The Metallica logo: through the years

How the Metallica logo has evolved

The spiky-ended [[Metallica]] logo is one of the most instantly recognizable logos in rock. It’s been cast in metal, rendered in marble, and almost completely invisible on the Black Album cover.

You may or may not know this, but James Hetfield designed the original Metallica logo way back in the dark ages of the band. The classic design brings the beginning and end letters into long, sharp points, while the letters in the middle have a solid, block appearance. The only deviation is the middle ‘A’, which seems to lean up against the ‘L’ which follows it.

Early Days

Kill 'Em All

Most people’s first glimpse of the Metallica logo would have been on their 1983 debut album, [[Kill ‘Em All (Metallica album)|Kill ‘Em All]]. This is the logo at its most simple: no textures, just flat red text framing the top of the album cover.

This fits in quite well with the stark black, white and red picture of a bloodstained hammer. It also established a precedent where the band’s name would frame whatever image they put on the album cover.

Taking it to three dimensions

Master Of Puppets

The band’s seminal albums Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets showed the logo in three dimensions. Lightning rendered the logo in a metallic blue which was pefectly in tune with the crackling electric chair on the cover. Master Of Puppets was also sympathetic to the gravestones in the picture and this time the logo had the appearance of being carved out of smooth marble.

The same kind of treatment is applied to the Justice For All and Black Album covers (considering that on the black album everything was black). On Justice, the logo seemed to be hacked out of the stone surrounding the cracked statue.

Rebranding for the Load era

Load album cover

It was possibly the first controversy of Metallica’s career, when they surfaced with the Load album: they looked and sounded different. It might have been easy to overlook the radical change to the logo – I know I didn’t notice it right away. Did you?

Gone were the blade-like spikes on either end. What you got instead was a more subdued logo. The more I look at it the more it resembles baby vampire teeth or something. Around the same time, they rearranged the original ‘M’ from the logo into a ninja star icon.

St Anger

St Anger album cover

For the St Anger album, the logo evolved yet again. The logo didn’t actually appear on the front cover of the album. Note the jagged white border around the lettering, and the nod toward the classic logo. However, where the spikes on the ‘M’ and ‘A’ taper out, they wrap back in and along the bottom of the letters.

Ironically, between Load/ReLoad, the Napster debacle and the devoid of guitar solos St. Anger, Metallica’s branding took some imaginative leaps. And even though they deviated from the classic look, the distinctive pointed ends always remained in some form.

Back in black

Death Magnetic album cover

All the same, I consider those the wilderness years for Metallica. Why? Because during those years, Metallica alientated fans through a twin-attack of legal action and changing musical direction. The contrast became much clearer when the band released their latest album, Death Magnetic.

Not only did they make a much-hyped return to form, but they reprised the classic logo. Actually, they refined the logo, almost imperceptably with the help of branding experts Turner Duckworth. See here for a side-by-side comparison.

Differences from the original logo? Well, the end letters are more slender and the points sharper. The font on the inner letters is much the same, except that where the original ‘A’ leaned toward the ‘L’, in the new version, it’s more conventional and symmetrical.

Other versions

My personal favourite – included in the header image – is the simple, scrawled logo that appeared on the Garage Days and Damage, Inc covers. This is the logo that was imprinted on schoolbags, schoolbooks and on the odd toilet wall back when the band were thoroughly in vogue.

The other logo which I loved was their S&M cover, which included a clef as the ‘S’ and the classic Metallica ‘M’ underneath a picture of James Hetfield in his typical spreadeagled stance.

The vintage Metallica logo

Addition: Greg Davies of The TrukstoP passed on this image of the original Metallica logo. This pre-dates the Kill ‘Em All era, and in case you don’t believe it, James Hetfield can be seen wearing it on a t-shirt. Thanks Greg.

So that’s it. Our tour of the Metallica logo is over (for now?). Are you a fan of the classic logo or did you prefer one of the deviations from 1996 to 2003?

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