13 Coolest (And Scariest) Costumes in Hard Rock + Heavy Metal

The tricked-out treats of Kiss, Gwar, King Diamond, the Misfits + more turn every gig into Halloween.

From Little Richard’s stacked pompadour and Buddy Holly’s O.G. hipster eyewear on the through the early Beatles’ matching suits and the post-LSD Beatle’s psychedelic Sgt. Pepper uniforms, proper costuming figured as a key component of rock-and-roll long before heavy metal and punk kicked off their own nonstop dress-up parties.

In fact, fringe dwelling proto-metal-and-punk hard rockers also came up also concocted the notion of constant conceptual wardrobes. Among them were the “Jack the Ripper”-attire of Screaming Lord Sutch; the black-and-white face paint and flaming “God of Hellfire” crown of Arthur Brown; and the robes, bizarrely shaved heads, and nooses-as-neckties donned by the insane “anti-Beatles,” the Monks.

Of course, no matter how you aesthetically amplify an artist’s physical appearance, what matters is the music. The following 13 resplendent rockers are sonic beasts who also happen to be sartorially spectacular.

  1. Buckethead

    The one-man musical maelstrom born Brian Patrick Carol is a guitar wizard supreme whose technical expertise and hugely imaginative playing spans virtually every known genre. Alas, many such guitar wizards exist.

    He is also insanely prolific, having released more than 200 solo albums and played on records by more than 50 other artists. Still, the world is full of similarly hyper-productive rockaholics.

    Carroll was also once a member of Guns N’ Roses. And, yes, it seems like there are more of those than the previous categories combined.

    What Brian Patrick Carroll does that no one else can claim, then, is wear a bucket on his head. Hence: the majesty of Buckethead.

  2. Pussy Riot

    Russia’s feminist punk provocateurs Pussy Riot take revolution seriously. After the group staged a shock performance in one of their homeland’s most historic churches, their arrest and imprisonment sparked a worldwide uproar and united enemies all over who share a passion for freedom of speech.

    Even more powerful than Pussy Riot’s rage-fueled music, though, are their costumes: these idea-warriors wear neon-bright dresses and different colored ski masks, the brilliance of which is that anyone who then dons the simple but immediately unmistakable get up is suddenly empowered to also declare: “I am Pussy Riot!”

  3. Ghost

    Nameless Ghouls, as they literally refer to themselves, brandish black robes and horned masks to back an elaborately attired “anti-pope” who goes by the moniker Papa Emeritus.

    Such is the spellbinding visual iconography of Sweden’s premiere contemporary occult metal overlords, Ghost, and, in the less-than-a-decade of the group’s existence, their look already rules as one that will never be forgotten in the annals of heavy metal dress-up.

  4. The New York Dolls

    All the way back in 1971, Manhattan scuzz-blues skronk-rockers the New York Dolls pioneered punk with a raw, aggressive, irresistibly crotch-bound sound and a gloriously grotesque groove.

    The Dolls also pushed glam rock to its furthest possible conclusion not by aiming higher with ever foofier makeup and fancier frocks, but by deliriously dragging the movement through the gutter.

    These Houston Street hooligans dolled themselves up, indeed, in dime store dresses, chintzy high-heels, and other accouterment that looked as though they been filched from the reject piles of even the lowest-aiming amateur transvestites. Sometimes true beauty is hideous, and vice versa.

  5. Mushroomhead

    Cleveland industrial metal marauders Mushroomhead combine numerous extreme rock subgenres into a sound that can only be described as monstrous. They dress exactly that way, too.

    Throughout multiple lineups, masks have remained a consistent trope, as have robes, leather, and mechanical makeup prosthetics.

  6. Twisted Sister

    At first, Twisted Sister copped the hardscrabble two-bit street-hooker schtick of their idols the New York Dolls, but as the group grew harder, faster, louder, and more metallic, so, too, did their stage-wear.

    Front-beast Dee Snider’s mountain of blonde curls will reign forever as one of rock’s most iconic coifs. Similarly enduring is Twisted Sister’s same-but-different motif of long hair, multicolored leather, striped-makeup, and platform boots.

  7. Mayhem

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    Perhaps no single rock band in history has more legitimately conjured up bona fide evil than Norwegian black metal godless-fathers Mayhem.

    As though Mayhem’s unprecedentedly terrifying sound and off-stage exploits involving suicide, murder, and cannibalism weren’t enough, these dark-hearted diabolists adapted the black-and-white makeup of Kiss and Alice Cooper into facial war-markings so joyless, so hostile, and so instantly blood-freezing that its name couldn’t possibly suit it more perfectly: corpse paint.

  8. Slipknot

    From Iowa they came, and to the top of heavy metal’s all-time most iconic Slipknot immediately leapt, powered by explosive percussion, a nü-metal sound that (way) extended beyond mere nü-metal, and a brilliantly assembled line-up of jumpsuit-clad sonic terrorists identified individually only by numbers and their own unique, straight-out-of-your-most-therapy-requiring nightmares.

  9. King Diamond

    Danish ghoul-guru King Diamond stormed the world first by wailing with the infernal metal majesties Mercyful Fate, and then with the group that bears his own name.

    His royal harshness instantly grabbed ears with a piercing falsetto that seemed to soar up from Hell itself, and grandly horrifying physical presentation involving top hats and eye-popping black-and-white face paint that often employs upside-down crosses.

  10. Misfits

    Punk’s all-time horror greats the Misfits stormed the early-’80s hardcore scene with exquisitely crafted, ferociously executed musical odes to demons, zombies, UFOs, dead presidents, and how all they wanted was our skulls.

    Other post-Ramones rabble-rousers came close to the Misfits’ sonic blitzkrieg (although none surpassed their specific greatness), but absolutely nobody looked like these Garden State gargoyles who boasted stripped-to-the-waist muscular torsos, skeleton face makeup, and a hairstyle called a “devilock” that remains the group’s eternal visual calling card.

  11. Alice Cooper

    It’s really all about Alice Cooper’s eyes. That severe black paint around those bugged-out peepers alternates between harlequin-dandy, massacre splattery, bluntly harsh, and other motifs, but it simply and exquisitely speaks such volumes about the shock, horror, and fantastically frightful inner world of Alice’s on-stage persona.

    The Alice Cooper stage show set the standard for elaborate theatrical overkill, and his costumes can range from black leather sadist to white tuxedoed dandy. Still, Alice always sports those darkened windows to his infinitely darker soul—and it always works.

  12. Kiss

    Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter. The Demon, the Starchild, the Spaceman, and the Catman. Outside of the mop-tops, no quartet of faces in rock wields such superhuman power.

    That impact applies as well to the group’s black leather ensembles, literally monstrous boots, and stage go-to’s such as Gene’s blood-spitting and fire-breathing, and Ace’s extremely smoking guitar solos.

    If the makeup on other Kiss members Eric Carr (The Fox) and Vinnie Vincent (The Ankh) didn’t quite boast the same impact, it hardly mattered.

    Kiss’s visual domination has rocked numerous generations now, and clearly even if every original Kiss player retires, there’s still no end in sight. And why should there be? They’re KISS!

  13. Gwar

    Alas, when it comes to costumes, even Kiss has to take second place to the scumdogs of the universe who routinely terrorize our planet in the form of Gwar.

    Sporting impossibly elaborate constructions of Styrofoam, rubber, and sheer crackpot genius, Gwar has mounted the most spectacular stage productions this side of Caligula’s coliseum.

    Even in the wake of founding freak-genius Dave Brockey aka Oderus Urungus dying in 2014, the monumentally costumed Gwarmy soldiers on.

    Long may they aim to decapitate us all.

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).