GETTING MORE TALE #834: Top Five Masked Artists
The Masked Singer, you say? Never seen the show; not interested. What about real artists who wear, or have worn, masks? Not makeup, but an actual physical face covering? Since masks are everywhere today, and sometimes required depending on where you go, let’s have a look at some artists who were already ahead of the (flattening) curve.
#5: Crimson Glory
Before Slipknot, Mushroomhead, and before Ghost, Crimson Glory were the most famous masked metal band. Often compared to Queensryche (but more ambitious), Crimson Glory were fronted by singer Midnight. He wore a half-mask so he could sing, while the rest of the band kept their faces fully covered. At first, anyway. The masks were toned down on the second album and eventually dropped. But when their debut appeared in ’86, they looked like nobody else. That they are forgotten is unfair — they don’t even appear on Wikipedia’s “masked musicians” list!
At best, Brian Carroll is a recluse. He’s rarely been photographed without his plain white mask and a chicken bucket on his head (though you can find pictures of a young unmasked Carroll online). According to Bucket, the mask was inspired by Michael Myers in Halloween 4. It is highly likely that the anonymity of a mask allows Buckethead to loosen up and perform live. In all probability, the mask helps him get into his creative headspace. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that without the mask there could be no Buckethead.
#3: Nash the Slash
Nash was very early in the mask game, having started wearing bandages in 1979, the same year the Residents started wearing giant eyeball helmets. The Slash, or Jeff Plewman, passed away in 2014. He was best known as a founding member of FM, playing electric violin and mandolin. His 1980 solo cover of “Dead Man’s Curve” had a music video featuring that bandage mask, and trademark top hat. It was one of the weirdest videos of its time.
I considered Gwar for this position, but then I remembered: Gwar don’t wear masks. They are aliens that crash landed in Antarctica. No, seriously, this position should belong to Gwar except that I don’t really consider them a masked band. What they have done takes the idea of “masks” and puts them in an entirely unique category. Gwar might be the top “costumed” band, but speaking strictly of masks, this spot goes to Slipknot. Mushroomhead may have come first, but there is no question that Slipknot commercialised their image much more successfully. They expanded upon the masks with matching numbered jumpsuits. They became iconic. Just as one can easily recognize Gene Simmons as a member of Kiss, Shawn “Clown” Crahan simply cannot be mistaken for some guy in Pearl Jam. When you see Slipknot, you know Slipknot. And only they can take the credit for that.
#1: Kathryn Ladano
Biased? Yeah, so what! This is where I defend my choice.
All of the above artists are brilliant and that cannot be disputed. But how many of them incorporate the mask with the music? Perhaps only Buckethead uses the mask to get into a specific headspace to create. Kathryn Ladano’s newest album, also called Masked, explores this. Masks and blindfolds were worn in the studio while music was improvised and captured for the album. The mask becomes part of the audible art, which you cannot say about Slipknot or Crimson Glory. Maybe I’m biased, or maybe I’m one of a few people who knows how critical masks were to the creation of this music. Without the masks, some of this music wouldn’t even exist. For that reason, Kathryn Ladano is our topped masked artist. Nobody else incorporated the mask with the music like she did.
Hey! Where’s Daft Punk? Where’s Deadmau5? Not on this list, that’s where! Neither are Ghost, Thunderstick, the Residents or a number of other groups who wear physical facial coverings. Narrowing down is the hardest part of any list, but I hope you enjoyed this one anyway. Check out some Crimson Glory or Nash the Slash and tell us who you think the greatest masked artists are.