them at MDF also made them more meaningful to me, as it was my first time seeing them live and the excitement from everyone in the crowd was at a level I'd never really seen before. Bolt Thrower is seen as classic now, but I hope people appreciate how innovative they were, too. 

Kayla Phillips
Vocals/Noise: Bleed the Pigs

How did you feel when you discovered Jo Bench?
I was in middle school when I started listening to Bolt Thrower, and right around then was also getting into starting my own bands, so as a kid it was amazing to hear her play like it was nothing. I couldn't think of many women playing death metal and, at the time, thought I was weird for liking it, but if she was doing it, I could too!

As a musician, what did you learn from her?
She inspired me to keep trying and make nothing of it. I wanted to be just as good of a musician as her, so I learned how to play the drums. Now, she's always a reminder to me that women handle our own just fucking fine and always have.

What kind of influence do you think she's had on the extreme metal community?
We've all tried to lay down those basslines at some point, right?

Sanja
Vocalist: Boneplow, Elliott's Girl Chorus, ex-Skelptarsis

Do you remember how you felt when you first realized that Jo Bench existed? 
I suppose it was when I moved into my current house, in 2013, and one of my housemates at the time was super hyped on Bolt Thrower. He was always talking about BT, I remember looking them up on YouTube and being stoked to see that there was a woman in the band, almost cheated, like why did nobody tell me their bassist is a woman?! Why am I the last to know! I think I was extra happy to see that she dressed like a regular person, not a fetish model with heaving cleavage. 

What about her—her playing, her presence, her attitude, etc—drew you to her?
The fact that she presents herself as a normal musician who rips on the bass is rad as fuck. The fact that she doesn't get tarted up for shows. I don't know her personally but I suppose that indicates to me that she presents herself as who she is, and that is refreshing. The fact that she has been vegetarian longer than I have been alive is huge to me! I've been vegetarian since I was 12, vegan since I was 19, and it is a special kind of fondness to realize that someone else has that lifestyle or belief system in common. 

What had been your exposure to women playing metal prior to that?
I came up in the hardcore scene in the Bay Area, so to me it wasn't uncommon to see women playing in bands, Punch was big, Look Back and Laugh, Replica. I remember seeing Iskra and being stoked on their band and their singer. I think when I moved to NYC I was exposed to bigger shows and different bands, seeing Girlschool play at Saint Vitus was a highlight. My friend CeCe Loessin, who plays guitar in Phobia, absolutely shreds and doesn't apologize. False out of Minneapolis absolutely melted my brain the first time I saw them, I just got to see them again at Migration Fest in August and they did not disappoint. Also meeting Lesley Wolf, who plays bass in Mortals and Belus, and talking to her about her experiences playing in bands and her attitude of "just go out and do it" was influential to me, especially as a newcomer to the NY metal scene. Oh, and CASTRATOR. They are everything I ever wanted from a band! They rule so much. 


Gyđa Hrund Þorvaldsdóttir
Guitarist: Angist

What's the first memory you have of realizing Jo Bench existed? 
I can't remember exactly when that was but I had been listening to Bolt Thrower at friends' house before and immediately loved their sound. I then finally acquired a CD by Bolt Thrower, think my first one was ...For Victory, and after reading the booklet to bits I realized it was a woman playing bass. At that time it was really hard to come by new music in Iceland and more underground CD's weren't really sold in the shops so you listened to a lot of music with friends without having a physical copy of your own. So it took a long time to realize that there was a woman in the band. But maybe that's a good thing; to learn at a young age to let the music speak for itself and not let gender or appearance of the members influence your opinion of the band and their music.

How did you feel when you found out it was a woman up there rocking the bass?
I remember thinking it was a really cool thing and for me it was my first exposure of a woman in this genre of metal. It was inspiring to see this talented woman doing her thing and not being thrusted into the spotlight just because of her gender. She is in the band for a reason, because she kicks ass on the bass.

Thinking back to it, I always remember people were interested in this fact about Bolt Thrower around me but Bolt Thrower has never been promoted as female anything so people always had immense respect for her. For me personally that's something I've thought about a lot regarding my own band as we have always steered clear from any gender labels, we just want our music to speak for itself and not the fact that 50 percent of the band is female. But Jo Bench was without a doubt a pioneer for women in metal and things have changed a lot since Jo started playing Bolt Thrower (and her other bands). Women are more visible in the genre and especially the media landscape has changed drastically. So I guess they hadn't invented this new genre "female metal" back then…

Natalie Kahan
Vocalist: Wildspeaker

What had been your exposure to women playing metal prior to discovering Jo Bench?
Growing up, I was always captivated by bands that were driven by women. In middle school I didn't have many friends who were into aggressive music so it was exciting every single time I found a CD of a new band that included a woman. When I was 14, I heard The Distillers' Sing Sing Death House and wore that CD out until there was nothing left.

As a musician, what did you learn from her?
The most important part of getting into music is sticking to it. I think Jo had only been playing bass for a few months before joining Bolt Thrower. Here she is, 30 years later, with albums upon albums and international tours behind her. You don't have to start with much, just start. If you never stop creating, you can do anything.

What would you want to say to her if you had the opportunity?
Thank you for ferociously sticking with your craft for all these years. I am terribly sorry to hear about Kiddie's passing and the end of Bolt Thrower. I really hope you continue to create music until the end of time.

Lesley Wolf
Bassist/Vocalist: Mortals, Belus

"What strikes me most about Jo Bench is actually what she doesn't do.  I love that she joined the band without much experience playing the bass at all, instead coming at it with confidence that she would be able to do that job, no problem.  She isn't a flashy player, in fact, none of the members of Bolt Thrower are really show offs with their playing or stage presence at all which is maybe why I like them so much.  It's simply about the smart songwriting: heavy riff after heavy riff punctuated by solid drumming and low end of the bass, plus death metal vocals all about battle and war.  Each song has a trajectory, there is never a moment of "fluff."  There is not one album that can be pointed at as a dud.  And Jo was part of each and every one.  

I honestly don't remember when I became aware of Jo being the bassist in the band, but I will never forget when I finally got to see them play live for the first (and now likely the last) time in 2013.  She really is very unassuming onstage.  She plays with confidence and a little bit of her own personal swagger, but not at all trying to flaunt anything about her sexuality; she is there to execute her basslines and that is it. She headbangs, she is clearly enjoying herself, and there is joy and passion emanating from her.  She is a true musician. If I ever had the chance to talk to her, I would ask her how she handles my favorite question posed to me by journalists: "What is your experience being a woman in a metal band/in the metal community?" because there is no way she hasn't been asked that less than a thousand times by now. I imagine she and I would find a lot of common ground in our experiences over the years and it would be so interesting to hear her perspective. I remember reading an interview where she said she doesn't see any perks being a woman in the band, for example, she carries her gear like the rest of them and that was refreshing to hear since it's the same on my end.  Downplaying the woman card is something I try to do, and from what I've read and observed, I think she is doing the same.  

Jo represents the kind of mindset that I try to impart on so many female identified heavy metal music fans when they come at me with the 'I wish I could do what you do' commentary.  Anyone can go be a musician in a band if they really want to.  It's about finding the right combination of people with a common goal (and practice!). That is what Jo did, and look what happened.  Arguably one of the best death metal bands was born."


Kim Kelly is hearing cannons fade on Twitter​.