Today is head-day on symmetal.com. We just talked about the Metal head and hairstyle, now we are talking about the Black Metal face uniform: the corpse paint.
Corpse paint is a black-and-white make-up that’s most of the time strictly symmetric. Nowadays mainly used by Black Metal bands around the world to intensify the bands’ imagery of evil, inhumanity, and corpse-like decay. It is most commonly used just on the face, but also on arms and torso. Because im might look rather non-evil, if your face is a corpse and your arms are well tanned like a beach bodybuilder in a neon thong. Sometimes it involves other colors than black and white. But even then corpse paints aren’t really colorful or life-affirming, because the only added color is red – more blood for the corpse.
But Black Metal wasn’t the inventor of corpse paint. The earliest rock groups decorated themselves with make-up similar to corpse paint including Arthur Brown in the 1960s, Alice Cooper and KISS in the 1970s, and, later that decade, Punk rockers like The Misfits and singer David Vanian of The Damned. Hellhammer and King Diamond of Mercyful Fate (who used corpse paint as early as 1978 in his band Black Rose) were perhaps the first death or black metal groups to use corpse paint in the early 1980s. Other groups soon followed, including Hellhammer’s later incarnation Celtic Frost. Norwegian Black Metal bands from the late 1980s and early ’90s (such as Mayhem, Gorgoroth, Emperor, Immortal, Darkthrone, Dimmu Borgir, and Satyricon) are arguably responsible for maintaining the popularity of the corpse paint among today’s black metal acts (source).
The corpse paint was also unintentionally popularized in 1977 through a series of McDonald’s print advertisement campaigns featuring black-and-white photographs of company mascot Ronald McDonald. In the ads, Ronald’s face paint looked very similar to corpse paint, causing fans of bands like KISS to collect and even steal copies of magazines with the ads (source).
The corpse paint today seems to be a must-have accessoire for Black Metal enthusiasts. There’s even a fashion-like website, where you can rate corpse paints.
Also, whoever is able to name all the artists pictured above, should be admired like a hero.