In Episode 16 of Loudwire’s ongoing “50 Years of Heavy Metal” video series, we explore who really invented corpse paint. Though synonymous with black metal’s second wave that emerged primarily in Norway, the concept of face painting within rock and metal’s confines was hardly groundbreaking, making it difficult to define exactly who should get credit for this ever-popular aesthetic.
The term “corpse paint” itself invokes a bit of mystery and has proven to be especially confusing to those not familiar with black metal. Nobody was painting dead bodies — but late Mayhem singer Per Ynge Ohlin, better known by his alias “Dead,” was indeed painting himself to make it appear that he was a dead body.
As his stage name suggested, the singer, who infamously died of suicide after shooting himself in the head following an act of self-mutilation, projected the image of death.
So, what makes Dead’s makeup design so different than those who came before him, such as Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, KISS, King Diamond, Celtic Frost and others? That would have the be the motivation and intent behind the painted visage.
Full face paint had been used plenty of times before Norwegian black metal co-opted it for their own purposes, which, when coupled with pseudonyms, completed an act of transformation in what is an intense subgenre deeply intertwined with personal belief systems and philosophies.
Typically, makeup was an element of theater — an element to visually enhance the show.
This brings us back to the initial question, which we answer above with the help of Mayhem’s Necrobutcher, Immortal legend Abbath, Down and Crowbar‘s Kirk Windstein as well as author and journalist Jon Wiederhorn.
Watch the full episode at the top of the page.
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