Mystery has always had a vital role to play in both the expressionism and marketing of metal.
Since the genre's inception, audiences have been treated to a dizzying array of acts utilising some degree of anonymity, to assist in communicating their vision.
The degree of mystery has differed wildly from acts using simple masks and make-up to conceal their identity or provide added visual stimulus, to elaborate, multi-layered campaigns designed to assure 100% anonymity, presenting metal as art and art alone.
The arrival today of Sleep Token's second full-length, This Place Will Become Your Tomb sees the emerging anonymous British djent-pop collective stake their claim as one of the most mysterious metal acts of all time. Fronted by visionary, songwriter and vocalist, Vessel, Sleep Token has been on a steady ascent since dropping 2019's Sundowning, utilising a clever blend of costuming, production, design and haunting music to build a world around their musical expression that has brought them a cult-like following who worship with every note.
That Sleep Token has managed to achieve this without ever, once, revealing their identity, is an impressively rare feat in today's celebrity-obsessed culture. This Place Will Become Your Tomb, delves further into the enigmatic universe of Sleep Token, pushing boundaries and blurring genres, whilst retaining their signature sound.
The release of This Place Will Become Your Tomb inspired us to do a bit of a deep dive into the history of mystery in the metal genre. The result of that deep dive was a disappearance into many a YouTube rabbit hole and this list of Metal's Most Mysterious Acts.
Metal's Most Mysterious Acts
Sleep Token The members of Sleep Token are a masked, anonymous collective of musicians said to be united in their worship of an ancient deity identified as Sleep who appeared to the band's lead singer, Vessel, in a dream.
It's easy to forget now that everyone knows Papa Emeritus is and always has been Tobias Forge, that Ghost rose to stardom amidst a cloud of genuine anonymity. The occult rock/metal band were effectively anonymous for over a decade, with the mystery and theatricality of their presentation the perfect match for their world-beating music. Identifiable only as Papa Emeritus and Nameless Ghouls, Ghost's imagery and 'satanic repurposing' of a Catholic mass, were an example of metal's musical mystery meeting its modern zenith. Even now that we know who Tobias is, Ghost's music, presentation and live shows, still feel like a mysterious experience.
Aussie experimental metal band Portal have been playing their fusion of black metal, death-metal and dark-ambience since 1994, achieving worldwide acclaim while never revealing their identities. The band uses 1920's silent-film era-inspired costuming including suits and executioners' masks, while vocalist The Curator wears headgear inspired by their latest album. The striking visual presentation and anonymity adding additional power to a brand of metal that is honestly, legitimately, terrifying to witness live. Interestingly, anonymity isn't the purpose of the costumes, with the band's guitarist Horror Illogium on record saying "Anonymity has never been the modus operandi. It is the feeling we ourselves are subjected to, they [the costumes and stage names] serve as vessels for our escape."
Following frontman Wayne Static's death, Static-X decided to honour him by continuing his legacy. They chose to do so by bringing in an anonymous touring frontman who performs on stage wearing a mask of Static's face. It's a choice that has divided their fanbase, but the fact no one knows who this guy is made Xer0 a fitting addition to this list.
At times the anonymous Swiss Ambient black-metal band Darkspace take mystery to a whole new level. The heavily face painted trio go by pseudonyms Wroth, Zorgh (Apokryphon) and Zhaaral (Sun of the Blind). They call all of their albums Darkspace followed by tally marks and do not properly title their songs, with every song referred to as Dark followed by two numbers separated by a decimal point that serves the purpose of identifying which album the song appears on and what track number the song is on that album. All of their lyrical themes revolve around space, darkness and cosmic mysticism. All of their album art simply features the band's logo on the top-centre, a rectangle on the bottom-right containing vague and ethereal grayscale artwork and a black background.