The Great Fashion War of 2010

Lots going on. Iceland and Ireland in economic ruin. Haiti in rubble. Israel’s right-wing regime kicking around a new World War. And nearly half the U.S. digging an anti-queer Barbie doll and would-be president who shoots animal snuff films.

Put in context, anything going on in metal may seem like small beans. But still, we have our subculture, and the big story—what I’m calling The Great Metal Fashion War of 2010 because I can—is no less lacking in cultural hysteria. It isn’t a war-war, of course, more a metaphor thing. Except when it kind of isn’t.

by Ian Grey

And it goes as follows: With record and download sales plummeting, the Dude side of the metal audience divide is becoming more obsessed with what it’s always obsessed about–being ‘authentic’ and ‘troo’. The fashion result is a rigidly conservative dress code of jeans, band tee and middle-parted long hair that only seldom sees the business end of a shampoo bottle.

On the War’s other side: bands fully participating in this, the most drop-dead exciting period in metal history by dressing to match. Bands who understand that what you wear can be, should be, I’d argue, a reflecting image of what you sound like—which is a working definition of one of the many things fashion is about.

These Fashion Bands suffer no ceiling on the size of their audience, what with them appealing to both sexes while Troo Dudes take a perverse pride in their incredibly limited, all-male audience. Which you might say something to do with metal in general being literally, anxiously, and often hilariously homosexual.
But more on that sort of thing later.

Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho, Slayer’s Kerry King, and Bring Me the Horizon’s Oli Syke’s have all started lucrative fashion labels based entirely on an understanding that fashion isn’t ‘just’ clothes. It’s also about how we show identity, a silent peer-to-peer declaration.

In the same way that 70s gay men wore yellow or red handkerchiefs in their Levis to let fellow cruisers know what kink they preferred, so a Troo Dudes’ band-tee silently announces to other Dudes his preference of tech death over neo-pagan.

As for what this war actually looks like, a scan of any of this months’ metal mags tells the tale.

On the Fashion Band side there’s Volbeat fusing Johnny Cash bad-ass loner and ‘50s juvenile delinquency chic. The result: sleek designer leather jackets, pompadored hair, indigo jeans. A look that screams swagger and melancholy, just like the band’s songs do.

Just what Triptykon wear, I can’t say. Like the brilliant video for “Shatter,” their clothes are like shadows Tom G. Warrior and his darkened crew paint on their bodies. I kept thinking of Christian Siriano—a winner on Project Runway—and his brilliant post-goth fantasias.

For sheer Holy Shit! value, there’s Melechesh’s S&M bald Arabic torturer look, complete with multiple rosary beads, arcane metallic necklaces, and scary guyliner (!).

For inspired WTF, Dimmu Borgir’s white-dusted, PETA-baiting leather-and-fur medieval warrior gear. It’s uncanny imagery that makes people download out of sheer curiosity: Total fashion WIN.

The inspired variety never ends. From Bring Me to the Horizon’s stylized prettiness to Ghost’s evil-Pope chic (!) to Watain’s gruesome heavy-sigil, Fashion bands appeal sell to both genders—the nerve!–courtesy seductively stylized layers of fantasy, strangeness, gender ambiguity and the sinister in ways only metal, of all genres on Earth, can provide.

And the Troo Dudes, in page after page of band profiles?

Jeans. Band tees. Long hair. Some kind of shoe. Good night and good luck.

Starving for an ‘authenticity’ that doesn’t exist, and would be irrelevant if it did (is In Flames less Troo because they use triggered drums?), the fledgling Troo band that attains the perfect visual blahness can join a legion of other 501-Levi-favoring bands who look exactly alike, with only most obsessed male fans and mags able to tell one band from the other, and with sales to match.

Incredibly, a certain strain of metalcore and post-hardcore find the Troo Dudes too stylish and so the single lasting element that suggests someone might be in a band—long hair—has been shorn to attain a new pinnacle of blah conservatism. And so bands like Underoath, A Day to Remember and Your Demise not only have short hair, but the studied un-cool short hair of the junior banker who turned down your student loan. More interesting bands like Torche and Kylesa have just thrown up their hands and opted out of the War entirely by dressing like indie bands.
Meanwhile, the dis of choice lathered on Fashion Bands by the Troo are ‘gay’ and ‘fag’. This despite the fact that the stunningly gorgeous Ville Valo attracts female fans in Elvis proportions while any given Troo Dude answers sweaty emails from tween boys about classic Charvel neck sizes.

This is what we professionals call irony. And one of several reasons Troo Dudes work so darned hard toto keep up their side of The War, to look dull, loathsome, unbathed, infested by gnats or worse, has to do with what I mentioned earlier, about metal’s intrinsic gayness.

Metal guys constantly joke with varying degrees of nervousness about the subject but that doesn’t change the fact that metal, with sometimes traumatic exceptions we’ll get to in a moment, has always looked hilariously homosexual (close your eyes and think ManowarVenom, Danzig and Rollins) and that metal operates in a queer fever dream of sweaty, half-naked boys bumping against each other in dark, dingy clubs followed by ritual merch table genuflections before favorite axe masters and poster downloads of Zakk Wilde in extremis.

And girls? Girls? Ha ha ha—you so fooney.

Instead of supporting female metal at least as a way of deflecting charges of being in a genre created in part by delightful gay people like Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and horrific ones like Gorgoroth’s despicable Gaahl, Troo Dudes barely know the incredible wide world of female metal even exists.

Sure, there’s Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow. But Angela, with all respect, rocks a tomboy drag that neutralizes the gender threat lurking in her cookie monster. And there’s Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia. But swell voice aside, Scabbia’s as edgy as a retired Suicide Girl signing autographs at an adult video convention. She has an advice column in Revolver magazine, for crying out loud.

Beyond that? It’s just pitiful or sad—I can’t decide.

Femme-led goth-metal is a joke to Dudes and Dude-identified critics.  Full-blown metal art music by the likes of Karyn Crisis, Julie Christmas and the goddess Jarboe garner passing and/or dismissive praise—or more depressingly, that praise floats from a magazine’s pages into an abyss of reader disinterest.

As Next Big Things are regularly made of much thinner gruel, it’s a sure thing that the face-ripping neo-Bolt Thrower-isms of Landmine Marathon would be headline news if only the band wasn’t led by Grace Perry, whose severe hotness, intense stage performances and gold standard shriek probably has Dudes screaming vagina dentata. Metaphorically, I mean.

It’s also essential that Perry, and the vocal flamethrower that is Firebrand Super Rock’s Laura Donnelly and the liquid smoke that is Anneke van Giersbergen and the angrily fluid folk-metal alto that is Rose Kemp not be given too much attention as it threatens Troo Dude macho hegemony (look it up, dude) which Fashion bands further  throw into crisis by being so un-Dude.

Finally (for now), I really can’t help but wonder how seriously critics, the ones who have a cow over Opeth and Porcupine Tree, would take the demonstrably more inventive, stone brilliant, seriously sui generis prog metal of Madder Mortem if lead singer Agnete Kirkevaag hadn’t chosen to be fat and a girl.
I mean, seriously, what was she thinking?

I don’t think this is garden variety misogyny. I think it’s bizarre-o-world homosexualized misogyny, as in: We don’t hate women, it’s just that we just like, uh, guys.

In its innocent form, this is due the fact that a goodly portion of metal fans are really young and really male, and as such, shit-scared of females. And so they retreat into the anonymous safety of jean-tee chic because Decibel’s featured bands do so.

Less innocent is the repetitive imprinting of these retrogressive, tight-assed, frowny-faced notions of what real guys can and can’t look like and act like and before long you’re like a total douche bag on an episode of Glee except, like, real.

There are reasons why the bands, and many of the critics covering them–who often love to identify themselves as beer-drinking, fashion-oblivious manly-men—insist on staying frozen in fashion amber.

One is that bands, critics and fans have, decade after decade, been in this attraction/revulsion, PTSD relationship with ‘80s hair metal. Especially those who survived the period.

I mean, damn, you look at Angel, Britny Fox, Hanoi Rocks, Faster Pussycat, King Kobra, Poison, Ratt, Stryper, Jon Mikl Thor, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and Ziggy Stardust looks like fucking Daniel Craig in comparison. Just one set of Cinderella PR pics makes one imagine an entire generation of drag queens weeping, knowing there was no way for them to compete.

At the same time that Freddie Mercury looked 100% more butch than Poison—although ‘butch’ was in quotes but what Dude knew about camp?—hair metal bands rediscovered that the most important thing a straight guy could want—female attention—could best be guaranteed by looking like a girl.

Eventually the fad faded but those images and all they suggested had a lasting, inverse effect.  Everything since then has been relentlessly, crushingly hetero. Being crushingly hetero is what, in the case of Pantera, separated that band from the relative pansies in Nirvana.

There’s another real world reason for Troo Dudes’ gather-the-wagons entrenchment in retro non-style—it’s the real sense that metal is being assimilated into the culture at large.

It’s a hoot to see your favorite metal archetypes doing dumb things in Metalocalypse. And don’t tell me you didn’t get a thrill the first time you saw the ads for Iron Man using Black Sabbath’s eternal song. But aside from bringing marginal riches to your occasional Mastodon, unleveraged assimilation is every subculture’s worst nightmare. All the once-precious things used in those entertainments kind of don’t mean anything anymore. They’re just…stuff.

But what seems bad might be super-good: instead of returning endlessly to the same old shit—that is, doing what Troo Dudes do—Fashion bands need to ‘metal-up’ in new ways. Triptykon did. Ghost did on what looks like P!nk’s nail polish budget. If you want dark, forget Hot Topic: go to a gay fetish retailer for state of the art chains, leather and so on.

Or forget that shit altogether and…I don’t know, do something amazing.

But onward. There’s also the annoying semi-threat of indie kids and hipsters not only adopting metal-esque face fuzz and long hair, but also wearing our Maiden, Nachtmystum, and Black Breath tees—sometimes without irony, even. Still, being a pint-of-mead-half-full kinda guy, I like the idea that actually listening to these bands will exert some alchemical power to turn the indie-ites into metal kids. Animal Collective and Deerhoof, begone!

In the mean time, I will assume this Great Fashion War of 2010 will end with at least some of the unbearably ugly, conservative, unimaginative, retrogressive and Troo withering away. Because believing otherwise is just too grim and anyway, good stuff does tend to, over time, wear away at bad.

Yes, we will have to suffer through the visual Ambien of Parkway Drive and the like and roll our eyes while metal media tries to sell us on the idea that the future of a forward-looking genre like metal lies in hyper-conservative iterations of the past, in a nu metal resurgeance, inmore post-hardcore, in more regurgitation, in uniformity when constant chage is really the only viable long-term alternative.

You can make fun of Bring Me the Horizon’s Oli making himself up to look more glam  than the tough girlfriend that you never had, but the fact is that  that  “’Crucify Me” is fucking radical pop metal art, it’s 4:59 minutes of atonal screaming, spazz-riffing, drop beats, and computer-assisted Robo-girl vocals. It’s metal in the process of redefining itself.

And it’s anything by Japan’s Sigh, whose Dr. Mikannibal rocks gender roles with her unholy-hot Hello Kitty dominatrix look while bleating super evil sax while keyboardist Mirai Kawashima, sporting his cyber wizard look, batters you with something akin to fun spaghetti western black metal.And it all works.

No other genre can hold such extremes as Bring Me the Horizon and Sigh and still work as a genre. And yet metal does. And the people who grasp that idea and act on not only win this seemingly silly fashion war, but the way bigger ones that operate in exactly the same way.



  1. Commented by: vugelnox

    interesting read but perhaps much ado about nothing methinks? Boots, jeans, band tee and black denim jacket covered in patches are my standard show-going attire. Draw what conclusions you will.

  2. Commented by: Ian

    >”Boots, jeans, band tee and black denim jacket covered in patches are my standard show-going attire.”

    That’s fine–I was thinking more about bands!

    But then again, I was also thinking back to a Rob Zombie show from some years back and people dressed with a bit more, uh, verve? :) As in corpses, vamp-girls, motorcycle dead dudes, etc. Sometimes you’d get some amazing looks, some stuff that really made you go WTF? in the best way.

    Point being, Zombie’s look inspired creativity in his audience. Dude bands inspire an audience to drink pints and hit each other. I mean, sure, there’s a place for that, totally, but Dude metal would rather that it absorbs all metal: look at Metal Hammer’s Metal of the Future issue and it’s nearly *all* Dude bands.

    And let’s not talk about the number of female artists on top 20 lists in general because you can’t talk about nothing.

    Anyway! The article was meant as a microcosm/metaphor thing.

    In every country, we’re seeing the kind of right wing conservativism you get with scary crap economies and scarier changing times (tm Dylan, I guess.)

    And I think it manifests in metal in these mind-killingly retrogressive bands whose absolute anti-fashion has become a fucking uniform, and uniforms disturb me.

  3. Commented by: Clauricaune

    A few years back, a crossover between hipster music and metal would have been unthinkable, but after Alcest, Nachtmystium, Twilight and co., that isn’t anymore the case. This is true mostly for the American scene.

    I guess those “indie-ites” had to discover their agressive side somehow, after shunning it away for so long. But even though I like some of that somewhat new indie/shoegaze/post-rock influenced metal, I fear it might get lost in pure image like a lot of indie bands do.

  4. Commented by: vugelnox

    you make a few good points Ian and I admit I willfully let a LOT of this pass me by without any acknowledgement because it doesn’t affect me in any meaningful way. Most bands I see live adorn themselves in a combination of denim, leather, chains/spikes/bullet belts and t-shirts which is indistinguishable from the audience. Now if any of this is at Decibel’s bidding or an outlet for subconscious gynophobia… I’m not convinced.

    Clauricaune any genre can get lost in image, indie is no different. It has its own distinct aesthetic, fashion sense and do’s and dont’s just like metal. Even bands that heavily conform to all these superfluous “rules” still can produce great music. Its important to make a clear distinction between all of these ancillary topics and the music itself and not let the misgivings of one draw down the other.

  5. Commented by: Ian

    >But even though I like some of that somewhat new indie/shoegaze/post-rock influenced metal, I fear it might get lost in pure image like a lot of indie bands do.

    Hi Clauricaune.

    The whole post-rock/nu-shoegaze/post-metal thing *almost* gets a pass because in a weird way it’s like some sort of classical music–I’m particularly thinking Sailors with Wax Wings here.

    Then again, think of Sunn 0)) and their uber-Druid thing and props for coming up with a visual that *totally* fits and enhances what they do.

  6. Commented by: Evil In U

    Well done sir. A fun read that I’m sure a lot of people will take too seriously.

  7. Commented by: Ian

    Hey vugelnox

    >”Even bands that heavily conform to all these superfluous “rules” still can produce great music.”

    Certainly. I’m dissing metalcore because it’s so…Republican-looking. So I-wanna-be-an-investment-banker-when-I-grow-out-of-this.

    But black metal bands can make you want to disable any image software, they look so stupidly alike.

    But then Behemoth or Dimmu or Sigh come along and you’re like, Whew.

  8. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    I’d rather die than listen to a sexist fucking pig like Oli Sykes. fuck that goof.

  9. Commented by: Ian

    Something Clauricaune is TOTALLY on-the-money:

    >”A few years back, a crossover between hipster music and metal would have been >unthinkable, but after Alcest, Nachtmystium, Twilight and co., that isn’t anymore the >case. This is true mostly for the American scene.

    In particular, scenes like that here in New York, in Brooklyn to be particular. It was fascinating. And since everything plays out on the street, there was no missing it.

    Kids wearing old Iron Maiden and Poison tee shirts ironically show up.

    At the same time, you had actual metal bands starting to form, many of them in genres that you could make sort of ironic or post modern-y—the foods of choice for hipsters, of course.

    Those bands went to the area vintage shops, which sell vintage *designer* stuff, or local designers doing versions of hard rock’s past, which, for whatever reason, was also becoming very trendy.

    At the same time, you had bands actually wanting to look metal, less irony please, but
    they also didn’t want to look like crap. I mean, if there’s one thing we Americans know how to do is to *sell* shit and looking right sells. So thought goes into how to look ‘right’ and metal.

    At the same time, an actual Brooklyn metal look springs up from all this, which is kind of hot and gets straight guys laid.

    This causes guys to forget irony entirely while females start their own metal or metal-influenced bands (think uber-shredder Marnie Stern.)

    In some cases, Animal Collective is even forgotten.


    Ironic tees–>new kinda ironic bands–>vintage classy “rock” designerwear–>urge to look less ironic appears–>less ironic-looking, cool-looking bands get laid–>Animal Collective forgotten/Nachtmystium sell out local venues.

  10. Commented by: Ian

    Hi Evil In U. Thank you. I kind of hope people take this a bit seriously while finding funny things.

    Because fashion is *totally* serious. Hitler certainly knew that. So did Franco.

    Heck–fascists *always* know how to dress.

  11. Commented by: Ian

    How is Oli Sykes sexist??

  12. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    ever read his lyrics?
    also, here’s some info on what a bag of shit he is.

  13. Commented by: Ian Grey

    Hi Nick. I read “Crucify Me” and three others and found no evidence of sexism.
    The wiki notation is indeed sickening–but if we said Nope to every soul, rock and metal artist of both genders behaving loathsomely…well. Plus: allegations here. I can’t change what I’m saying about a style and one song based on that–it would be irresponsible. Anyway, what I’m talking about here is more the -idea- of this style of band making such
    advanced music at the same time Sigh and Volbeat and all those female-headed bands are doing such astonishing things vs the blah likes of Archetects or Emmure, perfect music for pints and pointless fisticuffs.

  14. Commented by: vugelnox

    Ian you’re really losing me here with labeling Bring Me the Horizon as “such advanced music”, lumping Sigh, Volbeat and Landmine Marathon together and then decrying other bands as being a sort of knuckleheaded blue collar music. Where exactly are you going with that?

  15. Commented by: Ian

    Style. A sense of style unites them, just like New York Fashion Week is united by a variety of dissimilar designers.

    It’s not a class thing. Or rather, it only becomes a class thing if bands decide to fetishize
    blue collar blah-ness as part of that kneejerk ‘authenticity’ fetish.

  16. Commented by: Ian

    Speaking of blue collar/working class: Volbeat is all about stylizing old Americana working class style. And I really like the way Five Finger Death Punch have fused this combo of Army fatigues and NBA basketball-wear into something so identifiably Death Punch they’d be fools *not* to start selling it as such (they’re not fools. :) Their eye-popping work-out jerseys are readymade for metal *and* sports clothing racks that sell Ecko.)

  17. Commented by: ohiogrinder

    at least we can all be happy numetal wigger fashion is out of style. why did people even fall for that crap to begin with? the same guys I knew growing up who hated punk and grind and various forms of extreme metal started liking metal in a backhanded “un-tr00” way. and it just sounded like mainstream garbage to boot. hipsters are doing the same damn thing.

  18. Commented by: vugelnox

    except a lot of this “hipster” metal is pretty good (and isn’t really hipster at all, don’t condemn a band for a perceived fanbase). I’ll take WITTR or Sunn O))) any day of the week (or next week) over the nu-metal from days of yore. Also from Ian’s statements about basketball wear and fatigues from FFDP I’d say nu-metal is still going loud and proud grinder, just not to the Ozzfest-dominating extent it used to.

  19. Commented by: Ian

    At least one metal mag that worships Dude metal is also sending up trial balloons about
    getting you to like nu metal, one assumes, so they can be in the forefront of the inevitable neo-nu metal wave. And it *will* happen, as, again, it’s uniform, it’s ugly, it will attract only males in the ways recounted in the article (NOTE: It’s redundant and lame to have to add it but it need be added: out/proud gay people and cultural energies are, of course, excellent. I wish the closeted gay men in metal could feel it safe to leave their closets. )

  20. Commented by: Ian

    (I’m not much a fan, but I don’t think of WITTR or Sunn ))) as ‘hipster metal’. I mean, it wasn’t their fault hipsters love them!

    ‘We’re Not a Hipster Metal Band…That’s Fucking Bullshit.’ Laura Pleasants, Kylesa. And whose gonna argue–you ever get hit with the body stock of an old Les Paul? :)

  21. Commented by: Ian

    Still, we used to live next to a rehearsal studio in Brooklyn and you constantly saw hipsters in metal drag–or was it metal people dressed like gothic hipsters?–loading in gear.

    I think assuming their black metal was bogus is another iteration of that Troo Dude obsession with being ‘authentic’. Then again, there *are* indie hipster douchbags who’ve glommed onto metal as the style of the month.

  22. Commented by: Joe

    wouldn’t it just be easier to say that we’re all a bunch of freaking nerds?

  23. Commented by: Ian Grey

    Joe–Totally. We’re *all* a bunch of freaking nerds.

    The more nerd-some the better, is my argument. :)

  24. Commented by: ohiogrinder

    I like some hipster bands, but I also like a lot of bands with vaguely right-wing, sometimes racist, sometimes homophobic standpoint. hell, throw misogyny in there as well. Anal Blasphemy, The Meat Shits, old Anal Cunt, Vaginal Jesus. and unlike a hipster, I like them sincerely. the main problem I have with the progressive hipster crowd, is usually their dismissal of conservative values and the fact they’re insincere.

  25. Commented by: Ian

    So, um, racist, homophobic = conservative values?

    I’m in NYC–‘conservative’ doesn’t relate to the neo-Know Nothings of the newly anti-science, Chrostianist GOP.

    It’s about a whole world of serious, sincere conservatism that, in the US at least, has no party of national forum.

  26. Commented by: Ian

    Anyway, I always say Vote with your download money.

    Fact is, there are a gillion better ambient BM bands than Burzum–why give this hate-infused asshat degenerate any money?

    Finally–at this point, there is no intelligent conservative metal band or movement. But you can guess how they’ll dress, can’t you?

  27. Commented by: vugelnox

    I buy Burzum albums because I separate the man from the music and I rather like the music. I don’t need to have an opinion or even care about Varg himself to sit down and enjoy Hvis Lyset Tar Oss on it’s own merits. He could be a grotesque serial murderer or the world’s most loving philanthropist and neither would have any bearing on my enjoyment of said album. This is only my approach to the subject and I know others can’t, and won’t, separate man and music and that’s okay too.

  28. Commented by: ohiogrinder

    I never said racism or homophobia were conservative values. I’d rather hear the views of people Robert Deathrage, than Crass.

    I am not a christian at all. the opinion that are conservatives are devoutly religious is a false stereotype.

  29. Commented by: ohiogrinder

    and I say that about Mr. Deathrage because usually offensive, un-pc bands are not preachy. I hate the idea of being idealistic and self-righteous and all that selfless crap. sin is in.

  30. Commented by: gk

    So. I’m a female metal fan who dresses in black jeans, band shirts, boots and a leather jacket, and know more about metal than most of your “Troo Dude” bands combined. I shower, and my waist-length hair smells awesome. What convenient little box are you looking to throw someone like me into?

  31. Commented by: Index

    gk: the ugly box

  32. Commented by: Ian Grey

    Hi Gk

    Um–a super-sharp dresser with excellent hair?

    My real interest is in the bands themselves. While people of
    style such as yourself will be stylish no matter how much bands
    try to urge you by way of example to dress like unemployed janitors
    I still think bands are setting poor examples as per the article,
    robbing themselves of an avenue of artistic expression, and not
    exactly offering audiences in these shit economic times a very
    pleasurable visual show.

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