Metal comes in many shapes and sizes, many visual and audible incarnations that it’s never easy to speak about with any certainty. It’s hard to ascribe any hard and fast rule that would apply to all sub-genres of metal, except that it is defiant against the unauthentic mainstream. We expect our bands to be better, to have a code; this is reaffirmed every time we go to a metal gig and stand shoulder to shoulder with maybe dozens, hundreds or thousands of others to enjoy this music. There is a sense of camaraderie within metal that is not often found in musical subcultures, something which gives its community a definitive look and feel.
Although generally speaking, metal is not a subculture in which too much emphasis is based on appearance, it is perfectly normal to want to fit in and this leads to certain styles being cultivated. A few of the easy ways to look metal include, for a man, growing your hair long or dying it, wearing band t-shirts and dark clothes, perhaps even some jewellery. The dog collar and studded wristband are iconic of course, coming from the early days of metal, and bullet belts have also made a recent resurgence from their original popularity on bands like Megadeth and Metallica in the eighties. We’re talking every day life now though – the subtle things that tell the world (and other metalheads) who you are without having to drench yourself in a leather trench coat.
Things might seem a little different though when you attend a metal concert or festival. It’s common practice to have some fun dressing up, especially among women, and you may see at gig men and women in skimpy PVC and other restrictive clothing like corsets. Of course this entirely depends on what kind of concert you are attending, and the type of fans that are going to be there – at a nu-metal show for example, you’re much more likely to find your face full of the kind of bling you get from winning at a game of online blackjack than at a more politically charged form of an alternative metal like System of a Down or Rage Against the Machine. Some of the most interesting of the metal subcultures lie in mythology, that of viking, Pagan or medieval influence. The strong allure of a kind of honour and masculine pride is evident in bands like Turisas and Burzum, which is drawn from Norse mythology and incorporates Christian and Pagan symbols like the pentagram or the devil’s horns.
Each sub-genre has its own subculture, and their particular quirks can seem odd to those from other sub-genres, so while some fans may slather themselves in corpse paint, others will wear sparkly pink eyeshadow; both have equal right to the name “metal”.