Heavy metal might not be music to everyone’s ears, but for Salem-based mezzo soprano Haydee Irizarry, the catchy and often misunderstood genre is her chosen form of expression. And that has been most of his life.
Throughout the pandemic, however, Irizarry had time to do something she hadn’t done in years – she sat at the keyboard in her bedroom studio and went down to a rabbit hole. nostalgic by rediscovering songs from his youth. She filmed and posted these intimate performances on Instagram.
“I always go with the feeling, so today I feel like singing an Otis Redding song,” the 26-year-old singer said in our interview before singing the opening lines of the 1965 hit song. , “I’ve Been Loving You For Too Long.
Irizarry remembers how his family listened to everything from Redding’s soul to the salsa of their Latin culture as a kid in Chicago. “I went to a private Lutheran school,” she recalls, “which automatically immersed me in classical and choral music”.
Then Irizarry also became enchanted with the much more headstrong musicality of rock and heavy metal. “And when I was 8, I was like, ‘I want to be a metal singer,” she said marveling at her child, “8!”
The often exaggerated theatricality of metal, fast-firing drums, and melting guitars drew Irizarry to charismatic frontmen and iconic bands such as Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
When asked what drew her to the more difficult things, Irizarry said the metal offered release and salvation as she struggled with her parents’ divorce, an abusive brother and her sanity. .
“When I first started I really connected with the aggression because of all the things I was feeling at the time,” she explains. “I was feeling a lot of dark and intense things that I didn’t really know how to express outside of music.”
Irizarry went on to study jazz, classical and contemporary music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she also became the lead singer of her classmate’s death metal band, Aversed. There, Irizarry refined a style that oscillates between the so-called “clear vocals” and the throaty voice that some metalheads affectionately call “the Cookie Monster voice”.
“It’s really like a change in my mind,” says the 26-year-old, adding that the varied voicings help her tap into an unfiltered and limitless palette of textures and emotions.
“If I were a painter, I could choose only the cool colors – those would be the pretty sounds,” she says. “But I pick them all out and express really aggressive things that I feel in an aggressive tone. So the way I would describe my voice is just on the table.”
“The way I would describe my voice is simply on the table.”
Irizarry’s lineup and gripping stage character have earned him a few new nicknames, including Haydee the Hyena, Metal J.Lo, and Metal Selena.
“I love Metal Selena and Metal J.Lo because I love to embrace my culture,” she says, “like wearing my hoops.”
Irizarry is Mexican-Puerto Rican and she also wears a lot of black leather, spiky studs, and bright colors on her eyes, lips, and nails. In the performance, she strives to deliver what metal fans expect from live shows.
“Definitely get in front of their faces,” Irizarry laughs. “That’s what metal is.”
Irizarry’s booming voice and larger-than-life stage presence are captivating, according to guitarist Cody Michaud. After seeing one of his shows with Aversed in 2017, he asked him to lead his Salem-based stoner / doom metal band Carnivora. Irizarry is the group’s first lead singer.
In the group’s Lynn practice space, Michaud explains how Irizarry’s nimble mesh of raw metal voice with his refined vocals transcends their genre.
“In all honesty – at least in the metal scene here – I feel like there are a lot of talented singers out there, but really not too many singers who are professionally trained and have the real ability to really sing at a level. high level. ”he says. “And she’s one of the only ones I can think of.”
Michaud mentions “Bogdweller”, the first song and video that Irizarry made with Carnivora which has garnered over 18,500 views on YouTube.
Michaud believes that Irizarry is helping Carnivora evolve in a direction that is more sophisticated, more accessible, and less fueled by testosterone. She recognizes that metal can be intimidating and hopes to demystify the form so more people give it a chance.
“If you’re a fan of folk music, there is folk metal and symphonic metal,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be Cookie Monster’s screams. It’s not always aggressive. It can be very beautiful.
But Carnivora’s decision to become a female metal band drew some criticism. “There are always Internet trolls who say, ‘Oh, this is just a token piece, a marketing strategy type thing,’ Irizarry says.
“The face of metal is changing a lot towards women and women from all countries who look so different. It’s great to be a part of this change.
The heavy metal community is always learning to talk about women in the genre, which can be frustrating as Irizarry says bands with lead female singers are often lumped together even though they create drastically different sub-styles.
“I’ve seen people label it as a genre: ‘female front metal’,” she explains. “It’s not a genre.”
Even so, Irizarry agrees with the nickname. Metal has long been a genre populated by male musicians, largely white, but she adds, not anymore. “The face of metal is changing a lot towards women and women from all countries who look so different. It’s great to be a part of this change.
At first, Irizarry didn’t fully embrace her Metal J.Lo and Metal Selena nicknames – but now she does.
“Yes, I wear this with a lot of weight and pride in the hopes of inspiring people,” she says. “Like, I can be Latina and really brutal at the same time. These may appear to be two opposing worlds, but they can coexist.
For the future, Irizarry dreams of traveling the world with Carnivora and being able to make a living from his art without having to work one day. It has been difficult without live performances throughout the pandemic, but the group was able to release videos and singles. She was also able to explore her softer side through a collaborative solo project called Zahra Lux. And Irizarry finally finished an R&B song that she started writing at Berklee in 2015.
But beware: the metal-ista returns to the limelight with Carnivora in New England concert halls this fall, including the Worcester Palladium in December, and she can’t wait.