Dirty Armada

Dirty Armada is a book about a lifelong passion edited by Claudio Roccehtti (musician, performer). It’s a collection of Italian metal bands’ logos, that Rocchetti has been gathering since he was 12 years old and which is still expanding. It’s a book full of pure beauty and metal thrill, a visual study of decades of true underground. The book includes two essays by Marcello Crescenzi and Ezio Sabbotigh that lead the readers into the memories of that period and give a name to the people that helped to create that metal imagery. At the end of the post you can read an excerpt from Marcello Crescenzi’s essay.

The book will be out the 1st October 2011. From here you can preorder Dirty Armada at the discounted price of 14€ instead of 18€ (just until the 25th of September).


The Metal Logo: A Brief History And Morphology
by Marcello Crescenzi

I start by stating that I am not a metalhead, at least not in the commonly understood sense of the word, although I have listened to a lot of heavy metal (and still do). I state it because I know how important honesty is to metalheads when they converse with somebody about their own ground of expertise, and they are right.

I am not a metalhead. I am just a music fan and, above all, a designer and illustrator.

For this reason and not for some musical pedigree I have been asked to write an introduction to the metal logos, which I consider a tradition coming from afar, a sort of craft in itself.

From the most intricate black metal logos to more monolithic trash ones, going through the English martial heavy thrash, almost all incarnations of the metal graphics are linked by something like a thin thread, a common graphic “heritage” that comes from much further than I could ever imagine when I was fifteen.

Therefore, we should look at the background that gave rise to the imaginative grounds of the first “heavy metal”, the baby hard rock, which stepped on volume, distortion and riffing more than any other. Everything then goes back to that musically and culturally dense period between the ’60s and half of the ’70s, which had all the embryonic graphic -but not only graphic- connotations of the metal to come.

Fantasy literature had, in those years, a crazy surge of popularity among young people, aided by a widespread “desire to fantasize”.

R. Howard’s Conan was reissued along with the new massive cover created by Frazetta, Tolkien was rediscovered by hippies, Fantasy and Sci-Fi tales fanzines came out relentlessly by campus cyclostyles, self-produced comic magazines like the beautiful “Rowlf” – by a young Richard Corben- were hand delivered between fans, Hammer’s gothic horror posters were all the rage in second vision cinemas, fantasy and horror elements filled the posters of the Fillmore East concerts.

This culture was characterised by a series of recurring graphic symbols and structures: crosses, skulls, bats, fire, lightning, and often a symmetrical construction of title and graphic composition to better center it in the heading. Sometimes, the font development  was so intricate that it seemed an indecipherable draw to an untrained eye.

A graphic common denominator linked many of these elements: the “Fantasy lettering” which decorated logos and titles, mostly in medieval Gothic fonts, but sometimes reaching Art Nouveau style and beyond, along with a widespread sense of archaic, legendary, dark, mythological, scary.

These elements have remained virtually unchanged since the late 60′s in the musical panorama of rock and metal. For the first time they were associated with the devil’s music: on the books and comics that young people were reading, on the posters of the movies they watched and then on the records they listened to.

Fantasy and science fiction were horses ridden by the imagination of ancestors of today’s metalheads and bands were its musical spokesperson.

For different reasons perhaps, but in the same context, different bands began to use that kind of letters in different shades: some in a darker one, others in a fairy one; some with the purpose of bringing on a psychedelic or hippie culture, others for establishing a violent break with it. The great wave had risen and was far from being over, breaking in fact on the imagination of young people for more than 20 years.

Not entering the immense production of music-themed and medieval-fantasy-horror-sci-fi artwork of those years and concentrating to the graphics and printing, we can distinguish various lettering natures emerging in little more than five years, a brief period of time rich of items.

A sinister, gothic line was perfectly outlined by bands like High Tide, Black Widow and mostly by the homonym of Black Sabbath. The musical and visual contrast to the dreamy and fantasy atmosphere of some progressive bands was total, as well as the desire to get rid of the ideas and aesthetics of the Summer of Love.

Black Sabbath left a deep mark in metal graphic imaginary, both typographically with its font choice and in the image of the desolate dusk-rural landscape, not dreamy and pastoral but rather disturbing and alienating. Of course, it goes without saying, the band from Birmingham had an immense musical importance and a strong influence on aptitudes.

To date, the production of records with covers and logos of this type is endless, and that album, along with its cover, represents the cornerstone in the imaginary of a whole metal sub-genre, doom. In general, the influence of gothic, the most recognizable fantasy-medieval lettering, is huge since the beginning and it spreads across the metal universe, being adopted by bands with different styles and applicable to the whole history of the genre: from the classic doom of the Saxon, to the one of Saint Vitus and Pentagram, to the modern stoner metallers High on Fire and Down, not to mention all epic metal bands.

The space rockers Hawkwind, despite being a sort of hippie commune, have been decisive for some graphical characteristics of metal, as well as for their imaginary, made up of powerful machines, bombastic metals, supersonic speeds to be physically or mentally reached and warriors swaying on the edge of time. Although much of their imaginary is largely tied to a more gentle, visionary and cosmic fantasy, part of their most martial lines will be of great inspiration for the heavier music to come.

This line, exemplified by the aggressive artwork and lettering of “Doremi Fasol Latido”, “Hall of the Mountain Grill” and “Warrior on the Edge of Time”, will be borrowed by many bands of the time: Kiss and Blue Öyster Cult with “On Your Feet or on Your Knees”, whose gothic letter and design, chrome and monolithic, will be the basis for that of AC-DC shortly after, again by the same graphic designer: Gerard Huerta. Even Black Sabbath “harden” their logo for “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and for the anthology “We Sold Our Soul for Rock’N'Roll” by following these coordinates. In the latter, the logo of the Sabbath shows a lightning bolt S which will be also used by Kiss a few years later, being criticised for its similarity with the mark of German SS.

With its high-impact aggressivity and readability, this type of lettering will characterise many logos of hard rock bands in the ’70s. A few years later these, in turn, will influence the logos of the new heavy metal generation, such as Judas Priest from “Sad Wings of Destiny “on, Motorhead (keep in mind that Motorhead was a song by Hawkwind and that Lemmy was member of that band), almost all of the new wave of British heavy metal and then a few years later, those of Metallica, Sodom, Kreator, Slayer and the entire first thrash metal. Gradually, a certain kind of stylistic metal logo became institutionalised and is still valid: solid, metallic, geometric or gothic, if possible symmetrical in form, with crosses and arrows embedded in the lettering. (…)