Metal umlaut

Metal umlaut

A metal umlaut[1] (also known as röck döts) is a diaeresis (in Germanic languages called Umlaut) that is sometimes used gratuitously or decoratively over letters in the names of hard rock or heavy metal bands—for example those of Mötley Crüe and Motörhead. Amongst 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.[2] 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 (spelled with an umlaut mark over the n and a dotless i), 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 means 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.



The German Krautrock band Amon Düül II released their first album in 1969. However, their name came from "Amon, an Egyptian sun god, and Düül, a character from Turkish fiction",[3] so this use of umlauts was not gratuitous. The third part of Yes's progressive rock epic "Starship Trooper" is entitled "Würm" (on The Yes Album, released 1971). However, this again 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 appears to have been either by Blue Öyster Cult or by Black Sabbath, both in 1970. Blue Öyster Cult's website states it was added by guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lanier,[4] 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."[5] In that same year, Black Sabbath's record label, on a rare picture-sleeve 7" single version of Paranoid (with the b-side Rat Salad), for no apparent reason, retitled the song "Paranoïd" with a diaeresis above the "i" (as is correct in French).[6]

On their second album In Search of Space (1971), Hawkwind wrote on the backside of the 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 " " 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"). This was before Lemmy, later of Motörhead, had become a member of the group.

Motörhead followed in 1975. The idea for the umlaut came from Lemmy, the group's lead singer, who said, "I only put it in there to look mean."[7] (The German pronunciation of Motör, a word that does not exist in German, would be similar to 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 slash above the u's are macrons, not umlauts). 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."[5] 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.[8]

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 and in some orthographies of Malagasy, a language of Madagascar.

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".

The 1988 novel Zodiac by Neal Stephenson has a (fictional) "two-umlaut" heavy metal music band Pöyzen Böyzen.

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".[9]

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.

Webcomic artist Scott Kurtz drew a series of cartoons about a fake band called Djörk in his PvP Online webcomic. Apart from satirizing the metal umlaut (the original band name was to be Umlaüt), this name also refers to the Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk, whose diacritical marks are genuine. The term nu metal is sometimes spelled as "nü metal".

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


Other characters

  • German punk band Die Ärzte have been using three dots over the "Ä" in Ärzte since their 2003 album Geräusch.
  • A three-dot "umlaut" has also been seen in artwork for King Creosote, over the "i".
  • American jam band Rusted Root uses a three-dot umlaut over the "e" in its logo, as seen on its album covers.[12]
  • Death metal band DÅÅTH.
  • French electronica band Rinôçérôse.
  • English early music ensemble Mediæval Bæbes.
  • The dark folk / experimental band Death In June used umlauts and accented "e"s in the original releases of their albums The Wörld Thät Sümmer (1985) and Thé Wäll Öf Säcrificé (1989) - and, on these releases, also in the band name, leading to Deäth In Jüne and Déäth In Jüné, respectively.
  • the Japanese rock group Boøwy.
  • American progressive metal band Tool's album Ænima.
  • Jay-Z utilized an umlaut over the "Y" on his cover of his debut album Reasonable Doubt.
  • Questionable Content author Jeph Jacques' musical project Deathmøle.
  • Russian band Aquarium on album covers is usually named as Åквариум.
  • British electronic artist µ-Ziq
  • American metalcore band Underøath.
  • Dutch band Bløf

See also


  1. ^ This page is the personal favourite of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales > Vogue JUne 2011 pp63-64
  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. ^ John Bush. "Amon Düül". Retrieved September 12, 2006. [dead link]
  4. ^ "BÖC Retrospectively: Stalk Forrest Group 1969-1970". Retrieved September 12, 2006. 
  5. ^ a b Lisa Gidley (2000). "Hell Holes: Spin̈al Tap's main man explains the importance of the umlaut". CMJ. Retrieved September 12, 2006. 
  6. ^ Black Sabbath - Paranoid/Rat Salad cover, retrieved December 29, 2007
  7. ^ "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
  8. ^ "Queensrÿche FAQ", Dan Birchall, Version 3.01, October 30, 1994, retrieved December 29, 2007
  9. ^ "Ünited Stätes Toughens Image With Umlauts", The Onion, April 30, 1997
  10. ^ Motorhead- The Official Web Site
  11. ^ Motley Crue | The Official Website
  12. ^

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Heavy metal umlaut — The heavy metal umlaut is the gratuitous or decorative use of an umlaut over letters in the name of a heavy metal band, such as Mötley Crüe or Motörhead. The use of umlauts and other diacritics with a blackletter style typeface is a form of… …   Wikipedia

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  • Heavy Metal Umlaut — Unter einem Heavy Metal Umlaut (auch englisch: röck döts) versteht man Umlaute im Namen einer (Metal )Band. Umlaute und andere diakritische Zeichen geben dem (meist englischsprachigen) Bandnamen ein fremdartiges Erscheinungsbild, man spricht… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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