Once upon a time, extreme metal bands opted to contort their logos into the most stylized mutations possible as a way to visually represent their music, and as a proud testament to the obscurity of their appeal. By now, it's all become a bad joke, and you're likelier to find the sludgiest doom crust ensemble representing themselves in simple Helvetica than in the arcane designs of old.
Still, as the fine fellows at Metal Sucks have already keenly observed, the illegible band logo is still a fairly healthy tradition. So let's look at 10 of the most insanely unreadable black metal logos -- several of which represent Bay Area bands -- to see what stories they might tell. (Hat tip to Metal-archives.com for hosting most of these logos.)
10. Deathspell Omega
Granted, if you look at it a certain way, it looks like it says "Deathspew." But the irony is that our list's most legible logo belongs to its most inscrutable band. Deathspell Omega is a French occult black metal band that offers NO interviews, NO live engagements, NO self-portraits, and NO names to its rabidly devoted cult following. Go ahead: Attempt to find A THING about these guys' identities. Even the Internet has its limits.
Part of the ever-growing movement of bedroom black metal, Panopticon hails from Louisville, Kentucky. Despite its experimental leanings and the incorporation of bluegrass elements into its deeply excoriating music, Panopticon keeps it decidedly old school with a slightly scuffed, slightly ornate logo script. At long last, the stylized logo tells us something about the artist before we hear them. It has a semiotic power that works, even in an era where we don't have to judge album covers with our eyes only. Take the cover of Panopticon's latest, Kentucky:
The logo subverts the pastoral beauty, letting us know that while we're not just getting brutal black metal, we're not about to hear only Appalachian idyll, either. The two aesthetics discomfort one another, an effect that yields good art. That's about as high a recommendation as one can make for having a ridiculously over-stylized and very-hard-to-discern logo.
One of the reasons it's so hard to decipher most black metal band logos is they tend not to be words, but rather weird portmanteaus pulling from multiple dialects. Hence these Chicagoans, who've dubbed themselves something to the effect of "hidden night place."
Interesting to note that one of the founding fathers of black metal has one of the easiest to read logos, though a less-seasoned eye might still balk at it. Still, after years of controversy from within and without, it's probably just easier to have a somewhat readable logo at this point.
Equally influential black metal legends Darkthrone split the difference perfectly with this utterly unique and much-imitated splatter of a logo. It's got personality and about as high of a split-second recognition value as one can get in this genre.
Next: Descending into the blackest depths of illegibility