A metal umlaut (also known as röck döts) 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—connoting 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. 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!"
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 Germanic 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).
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.
History of gratuitous use
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The first gratuitous use of the umlaut in the name of a hard rock or metal band 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 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, the Danish, Norwegian, and Faroese letter Ø and the 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 ".).
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.)
Band or album name examples
- The Accüsed – American сrossover thrash band.
- Assück – American grindcore band.
- Barbariön - Australian metal band.
- Beowülf – California thrash metal band.
- Blue Öyster Cult – American hard rock band.
- 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.
- Jack Ü – American EDM DJ duo, side group and collaborative project, consisting of Mad Decent founder Diplo and OWSLA founder Skrillex.
- Kïll Cheerleadër – Canadian punk metal band.
- King Creosote – Scottish band sometimes used a three-dot "umlaut" in some of their artwork, over the "i".
- Lȧȧz 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.
- Möngöl Hörde – British hardcore punk/noise rock band.
- Mötley Crüe – Glam metal band.
- Motörhead – Rock and roll band.
- Moxy Früvous – Canadian political satire band.
- Night on Bröcken – debut album by American progressive metal band Fates Warning. Apparently a reference to the German mountain Brocken, which is not spelled with an umlaut.
- 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.
- Ünloco – alternative metal/hard rock band.
- "Yoü and I" – track from American artist Lady Gaga.
- Znöwhite – American thrash band.
- Аквариум - Russian rock band, whose name is stylized as "Åквариум" on their logo, and they use "Å" as their symbol.
- Crashdïet – Swedish glam metal band.
- Die Ärzte – German punk band, have used three dots over the "Ä" since their 2003 album Geräusch. The normal two-dot umlaut, Die Ärzte, is simply correct German for The Doctors.
- Fälkor - Mexican pop punk band.
- Flëur – Ukrainian ethereal wave band.
- Girugämesh – Japanese rock band often stylise their name with an umlaut over the a.
- Infernal – Danish electronic band, was stylized as Infërnal on their album Waiting for Daylight.
- Insidiöus Törment – Liechtenstein-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.
- Наӥв – Russian punk band, with two dots over и in their logo (like a dieresis in the word naïve).
- Püdelsi - Polish rock band.
- Rinôçérôse – French electronica band.
- Brütal Legend – action-adventure video game.
- Dynamite Düx – a beat 'em up video game.
- Lars Ümlaüt – a character in the Guitar Hero series, specifically Guitar Hero II and III.
- Dieselstörmers – a crowdfunded in 2014 pre-released steampunk multiplayer platformer
- Cröonchy Stars
- Devil horns, heavy metal hand signal
- Faux Cyrillic (Faцx Cyяillic)
- Foreign branding (Häagen-Dazs, Fahrvergnügen)
- Nu metal, also stylized as nü-metal
- Sensational spelling
- Tonfön, the Tongan telephone company with a decorative umlaut
- Word play
- "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 ...
- 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.
- CMJ New Music Monthly Oct 2000 https://books.google.com/books?id=zioEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA11&dq=%22looking%20at%20the%20umlaut%22&pg=PA11
- "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 Archived 2006-04-28 at the Wayback Machine., retrieved December 29, 2007
- "Motorhead Madman: Witness this: We interviewed the most seasoned rocker rocking the rock in rock business today" Archived 2006-12-16 at the Wayback Machine., 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