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Corpse paint

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Abbath and Horgh of Immortal
Abbath and Horgh of Immortal

Corpse paint (sometimes a single word, corpsepaint) is a style of black-and-white makeup used extensively by black metal bands during live concerts and photo shoots. The decoration is used to intensify the bands' imagery of forboding evil, inhumanity, and corpse-like decay (thus the term corpse paint).

Most commonly, the musicians' faces are painted white, with the areas around the lips and eyes painted black. Only rarely do musicians use other colors: Gorgoroth and Ragnarok use blood-colored paint, Attila Csihar of Mayhem and formerly of Tormentor uses neon colours, while the Norwegian band Dødheimsgard has experimented using other colours. Still, the clean two-tone style is preferred by most bands.

Shinichi of Sigh on the cover of Scorn Defeat
Shinichi of Sigh on the cover of Scorn Defeat


Though corpse paint achieved widespread popularity with some rock and roll performers in the 1970s, there are some earlier precedents worth noting.

Corpse paint might be traced back to Germanic folklore. Particularly striking are the similarities between modern black metal corpse paint and the ghoulish apparence of the members of the Oskorei, a legion of dead souls in Norse mythology. One can also note similarities between metal corpse paint and the makeup worn in expressionist films, such as worn by Conrad Veidt in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Interestingly, expressionist film flourished in Germany, raising the possibility that the makeup in expressionist films of the early 1900s was influenced by old Teutonic tales like the Oskorei.

The earliest rock groups to decorate themselves with makeup similar to corpse paint included Arthur Brown in the 1960s, KISS and Alice Cooper in the 1970s, and later that decade, The Misfits and singer Dave 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 suit, including Celtic Frost, and early Slayer.

Early Norwegian black metal bands such as Mayhem, Emperor, Immortal, Darkthrone, and Satyricon are arguably responsible for maintaining the popularity of the corpsepaint among today's black metal acts. In the book Lords of Chaos (Moynihan, Soderlind), it is speculated that much of black metal's original imagery, including makeup, was borrowed from the Brazilian proto-black metal band Sarcofago in the album I.N.R.I.

Varg Vikernes of the notorious one-man ambient black metal act Burzum rarely used corpse paint, even in its heyday - possibly because he never performed live. But Vikernes is perhaps a clandestine user of corpse paint, as one photograph in Lords of Chaos does show him in corpse paint.

Band Cradle of Filth also have been known to wear corpse paint during their early career in albums The Principle of Evil Made Flesh and V Empire (or Dark Fairytales in Phallustein)

In recent years, some "purists" have criticised corpse paint, dismissing it as immature or theatrically kitsch. Others contend that corpse paint has become fashionable and over-trendy (both qualities are often shunned by the extreme metal community), and therefore has lost its original value. Some bands such as Emperor and Borknagar, although having used corpsepaint in the past, now avoid it altogether. Even the parody band Dethklok utilize corpse paint during their shows as seen during the Coffee Jingle and various other shows.

External links

  • Rate My Corpse Paint Examples of different styles of corpse paint
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