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Black Metal

Has Anonymity in Metal Lost Its Mystique?

Written by TJ Kliebhan

It’s all about the music, right? Most artists today come with some type of extraneous trait that they use to further their music and how to interact with it, but some artists choose to reject this notion. Across genres such as R&B, Electronic and Pop music, artists have chosen to hide portions or the entirety of their identity. Metal is undoubtedly the guiltiest of this trick. For decades now, we have seen artists use a veil of anonymity in order to mask their identity while furthering the mission of their music, which always boils down to some version of, “It’s just about the music.” Initially, this sounds like a just cause, and typically it begins as such during the early stages of an artist’s career. After thirty plus years of being subjugated to this technique by numerous artists, it is time that it stops. Anonymity has now become entirely overdone, pretentious, and it almost always results in the antithetical rather than the artist’s original mission.

The number of artists that have used anonymity to divert attention from themselves has been steady since the early 90s Norwegian black metal scene. More recently, artists like Ghost Bath, Briqueville, and Ghost have chosen to shroud themselves in order to have their artistic output remain centered on the music itself rather than anything frivolous. Typically this is a response to mainstream pop artists that some would consider more vapid because they sell themselves rather than a message or enlightened piece of social commentary. Choosing an unknown image is just as much a conscious decision as is choosing to mold oneself with today’s trends in order to sell records. It may not have as wide a net as what a mainstream pop star would do, but this decision still has a target audience. Mystery generates hype and intrigue too. To consider one method more pure or noble than the other is simply trivial.



Photo: Adam Murray


Artists like Deathspell Omega have been using anonymity since the 90s, and examples can be drawn even further back, such as the early stages of Kiss. Outside of metal, artists like Aphex Twin and Burial have embraced a low profile while putting out their music for the same reason. The focal point of their artistic music should be nothing more than the music itself. For an artist like Deathspell Omega, who started their band before the internet really took off, this probably seemed like not just a noble cause, but a viable pre-social media option. In the internet and social media age, this is no longer the case. The Facebook, Soundcloud, and Spotify consumers have entirely different expectations about what the artist should provide for them. Communication and transparency is one of those expectations. Artists are entitled to share as much or as little as they want about themselves, but that does not change the fact that consumers have always demanded to know things about the artists, and in the present era they are getting it at an unprecedented rate. Fans have proven time and time again that when they are denied this privilege they will stop at nothing to discover who the artist is behind the art they create, and today this information is easier to find than ever. A witch hunt is never part of an artist’s original plan.

For a small percentage of fans, who the artist is can become an obsession, but for the average fan it is still an undeniable subplot. The veil of mystery takes the place of an image and can begin to pigeonhole artists. Being known as an anonymous artist is a label that can become deeply ingrained within a fan base and extend outside to the general music fan. When other music fans only know an artist because of their reputation for the mysterious, image has overtaken output. At this point, the artist has been placed in a difficult situation. They risk becoming a spectacle rather than a musician.


Ghost Bath

Ghost Bath


Ghost Bath recently joined the likes of Myrkur, Slipknot, and the countless others who gave in to the unrelenting negative attention that this can bring via their Facebook page. Although social media may seem like the furthest thing from what these artists want, perhaps it can be a gateway toward a compromise. Most fans simply want interaction, and artists can certainly use their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to converse with fans and relay news without revealing themselves. Most fans would likely relent if artists remain interactive and personable.

Artists who want to enlist this gimmick have every right to do so, but they must be prepared to accept that fans are entitled to their own curiosities. There are always consequences that result in exchange for their privacy. Many times, these consequences can seem unpredictable, but history shows that this causes problems for almost every artist that garners some amount of popularity. If the cost of a bit of an artist’s privacy is sanity, quelled rumors, and a return to focus on the music itself rather than the monolithic mystery of their image, both sides can be appropriately satisfied.


Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.



  1. dan

    June 11, 2016 at 7:55 am

    ‘Anonymity’ can be just a marketing gimmick, which I’d say it is most of the time in metal, hardcore etc. Slipknot may claim that their being known would distract from the music, but nine /gimp/clown/things running around the stage doesn’t? Same for Ghost, Portals Sunn O))), these aren’t purely musical acts, they’re at least as much some kind of theatre as they are music.
    But on the other hand The Armed are a fairly anonymous group, they don’t wear costumes and you can kinda see them in videos, occasional interviews, but there’s no focus on the people, only the music. That kind of anonymity is good imo, because the focus is just on the music, and there’s no need to even state that, there just isn’t anything else to pay attention to.

  2. Tommy Seg

    May 25, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    That fact that you talk in terms of “consumers” throughout this article says a lot about your attitude towards art and underground music in general Meghan. It’s just another disposable product with some “gnarly imagery” to entertain you isn’t it? Another totally stupid and pointless article. Opinions, opinions, opinions…..

  3. Rik

    May 25, 2016 at 9:44 am

    I don’t care about the personal lives of underground artists and it’s a waste of time making celebrities of people. Everything is a choice to be made, but not always from the same intention. You make a cool song, doesn’t mean you’re dick deserves sucking. There are plenty of assholes out there who make great art, the less I have to know about them the better for me. I’m interested in art’s power to transcend the artist. No need wasting time on the soap operas of their lives. Keep focused on the work and leave the cult of personality BS out of underground music!

  4. David Adam Meredith

    May 24, 2016 at 8:34 am


  5. John Perrin

    May 24, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Dragged Into Sunlight does it well I think.

  6. Tommy Seg

    May 23, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    “For a small percentage of fans, who the artist is can become an obsession, but for the average fan it is still an undeniable subplot.”

    I’d say this statement is total nonsense, I find more often than not, that the reverse is the case. Most so-called music fans are utterly obsessed with the artist or individual personality or personalities behind any given band or project. For 90% of music fans (especially the kind of people who are avid followers of this whole “Cvlt Nation” brand thing you have going on, the music is secondary to imagery, aesthetic and cult of personality. I think anonymity nothing to do with creating a false sense of mystery and mystique and rather about making a clear distinction between an artists creations and the individual personality behind the creations, they can be two very, very different things.

    A huge percentage of people involved in music (and I include so-called underground music like hardcore, black metal etc.) are attention seekers plain and simple, they use music and art as a means of gaining approval as an individual because they are simply pathetic human beings who need validation from total strangers. “Music fans” are generally idiots who know nothing about art, creativity or life.

  7. John cole

    May 23, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Its a black metal thing, you wouldn’t understand.

  8. Dylan Martinez

    May 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    So NOBODY’s heard of Mamaleek???

    • BrandNo Mavaddat

      May 24, 2016 at 11:52 am

      I recorded at this one studio a few years back and in the roster for upcoming bands to record there was mamaleek. I shit a little

    • Dylan Martinez

      May 24, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Wow, must’ve been for Via Dolorosa! That’s awesome dude. I bet the proprietor of that studio space knows who Mamaleek REALLY are haha!!! Although I hear one of the brothers lives abroad now…

  9. Dylan Atkinson

    May 23, 2016 at 11:22 am


  10. Naate Millur

    May 23, 2016 at 10:35 am

    The music is more important in my case

  11. Abraxas Mesomedes

    May 23, 2016 at 10:24 am


  12. Jonathan Quintana

    May 23, 2016 at 9:39 am


  13. Adam Gambel

    May 23, 2016 at 9:06 am

    I’d say at least 70% of the bands that go for anonymity are bands no one cares about/listens to. So this really only applies to the 30% worth listening to, imo. And to that I’d say, whatever soaks yer goat.

  14. René Weidmann

    May 23, 2016 at 8:04 am


  15. Gabbo Dubko

    May 23, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Totally works for batushka

    • Marcel Wiedergänger

      May 23, 2016 at 8:03 am

      Totally because basically these guys all play also in Hermh and the singer runs Witching Hour Productions 😉

    • Gabbo Dubko

      May 23, 2016 at 8:59 am

      And the album is one of the best of 2015

    • Marcel Wiedergänger

      May 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

      I think it’s pretty plastic and boring but each to his own I guess.

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