‘Extreme metal, perhaps more than any other musical genre, abides by a strict and clear visual code that conveys to listeners exactly what they’re getting into. “The genre kind of commands a particular style of logo that the listener can identify with,” says Mark Riddick, a designer and author of Logos From Hell, a 600-page book that chronicles the logos of thousands of metal bands.
‘Metal and its innumerable sub-genres have always embraced ideals like iconoclasm, pride, and independence. It’s music made by outsiders for outsiders, and its logos reflect as much. “The point of these logos is like, unless you’re in-the-know already, it’s not for you,” says Tim Butler, who designs merchandise for bands like Metallica and Slayer. “It’s to keep it sort of insular.”
‘This mindset has led to an artistic style that’s defined by visuals that are almost hostile. The identities of metal bands—black and death metal bands, in particular—tend to feature grotesque imagery and typography that swirls like branches, drips like blood, and clings like spider webs. It wasn’t always this way. If you trace the genre’s abrasive aesthetic to its roots, you’ll find your way to Black Sabbath, the British band widely regarded as the creator of heavy metal. The bubbly letterforms of the logo that appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album look more hallucinatory than creepy. It is a distant cousin to the aggressive wordmarks seen today. “Typographically, that stuff sort of starts off as psychedelic,” Butler says of early metal logos. “Later on it got more aggressive and pointy.”
‘As metal evolved into myriad subgenres, each more extreme than the last, wordmarks and branding evolved in step. “Logos just tend to get more and more extreme and as you branch out,” says Riddick. It’s reached the point that you can almost determine the style of music from the typography. Indeed, there might be no better example of typography’s multi-sensorial nature than extreme metal logos. Thrash metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Overkill adopted logos with straight, sharp edges to reflect the tight and controlled nature of the music. Death metal bands—which tend to focus on subjects like violence, religion, horror, and, yes, death—tend to incorporate those themes into logos that feature things like dripping blood, organs, severed limbs and skulls. The logos associated with black metal, which has its roots in deeply anti-Christian views, the occult and paganism, often are ornate, symmetrical, and derived from art nouveau’s swirling, rounded forms.
‘Christophe Szpajdel, a Belgian designer who has crafted more than 7,000 logos for bands since the 1980s, explains that, just like any other form of design, a good metal logo relies on basic principles like symmetry, visual harmony, letter height, and precision. When making a band logo, Szpajdel often works at an architect’s table, where he draws in pencil before tracing in pen. His 1991 logo for the Norwegian band Emperor is often cited as the template on which all other black metal logos are based. Its letterforms were inspired by medieval blackletter typography, but Szpajdel thinned them to create a wordmark that is so clean and simple as to be almost elegant. Asked what makes a good black metal logo, he said, “I think the lettering should be sharp, inspired by gothic/old English fonts. First and last letters should be bigger than the middle ones. Unlike most people who think a black metal logo should contain symbols like pentagrams, inverted crosses… I think this is overdone.”
‘It’s easy to forget, when met by their antagonistic form, that there is real craftsmanship behind metal logos. And that, says, Riddick, is why he dedicated an entire book to this genre of typography. “I want people to recognize this as much more than a high schooler scribbling in his notebook and calling it art,” he says. “This is legitimate serious talent. It’s a subculture that’s create a whole look and feel unlike any other. That’s a powerful thing.”’ — Elizabeth Stinson
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p.s. Hey. ** Kyler, Hi. Oh, shit, my address, I am in an absentminded phase, it’s true. Okay, hold on. Done. Look forward to reading your piece, natch! Everyone, In a rare, lovely occurrence, you can read a no doubt fascinating piece of non-fiction by Kyler entitled ‘The Potential For Genius’ right now, right here. And you can peek at the Amazon page for his imminently to be published new novel thusly. ** David Ehrenstein, Me neither. ** Tosh Berman, Happy to share the big up about ‘Empire of Signs’. I remember really liking Ian Buruma’s ‘Behind the Mask’, but it’s been ages since I read it. Do you know it? ** Shane Christmass, I’d thought so too, but then I got curious, and then, whoosh, there was a post. I like unwieldiness, so that sounds ace to me. Thanks a lot for the ‘Bacheloress’ links. I’ll dive. ** Steve Erickson, Thanks for the wonderful post-Halloween link. What percentage talked to you? No, I haven’t heard that Vince Staples track, but I just yesterday heard Earl Sweatshit’s squib on a new Hermit & The Recluse track. The 4DX effect thing is so stupid, I like it. ** Keithorn, You’re becoming legible. Ah, fat, biology’s global warming. I don’t know, I feel like the sublime would take one look at your physical violence then continue sipping its martini? Your question, my predictable answer: Confusion is the truth. That’s my byword(s). ** James Nulick, If you read the thing, the smelly Malick movie thing only happened in Japan. My email is: email@example.com. Ooh, videos. What’s your Japanese latest? ** Jeff J, Hi. Yeah I know. If only there was a smell-o-vision version of youtube. I have to check if ‘TOSofW’ is on our Netflix. I’m quaking in my boots to see it. Interesting. Sounds plenty exciting enough. Thanks! ** Bill, I can only imagine. I’m glad the gig went okay, at least. No doubt. Thank you, I’ll go find out about Beanbenders. Quite a name there. Oh, it happened ages ago. Anyway, cool. I hope Monday smiles on you. ** Misanthrope, France has yet to relent on the 4DX experience. I guess it will. It let Starbucks move in. Just hoping LPS gets himself centered and asap. What you wrote about ‘BR’ is what virtually everything I’ve read says, so you’re obviously on the money. I’m so uninterested that I wouldn’t even watch that on a plane, and that’s saying something. ** Corey Heiferman, People occasionally tag me as sensible, so there must be something to that. Like I’ve said, I quit university after one year and have never taught other than doing studio meetings with art students, so I’m a gatherer rather than a hunter. I did the 4D thing at the ‘Bug’s Life’ thing too at California Adventure in good old So. Cal. before they tore it out. It was cool. I remember there used to be a kind of great 4D ‘Terminator’ thing at Universal Studios although they must have torn it out for a good reason. I very much enjoyed your office story. I could even relate to the caffeine part and related details for the obvious reason — I’m guzzling my morning dosage as I type — and also because when I’m frequently in theater rehearsals with Gisele the backstage coffee/kitchenette set-up is not at all dissimilar. Yes, thank you, lovely! ** Alex rose, All we have are words. When you gonna come visit Paris again? Or I guess when am I gonna visit Cork again? That’s a good question. I must be complicated too because when you described your response to my film curators woes, I thought, ‘Huh, I should try that.’ I agree! About this week. Let’s figure out where to look. Love, moi. ** _Black_Acrylic, Ah, a zine festival. I just missed one here. I can’t remember why. So …heartening. Paul Shark’s stuff looks great whoever he or she secretly is. ** Right. Let’s see, what is today’s post again? Oh, right. See you tomorrow.