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Heavy Metal Cover Art From 2015: The Best And Most Memorable

Photo of Barren Earth

Band Photo: Barren Earth (?)

Inspired by Oscuro's “...And Justice For Art” series, I decided to take a look back at some of the metal cover art from 2015 that has stuck with me into the new year.

With hundreds (thousands?) of metal releases every year, there's a ton of artwork that gets splashed across my screen on any given day. While some of it is godawful, for the most part heavy metal gets album artwork right and really creates moods and tones you don't get with the cover designs of other genres.

From Vincent Locke's infamous Cannibal Corpse watercolors to the many, many different cover pieces by Travis Smith, there's some truly iconic artwork in metal and a ton of ground covered in terms of styles and themes.

This past year we got some really great cover art in just about every sub-genre. Unfortunately sometimes killer album art does not mean there will be equally killer music inside, though. The one imbalance that stands out most for me this year was the Marco Hassman cover for Contrarian's “Polemic.”

That cover is jaw-dropping, but it's also intensely interesting in the details. I mean, that's a giant space marlin, and it's apparently engaged in battle with regular old non-organic, metal ships. Everything about that makes me want to hear the album in question. Unfortunately the music didn't grab me (the vocals in particular killed my enjoyment, and the instrumentation was pretty standard tech death), but the artwork unquestionably did its job here.

With how prolific his art has become in recent years, no analysis of the year would be complete with looking at what Seth Siro Anton of Septicflesh gave us, most notably creating the cover for Moonspell's “Extinct.” There's no question that he's an exceptional graphic designer, but by looking back at all his work it becomes clear he only works within a very narrow focus with an incredibly limited color palette. It's essentially the same thing every time – gray, black, and white with perhaps a small splash of red.

The themes are also overly similar (in some cases, essentially identical), so if you've seen one Seth Siro cover, you've seen them all. It's even more odd in Moonspell's case, since they also used the same artist for previous album “Alpha Noir.” Even if each individual piece is visually interesting, they all become less so when you see more of them and realize there's a lot of recycling going on here.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is the Against The Plagues' “Purified Through Devastation” artwork from Pär Oloffson. He's got a distinctive style, but doesn't do the same thing every single time, and here he's got something that's clearly metal, but goes a bit of a different direction than you'd expect. It's not an image you are soon going to forget and it gets all these ideas of aggression and purification through fire across in a single moment.

To understand Oloffson's versatility, take a look at another piece for a 2015 album he did: “Casuistry” by Abiotic. You can see the little stylistic touches that tell you its the same artist, but otherwise this is night and day in terms of execution. Hands down, it's also got to be one of the most visually appealing covers of the year. I mean, that's a giant fucking four-armed space elephant, and if you let your eyes relax, you realize he and his whispy smoke staff things are MADE OUT OF SKULLS.

Going even more bombastic and combining the ideas of space and more standard metal fare like fiery demons, you've also got “Time Stands Still” from Unleash The Archers. Although the cover is a little “busy,” that's undeniably awesome to see the giant chained demon guy ripping his way out of a planet and reducing it to cinders.

For another look at how versatile metal covers can be, take Iron Spell's “Electric Conjuring." It's completely different from anything else seen above, but you still know you are going to get metal. This cover really gets the point across but doesn't do anything outlandish in the process. Without any skulls, demon lords, decapitations and so on, it still leaves absolutely no question as to what sort of genre this music is going to be.

Moving away from the direct representations of specific scenes, 2015 saw some interesting hyper stylized art that doesn't necessarily evoke the feeling of metal but is still engaging to the eyes, like “Under The Red Cloud” by Amorphis. At first glance it just seems like a bunch of New Age-y squiggles, but then it comes into focus and you realize that's a giant yin-yang snake creature and the arms are all touching the changing phases of the moon.

It doesn't scream “metal” like the previous album covers, but it does draw you in and make you keep looking longer. For a slightly more minimalist take on this idea, also check out the cover of ”Above Below Within” by Nocturnalia.

The absolute best covers of the year probably come down to a tie between Anthropia's “Non-Euclidian Spaces” and Barren Earth's “On Lonely Towers,” and both for the same reason even though they are drastically different pieces: they both get the idea of their albums across exactly.

A glance at “Non-Euclidian Spaces” tells you this is something Lovecraftian, and further examination cements the notion. That's clearly a nightguant in the upper left corner, and those are tentacles protruding from some mind-blasting horror on the upper right. Looking at the center reveals an elder sign on the back of poor Randolph Carter.

Barren Earth equally gets its core theme across with those towering monoliths – the eponymous lonely towers – in a state of decay in some god forsaken hellscape. It's a simple, striking piece, but again there's much more going on if you zoom in and pay close attention to all the details, and that's the mark of a fabulous cover that makes you want to listen to the music.

What did you think of these covers, and what artwork would you nominate for best metal album cover of 2015?

xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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12 Comments on "The Best Heavy Metal Cover Art From 2015"

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1. Fat Bastard writes:

My favourite one is definitely Gateway to the Antisphere by Sulphur Aeon

# Feb 24, 2016 @ 9:35 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

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2. Blindgreed1 writes:

You picked some really good covers Ty. I'm going to need a little time to answer the question.

# Feb 24, 2016 @ 11:26 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
xFiruath's avatar

Content Manager

3. xFiruath writes:

Forgot about "Gateway To The Antisphere" - that has some killer art with the sea on the bottom and the giant tentacle reaching into space. Can't think of who painted that one now though.

# Feb 24, 2016 @ 11:31 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Rex_84's avatar

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4. Rex_84 writes:

Cool, you mentioned my friend Logan's band, Against the Plagues. I'm sure he'll appreciate that.

# Feb 24, 2016 @ 12:10 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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5. Drum_Junkie writes:

I don't know if I can name just one.

Here are some that I found impressive:
Hate - Eternal Infernus
Scanner - The Judgement
Native Construct - Quiet World (excellent use of color)
Alkaloid - The Malkuth Grimoire (lots of subtle details in the background)
Luca Turilli's Rhapsody - Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus (The epitome of 'Epicness' lol)
The Gentle Storm - The Diary (awesome detail and incorporation of the musical concepts)

Tough choices.

# Feb 24, 2016 @ 12:23 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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6. CorpusUpir writes:

As a artist myself I really loved this article dude! You should definitely do more reviews on the cover art or at least make it a yearly thing if it isn't already

# Feb 24, 2016 @ 8:12 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
xFiruath's avatar

Content Manager

7. xFiruath writes:

Thanks, and I might just have to do that. I'm surprised by the feedback here - I'm actually getting more people messaging me at FB about this than the year-end awards article.

# Feb 25, 2016 @ 11:55 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

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8. Blindgreed1 writes:

1. Moonspell
2. Amorphis
3. Abiotic or Anthropia or Barren Earth.

The first two I feel pretty strongly about. The other three I could be persuaded in either direction and all for different reasons.

# Feb 25, 2016 @ 12:26 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
9. Jenny Fear writes:

Moonspell "Extinct" - best cover and best album as well. I don't mind Seth Siro Anton's color palette or themes. Look at H.R. Giger's usual colors or Salvador Dali's repeating themes; the best artists have a style that is recognizably their own.

# Feb 28, 2016 @ 4:41 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Rex_84's avatar

Writer

10. Rex_84 writes:

Jenny, are you familiar with the band, Thought Industry? They were a weird, heavy alternative band from the '90s. They used some Dali art on one of their albums.

# Feb 29, 2016 @ 6:13 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
BrianSD's avatar

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11. BrianSD writes:

Moonspell always has cool cover art

# Feb 29, 2016 @ 11:42 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
BrianSD's avatar

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12. BrianSD writes:

Baroness, high on fire, sevendust and cattle decapitation all had good album art as well.

# Feb 29, 2016 @ 11:51 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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