Although tattoos existed since prehistoric times in Egypt, China, India and other cultures (check the in-depth history of tattoos), they found their way into our societies by intersecting with Rock/Metal music, the counterculture and the anti-social movement.
To get more insight on tattooing in modern times, I went to Rabih Shikhany’s The Art Of Ink shop in Jbeil – Lebanon, where this renowned tattoo artist earned his title by studying tattooing abroad for two years. My interview with Rabih got me the information I needed to write this guide of Tattoos for Metalheads, which I felt was missing from online media (although the folks at Metal Sucks have a “Tattoos” tag, but these posts are more entertainment-oriented than informative).
Before we get to the interview I had with Rabih, here’s my own perspective on tattooing, explained with a why/what approach.
‘Why’ get a tattoo? This comes down to expressing one’s individualism – or in more simple terms, “displaying a personal reference to one’s beliefs, interests and passions”. Historically speaking, some ancient tribes adopted tattooing as a symbol of identity and strength, and as a record of one’s achievements.
‘What’ tattoo(s) should I go for? Here are some ideas that will get you started:
- Mythologies, cultures and fictional characters
Needless to say, the topic of mythologies is a recurring theme in Metal, whether it’s band names, artwork or lyrics, we all love the mysticism of a good myth. After all, lots of bands and releases are related to such themes (Nile / Iron Maiden and Egyptian mythology for example).
Norse / Scandinavian / Viking mythologies also have a major influence on Metalheads and their culture, with characters like Odin, Thor, dwarfs and elves among others. Same thing goes for Japanese culture with their Samurai warriors and Ninjas, and Greek mythologies with characters like Prometheus and Persephone, all of which relating to concepts in Metal lyrics such as humanity, strength, nature, philosophy and religion. Characters that also appeal to Metalheads are phoenixes, taurens, banshees, dragons, giants and basically any monster you can find in Lord Of The Rings, World Of Warcraft, H.P Lovecraft, etc.
Some tattoo ideas can also come from non-fictional characters, your favorite musicians, people who influence your lyrical approach (authors like Poe, revolutionaries like Che Guevara, etc).
- Bandnames / logos / artwork
Bandnames and their logos might seem like the obvious first choices for a Metalhead, but they are the least common ones because they display little artistic or personal vision. On the other hand, one can draw influence from a band’s artwork style, say the dark yet natural touch behind Opeth’s artwork, or the modern touch of John Baizley.
- Spiritual / Metaphysical
Tattoo ideas for Metalheads can have spiritual/metaphysical references, like the Yin Yang symbol, images about heaven/hell, existence and reality. Prog Rock bands regularly touch on these subjects along with Doom and Atmospheric Metal bands so it’s not strange for a Metalhead to get a tattoo of a spiritual/metaphysical symbol.
- Interview with Rabih Shikhany
- So what do you think is the connection between tattoos and Rock/Metal music?
Well the connection between the two is another unique identifier for extreme forms of art (like Rock/Metal), similar to long hair for Metal listeners, tattoos appealed to the Metal culture because tattoos used to be widely considered as taboo in society.
- But tattoos existed long before Rock/Metal, and they weren’t associated with music at all until Rock/Metal showed up.
Yes the connection between tattoos and music flourished with the arrival of Rock/Metal. Although nowadays, tattoos are now ‘okay’ to everyone, you could find school teachers with tattoos – although they might be a bit scared to immediately go for big tattoos, but it does mean that tattoos are finding their way to be accepted in society.
- Do you think people with tattoos should be typecasted as extreme individuals or Metalheads?
Well first there are lots of Metalheads who don’t have tattoos so typecasting on looks isn’t accurate at all. The way I see it, I get customers from different backgrounds, not only Metalheads, so in my opinion tattoos are no longer ‘antisocial’, ‘extreme’ or ‘underground’, it’s more related to fashion and art now. The most requested tattoos nowadays are religious tattoos, so that alone shows that typecasting tattooed individuals is not right at all.
- What do you think are the best themes for tattooing for Metalheads? Viking themes, ancient myths, tribal, etc.
Usually the first thing that comes to mind are warrior tattoos or anything that symbolizes power and strength. More advanced Metalheads may choose to go extreme (like these latest ‘bio-mechanical’ themes – check here), and avoid the ‘usual theme’ that is tribal tattoos, which I think nowadays has become old; you need something artistic for an interesting tattoo.
- Do you think that people attracted to “non popular music” consider tattoing as an art form more than your average individual?
Well I think the more the person listens to ‘loud’ music, the more ‘free’ his spirit is to appreciate tattooing as an art form on its own. It’s really about how open-minded you are, if you simply like popular music and follow traditions, the odds are you won’t appreciate tattooing that much. That type of person might do something small, like a small ‘badge-like’ tattoo on his body, but he’s not committing to an entire theme like sleeves or a full-back tattoo.
- What are the best ink colors for tattoos for Metalheads in your opinion?
Well usually I’m the one who has a saying in that, I advise the customer after we agree on his tattoo concept that using certain colors will be more fitting for this tattoo. Usually for Metal related tattoos (let’s say a Viking warrior), I advise the customer to go for Black and Gray; these give the tattoo a more realistic and artistic feel, as if you’re working with charcoal. I don’t personally have a problem with colors, but if you’re aiming for a dark tattoo, you have to let its dark side come out through Black and Gray.
Well I hope you enjoyed this article, feel free to contact Rabih on his Facebook Profile below for any tattoo related questions, or visit him at his shop in Jbeil.