Rock and Roll has had its share of larger than life characters. Some were born with an innate charisma that just demanded attention: Elvis, Jim Morrison, and Iggy Pop, for example. Other artists, however, fully embraced rock and roll’s shared sense of rebellion and theater to create new personas through costume. At StarCostumes.com, we have an affinity (and maybe a little bias) for these artists. So, without further ado, we present you The 12 Greatest Costumed Rock Bands Ever!
Havard Ellefsen is the brainchild behind the man and the band, Mortiis. Hailing from Norway, a nation whose musical contributions are most associated with the black metal genre, it is not uncommon for artists to sport some sort of make up and leather. Combining industrial rock and ambient electronica, in turn, Mortiis take costuming further with custom created prosthetic face and ear pieces, dreadlocks, and dress that sometimes is no more than mummy wrapping and sometimes shredded leather covered in corn flour.
For nearly 20 years, the Polish black metal band has been using it’s anti-Christian lyrics and breakneck rhythms to become one of the most notorious metal bands in the world. While their live shows may feature them wearing standard black metal fare of leather with big steel spikes, and white face paint with some black smears here and there, it’s the photo shoots where Behemoth shines. From custom fit leather frocks laden with zippers and chains to body armor reminiscent of Roman warriors, Behemoth takes their costumes seriously. After all, they have a bad reputation to uphold.
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers
While they may not be the first band that comes to mind when you think of costumed bands, but there was a time in the mid-90s when these SoCal funky punks donned some of the most outrageous costumes ever. From being dresses as light bulbs, to wearing just a sock on their genitals, to wearing helmets that shot fire 10 feet into the air, they not only wore these things, but actually delivered full 90-minute sets that way!
From the hometown of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, Ohio), comes the masked metal band known as Mushroomhead. While their costumes have changed little over the years, their most popular look features black jump suits and black masks with X’s across the face. Interestingly, the impetus for Mushroomhead to wear costumes was not to create a new identity as much as it was to hide their own identities, because they were originally a side project of several other more popular Cleveland-based bands and wanted to keep their identities separate.
8. Alice Cooper
Every trend has to come back to one individual, the person who set the trend in motion. When talking about rock bands and artists who perform in costume, it all starts with Alice Cooper. From the streets of Detroit Rock City, Alice Cooper used the experimental period of the ’60s to start changing a normal rock show to a theatrical tour de force, complete with guillotines, snakes, electric chairs and, of course, his trademark black eye makeup and leather costuming. Without Alice Cooper, it is suffice to say that nobody else on this list would be here.
7. Hollywood Undead
The youngest band on this list, Hollywood Undead are also the least adventurous when it comes to costuming. Often sporting simple plastic hockey masks, poorly applied makeup, or just bandanas, it’s as if they hardly even make an effort. The genius of this, however, is that they motivated thousands of young angst-driven boys on MySpace to also start wearing bandanas on their faces, specifically because it didn’t take much effort. Yes, they lowered costuming bar to reach the most apathetic crowd… and it worked!
When your front man is a costume designer by trade, well, it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that you are a band that is going to be wearing costumes. Hailing from Finland, the band Lordi is named after founding member… Mr. Lordi. They rose to fame as the winners of the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, making them the first Finn’s to ever win the contest. Their grotesque masks and medieval garb combined with big ’80s-era hooks landed them gigs on the Ozzfest tour mainstage. In recent years, however, their popularity has waned.
While Mudvayne no longer wears makeup or costumes, part of their identity early in their career was very much tied to makeup and costumes. During the era of their first release, the band relied very heavily on facepaint coupled with experimental hair styles. For their second release, they donned alien masks and colored suits to offer their fans something new and different. Since that time, they have been makeup and costume free, but their diehard fans still associate them with that style.
4. Marilyn Manson
While costume is primarily used as a way to draw attention and controversy, perhaps no artist on this list has received more of either than Marilyn Manson. Early in his career, as the front man of Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids, his garb was more colorful, evoking images of circus performers or even Willy Wonka. By the time he released Antichrist Superstar in 1996, his image and costume switched very heavily to a raw gothic style characterized by prosthetic wings and other appendages, as well as rag clothing. While he has reinvented his look several times in his career, he is most often associated with goth makeup and costumes today.
Few bands on this list have reached such critical acclaim as quickly as Slipknot. With seven grammy nominations (and one win), two platinum records, and two gold records in just 10 years, it’s easy to forget that Slipknot’s initial notoriety came in large because they wear masks. In fact, with matching jumpsuits, horrific masks, and numbers (instead of names), Slipknot’s initial image was a new level of shock. Kudos to The ‘knot for having the good sense to license their masks for merchandising as well.
There are stars. There are superstars, Then there’s Kiss. With 24 gold albums and more than 100 million records sold worldwide, they aren’t just an amazing costumed band, they are the band that used face paint and costumes to create a brand that is as instantly recognizable as Nike or Coke. Add firebreathing, blood spitting, lasers, and enough pyro to stock a small army, and Kiss’s live show does everything to cement their reputation as the quintessential rock band, even as the members of Kiss enter their 60s.
Until Gwar, Alice Cooper and Kiss had the market on shock rock, but their approaches were rooted in makeup and traditional theater posturings. When Gwar arrived, they did so in full latex costumes and sci-fi personas. Looking less like something from a Kubuki production and more like something out of an Alien movie, their stageshows notoriosly address taboo subjects and often leave concert-goers walking home drenched in fake bodily fluids. With an image like that, it would be easy to forget that they also have two Grammy awards.
There you have it. Some shock. Some thrill. Some channel their inner demons. But they have all done it with some type of costuming, though. And along the way, some of them have changed the course of rock and roll… forever.
And if you’re in the mood, don’t forget we carry our own assortment of rock star costumes to help you take the stage in style.