Corpse Paint

As some of you may have guessed, I’m quite a fan of black metal, specifically the depressive and atmospheric sub-genres. Unfortunately, every time I’ve spoken to someone who happens to be a little less clued up on the subject, I’ve always received the same humbling responses. For a large number of people who haven’t ventured into listening to black metal and its sub-genres, the image some of the more popular bands portray is the image that sticks. Immortal, Marduk, Mayhem, Gorgoroth… the list goes on. All of them have more than a few things in common, but the most noticeable trait is the appearance. Some have taken it as far as wearing and brandishing animal carcasses, surely as an attempt to shock the audience, while the clothing and facial paint aims to intimidate onlookers. It is events and musicians like this that gain the attention of the media, and in turn become the infamous stereotypes branded onto the fans.

So, being a fan of the genre automatically associates us with the musicians that choose to wear spikes, corpse paint and uncomfortable amounts of leather? These days I feel less inclined to discuss some of my favourite bands with other people, simply because of the typical reaction I expect. Being implicated to explain why the entire genre take lead from just a few bands is quite daunting. Though, the large majority of the black metal bands I enjoy actually refuse to wear corpse paint, they still adhere to some sort of image associated with the genre. However, most of them spend less time worrying about how they look, and instead worry about how they sound.

Though it arguably began in the late 80’s and peaked around the late 90’s, the usage of corpse paint has de-evolved ever since. What began as an expression of the lyrical themes has turned into somewhat of a gimmick, spawning websites like “”. Even bands with no connection to the genre have begun sporting face paint during their gigs, completely defeating the purpose of it. It’s not the idea of wearing corpse paint that has ever bothered me, but the lack of effort some musicians put into it. While bands like Gorgoroth evidently put some time into their corpse paint, bands like Immortal seem to merely paint it on. Some of the younger bands I’ve witnessed live take 5 minutes in a worn down public toilet stall just smearing white and black paint on their faces with no recognisable pattern or shape. I’ve always thought that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If the music is good, and the band feels like expressing that through their image, then it's only best to put some proper effort into it rather than making themselves look lazy or sloppy in their creativeness.

Kids these days seem to care more about the image than they do the actual music when choosing bands to idolise. I can’t help but steer myself from the large number of bands who choose to spend an unreasonable amount of time concentrating on their image because it rarely reflects the music. I feel that if time is spent fabricating an appearance, then that time is taken from being focused on the music. Of course, it can be argued that it helps them stand out from the crowd, especially concerning promotion pictures, but if there is a possibility that the image is more popular than the music then it’s a harsh reality to face. The perfect example for this is Abbath of Immortal. His corpse paint-smothered face is almost synonymous with black metal, and has become widely known in many large circles. Without a doubt, the musicians who choose to transform themselves into darker, more intimidating versions of themselves attract more attention than those who don’t, regardless of the quality of their music.
Another big problem with those who wear corpse paint is that they have to apply it for every live show and promotional photo shoot. The live shows must be quite an effort for them, as most of us have seen the effect just 10 minutes of playing music can have on the more dedicated. Sweating heavy make-up is not only distracting for the musicians, but for the audience, too. It’s never aesthetically pleasing. I’m forced to ask whether all the trouble is really necessary just to put up a facade for the fans.

Nevertheless, it’s always up to the bands whether they want to concentrate on the image or the music, or attempt to do both, and I’m not here to start a mutiny against corpse paint. Below are a few examples. I’ll let you decide which are the good and which are the bad, though I feel it's quite obvious.

[Click pictures for original size]

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