"I was worried that as music fans are so into credibility," says designer David Turner, "if people knew that an agency that worked for Waitrose were doing Metallica, it might make the band look uncool. But Lars [Ulrich, from the band] said that was bollocks and that they just wanted the best people to do this." Turner Duckworth talked to CR about their latest project: branding the rock beast that is Metallica...
In an unlikely move for a studio more famous for designing identities for Coke and Amazon, London and San Francisco-based agency, Turner Duckworth, recently took on the design of the latest album from Metallica, Death Magnetic, as well as a complete overhaul of the band's identity.
In fact, it's fair to say that TD have "re-branded" the band. Not a concept that necessarily sits well with your average metal fan, but then Metallica, it could be argued, are one of many bands within the metal genre who have long since acknowledged the value of their image and identity. Like Slipknot and countless others, Metallica's own take on the metal aesthetic is something that their fans cling to: from scrawling a band's name onto their bags and jackets, to having it tattooed on their arms.
So for an outfit as big as Metallica, surely it makes sense that their identity is given the chance to behave as well as it can? Especially in the current climate, where sales of the CD album, the physical incarnation of what they do, are still falling. And that's where TD come in.
CR: So how did this project, which is rather unusual for Turner Duckworth to work on, come about?
David Turner: Lars [Ulrich]’s kid and mine go to the same school and I think I was the closest they had to another arty person. I’ve since known Lars for five or so years. He was interested in what we do and has seen us work on lots of projects. He was talking about the changing nature of the music industry and how they didn't want to take the usual approach for the band's next record. CD sales were declining, but they were still where the majority of their music sales were. So they knew that good design was an investment.
Bruce Duckworth: Of all the band members, Lars is probably the most into design and is very brand aware. While the word "branding" is abused these days, they do see themselves as a brand: they’ve been going at this for 27 years.
DT: The first meeting we had with the band, Lars brought me in and the rest of the guys were there with blank expressions. I didn’t know if they were into this or not. I thought that if we're going to bring anything to this, it's the principles of branding: to make everything coherent.
So, they said that they had four album names and that I should tell them which one was the good one! That really put me on the spot. I said that I needed to understand more about the album, so I talked to James [Hetfield] about the lyrics and themes.
As he talked about them it was clear that they were all linked to death, facing up to the nature of death, and the fear and attraction that surrounds death. So then, from the four titles, they had their answer: Death Magnetic. And if we were to come up with a graphic representation of that, people would see how everything was all linked together. So from a show of hands, that became the title.
We then had a great brief to work from – we knew it was about attraction and repulsion and wanted an iconic image that was expressive but also open to interpretation. A great sleeve has a strong image but also things that you can read into it.
BD: And those levels of communication are what you find in branding everyday, whether it be Waitrose or Metallica.
CR: So how do you go about bringing those branding concepts to a band? It's surely an entirely different entity from a supermarket?
BD: With branding comes an awareness of what consumers like and don’t like. We spent a lot of time with the band and at gigs. You could immediately see the type of people you were targeting. There’s a world they’re comfortable with, they have expectations and this influences the communication you need to create.
DT: While the band have generated their own artwork ideas in the past, the great thing is, like a brand, they also have their own point of view. They stand for something. They’re full-on and they have something they want to express.
And people really care about any new artwork. They released our work online, prior to it coming out – to get the excitement going – and we’ve never been blogged about so much before! There were reactions from ‘this is the best ever’ to ‘total shit’ – it was very passionate.
How did you tackle a discernable 'identity' for Metallica? Did you want to create one for the band name and also the album sleeve?
DT: The logo itself was a big deal and it convinced me that we were a good fit with Metallica. We looked at their history, how they’d adapted a logo they’d originally created, but it had been taken beyond recognition. It runs parallel to the Coke identity work we did where people had designed the soul out of it. Lars said that he would love it if we would look at the old logo and see if there was something in it; an authentic quality to it. The interesting thing was, once we put the logo on the web, the response from fans was great. It’s very important to them. And there’s an iconic M that works with the title of the new album. It all fits together.
We’ve always liked a simple logo, too – like the one we did for Amazon – where you look closer and see the smile, the connection from A to Z. That makes people engage with it.
BD: And we wanted people to engage with the CDs – so there’s a real benefit to having something simple to print, that you can spray on your amp stack, stick on T-shirts. When it all ties together it makes the impact so much stronger.
DT: So the white coffin was a key element as well. James saw that as a door, to another experience, or consciousness, while the other guys saw it just as a coffin. So even within the band there were these differences.
BD: It’s a coffin with a magnetic field, the soil has come out as it’s been in the ground. We were combining several images there to create the cover image. And the grave used on the sleeve was a model shot by photographer Andy Grimshaw in London.
CR: An album launch is a huge undertaking these days. What else did you work on as part of a unifying package for the release?
DT: We also designed a vinyl box-set, some flags and T-shirts, there’s so much stuff produced for the launches now. And they have two record companies that we have to give pieces to for them to work with. I think only designers would get upset by people taking on what you’ve created and be upset by any changes that then occur. But like any big brand, you have to give them the freedom to use the components themselves.
I think Lars was actually keen to involve people who weren’t from the music industry, who weren’t jaded. People who wouldn’t stick to a jewel case.
There’s now this atmosphere that budgets have really narrowed over the last 20 years and that, in the US, there are only about three stores most people buy their music from – like Walmart – where it’s so consolidated, so conformist, in terms of size, using shrink-wrap, that the label were excited to do something different. And Metallica have an interesting arrangement. They share the costs of packaging with the record company. It’s an unusual deal but means that they call the shots and can make something more elaborate. That’s how much they believe in the package.
CR: So are rock bands something Turner Duckworth would work with again?
DT: If the respect was mutual – I’d love to do it again. I’d want to meet the band and see if they get what we do. When we worked on this, the energy in the studio was great. The wall was covered with work, all the designers were having a go. But I wouldn’t want to become a music industry design company. What interests me is a project as an adventure, a learning experience. I can see how design companies get slotted into the music industry, it’s cool and fun, but you don’t want to be pigeon-holed. The variety of work is important.
The typography in the booklet is horrendous. The die-cuts literally cut through all the album lyrics. WTF? That had to be an unthought consequence of the concept. Here's a thought… pay attention to details "Turner Duckworth".
Just a shame the music inside the packaging isn't very good. Thay might be branding and re-branding themselves since the 80s, they haven't made really good new stuff since than. It feels more like Rocky 4 than Rocky 1... The die-cut is a fun and redical idea, but the rest feels a bit uninspiring. All metal bands sing about death, hardly a USP I would say... I'd give it a C-
The coffin/magnetic field idea seems cheap to me, something a non-fan would think a fan would like, not so much an icon. Very advertisingy.
But the redrawn 80s logo is their best ever and probably the part everyone will hold onto. The simple, raw black & white back cover/CD also works much better than the inner booklet and coffin ideas:
I honestly think the only reason this is a featured item is the fact that TD did it. Where's the "Re-Brand"? The article talks about the term being abused - how ironic. The concept is obvious but could still work, but the cover is just so so uninspiring.
'I honestly think the only reason this is a featured item is the fact that TD did it.'
I got this stuff weeks ago. Cheap graphics, cheaply produced, from a bunch of cheapies. The show in Berlin was bloody ace though. Music of course not the terrible o2 world thing - PUKE!
What's next CR?
Didn't know Metallica were still together. Didn't they break up after (that ridiculous) 'Some Kind of Monster' film? 'Metallica' as a brand, what a hideous thought - not exactly KISS but almost....Oh, well they chose the right people to do it. Don't like it much though.
LOL metallica are about as cool as the brand SPAM. They publicly slated Napster, some kind of monster reveals exactly how utterly poor and childish they are, and on reflection I seem to remember that they weren't even cool in the early 90s, but once they did the black album... Nickelback are cooler! And they really suck.
Yes, just like with fast food, the nourishment and value is often in the packaging.
So the white coffin was a key element as well. James saw that as a door, to another experience, or consciousness, while the other guys saw it just as a coffin. So even within the band there were these differences.
"oh lord get me out of here, are you taking this seriously?!"
Blimey. Where to start, huh?
Are Metallica really a brand, or just a band with their logo slapped on everything?
If they're a brand, then why did so many of the shirts at the O2 gig look terrible & not have that nice new re-drawn logo on 'em?
I like Metallica & I actually really like the new album, but I'm not sure about highlighting this album launch over any other in terms of design. However, I think cover image is actually quite nice, BUT I hate the way that the logo & title is then slapped over it. Quite an after thought. Seems to take something away from the image beneath.
As usual it's a case of 'it's not what you know, it's who you know'. I doubt TD would have got this job if the kids weren't pals.
"However, I think cover image is actually quite nice, BUT I hate the way that the logo & title is then slapped over it."
The sticker on the jewel case sits above the die-cut booklet, making a 3D effect and forming shadows with the depth of the paper. By CD standards it's actually pretty good and pretty tasteful for a metal band.
Either your standards are pretty high or you just nicked it off Acquisition and went by the jpeg above. Either way the back cover, simple b&w type, no gimmicky crap, beats the front by miles.
Metallica is for college d-bags. Couldve shown some taste way back when & quit after A.J.F.A. Suck not rock!
Nobody's forcing you to look or listen to Metallica. Leave that to the true fans, thank you very much.
I always think it is funny to hear people say "they haven't been cool since And Justice For All..". It's funny becuase it assumes that the goal of a band is to "stay cool" which is so far from the truth. Creating music, or any art form for that matter, is about taking an idea and putting it into a form that others can consume. Whether it is "cool" or not says more about the consumer of art than it does about the artist.
Someone commented above about the die cut and how it clipped out some of the lyrics. As a designer myself, I can say that that was not a mistake but a design decision. Perhaps it is meant to signify that Death doesn't care what it interferes with. Perhaps it means something totally different to you. In either case if you take a moment to think about it, then the design is a success.
All that being said, I like the new album very much. And if I hear one more person say that "Metallica killed Napster so I don't like them anymore" I am gonna scream. Give it up people... Napster was so illegal in almost every way, that its days were numbered as soon as it got launched.
Turner Duckworth doing a Metallica sleeve? What next? Johnson Banks helping Lemmy with his umlauts on the next Motorhead album? Lewis Moberly doing a flashy boxset for Iron Maiden? or, perhaps, Pentagram doing some consulting for Deep Purple? Is THIS the New Wave of Heavy Metal???...
"Nobody’s forcing you to look or listen to Metallica. Leave that to the true fans, thank you very much."
Creative Review are actually.
I think it's very important to note that although the design has come from the company Turner Duckworth it was clearly not designed by David Turner or Bruce Duckworth themselves! The designer responsible for it has been a huge fan of Metallica's for many many years so to say it is "something a non-fan would think a fan would like, not so much an icon. Very advertisingy." is clearly unfair and untrue.
All comments in Blogs seem to just be filled with people feeling the need to spew some diatribe about how rubbish something is - when in actual fact it really is rather good! Could you all do any better? I doubt it.
I personally think it is a great design, new and fresh but in keeping with Metallica's original style - and if it's good enough for Metallica...
“when looking at it from a distance I keep seeing a… errr… well… is it just me” or do I have a one track mind?
..and to say Metallica isn't a brand sounds uneducated.
Personally, I think the logo coupled with Death Magnetic is a work of genius.. The D and the C as magnets is damned perfect. Yeh, the CD cover does look suspect here and I'd like to see how it looked in the flesh.
Kudos for Metallica working with a company totally opposite to their usual...That's how something different happens. Sparks the controversy, as shown in these comments!
Well, this looks just like the wrong guys got the job. TD didn't have the clue how to solve this or Lars was into it much more than it was needed? Anyhow, the result sucks. It's comforting to know that even the big and respectable design firms sometimes fail. The image/concept is cheap and uninspired and there's a logo with drop shadow... my God! I believe it's hard to work with egomaniacs like Lars and friends - I am a long-time fan, but as a designer, I don't like the idea of listening to Metallica's ideas.
Boring, generic graphic design that looks like the packaging for every heavy metal band... i guess that fits since metallica sounds like every other stupid, pointless heavy metal band on the planet.
how is this a fail?
if any of you are designers, where'd you learn to design?
they refined the classic logo, created a great aesthetic which apparently was too creative and complex for metallica fans, obvioulsy. I like the die cut, and it couldn't have cut out the text on accident, if you were a designer you would know how to set up a die cut for print, if they did that, then they knew where the cut was going.
I've loved Metallica since day one - and some kind of monster just showed us that every band is like every other band - if you've been in a band (or at least watched spinal tap) you'd understand exactly what they were going through... and the shit they gave each other wasn't any different than the shit I regularly give and get in my (by comparison) dull advertising design job - and i'd give up this shit in a second for a life of music like those guys have had...
as for the logo - awesome in it's original form (went a bit off when they shifted into rock and roll) ... but now... I can't even imagine how I liked the original after seeing what it looks like now!!
so this is a message to the guy or gal who tweaked the logo to such perfection... pure craftsmanship - makes the logo I'd loved for so many years look like a tired old fart!! you really made it kick ass
1,000,000 out of 10 ( volts that is )
The cheap drop shadow used under the logo really makes this look like a college project. The illustrations are mostly bland, with the exception of the magnetic lightning coming off the simple black and white 'death magnetic'. I don't see any obvious improvement in the new logo over the classic version from 'kill em all' except that it appears more distorted and harder to read. Overall fail for TD, I'm afraid.
The magnetic coffin idea is good. Lends itself to animation. I haven't seen the physical product. I do think the lyrics and the image could have been kept separate rather than the overlay which seems a little like design studio trying to be grungy. I'm referring to the example shown on the page with the coffin mouthed man. Juxtaposing the interest of the photography (grainy gritty) and type (clean minimal) could have worked. Anyway interesting approach for Metallica. Cheers!
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