The Aspiring Metalhead’s Guide to Vintage Metal T-Shirts


Metallica have made some truly terrible music in recent years, but they’re not the most famous metal band of all time for no reason. The band very much emerged from the underground, as proven by this T-shirt printed for a joint tour with metal legends, Venom. “I chose this shirt as an example of [one] that really captures a place and time,” Cantwell says, “to show how much history you can convey with a T-shirt. It’s just a really interesting convergence of metal history that encapsulates a small period of time that’s really, really important: the passing of the torch British early ’80s British [bands] over to thrash. It’s almost like you can see that literally happening on this shirt.”

Courtesy of Harry Cantwell
Courtesy of Harry Cantwell

Nordic Metal Bootleg

Just like with the Dead, bootleg tees are where things get weird in metal. This shirt, an early ’90s boot that takes its inspiration from a black metal compliation, has sort of wonky charm and amateur authenticity. “From a design standpoint, I think it’s just so crazy. It totally has that rap tee look to it,” says Cantwell. “It’s not like what any of these bands would choose their shirts to look like. And I think for that reason, it’s got a real special place in my heart.” Bootlegs often mean happy accident, and Cantwell delights in this shirt’s one decidedly un-evil mistake. “One great detail about this is on the back, the Marduk’s logo is upside down, so the upside down cross is flipped right side up.

Courtesy of Harry Cantwell
Courtesy of Harry Cantwell

Slayer

You can’t go wrong with Slayer. They’re the most legendary metal band of all time, and have a perfect logo. This shirt is interchangeable with hundreds more, all equally iconic, but Cantwell loves this one for its simplicity. “Slayer has like a bunch of really great shirts from this time period. This period to me [the mid ’80s, when they released the classic album], Reign in Blood blood is so razor sharp. There’s no fat to it, there’s nothing on it that’s superfluous” he says. “It’s just 30 minutes of fast, tight, intense, evil metal and that’s how that’s how the shirt feels to me.”

Courtesy of Harry Cantwell

Saint Vitus

“Saint Vitus were dirt poor and fucked up all the time, playing this slow, sort of depressive, hazy metal in a time when no one cared,” Cantwell says. “I really feel like this shirt captures their vibe. There’s this real road weary, sort of melancholy quality to it. And from a shirt collector’s standpoint, there are bands that, at least at the time, had very little merch. Saint Vitus probably didn’t have money to make merch and there probably wasn’t a ton of demand.” The band has garnered cult status in recent years—and, naturally, so has their incredibly rare merch.

Courtesy of Harry Cantwell
Courtesy of Harry Cantwell

Type O Negative

Another group whose music leans theatrical, Type O Negative was the vehicle of the late Brooklyn Parks Department worker Peter Steele. (Despite his history of assault, Steele maintains a strong fandom in death.) That specificity, Cantwell says, plays out in the merch. “Type O Negative are such a weird, idiosyncratic band. It’s clearly one person’s vision.nd if you described them to someone—‘It’s like Black Sabbath but gothier, but it also kind of sounds like the Beatles at times, and there’s also like New York hardcore in there,’ I don’t think it would make a lot of sense. This particular design is the one that really takes me back to being 13 and first discovering them.” This shirt, he explains, captures that strangeness. “From a design standpoint, it was the only time they ever used this logo that I’m aware of. I really love this trippy, mossy graveyard looking kind of thing. They usually have kind of a totalitarian approach to fonts, with big block letters, but I like that in this shirt they really leaned into the spooky-ooky, gothy Addams Family thing.”



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