It was November 24, 2013. The venue wasn’t nearly filled yet, but quickly a relatively new band hits the stage. I’d never seen them before but here they were in Philadelphia, opening for Lamb of God and Testament at the Electric Factory. While my academic life and my metal life sometimes (but not all that often) intertwine, I was turned on to this relatively new, opening band, Huntress, by a fellow professor at my college about three decades my senior. At lunch he says to me, “Jeff, I understand you’re into heavy metal. You know my neighbor plays drums in a metal band and they just released a great song called ‘I Want to Fuck You to Death.’” Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the world of elite liberal arts colleges in the northeastern part of the United States, highly esteemed and highly educated faculty are generally much more into nuanced and extreme music than you might think, so only a few heads turned as Professor Artie and I led a table discussion in the Faculty Dining Room about heavy metal music and the influences of Motorhead on today’s modern metal. Only a few people left for a different table.
Artie, of course, was talking about the band fronted by Jill Janus, and while many folks on campus will often suggest bands to me that they recall from their youth in 70’s or 80’s -or ask me if I know of a band like “Suicide Silence” or “Breaking Benjamin” because their son or daughter has been getting into them and the parent/colleague is concerned about the band name or the imagery, I took Artie’s suggestion seriously when he told me the band was opening for acts like Danzig and Testament. I’m not sure I’ve heard many people I work with speak the word “Danzig” unless they were talking about the geography of Poland or “Testament” unless they were in the Religious Studies department.
Needless to say, I love bands that make it national with local connections to my home in Southern Pennsylvania, and, with few exceptions, Danzig takes some pretty incredible bands on the road (Proper Grounds notwithstanding). So I had to check them out. Immediately I fell in love with their record on I started listening to back in my office… Great leads, classic musicianship and a singer with incredible range who sang about the occult, witches and evil – but with a profound level of welcome brevity in the lyrics and a massive punch in the vocal delivery. Jill Janus, as I came to love, was fronting one of my would-be favorite new bands.
Though I generally prefer my metal on the black side with tons of tremolo and Hoest-like vocals, I couldn’t help but get hooked on Huntress. The band clearly fell into the more traditional orchestration and sonics of metal, but Janus, in terms of both her live performance and fearlessness when composing dangerously complex vocal arrangements, really brought Huntress to this unique plane of existence that was exciting to even the most seasoned and experienced ear.
When Huntress took the stage at the Electric Factory that night, before even the 9 o’clock hour, I made my way to the front and took a spot at the rail. About three songs in, nobody was even getting close to the rail as the back bars and snack bar had emptied. People in the pit put their phones away and bodies drew closer and closer to Janus as she confidently moved about the stage with her classic straddle pose, surveying the crowd, staring fans right in the eye and connecting directly with them. Janus was wearing these black boots that could kill and she held the mic with long and lean hands that donned her signature knife-like nails.
While many fans find some of the early opening bands on major tours a bit of a drag, Huntress simply couldn’t give the fans enough. We were all begging for more. Thankfully, the band was hanging out at the merch table and talking to the many who were also enamored with the performance. Quite simply, I became a huge fan that day and never stopped.
Huntress had somewhat of a revolving door of members but Janus and guitarist Blake Meahl were the core team. The band gave us three incredible, truly timeless metal records that will stand on their own for decades to come – all great – and each was slightly more mature than the one before. There is little doubt that Janus’ work on the painfully reflective Static was the apex of her catalog. Listen to Jill’s vocal sweep you away on “Flesh,” and quickly wake you up on “Black Tongue.” Listen to her pour out her soul on and share her story on “Mania” and then experience her explicit urgency and that slight roll of her “r” sounds on “Four Blood Moons.” Janus could do dirty, filthy vocals and then immediately turn 180 degrees and rise 3 octaves higher into Mariah Carey territory (you can hear this on the track “Spelleater” from their debut record of the same name.)
Jill Janus was an extremely gifted performer and artist. She was so much larger than life, larger than the stage, larger than metal. Whether it was her wild performances in the Huntress videos, her dark and wicked (yet completely approachable) sense of humor or her love of sharing her thoughts and feelings on the occult, blood, Lemmy or the tarot with her devoted fans, Jill Janus made our world and our scene better.
Alpha Tauri, which Jill sings about on the Starbound Beast record, is the leading star in the Pleiades. Alpha Tauri, which is also known as Aldebaran is Arabic for “foremost.” The ancient Greeks called the star Lampadias, or “torch bearer.” Like Janus herself, undoubtedly both a torch bearer and leading star in our world, Alpha Tauri is revered in the mythological realm for its striking appearance and its ability to stand out. It’s little wonder why Jill connected with it.
While the end of Jill’s presence in this realm ended sadly, there is no doubt that Janus’s contributions to the world of metal brought so many of us immense joy, increased contemplation, intrigue, humor and love. I will miss Jill Janus immeasurably.