Evolution of heavy metal design

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Over at Print Magazine, BB pal Alan Rapp takes a critical look at the evolution of heavy metal design, which has (mostly) moved beyond Frazetta-inspired bikini-clad rock chix in front of the apocalpyse and candles burning on skulls. Above, album cover for designer/musician Stephen O'Malley's band Khanate. From Print:
Gone are the fantasy illustrations of radioactive zombies and band logos composed of overlapping swords. After a generation of sprouting subgenres, the heavy metal field is littered with a diversity of styles that even the most hardy metalhead will have trouble encompassing. As Ian Christe, author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal and publisher of the metal-oriented press Bazillion Points says, "Heavy metal design is not a monolithic form at all. You have everything from junior high school kids in Iowa drawing skulls and pentagrams and band logos to Norwegian design houses making skulls and pentagrams and band logos. There are all levels of sophistication and intention--and execution."

Heavy metal design today comprises a vast field of images that no longer compulsively refer to adolescent power and provocation fantasies. The genre's pervading preoccupation with the occult yields far less goat and pentagram iconography--which became self-conscious clichés almost instantly anyway--than more ambiguously dark imagery. A few designers, some of the key musicians of the scene in their own right, have emerged to torque graphic conventions, and use strategies to indicate that metal, as a visual genre, is more multivalent and eloquent than mainstream design aficionados probably ever imagined.
"The Exile of Satan from Heavy Metal Design"


  1. So I guess the next version of Brütal Legend will have Jack Black running around a world made of abstract and original graphic design concepts.

  2. That logo is nothing special. It’s the bands name all squished together and turned sideways. Honestly, I’d rather see “Frazetta-inspired bikini-clad rock chix in front of the apocalpyse and candles burning on skulls.”

  3. I prefer the overwrought fantasy art as well. I always took it as a sort of nod that the band isn’t taking itself all that seriously, and neither should I.

  4. This article is very skewed. While Claiming this is reflective of “Heavy Metal” Isis and Sunn O))), which is Steve O’Mally’s band as well as Khanate are all Doom bands,a slow minimalistic form of Metal. Gojira while not Doom write songs about environmentalism so also falls a bit outside of the traditional “Heavy Metal” moniker.

  5. Heavy metal design today comprises a vast field of images that no longer compulsively refer to adolescent power and provocation fantasies.

    Pity about the music then.

    1. This is obviously flame bait, but I recognize a ‘teachable moment’.

      You may not enjoy metal, in general, but many people are surprised to find that there is some niche metal genre that they can get into. Contrary to popular belief, you can find metal that is happy, traditional (as in, uses folk instruments), trippy, or even music that is about as technical as anything you might find elsewhere…So put on your Eb Locrian shoes and dive in!

      Wiki: Heavy metal subgenres

      1. Readable logos are just as unacceptable as using the Avant Garde typeface for metal logos, or trendy symmetrical designs. Save the respectable sophistication for the metal sycophants. O’Malley and Seldon Hunt may be trying to bring modernism to their designs, but take the metal out the equation and it’s just passable design mediocrity. Keep metal brutal, evil, sick and always underground.

  6. What about the mascot? Every decent heavy-metal band has a mascot!
    Iron Maiden has Eddie, Dio has Murray the demon, Helloween has Jack-O-Lantern..etc. etc.

    Where’s Kahnate’s mascot?

  7. And this? This right here? Is what Eddie Riggs meant when he said, disgustedly, “Metal is dead.” It’s not enough that what passes for metal these days has no actual singing, no vague hint of a melody, no stagecraft or performance or theater, no emotional connection with the audience, and no content beyond “I don’t know why I’m angry, but I’m angry all the time! rarrr!” No, that’s not enough to kill metal, so we have to squeeze the last few drops of art out of it, too. This isn’t metal. This is metal on Thorazine.

    1. #14 you are terribly behind the times
      metal has never had more melody, stagecraft or performance than today.

      YOu really need to get out of your shell and listen to some new music

  8. Rapp makes it sound like all heavy metal bands are grasping the torch of artistic minimalism and Rothko-esque simplicity. This is not the case. Some metal bands still have quite strong ties to Satan and chicks.

    QFT. There are definitely a handful of metal bands that explore alternate iconographies, but that’s been the case since at least the late 80’s (and maybe even earlier, that’s just as far back as my familiarity goes). It’s an interesting niche to look at, but covers like this have always been, and continue to be, a minority and concluding that Satan is on the way out is hyperbole. Big red and his minions are as alive and well on metal album covers as ever.

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