A metal umlaut 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 Queensrÿche, Blue Öyster Cult, 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 strength commonly attributed to ancient northern European peoples, such as the Vikings and Goths. Its use has also been attributed to a desire for a "gothic horror" feel. The metal umlaut is not generally intended to affect the pronunciation of the band's name.
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".
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 vs. ö and a vs. 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!"
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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. (As Amon Düül was not a metal band—they created a highly eclectic world of music which is nowadays sorted into the genres of progressive rock/krautrock—this "unnecessary" umlaut cannot be considered as 'metal umlaut', if one insists on the literal meaning of the latter expression.) The third part of Yes's progressive rock epic "Starship Trooper" is entitled "Würm" (on The Yes Album, released 1971). However, this is probably not gratuitous, seemingly coming from the Würm glaciation. The same phonetic realisation, /wyrm/, however, 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, 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."
Another apparent 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').
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").
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." (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." 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.
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.)
Popular culture usage
The 1974 film Blazing Saddles included Madeline Kahn's German-accented Marlene Dietrich-style chanteuse character "Lili Von Shtupp" (according to the credits). She is announced on a poster outside the music hall as "Lili von Shtüpp"; the film's characters pronounce the name without any change to the vowel. The name itself is clearly intended as an allusion to Yiddish, which is used elsewhere throughout the movie, rather than German. In Yiddish, shtup, a cognate of the English verb "to stuff", is a vulgarism best translated into English as "to fuck".
In the mid-1980s, cartoonist Berkeley Breathed parodied the metal umlaut in the comic strip Bloom County with the fictional group Deathtöngue. Breathed eventually had Deathtöngue change their name to the umlaut-free Billy and the Boingers following pressure, in the strip, from congressional hearings on "porn rock".
In 1997, parody newspaper The Onion published an article called "Ünited Stätes Toughens Image With Umlauts", about a congressional attempt to add umlauts to the name of the United States of America to make it seem "bad-assed and scary in a quasi-heavy metal manner".
In The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg Heffley's brother, Rodrick, leads a heavy metal band called Löded Dïper.
Journalist and author Steve Almond coined the term "spandex and umlaut circuit" in 2002 to describe the heavy metal touring scene. Rock critic Chuck Klosterman subtitled his 2001 book Fargo Rock City, A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta.
The Guitar Hero video games contain the character "Lars Ümlaüt". In the 2006 book To Air Is Human, New York Times writer Dan Crane describes competing in the 2003 Air Guitar World Championships under the name Björn Türoque (a play on "Born to rock"). In October 2007, LucasArts alumnus Tim Schafer announced his newest project, the heavy metal adventure game Brütal Legend, which was released in 2009. Earlier in 2009, comedic sword and sorcery series Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire was released on Comedy Central.
Band or album name examples
English speaking countries
- The Accüsed – American сrossover thrash band.
- Assück – American grindcore band.
- Beowülf – California thrash metal band.
- Blue Öyster Cult – American Hard rock band.B
- Bütch Walker
- The Crüxshadows – American alternative rock band.
- Dälek – American hip-hop band.
- Death In June – British dark folk/experimental band used umlauts and accented "e"s in their name and titles on the original releases of their albums The Wörld Thät Sümmer (1985) and Thé Wäll Öf Säcrificé (1989), spelling their name, Deäth In Jüne and Déäth In Jüné, respectively on each.
- Deströyer 666 – Thrash metal/Black metal band.
- Dethklok – fictional metal band from the cartoon Metalocalypse, sometimes spelled as "Dëthkløk" in the band's logo.
- Green Jellÿ – comedy metal band, originally spelled (and still pronounced) Green Jellö.
- G̈r̈oẗus̈ – Experimental band, their logo design has umlauts over only the consonants.
- Hüsker Dü – American punk rock band (the game "Hūsker Dū?" was published with macrons instead of umlauts).
- Infernäl Mäjesty – Canadian thrash metal band.
- Jason Derülo – American hip-hop/pop singer.
- Kïll Cheerleadër – Canadian punk metal band.
- King Creosote – American band sometimes used a three-dot "umlaut" in some of their artwork, over the "i".
- Lääz Rockit – American thrash band (German pronunciation would be almost "Let's rock it").
- Läther – album of Frank Zappa, used an umlaut in its title.
- Leftöver Crack – American anarcho punk band.
- Maxïmo Park – British indie rock band.
- Mötley Crüe – Glam metal band.
- Motörhead – Hard Rock band.
- Moxy Früvous – Canadian political satire band.
- Night on Bröcken – debut album by American progressive metal band Fates Warning.
- Queensrÿche – American progressive metal band.
- Rrröööaaarrr and Dimension Hatröss – albums by Canadian thrash metal band Voivod. They also used it for their songs "Korgüll the Exterminator" and "Chaosmöngers", which appear on Rrröööaaarrr and Dimension Hatröss respectively.
- Rusted Root – American jam band uses a three-dot umlaut over the "e" in its logo, as seen on its album covers.
- Spın̈al Tap – British semi-fictional band, with a dotless letter i and a metal umlaut over the n.
- Toilet Böys – American laser punk band from New York City.
- Überzone – Electronic musician.
- Ünloco – alternative metal/hard rock band.
- "Yoü and I" – track from American artist Lady Gaga.
- Znöwhite – American thrash band.
- Crashdïet – Swedish glam metal band.
- Flëur – Ukrainian ethereal wave band.
- Girugämesh – Japanese rock band often stylise their name with an umlaut over the a.
- Наӥв – Russian punk band, with two dots over и in their logo (like a dieresis in the word naïve).
- Infernal – Danish electronic band, was stylized as Infërnal on their album Waiting for Daylight.
- Insidiöus Törment – Schwartzdorf-based old school heavy metal band who use gratuitous umlauts, but pronounce them nonetheless.
- Kobaïan – French progressive rock band Magma sing in this constructed language, which has many diereses in its written form.
- Közi – Japanese rock musician.
- Lörihen – Argentinian heavy metal band.
- Mägo de Oz – Spanish folk metal band.
- Moottörin Jyrinä – Finnish heavy metal band, the umlaut in Moottörin is gratuitous, but the one in Jyrinä isn't.
- Motör Militia – Bahraini thrash metal band.
- Mütiilation – French black metal band.
- Rinôçérôse – French electronica band.
- Brütal Legend – a video game.
- Lars Ümlaüt – a character in the Guitar Hero series, specifically GHII and GHIII.
- Foreign branding (Häagen-Dazs, Fahrvergnügen)
- Devil horns heavy metal hand signal
- Faux Cyrillic (Faцx Cyяillic)
- Word play
- Sensational spelling
- Cröonchy Stars
- Tonfön, the Tongan telephone company with a decorative umlaut
- 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."
- Eric Spitznagel (November 27, 2009). "Motley Crue's Vince Neil is Finally Bored With Boobs". Vanity Fair.
- Charlie O'Mara: Interview with guitarist John Weinzierl (from Amon Düül 2). Silhobbit.com (prog. rock magazine). Link inserted 14-06-2012.
- "BÖC Retrospectively: Stalk Forrest Group 1969–1970". blueoystercult.com. Retrieved September 12, 2006.
- Lisa Gidley (2000). "Hell Holes: Spin̈al Tap's main man explains the importance of the umlaut". CMJ. Retrieved September 12, 2006.
- Black Sabbath – Paranoid/Rat Salad cover, retrieved December 29, 2007
- "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
- "Queensrÿche FAQ", Dan Birchall, Version 3.01, October 30, 1994, retrieved December 29, 2007
- "Ünited Stätes Toughens Image With Umlauts", The Onion, April 30, 1997
- My Life in Heavy Metal by Steve Almond (excerpt)
- The Döts (Dave Krinsky)
- Would you like umlauts with that? (PDF) by Bruce Campbell
- The Metal Umlaut in the Liff Dictionary
- Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut on TV Tropes