Heavy Metal Cover Art 2016: A Look At The Best And Most Memorable
Band Photo: Amon Amarth (?)
Every year in December we cover the best and worst of metal with a focus on recorded material and live releases, but what frequently gets lost in the shuffle is an integral part of all things metal: the artwork.
While the prominence of physical media that you actually handle and admire while listening to an album has faded with the advent of digital distribution, cover artwork remains a core and iconic part of the heavy music experience across all sub-genres.
From frozen occult black metal to the most over-the-top fantasy power metal, the artwork is the first thing people are going to notice, and the artists deserve more recognition than they typically get.
Our roundup of the most memorable art last year saw jaw-dropping pieces from the likes of Marco Hassman, Par Oloffson, and the increasingly prolific Seth Siro Anton. This year will feature a markedly contrasted lineup of artists and bands as we explore drastically different styles that all express thematic ideas in amazingly divergent ways.
Some art this year was memorable for more negative reasons. Freedom Call, Devildriver, Gojira, and Metallica in particular all had less-than-stellar or head-scratching cover artwork this time around. We'll (mostly) be skipping that sort of memorability below, and instead focusing on things that looked amazing or were too bizarre to ignore.
Alkerdeel – Lede
We have to start here with Alkerdeel's “Lede” cover crafted by Luchtrat, an artist I'd never heard of before who does a variety of graphic designing online. I seriously haven't been able to stop thinking about this cover all year long from the moment I first laid bewildered eyes upon it.
Is it a joke? Is it completely serious? Is it taking square aim at the sort of people who would wonder about the difference? It's both minimalist and somehow simultaneously complex. It's a childish idea presented very simply – a demon taking aim and farting – but also seems to be so much more. Is it a comment on the pointlessness and absurdity of life? Is it meant to be lighthearted or threatening? Are we supposed to be taking something away from the stripped down color scheme and the blank spaces between the lines?
I have no idea if this was even the intention, but this artist caused something of an existential crisis for me. I have to wonder if somewhere there's a farting demon currently laughing about that fact.
Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
Thom Thiel handled this piece, which isn't particularly out of the ordinary for a metal album and obviously within standard operating procedure for an Amon Amarth release, but is notable for being a superb example of the style. It gets its idea across strongly with the bloody Viking warrior, but there's plenty going on in the background for your eye to linger on, from the clashing ships to the storm crows.
Booze Control – The Lizard Rider
Beyond the fact that I love this band's name, the art here by Dimitar Nikolov just grabs you right off the bat with its dark color scheme and eye-popping scenery. We appear to be in some sort of post-apocalyptic city (there's definitely nuclear waste just sitting out in the corner there) where some bad ass lady who puts Mad Max to shame is busy fending off mutant ghouls while riding a giant lizard beast. Even if the music hadn't been worth a damn, I'd still have immediately checked this album out just based on the cover.
Bloodride – Planet Alcatraz
This old school thrash group is onto something with the “Planet Alcatraz” art. It's not hyper stylized and perhaps not as iconic as “Rust In Peace” or “Peace Sells... But Who's Buying,” but it so very clearly expresses an idea without even saying a word. A world made of bricks is in chains and blowing its own brains out rather than continuing the incarceration... its classic thrash social commentary from artist Niko Bauer.
Cetacean – Breach | Submerge
The opposite of some of the subdued pieces above, this cover from Nate Prophet is all about the style and atmosphere, even though there's not much really going on visually. There's a winding, airy mass of something or other rotating across the firmanent into some sort of black hole, with lots of shapes and forms suggested but none actually defined. There's almost-tentacles, quasi-hooks, sorta-tornadoes, but nothing commits to a solid form in this constantly moving void. Much like the art, there's a swirling collision of sounds with the music from Cetacean as well.
Daedric Tales – Sleepers Awake
I saved this image as soon as I saw the press release about “Sleepers Awake,” as the cover image crafted by Sergey Voloshin is so striking and raises so many questions. What is even going on here? It's some sort of stone elephant-goblin-man playing his own flute-face? Clearly there's some sort of mythology here I don't fully understand, and that makes me want to explore more and check out the music.
Grond – Worship The Kraken
What strikes me about this piece, created by the band's bassist Daemorph, is the cohesion of the color palette with the style and thematic direction. Those bright greens and dark blues both go well together and pop against each other, drawing your eye to more details over time, like the fact that the rocks are made of lashed skeletons and the vortex in the sky is composed of skulls. The idea of the album's title - “Worship The Kraken” - is also strongly implied by the central area of the cover.
Holycide – Annihilate... Then Ask!
From killer weed plants tearing apart a metal head on that Cannabis Corpse EP to the snake and eyeball motif of the 2013 Toxic Holocaust album, Andrei Bouzikov has a very distinctive style that strongly evokes the '80s era of metal. Now honestly this cover isn't my favorite from Andrei, who has much more striking pieces, but I think it's worth showcasing just because of how its both incredibly cheesy and incredibly awesome simultaneously.
There's a tank spewing flames at a toxic waste dump and some sort of mutant guy dual-wielding giant guns, while clergy, cops, and scientists all succumb to the apocalypse. There's no questions just by looking at the imagery that some full-force metal is about to kick your ass into oblivion.
Khemmis – Hunted
Oh man, everything about this Sam Turner cover screams classic fantasy from a previous era of art. From the first glance I'm immediately thinking of classic '70s style swords and sorcery where evil magicians lead bloody crusades against bare-chested barbarians. The style also brings to mind a bit of the feel from that animated '77 flick “Wizards.”
Labirinto – Gehenna
I'd never even heard of this Brazilian band until just about two months ago, but needless to say the artwork by Manuel Augusto Dischinger Moura left an impression. There's blackened tentacles raining down from the sky, the earth is shattered to nothingness, and a giant man wearing a belt of baby heads is plodding across what's left of the landscape with a defeated and broken look on his face. Clearly something very bad has gone down, and an exploration of the music is in order to discover just what happened there.
Lectern – Precept Of Delator
Finally, a proper Satanic metal cover, and by an appropriately named artist: Adi Dechristianize! Once a thriving and ever-present staple of the metal scene, there's actually less and less of this sort of thing as time goes on, so its sort of refreshing to get a good old fashioned demonic crypt every now and again. You'd never guess it from the artwork, but this is old school brutal death metal and not black metal as the themes might suggest.
Red Cain – Red Cain
A very different style from anything else included above, this impressionist painting really bucks the norms of metal cover artwork, having a hazy, almost water color style. Peter Mohrbacher – a name fans of Magic: The Gathering may recognize – handled this interesting piece, which clearly has some strong mythological elements going on.
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
We'll end our look at 2016's most memorable art with this minimalist cover from Sallai Péter, which makes me think a bit of Amorphis' “Under The Red Cloud” in that there's more going on than first meets the eye, and it breaks from established trends. There's no demon beasts devouring priests, no chemical plant explosions, no tentacled monstrosities from the sea, and yet there's still this nagging sensation that what you are seeing here from Svoid is somehow dark and dangerous...
A Look Ahead
My apologies to every band and artist who didn't make the cut this time around – I started with a list of about 50 covers and had to cull down from there to a more manageable number! The number of metal releases this year was probably in the high triple digits, so this brief list just scratches the surface of what's available.
What did you think of these picks? Be sure to let us know about your favorite covers of 2016 and give us hell about the art that didn't make this list!
We're eagerly awaiting what's coming next year, so with that in mind, here's a little sneak peek at some of the the heavy metal 2017 covers that already have us excited...
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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