Fans of the darker side of the pop charts will be all too aware that it was just the 50th anniversary of Satan finally getting bored of giving his best tunes away to Sandie Shaw and instead summoning his cruellest demi-gorgons into one recording studio to make the debut Black Sabbath album.
It was that record that launched a million metalheads, a much maligned music fan, not least for their questionable clothing. But as someone who was convicted unanimously by a jury of my peers in 1991 for crimes against fashion relating to seven counts of long-sleeved tie-dyed Carter USM t-shirt, I know only too well how unsightliness can be turned into a virtue in the name of anti-commercial musical tribalism. The matted long hair, flaming skull tattoos, manky denim and surgically forked tongue of the average metaller is every bit as beautiful as the floss-thin thong of R&B or the ridiculous grills of rap (theoretically, at least). Personifying the pain and ugliness within us all in honour of the music you love is a noble sign of dedication indeed. ‘I have metal in my life,’ it says, ‘I don’t need this job.’
But still, the sense of belonging that comes with the collective smell of stale cider and hair rodents must be giving way to a certain sense of unease by now. Relative to other genres, metal fashion has crept on at the pace of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s iOS updates, gradually incorporating the primary coloured haircuts of emo, the angular lines of cyberpunk and the boiler-suited Purge gangs of whatever Slipknot are. Even in the age of the scary metal mask, though, the essential shock factor has long since gone – we know that behind every steel-cheeked overlord of gothic doom lies another sprout-faced grot-goblin who does the sound down the Doncaster Doombar every Thursday. In the days of tabloid-fanned danger surrounding drill music, there’s more of a comic self-mockery to most metal imagery. You know it, I know it and Babymetal sure as hell know it.
Worse still for the metallers, their image has been assimilated deep into the mainstream. They’ve undergone painful surgeries at the hands of their drunkest mates in order to declare their extreme tastes and lifestyle to the world, yet if you wander into a record shop (remember them?) in 2020 with piercings through your pancreas and Cannibal Corpse lyrics tattooed across your eyelids, you’re more likely to be recommended a Post Malone, Billie Eilish or Lil’ Jaily record than anything that might even slightly melt your face. The ultimate signs of personal non-conformism have become the New Normal. You might as well get a facial tattoo of the Topshop logo.
Luckily, there is an answer – if the mainstream has stolen your identity, why not steal theirs? The number of straight-looking – nay outright glamorous – celebrities coming out as metal fans is increasing, be they Jim Carrey, Demi Lovato, Ed Gamble or Margot Robbie. Robbie recently reasserted her rock fan credentials on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, proving that the most effective and truly subversive way to spread the word of metal is to walk among the normals. So be released from your basement cave bars, ye wicked, get your nails done and roam the All Bar Ones so long denied you and your kind.
It bodes for a brilliantly dark future; Love Islanders insisting that the most romantic re-coupling is soundtracked by Opeth’s ‘The Leper Affinity’. A million eHarmony profiles listing their interests as long romantic walks, soppy rom-coms and goat sacrifice. Young Tory politicians being banned from using ‘Wrong One To Fuck With’ by Dying Fetus as their conference walk-on music. ‘Their’ world is yours now, let the mass metal takeover commence…