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Angry women find a way to sing out

Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, said recently in a magazine interview that "anger is not something that's an admirable trait in woman, whereas the angry young man is a hero."

Rock music abounds with belligerent expressions of male fury. But where are the angry female rockers? For the most part, female rock musicians have voiced either forlorn vulnerability (10,000 Maniacs) or, at best, defiance and aloof autonomy (Sinead O'Connor).

There are exceptions: Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses explores rage, aggression and mental chaos to mesmerizing effect. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth cultivates a tough, delinquent persona. And Lydia Lunch has been an unruly presence in underground rock for more than a decade.

Nonetheless, there's never really been a female equivalent to the insurrectionary personas of Johnny Rotten (the Sex Pistols), Axl Rose (Guns 'n' Roses) or Kurt Cobain (Nirvana).

This may be about to change. A new batch of female rockers _ most notably Babes in Toyland and the singers in Hole and the Nymphs _ seem unafraid to vent fury and flay guitars.

The Minneapolis-based Babes in Toyland can claim to have pioneered the new trend with its debut album, Spanking Machine, released by Twin/Tone in 1989. On last year's album, To Mother, Kat Bjelland (guitar and vocals), Lori Barbero (drums and vocals) and Michelle Leon (bass) gave us tangled thickets of noise, a combination of jagged, Sonic Youth-style guitar playing and psychotic rockabilly rhythms.

Bjelland snarls bitter recriminations, releases volcanic eruptions of fury or lets loose a sustained banshee howl. Songs like He's My Thing and Primus deal with relationships gone bad, violent possessiveness and broken promises. Emotional viscera are splayed with an unsettling starkness.

A common sentiment expressed by the group's fans, especially women, is that they can't always understand the words but are comforted by the angry quality of Ms. Bjelland's voice.

Despite the group's hard-core sound, Ms. Bjelland says that she draws most inspiration from soul, gospel and blues singers. Titles like Fork Down Throat articulate her idea of the function of art as purgative. "It's scream therapy," Ms. Bjelland said in an interview from Minneapolis. "If you let it all out, you feel better."

If there's a fundamental difference between the new female hard-core bands and their male counterparts, it's that female anger tends to be implosive where male rage is more often explosive. "Before I made music," Ms. Bjelland said, "I used to walk around in silence for days, or do obnoxious things to myself."

The Los Angeles group Hole offers a similar cauldron of negativity. (Courtney Love, the lead singer and guitarist, was once in a band with Ms. Bjelland.) Hole's recent debut album, Pretty on the Inside, on the Caroline label, is just as abrasive as Babes'. But Ms. Love and her band (the bassist Jill Emery, the drummer Caroline Rue and the guitarist Eric Erlandson) grind out torturous sound, vaguely redolent of Black Sabbath, that's both more punishing and more mainstream than that of the quirkier Babes.

Ms. Love is scornful of both tomboyish female singers and women who front all-male groups: "Why don't they pick up a guitar?" she asked in an interview from Los Angeles.

Women, she says, should not "deny their femininity by trying to be as unpretentious and stupid as all the other male hard-core bands." She also complains that it is hard to find female musicians who are prepared to work at learning their instruments. "Drummers especially," she said.

Ms. Love began her career feeling restricted to a decorative role in an otherwise-male band, an early incarnation of Faith No More.

"When women get angry, they are regarded as shrill or hysterical," she said. "In the mid-80s there was a great all-female hard-core band called Frightwig. But because they were ugly, they were easy to dismiss as uptight feminists. One way around that, for me, is bleaching my hair and looking good."

While the vocabulary of punk and heavy metal is based on a kind of teen-age delinquency, there has never been a branch of female brats. But groups like Babes in Toyland, Hole and the Nymphs take male adolescent tantrums back even further in time _ to kindergarten.

The name Babes in Toyland, the album title Spanking Machine and Ms. Bjelland's childlike clothing all suggest that the group's scream therapy involves regression. It's as though the conflicts referred to in the lyrics reawaken childhood traumas.

Babes in Toyland, Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine _ 7 p.m. Thursday, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg: $10 advance, $13 at the door.

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