Corpse paint

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Hoest of Taake wearing corpse paint

Corpse paint or corpsepaint is a style of black-and-white makeup, used by black metal bands during live concerts and photo shoots. The makeup is used to make the musicians appear inhuman, corpse-like, or demonic, and has likely become "the most identifiable aspect of the black metal aesthetic."[1]

Corpse paint typically involves making the face and neck white and making the area around the eyes and lips black. Sometimes it is mixed with real or fake blood.[citation needed] Musicians will often have a 'trademark' style. Other colors are seldom used, yet some artists will do so to emphasize their individuality; Attila Csihar of Mayhem uses neon colors, while the Norwegian bands Satyricon and Dødheimsgard have experimented using other colors.

Besides black metal musicians, face-painting has been used by a variety of other public figures such as shock rock artists (notably including Alice Cooper and members of the Misfits) and by professional wrestlers (such as Sting).

History and usage[edit]

Enzifer of Urgehal wearing corpse paint with the spiked armbands and inverted crosses commonly worn by black metal musicians

The earliest rock groups to do makeup similar to corpse paint included Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Arthur Brown in the 1960s; Secos & Molhados, Alice Cooper and Kiss in the 1970s; and, later that decade, punk rockers like The Misfits and singer David Vanian of The Damned.

In the 1980s, Hellhammer and King Diamond of Mercyful Fate (who used corpse paint as early as 1978 in his band Black Rose) were among the first metal groups to use corpse paint[citation needed]. Per "Dead" Ohlin was the first to explicitly associate dramatic facepaint with an attempt to look like a corpse, according to Mayhem drummer Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg.[2] Other groups soon followed suit, including Hellhammer's later incarnation Celtic Frost. Brazilian band Sarcófago also pioneered the look, being dubbed by Metal Storm magazine as the first band with a "true" corpse-paint.[3] However, Necrobutcher of the band Mayhem insists that his band was the first to use corpse paint and credits the band's singer Per "Dead" Ohlin with coining the term.[4] Early corpse paint was meant simply to highlight an individual's features and make them look "dead".

Bands of the early Norwegian black metal scene used corpse paint extensively. The first Norwegian black metal band to wear corpse paint was Mayhem, whose singer Per "Dead" Ohlin began wearing it in the late 1980s. According to Necrobutcher, Mayhem's bass player: "It wasn't anything to do with the way Kiss and Alice Cooper used make-up. Dead actually wanted to look like a corpse. He didn't do it to look cool."[5] In the early 1990s, other Norwegian black metal bands followed suit and their style and sound was adopted by bands around the world. However, some of the Norwegian bands—such as Emperor, Satyricon and Burzum—stopped wearing corpse paint, often citing its loss of meaning or trendiness due to use by so many bands.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patterson, Dayal: Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult; 2013, Feral House, Port Townsend, Washington; p. 144.
  2. ^ Interview with Hellhammer conducted by Dmitry Basik June 1998
  3. ^ On the Role of Clothing Styles In The Development of Metal - Part I - Metal Storm
  4. ^ Patterson, Dayal: Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult; 2013, Feral House, Port Townsend, Washington; p. 144.
  5. ^ Chris Campion: In the Face of Death. In: The Observer, 20. February 2005.

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