Sunday, September 12, 2010

Illegible Band Logos

I love extreme metal band logos, in all their illegible goodness. But why did they start, and why do they continue to be the style of choice for all things extreme (including the new school of extreme, the oft-hated deathcore)?

Bands like Venom (formed 1979) and Metallica (1981) seem to have started the increased stylization of metal logos. But Celtic Frost and Death (both 1984) seem to be the first ones to put easy legibility aside, and Darkthrone (1987) is one of the first examples of a logo that might actually require some help to figure out what it says.

MTV's interpretation of the practice is that they are anti-logos, and I think there's something to this. According to Wikipedia, a logo is "a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition." A logo is generally commercial and non-offensive, and because it must create instant recognition it must also be simple.

Extreme metal is against all of those things, and against the commercial subversion of art, and so it makes sense that the logos of extreme metal would go against everything that logos generally stand for. These anti-logos are usually offensive (often incorporating anti-religious imagery, weapons, blood, and guts). But most importantly, they're not simple, and make easy recognition almost impossible. In other words, they're as anti-commercial as possible.

Up above, I used the Bloodbath logo to introduce this post. Here are some more great examples:

(These belong to Watain, The Faceless, Borknagar, Chthonic, Dark Fortress, Crimson Moonlight, Enslaved, Nargaroth, and Lightning Swords of Death.) To see some of the most extreme examples of the phenomenon, check out the Completely Unreadable Band Logo of the Week at Metalsucks.

I spent a few minutes playing around with ideas for a Full Metal Attorney logo, and that gave me a profound respect for how difficult it must be to design a good logo in this style.

A discussion on the Decibel forums suggests that the logos are becoming more and more incomprehensible, and that the worse a logo is the worse the band will be. I'm not sure whether that's true. But I, for one, hope this practice will continue.

What are your thoughts on the purpose of illegible band logos? What are some of your favorite illegible band logos?


  1. Paracoccidiodomicosisprotitissarcomucosis has not only the most baffling name, but their logo barely looks like anything. However, it's very detailed, so that one is probably my favorite. Here's a link to where you can see it:

  2. I don't see a single letter in there . . . that is awesome. There are a lot of little pictures and skulls/bones in there.

    I prefer the ones that don't have any identifiable elements at all (except for hard-to-read letters), like LSOD or Demilich. I think Watain's would be my favorite if it weren't for the upside-down cross (a bit of a cliche anyway--you'll probably find as many logos with an upside-down cross or a pentagram as without).