Band logos use graphic design to tell the viewer something about the band they represent. Design elements are used to convey the sound and feeling of the music, translating one sensory experience into the language of another. The insular subculture has developed a lexicon of design elements that are highly expressive and baroque, but are influenced by icons of the graphic design canon such as german blackletter and art nouveau.
Before there was an established canon for designing metal band logos, early proto-metal and metal bands used a variety of influences when designing their logos. Deep Purple’s swirly logo takes influence from psychedelic design of the 60’s and 70’s, which in turn had been influenced by art nouveau, while the elongated lettering Led Zepplin uses on much of its media has an art deco heritage.
Keith Macmillan, who designed album covers for Black Sabbath, says his interest in surrealism influenced his work for the band (1) . The 1973 album “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” is one of the first uses of german blackletter in metal graphic design, which will become a staple of the genre.
The appeal of German blackletter for the genre is clear. It is baroque and angular, seeming to echo the baroque and angular style of the music. Its association with the medieval appealed to the young genre’s interest in Tolkien and medieval fantasy novels, imagery from which was often incorporated into lyrics. It is also the font of the Gutenberg bible and has long been used in church writings and documents, making its use subversive for a genre that was critical of the church and Christianity. It’s no surprise that blackletter is heavily used by explicitly anti-Christian Scandinavian black metal bands, with early examples such as Bathory and Hellhammer. (2)
As sub-genres developed, specific aesthetics emerge to differentiate them. For example, thrash metal bands such as Metallica and Slayer have bold, blocky letters, while death metal bands like Autopsy or Obituary use dripping, oozing letters, that often incorporate images of blood and gore. These stylistic choices convey the sensory experience of the sub-genre: while thrash is clean, sharp and more technical-sounding, death metal has a grungy and heavily distorted sound. (3)
The 90s and 2000s have seen metal logos become more ornate and abstract, to the point of abandoning legibility to stylistic effect. For an insular “subculture of alienation” that is hostile to outsiders, the inscrutability of these logos is the point. They convey meaning only to those who are already insiders.
What is consistent across this genre of band logo is their monochromatic palette, symmetry, and organic style that takes influence from tree branches, vines, insects, and moss. These logos might be a sort of dark mirror version of Art Nouveau style. Both have a creeping sensuality in their use of natural imagery, though while Art Nouveau uses the creeping green vine as a metaphor for a new era, metal logos are preoccupied with nature as a symbol of decay. (4)
‘That Evil Kind Of Feeling’: The Inside Story Of Black Sabbath’s Iconic Cover Art
Kory Grow – https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/black-sabbath-cover-art-keef-keith-macmillan-interview-951578/
These Fonts Shred: A Typographical Survey Of Heavy Metal
Marnie Sehayek – https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/9anp93/heavy-metal-typographical-survey-fonts
The Beauty and Total Illegibility Of Extreme Metal Logos
Liz Stinson – https://www.wired.com/2015/10/the-beauty-and-total-illegibility-of-extreme-metal-logos/
Design’s “dark Lord” Discusses the Walker Art Center Black Metal Logo