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And Justice For Art Presents: Look-Alike Metal Album Covers, Part 1, Featuring Iron Maiden, Dissection, Grave Digger...

Photo of Iron Maiden

Band Photo: Iron Maiden (?)

Facebook's ever-growing community, And Justice For Art has joined forces with MetalUnderground.com to present monthly episodes of their infamous series "Look-alike metal album covers." These short but thought-provoking articles focus on artworks that somehow, are uncannily similar, both visually and conceptually. Of course, the metal connection will always be there. Is this a coincidence? A mere rip-off? Let's try to figure it out together....

Grave Digger Vs. Dissection

German irreverent heavy metal quintet, Grave Digger, finally released its seventeenth studio opus, "Return Of The Reaper." The album came accompanied by a cover art courtesy of their longtime artist/collaborator, Gyula Havancsak. It features the reaper-like figure previously established by the band, relentlessly driving a ghostly carriage throughout a graveyard.

Although the graphic seems to be a continuation of the band's previous covers (also featuring the reaper) this idea, however, is far from original. Before Gyula, legendary designer, Thomas Holm, explored a similar setting on King Diamond's "Abigail" (1987) and then, in 1993, Swedish maestro, Kristian 'Necrolord' Wåhlin (At The Gates, Tiamat) created its own rendition for Dissection's debut, "The Somberlain."

What connects "Return Of The Reaper" cover with these illustrations (especially with "The Somberlain") is not just the theme but also the structure of the whole composition, featuring a similar point of view, the relentless attitude of the main rider character, the graveyard setting and even way the horses look like. Thankfully, Gyula's vibrant painting style is far from Whalin's quasi-monochromatic approach and this creates the well-needed differences.

Was Wahlin inspired by Holm? Was Gyula consciously influenced by Kristian Wåhlin? We just don't know. One thing is true: both "Abigail" and "The Somberlain" covers have been part of the metal imagery for decades. Consciously or not, these images could have been in Gyula's mind at the moment of creating his own, otherwise, arresting graphic... In his defense, Gyula briefly comments: "I tried to avoid the "Abigail' direction and I love Dissection, but I forgot "The Somberlain" artwork! How could I forget "The Somberlain" cover!?"

Dear Gyula, this could happen to anyone... Better luck next time.

Iron Maiden Vs. Earth, Wind and Fire

After portraying the irreverent Eddie as punk street assassin (Killers), the devil's puppeteer (Number Of The Beast) and a mentally unstable patient (Piece Of Mind) UK's mythical illustrator, Derek Riggs, decided to adorn the cover of Iron Maiden's 1984 album "Powerslave" with the band's beloved mascot acting like a pharaoh-like, giant monument surrounded by all kinds of Egyptian references. Such arresting image, demonstrated Eddie's capacity to mutate into different characters without losing its iconic trademarks and magnetic allure.

According to Martin Popoff's book, "Run For Cover", Riggs took inspiration from a concept initially suggested by bassist Steve Harris, to reinforce some of the album's lyrics. "Steve had this picture of these five guys dragging this Pharaoh's head along, some engraving he'd found," Riggs recalls. "So I started drawing it, and it just grew and grew. Most of this I invent as I go along." Of course, the final image (rich in post modern overtones and inside jokes) was far and away what Harris and Riggs had originally imagined.

However, as original, refreshing and imposing as this cover is, its overall look, color palette and Egyptian-based thematic are however, uncannily reminiscent of another album artwork. We're talking about the illustration produced by Japanese illustrator, Shusei Nagaoka for Earth, Wind and Fire's "All 'N All." Originally created in 1977, that graphic proposes a reconstruction of the ancient Abu Simbel Temple of Ramesses II, garnished with all kinds multicultural iconography and futuristic subtext, which extents to the album's back sleeve.

Both covers ("All 'N All" and "Powerslave") have many distinctive attributes that make them original in their own right—for example, the campy humor injected by Riggs and Eddie's transformation are unrivaled. Also, Nagaoka's postmodern flare is one-of-its-kind.

However, one can't but wonder if somehow (probably unconsciously) Derek took certain inspiration from Nagaoka's which came out seven years before Iron Maiden's 5th album. Just compare the symmetric look of both compositions, the similar use of colors, the placement of the pyramids ruling over all the other elements in both pictures, etc... Is it "Powerslave's" cover a ripoff or just a coincidentally look-alike? Most probably the latter. After all, it has enough differential elements to be called an original art. After all (to be fair) the cover of the Earth, Wind and Fire's album is just a fragment of Nagaoka's entire panoramic original piece.

But really... what's originality? Isn't art and even human life itself, an evolutionary process? It should be perfectly Ok to take from here and there in order to create something new. Remember: there's nothing completely new under the sun, Egyptian or not.

Oscuro's avatar

Ramon Martos Garcia proudly writes for Metal Underground.com, PureGrainAudio.com and other metal/rock related websites. He's the owner of an indie record label and runs a site about Metal album covers, And Justice for Art.

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