These heavy metal fashions rock hard
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From the simple everyday wear of '80s thrash bands to the terrifying warrior corpse look of black metal, this is your guide through the uniforms of the hard-rocking scene's craziest sub-genres.
While critics mourn the death of rock music on what seems to be an almost annual basis, heavy metal just keeps on keeping on. Five decades after it first emerged with Black Sabbath and their ilk, metal is still evolving, mutating and packing out stadiums and festivals alike. It's a genre that'll never quit, but that doesn't mean it's immune from the never-ending cycle of fashion trends. With more sub-genres than you can wave your devil horns at, metal and its glorious variants have given the world some classic (and not so classic) looks. This is a quick-fire guide to some of our favourites.
This is the classic metal look. Every early '80s metalheads wore this, from Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth to thrash fans partying in mall parking lots or bashing away in their own garage bands. Like punk rock before it, the thrash look broke down the barrier between bands and fans and was also a practical uniform for energetic playing. Ice hockey hair or flowing locks, a vest or T-shirt, skinny jeans, studded belts, hi-top basketball trainers and a classic denim battle jacket (with its sleeves torn off) adorned with band patches: it's all thrashers needed in their quest for a fast and furious good time. Indeed, the early thrash uniform is such a classic style that 21st-century hipsters around the world are wearing it right now.
Inspired by the androgynous look of '70s glam bands, '80s hair metal bands such as Mötley Crüe, Poison, Twisted Sister and Guns N' Roses had a style that remains completely out of step with other metal sub-genres. Rising out of LA's decadent Sunset Strip scene, where anything went, hair metal bands aspired to a louche flamboyancy – a look to match their foot-on-the-monitor rock-god posturing – and they achieved it with huge tousled hair, spandex trousers, leather chaps, bandanas, gloves, ridiculous footwear and risqué animal print. Thankfully, this magnificent look still reappears from time to time.
Metal music is one of the few genres of music in which dressing up in outrageous costumes is actively encouraged. Not only did Kiss and Alice Cooper inspire the birth of hair metal, they were also at the vanguard of outlandish onstage disguises. But when Richmond, Virginia's Gwar appeared in the mid-'80s, looking like sci-fi warrior aliens and firing synthetic bodily fluids out of huge, phallic-looking guns, the concept of costume metal was taken to a whole new level. Slipknot and Mushroomhead followed in the '90s with their terrifying horror-movie masks and Sweden's cowl-wearing Ghost are fronted by the satanic cardinal, Papa Emeritus.
Nu metal was the unholy collision of thrash and speed metal with pop, funk and rap as purveyed by such arena-filling bands as Limp Bizkit, Korn, Linkin Park, Godsmack, Staind and Disturbed. (We won't include Deftones in this list because they're far too good for nu metal). For a few years in the late '90s, nu metal bestrode the world like a pumped-up, frat-boy behemoth and, though it remains much-maligned among critics and musicians, nu metal's influence can still be heard in today's pop-inclined hard rockers. However its fashion – a kind of gym-friendly, spring breakers' get-up for angry young men – isn't missed. But if you want to attempt a revival, then get some baggy three-quarter-length jeans and a vest, grow a goatee beard, and acquire a chain wallet – the sort Korn sang about on Freak On A Leash.
Black metal has been embroiled in its fair share of controversy through the years. The sound and its misanthropic aesthetic first emerged in Norway as a reaction to increasingly middle-of-the-road death metal and a conservative culture generally. Some of this sub-genre's bands committed some particularly heinous crimes that we'll side-step here. But the fury expelled by bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Dimmu Borgir is refreshingly cathartic and unsettling. They also put the black back into metal fashion while fixating on rune-adorned gauntlets, terrifying-looking spikes, upside-down crosses, pentagrams, Thor’s Hammers and gallons of corpse paint.