blackletter in heavy metal bands

andres860's picture


This is my first post, I hope you can help me.

I'm making an typographic investigation about the influence of blackletters in heavy metal bands.
I've found some information but I need something specific about how was that influence and why, there's a lot of heavy metal bands like Motorhead, AC/DC and more where they use blackletter on their album covers.

There's some examples. Thanks!

Nick Shinn's picture

You should study the discographies of metal bands in the 1970s, in particular the album covers, to see when and where the trope emerged.
The seminal bands did not use blackletter until the early ’70s.
The style was generally more glam than goth at first.
A lot of the gothic subsequently came from the punk ethos, eg the Damned (Dave Vanian).
Mötorhead’s look came more out of the British rocker tradition.
Hawkwind (psychedelic rock?)—from which Lemmy was fired—was an early adopter of blackletter.

This from 1972 has a strong Art Deco influence (popular retro at the time), but there’s a bit of darkness and the lettering leaning towards blackletter:

CSNY had blackletter on their 1970 Déjà vu album, but the connotation was quite different from gothic.

here’s an early one, Rainbow’s Rising, 1976

Earliest? (1973):

You could maybe contact Drew Struzan, the artist.

andres860's picture

Great! thank you very much for the tips. But I have some questions about that.

where did you get the information about that? some bibliography?

I've found some texts about the origins of heavy metal, but nothing about the heavy metal aesthetic. It would be interesting founding that information.

By the way, like the example of CSNY, another band: The Allman Brothers used blackletters on their albums, with another connotation.

Nick Shinn's picture

…where did you get the information about that?

Memory + Wiki.

I don’t think the Allman Bros. logo was blackletter, more Retro Americana commercial signwriting.
I don’t know who did the lettering.
It first appeared on this (note the art deco):

At the time, there was an emerging interest in popular culture, and a nostalgia for its roots.
Technically, in its intricacy and skill, the style of old commercial art lettering represented a direction for free-form psychedelic lettering to take.
But that’s a very different aesthetic to the undead goth thing, which was more about hard drugs and headbanging than spacing out on psychedelics.

.00's picture

You should get in touch with Gerard Huerta

He drew the AC/DC logo as well as some things for Blue Oyster Cult.

There is a nice interview with him here

andres860's picture

Wow... memory + wiki? I need your memory!

You're right, I thought that album was on the first years of 70's but was released on 1979. I've already seen the art deco and lettering influence but I had doubts about the lowercases letters, they have gothic refferences.

And thanks for the info about Gerard Huerta.

Alter Littera's picture

One of the first rock albums showing classic blackletters on its front and back covers was probably Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" (1971):

[The Fette Gotisch typeface (with a misplaced x instead on an r in Jethro) on the original vinyl release was replaced by Notre Dame in subsequent re-editions.]

For some reason, Ian Anderson decided to pack his "bunch of songs" inside an antique/medieval visual framework, an it was there that the blackletters played a role. Nothing to do with Jethro Tull being a "Hard Rock" or "Heavy Metal" band.

In 1976, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (as noted in a previous post) and Judas Priest released "Rising" and "Sad Wings of Destiny":

These were true "Hard Rock" albums, but it is my impression that the choice of blackletters for the visual framework had to do with the epic/magical/medieval aspects of the music and the lyrics, rather than with the kind of music itself. In fact, Rainbow changed their logo a few years later for the release of "Down to Earth" (1979), and Judas Priest sticked to classic blackletters for just one more release ("Sin After Sin", 1977). In both cases, although the music remained great Hard Rock, the epic/magical/medieval themes were, for the most part, gone.

However, after departing from Rainbow, shortly after their last "blackletter logo" release ("Long Live Rock 'n' Roll", 1978), Ronnie James Dio's solo career was accompanied from the beginning to the end with classic blackletters:

Dio always sticked to epic/magical/medieval/fantastic themes for his masterful Hard Rock, an this is why, in my opinion, classic blackletters were always present in his releases as well as in his live shows.

These are just a few examples (many others could be found outside the Hard Rock realm) showing that classic blackletters in music, as well as in many other arts, have to do mainly with the subject being contained in it, and not so much with how this subject is expressed.

The modern trends concerning Black/Doom/Death/Gothic/... Metal, are just another story ...

lindenhayn's picture

There's probably wider and narrower definitions of ›metal‹. I guess I'm used to a narrower one (than, say, Nick) that pretty much excludes everything pre-Venom, i.e. around 1980. While I can't really answer your question as to where it came from, I think it's safe to say that at that point blackletter seemed to be pretty well established already in several of metal's sub-genres.








lindenhayn's picture

PS: as with all blackletter-related studies, one work to consult is Judith Schalansky's book »Fraktur Mon Amour«

Nick Shinn's picture

Look to the seminal metal band, Black Sabbath, for origin clues.
Apparently Geezer Butler was the guy interested in black magic, a fan of Dennis Wheatley.
As a young teen in the 1960s I too had read Wheatley, for the frisson of the occult.
But the associated graphic imagery never used blackletter, not on book covers, not on movie posters.
And the same was true for Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. Even Nosferatu.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath connects the dots, with the runic, occult, Nazi “SS” (later part of the Kiss wordmark).

Nazi symbolism was taken up by rock musicians of various stripes in the 1970s, for its shock and transgression value. I would argue that blackletter came to metal for its Nazi connotations, although its mediæval quality is not out of keeping with other aspects of the genre.

hrant's picture

And some other groups also use blackletter as a deceptive backstabbing tool:


Té Rowan's picture

Yes, the S in Sabbath does look a lot like the Sol (Sun) rune, which the SS used as their ID.

PublishingMojo's picture

This subject has come up before, though I can't locate the thread. Heavy-metal music burst on the scene in the US and UK in the 1960s and 70s, and the musicians and their fans were mostly children of the generation that fought in WWII.
Blackletter resembles Fraktur, which is commonly associated with the Third Reich (even though they officially banned its use in 1941). As Nick points out, it was the perfect branding for music that was meant to piss off your dad--the letterforms of the enemy he fought against in the War.
That's not why they used blackletter on "Aqualung." Side 2 of "Aqualung" is subtitled "My God" and consists of five songs that mock the hypocrisy of the institutional church, and I suspect that they used blackletter to evoke the look of Bibles and other church documents.

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