How Screaming Females Howled Their Way Into Our Hearts

Robert Menzer
Screaming Females are a thrice-blessed band.

They have an impressive body of work with no stinkers in the batch — not too shabby for a band that’s released six LPs and two EPs since forming in 2005. In drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike, they’ve got a killer rhythm section. And frontwoman Marissa Paternoster is one of the most distinct and powerful singer/guitarists to emerge from the American musical underground since the new millennium.

Paternoster gives the New Jersey trio its lasting power and appeal. While so many bands in the early aughts were embracing New Wave and post-punk minimalism, eschewing ecstatic guitar shredding for the kind of tight riffing you’d hear on Strokes records, Paternoster was embracing her inner guitar god. Her playing can veer from beautiful psychedelic chords to fierce noisy dissonance that sounds like a raccoon is trying to burrow a hole into her guitar.

But the real secret weapon of the band is Paternoster’s unique voice.

It’s hard to draw an exact comparison between her vibrato and other singers in the rock canon. Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker comes close. Both have a similar fierceness in delivery. Another vocal predecessor is X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene, whose unhinged, bratty caterwauling on the classic sax freakout “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” threatens to drown out everything else on the song.

Paternoster’s strident voice has the same quality — like it’s battling her guitar and the rhythm section for dominance.

There’s anger in Screaming Females’ body of work. But for all the rage and noise they kick up, the trio makes music that makes you want to embrace life and fight for it.

That spirit is most apparent on 2012’s Ugly, the LP where Screaming Females found a sweet spot between polished sound and righteous anger. Made with Steve Albini, the band’s fifth LP captured all their fury while also displaying the band’s growing ability to pick up some old tricks from the classic rock playbook. Highlights like “It All Means Nothing” show off Paternoster’s ability to write anthems as well as head-bangers, while songs like “Red Hand” showed that she hadn’t lost her ability to mangle guitar strings and vocal cords like a maniac.

On 2015’s Rose Mountain, Screaming Females added a couple of scoops of melody to their sonic recipe. Paternoster’s voice didn’t switch to banshee mode as often, and the guitar solos felt more contained. Instead of a bull rampaging in the streets, it sounded like one bucking in a rodeo ring — still savage as hell, but under control.

In September, the band released “Black Moon,” their first new song since Rose Mountain’s release. With its squiggly guitar lines and insistent drumming, it sounds more impassioned and urgent than anything on Rose Mountain. Paternoster’s voice hasn’t returned to its Poly Styrene heights yet. But she still sounds like she could rip off your ear if you got too close to the speakers.

Screaming Females are scheduled to perform on Friday, October 20, at Valley Bar. Tickets are $12 to $14 via

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Ashley Naftule

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