Monsters of rock: You couldn't make them up

Want to be a big noise in the music business? It's quite simple. Hide your features behind a latex skull or loads of black eyeliner. Jonathan Brown reports on a foolproof formula
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

For the people of Finland, the persistent failure of its musicians in the Eurovision Song Contest was becoming something of a national disgrace. But late on Saturday night, 40 years of hearing the phrase "nul points" reverberate across the airwaves was dramatically reversed when the monster-mask wearing rock band Lordi not only won the competition but also set a new record for the number of points scored.

By contrast, Britain's entrant, Daz Sampson, could manage only 19th place out of 24 with his rap "Teenage Life" - despite the assistance of a female backing group dressed somewhat unconvincingly as schoolgirls.

In recent years there has been criticism that the "song" element of the competition has been eroded by the spectacle. It is a claim Lordi's triumph will do little to refute. But as the briefest glance back over the history of popular music shows, the donning of outlandish costumes and the application of face paint has always proved a winner with the fans - if not the critics.

News of Lordi's success was greeted with joy in the streets of Helsinki and the band's home town of Rovaniemi. The victory was even feted by the Finnish President, Tarja Halonen, who dashed off a congratulatory telegram. Finns spilled out of their homes to wave the national flag, honk car horns and sing along to the winning song, "Hard Rock Hallelujah". If you feel the urge to join in, here is a sample of the lyrics:

Hard Rock Hallelujah!
Hard Rock Hallelujah!
The saints are crippled
On this sinners' night
Lost are the lambs with no guiding light
The walls come down like thunder
The rocks about to roll
It's The Arockalypse
Now bare your soul
All we need is lightning
With power and might
Striking down the prophets of false
As the moon is rising
Give us the sign
Now let us rise up in awe
Rock'n'roll angels bring thyn Hard Rock Hallelujah
Demons and angels all in one have arrived
Rock'n'roll angels bring thyn Hard Rock Hallelujah
In God's creation supernatural high

Lordi

They may have wowed Eurovision Song Contest music fans from the Black Sea to the Atlantic with their outlandish costumes and diabolical brand of "death" metal, but not everyone was rooting for the Finnish horror rockers Lordi this weekend. The decision to choose them to represent their native Finland in the annual kitsch-fest prompted outrage among church leaders back home, and critics even petitioned President Tarja Halonen to order them to withdraw from the contest. There were rumours that they were actually Russian agents sent to destabilise the country. Even when they arrived in Greece to take part in Saturday's final, opponents accused them of being devil worshippers. But according to the group's lead singer and driving force, Mr Lordi - an amateur filmmaker who styles himself variously as the "bastard son of a thousand megalomaniacs" and the "unholy overlord of tremors" - nothing could be further from the truth. Their winning song, "Hard Rock Hallelujah", which bears the immortal line "welcome to the arockalypse", was simply a piece of engaging musical theatre.

Mr Lordi - real name Tomi Putaansuu - and his fellow band members bear more than a passing resemblance to a bunch of extras from The Lord of the Rings, or even the cast from a low-budget splatter movie.

Alice Cooper

The grand daddy of shock rockers, the son of an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ became a sensation after rumours that he ripped the head off a live chicken and drank its blood while on stage. Cooper has insisted that the incident was a misunderstanding. Pioneering a previously unheard of theatricality, Cooper's macabre 1974 tour incorporated his own nightly death. The stage magician James Randi created for the star various means of dispatch, from hanging to the guillotine, joining him on stage as the executioner. The gimmick was a tremendous success with audiences but caused a rift within the band, who felt it was upstaging the music. By the mid-1980s, album sales were falling but Cooper found inner happiness - turning his back on drink and drugs and embracing Christianity. His career revived in 1989 with the international hit "Poison". With 24 albums, Cooper's only flirtation with birdies today comes on the golf course where he has a handicap of five.

Slipknot  

The Grammy winning, platinum album-selling boys from Des Moines, in Iowa, are probably as well-known for their masks and uniforms as they are for their coruscating heavy metal sound. Described by one critic as making Limp Bizkit sound like the Osmonds, Slipknot have gradually yielded the mystery that surrounds them since the release of their first album, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., in 1997. At first the band refused to appear with-out their masks, which they change after the release of each album. To add to the sense of cartoonish menace, all nine members wear matching black jumpsuits and are referred to by a number between 0 and 8. One of their most notorious live tricks is to pelt their audience with animal offal, which has helped to make them the scourge of Middle America's parents.

Kiss  

Among his claims to fame, which include making love to 4,600 women, selling 80 million records worldwide and engendering a following which aroused the passions and devotion more normally associated with a religious cult, Gene Simmons's rock'n'roll legacy lives on in a small but fundamental way. The self-styled "Phantom of the Park" gave the world of heavy metal the two-fingered hand sign for the devil. The singer incorporated the gesture, and more ostentatious eccentricities such as spitting fire, throwing up blood and the infamous flicking tongue, into erotically charged live performances. And then there was the make-up. Kiss's black and white painted faces achieved iconic status during the 1970s, making them perhaps the most recognisable act of the decade. So important was the face paint that the band registered it with the US Patent and Trademark Office. By 1983, however, the novelty had worn off and amid falling sales and a changing line-up, Kiss appeared on MTV without make-up for the first time. But although their glory days are behind them, the band continues to perform. Simmons, meanwhile, has reached out to a new audience with his television show Rock School.

Arthur Brown

If it wasn't for Brown, the self-styled "God of Hell Fire", stars such as Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson might never have reached for the mascara. His make-up scheme was identical to that later modelled by Cooper. He also revelled in wild on-stage antics, not least when he set his head alight by donning a burning helmet during the singing of his most famous hit, "Fire". Brown cut his musical teeth at the celebrated UFO club in London, spiritual home of the British underground psychedelic movement. It was there he developed the show for which he was to become synonymous. Lights changed colour along with the mood of the music and he wore layers of costumes on top of each other - a Tibetan monk would give way to a sun god who would transform into an "ordinary" man. Strobes and dry ice created a mind-altering experience. Brown's most famous album was The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and he paved the way for bands such as Hawkwind.

Roy Wood

Wood always claimed you could hear the sound he and his band, Wizzard, were trying to achieve by looking at his face. The painted-on stars, multicoloured crazy hair and outlandish costumes were the physical embodiment of what he was trying to achieve. The look evolved out of the design for a stage costume to accompany "Brontosaurus" by his previous band, The Move. Wizzard's biggest hit, "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day", remains a seasonal evergreen but his musical legacy stretches further. In the Sixties, Wood led the influential The Move before creating the pioneering Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan. Before they achieved commercial success, musical differences sent Wood in the direction of Wizzard.

Marilyn Manson

He was never going to get far as the "Antichrist Superstar" or, for that matter, the "God of Fuck" with a name like Brian Warner. Instead, the son of an Ohio carpet salesman shocked polite society by blending the names of two giant figures from US culture - the screen legend Marilyn Monroe and the murderer Charles Manson. Such an unsavoury association was to come back to haunt the androgynous singer. Manson was criticised after the Columbine school shootings in 1999 when it was claimed the two students responsible for the deaths of 13 people were fans of his music. Although it emerged this was not true, Manson - despite his protestations and his appearance on Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine - has remained angry and tainted by the suggestion he inspired the killings. Of late, the volatile pop star has turned his back on making records, concentrating on watercolour painting - Jack Osbourne and Nicolas Cage are said to be fans - and film-making. His latest project, Phantasmagoria - The Visions of Lewis Carroll, will be premiered on his website later his year. He is married to the burlesque entertainer Dita Von Teese.

Twisted Sister

As any self-respecting satanic rocker knows, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Twisted Sister had been knocking around the New York club scene since the mid-1970s, enjoying only moderate success until the intervention of US Senator Al Gore's wife, Tipper. Mrs Gore saw in the band's lyrics, particularly in the track "Under the Blade", evidence of the glorification of sadomasochism, bondage and even rape. Her distress at the video for the 1983 title track of the album Stay Hungry led to shrill warnings that the rockers were a threat to the moral fabric of American youth. With other wives of Washington movers and shakers, Mrs Gore formed the Parents' Music Resource Centre and created the infamous "Filthy 15" - singles so offensive they required warning labels. The initiative backfired, although the band's clown-faced lead singer, Dee Snider, fought back at a congressional hearing when it was suggested the band's album should be banned. Since then, Dee has written a best-selling parenting guide.

Comments