A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Jo Bench (bassist for Bolt Thrower)

bt-logo

Those of you who are death metal fans know that Bolt Thrower retired last week. Its been a year since the passing of their drummer, Martin Kearns (Kiddie), and with that, they’ve finally laid down their instruments together.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that their bassist, Jo Bench, is one of my favorite low-enders. Her style is relentless and unstoppable. Whenever I talk about her with people, I end up comparing her to a steamroller, flattening everything in her path with the riffs emanating from her bass. She’s not flashy, but her groove and sensibilities mesh with Bolt Thrower’s playing so seamlessly, it makes me tear up. The duo of her and Kiddie are one of my favorite rhythm sections in metal. When I think “driving rhythm” in metal, they’re one of the teams that always come to mind.

Jo is one of the first women to gain prominence in death metal. She might actually be the first. While editing my wife’s thesis on women in extreme metal, I learned about classifications of women in metal from scholars such as Sonia Vasan and Deena Weinstein that placed them into two main categories, one of which flaunted their sexuality or gender difference to find a place in the scene and another of which adopted more “male” trappings and behaviors to fit in. I think Jo fit into the latter more than the former – although she might have somewhat sidestepped the entire issue of being a “woman in metal and/or rock” by being a musician first and woman second, when conducting herself both on- and off-stage for Bolt Thrower.

jo-bench-bt_inferno06_2

Jo is a mysterious figure to me. She doesn’t interview often and doesn’t discuss gender at all, to my knowledge. Her aim is to be considered as a musician, not as a female musician, and I think that she’s achieved that. She doesn’t dress to call attention to her gender, instead letting her sound define how she’s perceived onstage. Metal scholar, PhD & musician Jasmine Shadrack (who presented at the MACI conference with my wife and teaches in England) demonstrated that in extreme metal, it is often impossible to determine a musician’s gender solely by their sound, and I’m happy that Jo is living proof of that. Most people hear her play and assume its a guy. All I hear are uncompromising grooves.

Anyway. I’ve wanted to write a post about her for 5 years, but I’ve never found the information that I wanted to post about. I know that she’s self-taught, but I don’t know her musical history – like what attracted her to bass, specifically, and her views on constructing basslines and playing with a band, or other types of music she’s interested in – and what bassists she admires. Noisey just posted a nice article about her in which they asked other women metal musicians about their views of her – including two women that my wife interviewed for her thesis – Carolina Perez (Castrator, Hypoxia) and Lesley Wolf (Mortals). But I can safely say that its not just women she’s inspired – I’m a fan too, and I try and fumble through her basslines from time-to-time as well!

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So, here’s the article from Noisey:

And, here’s my favorite BT song, Lest We Forget, from the …For Victory album:

Lest We Forget

R.I.P. Bolt Thrower. Jo – I hope we hear from you again.

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3 responses

  1. Great post! I’ve been listening to Those Once Loyal all week…

    September 23, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    • vishalicious

      I throw on …For Victory regularly, especially in September. When 9/11 hit us, I was driving in my old Explorer and had been listening to it right before switching to the news to get the traffic & weather. I heard about the first plane, and then the second… it was the most chilling feeling, because I thought that it was the beginning of an invasion. It struck me, even then, that BT was the perfect accompaniment to what was happening. I listen to that album ritualistically on 9/11 now, but I also spin it regularly a lot throughout the year.

      September 25, 2016 at 5:33 pm

  2. Pingback: Jo Bench (Bolt Thrower) – Collected interview snippets | Ugly Bass Face

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