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On the Role of Clothing Styles In The Development of Metal - Part I

Written by: scskowron
Published: 05.07.2005

For those of you who may have been turned off by the title of this article, it is understandable. Most people, myself included, would agree that clothing does not make a person a metalhead. Most metalheads, particularly in the extreme metal genres, are especially wary of people who make themselves look like a metalhead solely based on how they dress. However, one cannot deny that the way a band dresses is typically representative of their music. Excluding posers, one can typically tell what a person listens to based on their clothing choice. This article will attempt to show how metal fashion styles came to be, what they are, and what they represent.

The Beginning
Though most people consider Black Sabbath to be the beginning of metal, a earlier source is sometimes cited. Steppenwolf, the cult biker band noted for such hits as "Born To Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride" really defined the first metal image. Appealing to the motorcycle generation, Steppenwolf appeared clad in black leather. Tight jeans, biker boots, and leather vests were among the earliest "metal" attire.
Then along came the two big bands that blew the metal genre open: Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Unlike Steppenwolf, these two British bands dressed like real hippies of the 60s. They didn't exactly appeal to the bikers, but rather appealed to the underground blues and to a lesser extent, the beatnik generation. Sab and Zep wore peasant shirts, tight spandex pants, clothes with polka dots, and leather jackets with fringe. The "black" image was not as important as the "rebellious" and "wild" image yet.
Later in the 1970s came a band that had such a huge impact on the metal image forever. Judas Priest, also out of Britain, adopted the biker clothing reminscent of Steppenwolf and mixed it with the arena rock image of the time. Lead singer Rob Halford, an admitted homosexual, borrowed styles from the underground BDSM culture and fused them with the biker culture. Out came tight leather pants, leather vests, big boots, studded belts, studded bracelets, and studded armbands. Other members of Priest dressed similarly, sometimes with more arena-friendly clothing like spandex pants. The other NWOBHM giants of the time, Saxon and Iron Maiden followed suit. Saxon dressed similiarly and proclaimed their image in their anthemicsong "Denim and Leather": "Denim and leather / brought us all together." Iron Maiden's early image was closer to arena-friendly spandex and the band was not typically seen wearing black leather and studded belts. However, guitarist Adrian Smith perhaps dressed the most consistently with the other leather bands of the time and still does to this day.

Metal Thrashing Mad
By the time the 80's started, NWOBHM was losing it's grip as the dominant metal genre of the time. Speed metal, later termed thrash metal, began to develop, along with it's own clothing style. The Big Four thrash bands (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth) of the time set the trends. Perhaps the most influential was Metallica, with a rough and rowdy American thrash image. Unkempt and dirty, Metallica dressed in ripped denim jeans and vests and the occasional leather jacket. Megadeth and Anthrax dressed similarly. Megadeth's singer Dave Mustaine even borrowed from the punk subculture in donning the well-known "bullet belts" about his waist. However, in the early years, Slayer followed a darker and more extreme pattern. Taking the studded black leather image to an extreme, Kerry King and the gang added huge nails to their leather wristbands and imprinted inverted crosses on their guitar straps with silver studs. They even added black eyeshadow. While not popular at the time, Slayer pioneered an image soon to be followed by later extreme metal bands. They eventually dropped this image towards the end of the decade, preferring a more casual black t-shirt look.

Death By Dawn
The middle of the 80's saw the rise of Death Metal with new bands like Possessed, Morbid Angel, and Death. Early on, these bands followed the extreme image of Slayer, as death metal began just as an extension of thrash metal. However, as the Florida Death Metal scene of the early 90's took effect, death metallers began an anti-trend. Rather than dress as extreme as possible and turn the scene into a trend, death metal bands dressed in casual black clothes: sleeveless band shirts, black jeans, and sneakers. Cannibal Corpse infamously sported sweatpants in an effort to prove that image was not important in death metal. Even today's death metal bands wear this casual black t-shirt and jeans look in an effort to put emphasis on the music. In order to attain a more intimidating and masculine image, bands like Deicide and Morbid Angel developed massive bicep muscles. While some death metal bands still follow the casual t-shirt style of the 90s, others, like Nile and Cryptopsy prefer a slightly more sophisicated look. Plain black t-shirts or collared shirts with some plain black pants adorn these death-rockers.

Kill With Power
Power metal also formed in the 1980s with bands like Helloween, Dio, and Yngwie Malmsteen. Because this music was not as extreme as the other genres that were forming, the clothing style reflected such changes. The epicness and the lyrical style of the music mandated a more epic clothing style. Ronnie James Dio, though on the border of heavy and power, defined the fashion with medieval-style garb. Though not dressed in chain mail and armour, Dio dressed in tight pants and peasant style shirts, not dissimilar of his times with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. The anterior of Helloween's immortal album "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I" shows guitarist Kai Hansen in peasant clothing, while singer Michael Kiske is dressed in a denim jacket. A typical outfit for an epic power metal band, even today, can be represented by a white collared shirt with some tight black pants, though by no means is this a definitive uniform. Huge bands like Blind Guardian followed this type of outfit at times and also reverted to a more traditional black pants and black leather jacket look.

Black Metal Ist Krieg
Black metal is a fashion style like no other, if you even want to call it fashion. Venom and Mercyful Fate laid the groundwork for black metal in the early 80s, along with some radical styles. Venom, led by bodybuilder-singer Cronos, sported black leather pants, heavily spiked armbands, and shirtless torsos. Though the musicians of Mercyful Fate dressed in typical denim and leather outfits, singer King Diamond was an exception. King borrowed the idea of black and white makeup from Alice Cooper, added inverted cross earrings, a top hat, and plenty of other oddities. Celtic Frost emerged later in the 80s as a darker thrash band, with a similar image to early Slayer. Frontman Thomas Gabriel Warrior can be seen on the back of the infamous "To Mega Therion" album fully clad in leather and ornate spikes, while the other members have a similar getup. Quarthon of Swedish band Bathory donned similar outfits. Brazillian band Sarcofago made black metal history when they donned the first true "corpse paint" image, similar to that of King Diamond. Corpse paint is an attempt by black metallers to look grim and necro and to show their defiance for religion and authority.
The Norweigan black metal scene of the early 90s spawned one of the world's most extreme fashion statements in history. Artists like Dead, Euronymous, Abbath, Frost, and Isahn donned black and white face paint, black leather pants, knee high boots, silver jewelry, fake blood, and studded bands to show their extremity. Wristbands and shin pads with 6" spikes were not only common, they were practically necessary. Vocalist Dead of the infamous Mayhem even buried his clothes in the ground to get a more rotted feel to them. Real medieval weapons of torture became popular for promo shoots, as purveyed by Immortal and Emperor.
As the 90s progressed, black metal bands tried to become even more extreme than their predecessors. These "norsecore" bands like Marduk, Dark Funeral, and Gorgoroth relied on an extreme clothing image in order to shock their audiences. It eventually turned to ridiculousness. For example, a promo shot for Finnish band Barathrum shows the singer in a loincloth with a bullet belt. The classic corsepaint image turned into a farce. Immortal especially became a constant source of mockery. Promo shoots of Abbath and Horgh were altered and ridiculed all over the Internet.
Eventually, black metal bands began to abandon the corpsepaint image together. Emperor, Darkthrone, and Mayhem appeared in a more casual black leather and denim image.

Well that's all for this one folks. Hope you liked it. Part II soon to come.

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments: 11   Visited by: 121 users
30.08.2006 - 02:56
hi-fi / lo-life
Seeing as a very large part of metal culture has to do with the 'uniform' that a lot of metalheads consider very important, this article is an interesting and fun read. I am only concerned about the absence of perhaps the most important figure in setting the trends of how metalheads dressed - Alice Cooper. Him and his band pioneered the trashy, ripped denim and black leather jacket look that both punks and metalheads later picked up. Otherwise, this was a very concise and interesting article.
15.09.2006 - 23:51

I thought this article was an interesting read. Although, I guess I am a definate exception to this, mainly due to the fact that I'm female. I guess my love for looking nice and showing off my hot band shirts XP combined to form my very... unique wardrobe. lol but really, your wardrobe def. does not make you metal. especially the losers I've seen who wear Bodom shirts and go home and listen to rap.
23.12.2006 - 07:42
Doc G.
Full Grown Hoser
I liked this article. Good read.
"I got a lot of really good ideas, problem is, most of them suck."
- George Carlin
01.05.2007 - 02:49
Account deleted
where can you get the famous meatlehead style leather pants? like the one's Axle rose is famous for wearing.
01.05.2007 - 03:19
Doc G.
Full Grown Hoser
Written by Guest on 01.05.2007 at 02:49

where can you get the famous meatlehead style leather pants? like the one's Axle rose is famous for wearing.

Ebay my friend. you could probably find something on there. Or if you have a local goth-wear type shop sometimes they have mens leather pants. I assume you mean Axl?
"I got a lot of really good ideas, problem is, most of them suck."
- George Carlin
01.05.2007 - 06:52
el parcero
interesting artcile, I hadn't seen it before...
Anyway, I really liked it, you can see that although in general the metalhead wardrobe is similar there's still some differences.
Also, it's interesting the topic of just-dressing-to-shock vs. it's-music-that-matters-and-not-the-clothes, speciall now when a lot of people just dress in black to show off, I hate that! Besides, it makes fools out of themselves. In the end IT IS the music what matters, clothes are just something secondary to complement the ambient that the music gives
love is like a jar of shit with a strawberry on top
22.10.2007 - 23:13
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Seems in summer im lil thrasher and lil bicker but gothic beter dont describe
...but you forgot doomsters and its hard describe them it can be all in one
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
07.11.2007 - 22:44
Damage Inc
Account deleted
This was a well written article that shed some light on the image of metal. I think a simple yet powerful image is important in metal. For example the whole denim, band tees, and leather style of bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Testament says a whole lot more than the exaggerated over-the top image of bands like Immortal, and other various black metal groups. It shows that the band isnt out to just shock the audience and that their focus was the music. Most people arent going to take a band seriously that looks like Immortal. The more simpler image of bay area thrash bands doesnt come across like they're just trying to sell something. They have a more focused attention to their music and they don't get caught up in their image. The extreme image comes across to corny and too much like the band is selling their image and not their music. Good article Frost of the Black.
14.11.2007 - 23:36
Erotic Stains
I dress in a mix of "Metal Thrasing Mad" and todays "Black Metal Ist Krieg".
15.11.2007 - 10:08

I like wearing black because its less flashy. I don't even own and band shirts ( except for ride the lightning )
09.04.2022 - 03:46
Totemic Lust
After all these years, somehow came across this article being referenced in the wikipedia page for corpse paint. Good read though, props to scskowron whatever you are doing nowadays.

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