Metalheads are some of the most vehemently dedicated music fans on earth. It's not enough simply to pledge allegiance to heavy riffs and pummeling drums—you have to literally wear your devotion on your chest.
The battle jacket or vest, also known as a "kutte" or "kutten," the German word for a monk's robe, is basically the metalhead uniform. Patches, pins and studs are typical adornments, but kuttes are less about being extra than about proving your place within the scene. It's basically a certificate of authenticity.
In his new book, Defenders of the Faith (Sacred Bones Books, 288 pages, $35), Portland photographer Peter Beste documents the fanaticism and pride that comes in donning these literal badges of honor. Over the years, Beste has developed a knack for capturing various musical subcultures, from Norwegian black metal to Houston rap to the rural Scandinavian danseband culture, with intensely intimate images.
WW spoke to Beste about finding his subjects, which country has the best vests, and who he might be training his lens on next.
WW: How did you get into photographing music scenes?
Peter Beste: I've been attracted to a variety of musical subcultures for as long as I can remember. It started with metal when I was a preteen and has gone all over the place since. Photography entered the picture during high school, when I was going to lots of hardcore punk shows in Texas. I would borrow my mom's $20 camera to photograph the people involved in that world.
Why do this book right now?
I love the traditional heavy metal aesthetic. This book started as a project to take still-life photos of cool metal vests but quickly expanded to show the maniacs who make them as well.
At what point did you realize people need to see this?
In 2015, while on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, I got the inspiration to photograph battle vests and produce a book. This was my only photo project where I could clearly envision the final book in the early days of working on it. From then on, I spent about three years looking for the right vests, traveling to festivals and tracking down some interesting subjects.
Where did you go to find your subjects?
I organized a small tour around both coasts and reached out to metalheads via social media along the way. I would set up shoots in a handful of cities, and people would bring their vests for me to photograph. I also did some traveling to metal festivals and probably took most of the photos in the book at Keep It True in Germany and Muskelrock in Sweden. Nothing compares to the vests the German metalheads make.
Which bands do you find to be the most represented?
Since I focused a lot on the traditional heavy metal scene—which usually has the best vests, in my opinion—there were lots of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, Exciter, and more of the bigger underground '80s bands.
What are you hoping non-metalheads get out of the book?
It's a colorful journey through the characters and folk art of a timeless subculture, so that appeals to some. Others tend to like it for the metal logos and design aspects of the vests, which can be pretty wild.
What have you set your eyes on to cover next?
I've been photographing at some UFO conferences, focusing on the ufologists and the curious-minded folks who attend these events. I've also been shooting in some supposed UFO "hot spots," often in infrared, which has yielded some cool results.
SEE IT: Peter Beste is at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., powells.com, on Thursday, Dec. 12. 7:30 pm.