The 10 greatest masked bands in heavy metal history

Photos of Slipknot, Ghost, Sleep Token and Lordi onstage
(Image credit: Slipknot: Paul Bergen/Redferns | Ghost: Katja Ogrin/Redferns | Sleep Token: Katja Ogrin/Redferns | Lordi: Elsie Roymans/Redferns)

Masks are nothing new in music. As far back as the Ancient Greeks, performers have hidden their identities to inhabit characters and push the stories they tell further. Over the years, the possibilities have only grown, thanks to advancements in makeup, effects and engineering.

Here, Hammer lists the 10 best masked bands to ever be seen in metal. From a uniform look across a whole lineup to individual designs that have evolved over the years, their disguises have become synonymous with some of the most accomplished, experimental and respected songs that heavy music has ever produced.

Metal Hammer line break


Slipknot weren’t the first masked metal band, but there’s no denying they’re the reason covering your face became so popular in the genre. Over the years, there have been many iterations of each member’s mask, but the effectiveness has never waned. Whether you prefer Shawn Crahan’s ever-changing clown mask or Mick Thomson’s steely face plate, The Nine have always been instantly recognisable.


By 2010, masked metal bands had become dime a dozen, but Ghost were able to extend the trope even further. Papa Emeritus (since outed as band mastermind Tobias Forge) and his hooded Ghouls added a whole lore to their anonymity, parading around as a Satan-worshipping anti-church making hard-rockin’ hymns for the Devil. Tobias has switched his persona up with every album, but the enigmatic allure remains.

Sleep Token

Sleep Token have swept their way through TikTok like a sensual wildfire, and their mysterious, cult-like nature has been key to their appeal. Similar to Ghost before them, these UK pop-djent unknowns are a sect dedicated to worshipping a deity called “Sleep” – however, they do so through the medium of horny melodies and chunky riffs. Their fan-base transcends genre as a result.


There are so many layers to the wackiness of these intergalactic scumdog warriors. When you’re not being blasted in the face by streams of blood from an udder of dicks, the cavalcade of masks and costumes is spectacle enough at a live show. After all, who doesn’t love a rhythm guitarist with a colossal bear trap for a head?


With their identities cloaked behind a sigil that represents the prince of demons Asmodeus, Gaerea are one of the most mysterious bands around. The baggy fit of their hoods makes the black metal wildmen look like executioners from the underworld and, when they cased one in liquid gold for their latest album Mirage, they imbued the mystery with an elegant dose of beauty.


Mushroomhead technically beat Slipknot to the punch when it came to the whole “masked nu metal band” thing, so The Nine’s rapid ascent naturally pissed these Ohioans off. However, the band have since enjoyed a successful career in their own right, reaching number 20 on the US album charts in 2014. You don’t do that by being crap, you know?


When it takes up to three hours to apply a mask, you know that a band is all in on their aesthetic. Finnish metal monsters Lordi go big in all aspects, from their intricate costumes to their face-melting pyrotechnic displays, with Mr Lordi himself being the terrifying face of this chaotic circus – ruptured flesh, piercing horns and all.

Imperial Triumphant

The gold masks of avant-garde jazz metal trio Imperial Triumphant are inspired by the Art Deco beauty of their native New York. Look closely and you’ll spot cues taken from local artworks like The Charging Bull, but the mask modelled on a dilapidated Statue Of Liberty speaks perfectly to the destructive beauty of one of modern metal’s most intriguing prospects.


You’d be forgiven for not always recognising these extreme metal Aussies, given they change their look with every new album they release. Anonymous vocalist The Curator has donned everything from tattered wizard’s hats to executioners hoods, but the most terrifying mask has to be the grandfather clock/cabinet of nightmares that encased his head for 2003 debut album Seepia.

The Locust

The Locust prided themselves on being transgressive. While their music was a disorientating  mixture of grindcore, mathcore and oppressive noise, the band also enjoyed revelled in controversy, both on Jerry Springer and on the road. Their insect-themed costumes were appropriately confusing, then, and only reaffirmed that this lot were peerless when it came to sheer, unpredictable, hardcore anarchy.