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Remembering Jill Janus Of Huntress, One Year Later

On the first anniversary of her death, we look back at the incredible talent and tragic passing of Huntress’ Jill Janus.

No matter what genre they play or how they present themselves, a musician dying by suicide is always heartbreaking. That someone who inspired so many people saw no other way out is a crushing reminder that even those capable of creating immortal art are vulnerable, and can succumb to depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness. But it’s especially tragic when an artist who seems strong — whose message is one of never backing down, and living life to its fullest — takes their own life, because it shows the world just how futile those hopes can sometimes feel.

Such was the case of Jill Janus, vocalist for Californian heavy metal band Huntress. An incredible vocalist, a powerful performer, and good-natured metalhead, Jill was both an amazing frontwoman and an avid supporter of heavy metal music – one of the fans even as she became a star. But her death one year ago today, and the mental health issues that led to it, is a stark reminder that even the most robust personas in metal might be in need of help.

Jill Janus Sawa Photo

From the moment Huntress hit the scene in 2010 with their Off With Her Head EP, Jill Janus become a figure of renown. It wasn’t just that she was a statuesque blond with a fashion sense ranging from Rob Halford to Vampirella, but also that her delivery and stage presence made her a striking frontwoman and a defender of the faith. Janus’ vocals had all the soar of power metal, but at the same time channeled the sneer and snarl of street metal acts like Motörhead (Lemmy was so impressed by the band that he even wrote the lyrics to a track on Huntress’ 2013 album Starbound Beast, titled I Want To Fuck You To Death).

On stage, Janus was an energetic fury, shrieking with a rancor not found in plenty of contemporary metal acts and looking like an apocalyptic warrior woman who’d just stepped out of Heavy Metal Magazine. With Jill at the helm, Huntress became a unique player in the scene, not quite retro while simultaneously old-school as fuck. It was this talent that ranked Jill among the metal gods, making her the kind of vocalist who could sit in for Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg at the drop of a hat.

But perhaps what endeared Jill even more to the metal masses was her ridiculous and sometimes vulgar sense of humor. Jill was never afraid to put herself out there, whether it was pranking her fans with a naked toilet photo when she got food poisoning or starring as a sexy lesbian vampire in her ‘70s Italian schlock horror-themed video for Sorrow. Hell, when Huntress was announced to play on Motörhead’s Motorboat cruise, Jill made the news public by posting a video of herself motorboating a female friend.

And yet, in the years leading up to her death, Janus’ battles with mental illness became more and more of an issue for Huntress, most notably in 2015, when she posted a cryptic message to Huntress’ Facebook that seemed to imply that she had quit the band. Guitarist Blake Meahl quickly replaced that post with a follow-up explaining that Jill had just overcome surgery for uterine cancer, and said in a statement, “Her bouts of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and disassociative identity disorder have been particularly difficult lately and are ultimately responsible for her unfounded statement last night.”

Even with Jill’s severe mental health issues, her passing shocked the rock and metal world. Anyone who had known Jill remembered her kindness and fun-loving nature; that someone so full of life would want to take their own ripped their hearts out. Guitarist Blake Meahl posted a public statement saying that he and Janus had spent “9 years together creating a home, having a family and building our passion project Huntress. The devastation of knowing I will never see her again is the most gutting emotion I have ever experienced.”

If there was any silver lining to Jill’s death, it was that it rallied the heavy metal community to acknowledge and raise awareness for mental health issues. While the untimely deaths of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell were unspeakably tragic for so many, they also felt tied to the rock stars’ troubled personas and lyrics; but for Jill, a strong female voice and an avatar of the seemingly invulnerable worlds of heavy metal and thrash, to take her own life, throttled the community in a specific way. In response, Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale began promoting the #RaiseYourHorns hashtag, urging metal musicians from all over the world to raise awareness of mental health issues and let their peers and fans know that they are not alone.

To metal fans around the world, Jill Janus will always be remembered as an incredible talent, a stunning personality, and most of all, one of us. But the lesson her death taught the world shouldn’t be forgotten, and is an important reminder that even those who come off as indestructible may be fighting their own demons, and losing. Today, we remember Jill’s strength, creativity, and smile, and hopefully look to keep her fire burning in all those who might feel their own slowly going out.

If you or anyone you know might be at risk of suicide, please call 116 123 in the UK 1-800-273-8255 in the US to speak to a counselor.

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Posted on August 14th 2019, 6:00pm
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