It’s a debate that’s raged on for seasons…are you allowed to wear the shirt of an artist that you don’t listen to? We officially declared this trend as being dead in the water last year, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a problem, or that you won’t still find a gaggle of teenagers repping vintage wear of bands they can barely pronounce.
And compared to other genres, the stakes are considerably higher when we’re talking about metal, a genre that’s often defined by its underground territorialism and adamant refusal to blend with the mainstream. In fashion’s constant quest to uncover the edgiest looks, metal bands have been swept up into the conundrum, with their shirts proudly worn by a new generation who might not have ever listened to their music. Is this for aesthetic purposes, or simply a case of nostalgic irony? Whatever the case, metalheads across the world have roared with disapproval, especially as the trend reaches more niche avenues of the genre.
Here, we’ve examined the most common bands who have been subject to the wave of metal shirts that swept through fashion circles like a maelstrom. For all guilty parties, have a read below, and feel somewhat prepared the next time some long-haired yahoo in a bourbon-soaked denim vest starts a conversation with you about your shirt. Hopefully you don’t just freeze and throw up a half-hearted ‘horns up’ gesture, and escape with your dignity in tact.
Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses entered themselves into sleazy rock immortality with their debut album Appetite For Destruction, which earned itself permanent rotation at dive bars and strip clubs across the globe. Omnipresent singles like “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Paradise City” were catchy enough to convince countless fans that wearing leopard print headbands was a good idea, while their shirts have been stocked at almost every fast fashion giant in recent years.
Later in their career, tumultuous relationships between members led the band to split: Some formed a new group in Velvet Revolver, while Axl Rose soldiered on and released the album Chinese Democracy after one of the longest and most arduous waits in the history of music. With Guns N’ Roses having recently reformed and embarking on a world tour, we’re assuming that everyone with one of their shirts will be attending the shows, right?
At the turn of the millennium, nu-metal was the definitive soundtrack for teenagers with a middle-fingers-up mentality swimming in a pool of self-pity and XXL jeans, obviously with wallet chains attached. It was a blanket term that referred to everything from the mind-numbing jock anthems of Limp Bizkit to the dreadlocked angst of KoRn, and nu metal bands sometimes employed an under-utilized DJ who added a few scratches to the outro of each track for some ‘urban’ flavour.
Slipknot were also lumped into the movement, with nine members wearing Halloween masks and bright jumpsuits. They also have a song called “People = Shit” which makes their outlook on humanity quite clear. While Slipknot shirts have well and truly taken off, we’re patiently waiting for the return of nu-metal’s most iconic style accessory: Fred Durst’s red cap.
Kanye West arguably kickstarted the latest (and let’s hope last) wave of this trend when he appropriated Metallica’s logo for his own Yeezus line, which might be why Kim Kardashian has also been spotted wearing a vintage shirt from the thrash legends. Garments bearing the band’s cover art for Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning have become much more commonplace, and thankfully, these two most popular shirt designs correlate with their two best albums.
After solidifying themselves as pioneers of thrash, Metallica later lost some of their aura when they cut their hair in 1996 and released some semi-baked albums, which makes us believe that Samson-esque powers are very real. Drummer Lars Ulrich was also embroiled in a court case with Napster, and then spearheaded a very weird snare drum sound on Metallica’s 2003 album St Anger. But a whole new era (and surely a whole new line of shirts) are in store thanks to their budding friendship with Lady Gaga.
Darkthrone rose to prominence in Norway’s infamous black metal scene and developed a sound that prided itself on primal screams, breakneck blast beats and distorted production that made their songs sound like they were recorded in a cardboard box.
The Norwegians’ preference for sprawling, illegible band logos is an aesthetic which has been heavily replicated by brands from Vetements to Pseushi, while Darkthrone shirts at large have also been reinterpreted by new age fashionistas. However, it seems like not many of them actually researched which black metal bands to put on a shirt… some have dabbled in sketchy right wing politics and church burnings. After all, we’re talking about frostbitten Norway, and these gentlemen had to keep themselves warm somehow!
Cradle of Filth
Having moved down a slightly less abrasive path than their Norwegian colleagues, Cradle of Filth deliver black metal with symphonic elements and theatrics but haven’t given up on the good old fashioned shock tactics. Since the nineties, they’ve landed a bunch of their fans in hot water with a charming shirt design that had ‘JESUS IS A CUNT’ printed on the back. We should emphasize the caps lock for maximum banter. And on the front? A masturbating nun, so this is sure-fire Sunday brunch attire.
Rolling Stone went so far as to label it “the most controversial shirt in rock history,” which led to arrests in Australia and a national ban from New Zealand. Nowadays, Cradle of Filth’s presence can be felt on Vetements’ ever-popular “Total Fucking Darkness” hoodie, which is inspired by the band’s 1992 recording of the same name.
In every fashion blogger’s starter kit is an Iron Maiden shirt with the cover art for Number of the Beast printed on it, or at least Balenciaga’s Egyptofunk sweater that took heavy notes from the British band’s logo. Iron Maiden have been alive and kicking for over 40 years, delivering some of the most memorable sing-a-longs and hooks to ever grace human earholes, while singer Bruce Dickinson is also a qualified pilot who flies the band on international tours. Get you a man who can do both.
Their incredible live show has been immortalized on the Rock In Rio album, a spine-tingling recording of their 2001 performance in front of 250,000 screaming fans who were probably very squished and dehydrated. Bonus trivia: Iron Maiden’s official mascot is named Eddie, who graces the band’s live shows, cover art and merchandise with unmistakable ghoulishness.
While Pantera shirts are currently gaining popularity, the Southern metal legends have shared some aesthetic common ground with streetwear trends. Pantera were plastering marijuana leaves over their merchandise before every man and his dog wore HUF’s ‘Plantlife’ socks, and they also used the Confederate flag heavily – but perhaps with a little less irony than Kanye West’s controversial Yeezus jackets.
It’s fitting that Pantera’s album art for Vulgar Display of Power features a man getting punched in the face, because that’s what their music feels like: thrash-influenced adrenaline anthems with plenty of groove and an almost painful amount of heaviness. Even their ballads like “This Love” and “Cemetery Gates” are hard enough to make you want to headbutt a wall.
Slayer redefined thrash metal with their unbelievably heavy album Reign In Blood, a 29-minute slab of wailing solos and relentless riffs produced by Rick Rubin. They have also performed live shows where it’s ‘raining blood’ from the ceiling, which is probably the only adequate way to listen to this demonic masterpiece. You should also be shirtless and intoxicated.
Perhaps it was their collaborations with Vans and Supreme that made Slayer merchandise so popular in streetwear, but the most infamous crossover occurred when Kendall Jenner was photographed wearing one of their shirts in 2014. Slayer guitarist Gary Holt responded by performing onstage in a tee that read ‘Kill the Kardashians.’ But how do we know that Kendall isn’t a Slayer fan who listens to the opening riffs of ‘Seasons In the Abyss’ in her bedroom, right after she says goodnight to Tyga and Kylie? It’s possible.
If you haven’t already, take a look at why we remain convinced that this metal band T-shirt trend must certainly be on its way out right here.
- Text: Christopher Kevin Au
- Cover Image: Kevin Winter / Getty Images