GRASKOP, SOUTH AFRICA—
There are plenty of talented women in South Africa's burgeoning music scene. But a woman playing drums in a heavy metal band is still a rarity. Yet that's exactly how Courtney Gibson, 24, is making a name for herself. She fronts Johannesburg-based band, Mizera, that plays death and thrash metal, two highly aggressive subgenres of heavy metal, typically using distorted guitars, deep, growled vocals and supercharged drumbeats.
A blue haze of smoke engulfs the crowd at a music festival in Mpumalanga Province. The stage is swathed in purple light. Three big men dressed in black denim and leather step forward, wielding droning electric guitars. They launch a tidal wave of sound.
One concert-goer - bearded, adorned with multiple tattooes and silver nose-rings - exclaims when he realizes the drummer is woman.
Courtney Gibson's long brunette hair cascades over her thin arms in a blur as she pounds the drums at furious speed.
She's living her childhood dream of being a metal bland drummer.
"I started listening to Metallica and a lot of old school stuff. I really liked Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath," she explains. " I just really loved the drums. I always thought the drums were like an awesome instrument and I always had a feeling for it…"
At age 16, Gibson's parents helped her buy her first drum kit. The family lived on a game farm at the time.
"So it was like the only house in the middle of the bush and I had this drum kit and I used to just play every single day, just jam on my own," she muses.
Gibson says people at Mizera gigs are always "shocked" when they realize it's a woman on drums.
"They kind of sit and watch the first song and you just like see their mouths just like drop and they're like, 'What? Whenever I get off the drum kit, everyone's like, …You don't play like a girl!'" she chuckles.
Giibson doesn't see herself as a female drummer, just as a drummer.
"I don't really register that I'm different to the guys. I just play and feel the music," she says. "Other people are like, 'Oh, how do you play like that, you're so tiny!' I'm like, 'I don't know, I just play,'" she laughs. " It's weird when people are like, 'Oh, you're a girl.' So?"
And it is not just that Gibson is a drummer but in this kind of band that throws people. Many here consider death and thrash metal to be negative, promoting violence and even Satanism.
But Gibson is adamant the music she makes with Mizera is positive.
"It's kind of just sending out a message of good. It's not anything evil at all. I'm actually a Christian…" she says, adding that the band's songs celebrate individuality.
"The one song that I wrote is pretty much about not being trapped in yourself, like just letting yourself be yourself, letting your soul free. It's called 'Prison of Flesh'. It's like being who you are and not being trapped inside your own flesh."
Gibson is anything but trapped - she says playing the drums frees her and allows her to demonstrate how happy she is just being herself, regardless of what people may think of her or her music.
WATCH: Mizera band video