Metal umlaut

Mötley Crüe's Hollywood Walk of Fame star, which shows the two metal umlauts used in the band's name

A metal umlaut (also known as röck döts[1]) is a diacritic that is sometimes used gratuitously or decoratively over letters in the names of hard rock or heavy metal bands—for example those of Blue Öyster Cult, Queensrÿche, Motörhead, The Accüsed and Mötley Crüe.

Among English speakers, the use of umlaut marks and other diacritics with a blackletter style typeface is a form of foreign branding intended to give a band's logo a Teutonic quality—denoting stereotypes of boldness and brutality presumably associated with Germanic and Nordic cultures. Its use has also been attributed to a desire for a "gothic horror" feel.[2] The metal umlaut is not generally intended to affect the pronunciation of the band's name.

Speakers of languages which use an umlaut to designate a pronunciation change may understand the intended effect, but perceive the result differently. When Mötley Crüe visited Germany, singer Vince Neil said the band couldn't figure out why "the crowds were chanting, Mutley Cruh! Mutley Cruh!"[3]

These decorative umlauts have been parodied in film and fiction; in the mockumentary film This Is Spın̈al Tap, fictional rocker David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) says, "It's like a pair of eyes. You're looking at the umlaut, and it's looking at you."[4]

The umlaut

The German word Umlaut roughly translates to changed sound or sound shift, as it is composed of um-, "around/changed", and Laut, "sound". In standard usage (outside heavy metal) the umlaut version of a vowel is pronounced differently from the normal vowel; the letters u and ü represent distinct sounds, as do o and ö as well as a and ä. The sounds represented by umlauted letters are typically front vowels (front rounded vowels in the case of ü and ö). (See Germanic umlaut.)

Ironically, these sounds tend to be perceived as "weaker" or "lighter" than the vowels represented by un-umlauted u, o, and a, and thus in languages like German which use it normally, the umlaut does not evoke the impression of strength and darkness which its sensational use in English is intended to convey. Therefore, the foreign branding effect of the metal umlaut is dependent on the beholder's background. Speakers of such languages may understand the intended effect but perceive the result differently from speakers of languages in which umlauts are rarely used. When Mötley Crüe visited Germany, singer Vince Neil said the band couldn't figure out why "the crowds were chanting, Mutley Cruh! Mutley Cruh!"[3]

History of gratuitous use

Ä with triple umlaut as used by Die Ärzte

The German krautrock band Amon Düül II released their first album in 1969 (under the name Amon Düül II), where Düül came from a fictive mythology-related word, 'dyyl', created by another Canadian rock band on their album called Tanjet.[5] The third part of Yes's progressive rock epic "Starship Trooper" is entitled "Würm" (on The Yes Album, released 1971). This is probably not gratuitous, seemingly coming from the Würm glaciation. The same phonetic realisation, /wyrm/, is also an Old English word for 'dragon'.

The first (gratuitous) use in a metal band's name appears to have been by Blue Öyster Cult, in 1970. Blue Öyster Cult's website states it was added by guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lanier,[6] but rock critic Richard Meltzer claims to have suggested it to their producer and manager Sandy Pearlman just after Pearlman came up with the name: "I said, 'How about an umlaut over the O?' Metal had a Wagnerian aspect anyway."[7]

Another 1970 usage of the metal umlaut was by Black Sabbath, which released a picture-sleeve 7" single version of "Paranoid" (with the b-side "Rat Salad"), titled "Paranoïd" with a diaeresis above the "i" (as is correct in French, except that in French the 'd' is followed by an 'e').[8]

On their second album In Search of Space (1971), Hawkwind wrote on the back cover: "TECHNICIÄNS ÖF SPÅCE SHIP EÅRTH THIS IS YÖÜR CÄPTÅIN SPEÄKING YÖÜR ØÅPTÅIN IS DEA̋D". To add to the variation, Danish, Norwegian, and Faroese letter Ø and Danish/Norwegian/Swedish letter Å are added. The diacritical mark on the last " A̋ " is the "Hungarian umlaut" or double acute accent ( ˝ )—two short lines slanting up and to the right—instead of dots (Hungarian uses neither the ( ˝ ) nor the traditional German umlaut ("Ä") over the letter "A", though, and ( ˝ ) is used only on the letters "Ő" and "Ű"; " A̋ " is, however, used in Slovak dialectology for dialects which distinguish long " A̋ " from short " Ä ", although Standard Slovak has only " Ä ".).

The graphic designer (lettering: Phil Smee) added the umlaut to the cover of Motörhead's first album for aesthetic reasons.

Motörhead followed in 1975. The idea for the umlaut came from Lemmy, the group's lead singer/bassist (and former Hawkwind member), who said, "I only put it in there to look mean."[9] (The German pronunciation of Motör, a word that does not exist in German, would be similar to the French equivalent, moteur. "Motor", the correct German spelling, is pronounced similarly to "motor" in English.) Similarly Lemmy advised Würzel to add an umlaut to his name for the same reason. The band Hüsker Dü debuted in January 1979, though they were based in punk and not heavy metal. Hüsker Dü's name is derived from the board game "Hūsker Dū?" which translates to "Do you remember?" (the bars above the u's are macrons, not umlauts), although these diacritics are not present in original Danish. Mötley Crüe formed in 1980; according to Vince Neil in the band's Behind the Music edition, the inspiration came from a Löwenbräu bottle. They subsequently decided to name their record label "Leathür Records". At one Mötley Crüe performance in Germany, the entire audience started chanting [ˈmœtli ˈkʁyːə], with a similar pronunciation often used in Hungary as well.

Queensrÿche, who took on that name in 1981, went further by putting the umlaut over the Y in their name (ÿ corresponds to the digraph ij in the Dutch language). Queensrÿche frontman Geoff Tate stated, "The umlaut over the 'y' has haunted us for years. We spent eleven years trying to explain how to pronounce it."[7] In contrast to other examples, the spelling of Queensrÿche was chosen to soften the band's image, as it was feared that the original spelling, Queensreich, might be misconstrued as having Neo-Nazi connotations.[10]

The mockumentary This Is Spın̈al Tap parodies the Metal Umlaut by putting an umlaut on the "n" in Spın̈al Tap

The spoof band Spın̈al Tap raised the stakes in 1984 by using an umlaut over the letter n; i.e., over a consonant. (This construction is found in the Jakaltek language of Guatemala, in some orthographies of Malagasy, a language of Madagascar, and in Cape Verdean Creole.)

Band or album name examples

English-speaking countries

Other countries

Video games

See also


  1. "The full Mötley". The Age. 2 December 2005. Retrieved 8 September 2016. In the world of heavy metal, the umlaut - otherwise known as röck dots ...
  2. Garofalo, Rebee (1997). Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the USA. Allyn & Bacon. p. 292. ISBN 0-205-13703-2. "Some groups, for example Blue Öyster Cult and Motörhead, added gratuitous umlauts to their names to conjure up a more generic gothic horror, a practice that continued into the 1980s with Mötley Crüe and others."
  3. 1 2 Eric Spitznagel (November 27, 2009). "Motley Crue's Vince Neil is Finally Bored With Boobs". Vanity Fair.
  4. CMJ New Music Monthly Oct 2000
  5. Charlie O'Mara: Interview with guitarist John Weinzierl (from Amon Düül 2). (prog. rock magazine). Link inserted 14-06-2012.
  6. "BÖC Retrospectively: Stalk Forrest Group 1969–1970". Retrieved September 12, 2006.
  7. 1 2 Lisa Gidley (2000). "Hell Holes: Spin̈al Tap's main man explains the importance of the umlaut". CMJ. Retrieved September 12, 2006.
  8. Black Sabbath – Paranoid/Rat Salad cover, retrieved December 29, 2007
  9. "Motorhead Madman: Witness this: We interviewed the most seasoned rocker rocking the rock in rock business today", Wave magazine, 2002, retrieved December 29, 2007; archive retrieved November 18, 2011
  10. "Queensrÿche FAQ", Dan Birchall, Version 3.01, October 30, 1994, retrieved December 29, 2007

External links

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