Sunday, July 18, 2010

The New Art of Metal

The Impact of John Dyer Baizley on the Look of Metal

The album cover -- once a crucial part of any band's identity -- has been dying a slow death for decades. For the most part, music fans put up with the shrinkage of album art from expansive vinyl records to hand-size plastic jewel cases. But with the music experience moving almost exclusively online, album art has suffered another compression -- this time all the way down to thumbnail images.

That was three years ago, but I think it's safe to say things have changed. Despite the increased focus toward online music buying, more attention is being paid to album art in metal today than at any other time. Partly, this is due to a resurgence in vinyl, and the opportunity to make the art huge. Partly, it's because the record companies are trying to squeeze everything they can out of the CD format before it dies. But even online, the music sellers do everything they can to show off album art. At the iTunes Music Store, for example, you get an interactive virtual booklet with the album. And everywhere, they're still showing it off--just on a smaller scale.

I mentioned just the other day that I bought the debut from Kvelertak based almost solely on the album art. But the art was tiny. How did it get my attention?



From the very beginning, metal albums were black and white, monochrome, or otherwise a bit drab. The art has always been important, but the darkness was all a part of the look.

Black Sabbath Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Ride the Lightning Human

John Dyer Baizley is on a one-man mission to change that. The Baroness rhythm guitarist has made quite a name for himself by making art that connects with metalheads and sells records. But he doesn't sacrifice detail in the name of thumbnail art--instead, he does three things to succeed in today's album cover marketplace.

1. Bold Design: Each of his album covers has something big and attention-grabbing on it, and it's instantly identifiable.
2. Devil in the Details: When you look closer, you're rewarded with loads of detail, whether it be skulls, feathers, flowers, or whatever. So, it works both on a large scale and a small scale.
3. Color: Rainbows aren't just for guys like Rob Halford anymore. Dio was a rainbow in the dark, but Baizley brings it to the light. He's managed to make his art unequivocally metal, despite breaking the rule against color.

Two awesome skeleton dudes are here, but which one grabs your eye--Black Sabbath's Dehumanizer, or Skeletonwitch's Beyond the Permafrost?

Dehumanizer Beyond the Permafrost

It used to be, if you wanted to really get someone's attention, you would slap some H.R. Giger on the cover. Celtic Frost and Carcass both knew that was the way to go.

To Mega Therion Heartwork (CD/DVD)

Hue and saturation aside, there are actually a lot of similarities between the two. Both are surrealists with highly sexually-charged images; Giger seems to have a little more affinity for phalli compared to Biazley's naked women and flowers. They also both tend toward very busy imagery worthy of close inspection. You could get lost in their work.

Danzig 3: How the Gods Kill (Reis) Taste the Sin

Eparistera Daimones Static Tensions

Hallucinations / Blue Blood / The Hunt Phantom Limb

Both of them have been so compelling and influential they've been imitated (though Baizley has had less time to be imitated, check out Ryan Begley's cover for Howl's Full of Hell).

Full of Hell

I don't anticipate Baizley will replace Giger any time soon. Giger is my all-time favorite artist, and though Baizley is fast joining him, I don't exactly see the younger man's work on the cover of a black metal album.

Baizley's work is eye-popping and attention-grabbing, and despite its high-color emphasis, it still manages to be very much metal. He needs to be careful to protect his "brand", though, and only allow the best bands to use it. And he needs to come out with a coffee table book of his art already. Come on.

I just dread the day the record companies start to put animated album covers on the online stores.

1 comment:

  1. Dan Seagrave is another artist I love. I might do a post with some of his best album covers. They usually feature some kind of Lovecraftian landscape or formation.