Warring Valkyrie, severed heads, plains of wildflowers, corpses. History’s grip of good symbolic paintings have set the tone for many a Metal album sleeve.
August 18th, 2016 by M. Elise Hillestad
Warring Valkyrie, severed heads, plains of wildflowers, corpses. History’s grip of good symbolic paintings have set the tone for many an album sleeve. The realm of metal music (and I use the term flexibly in some of the following) has long been saturated with darkly fantastical and macabre imagery, scroll-heavy gothic lettering, and timeless themes. With a proclivity towards the classical, in everything from the structure of metal songs appropriating baroque composition form, to thematic references to classical mythologies, it’s no wonder so many metal bands have chosen renaissance and romanticist paintings to grace their covers. Here are eleven of the best…
1. Bathory – “Blood Fire Death”
The cover of Swedish “Viking Metal” band Bathory‘s album Blood Fire Death is savage Valkyries from Norse mythology mid-action in a Nordic version of the folkish motif the Wild Hunt, wherein a band of wild apparitions engage in hunt. Legends say, the one who comes across the Hunt while alone in the woods will soon meet death, the underworld, or be dragged into the realm of faeries. The painting titled Asgårdsreien is by 19th century Norwegian painter Peter Nicolai Arbo.
2. Cryptopsy – “None So Vile”
Canadian technical death metal group Cryptopsy chose that most ubiquitous of Renaissance motifs, the good ol’ beheading for their 1996 album None So Vile. This one’s Herodias with the Head of John the Baptist, by sugar-and-spice lady painter Elisabetta Sirani.
3. Gorement – “Within the Shadow of Darkness”
Swedish death metal band Gorement used to go by the name Testicle Perspirant. Wisely they changed their name in 1991, and upped their class-factor with this image of death hags pulling us into the vortex. The painting is titled La Vague and is by symbolist Carlos Schwabe in 1907.
4. Celtic Frost – “Into the Pandemonium”
Is there anything more psychotropic and metal than the chaotic fury of Hieronymous Bosch‘s Flemish Primitive visual feasts of carnality? A close-crop from El Bosco’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights takes this weird, over-the-top album by extreme metal outfit from Zürich, Celtic Frost to the next unearthly level.
5. Solefald – “The Linear Scaffold”
The bold and yearning painting Return of the Sun by contemporary Norwegian master Odd Nerdrum is aptly paired with this bizarre and impressive album from Norwegian avant garde metal group Solefald– meaning “fall of the sun” in Danish. The music alternates between walls of screams and thrash, symphonic mastery, and almost psychedelic riffs. The image, with its bending clouds, do-rags, and soviet era-feel is warmly humanist.
6. Drudkh – “Blood in Our Wells”
Drudkh, the poetic Ukrainian black metal band is so intricately consistent with their aesthetic, influenced by the mythologies of their Slavic traditions, their album imagery is always on point. The sleeve for Blood in Our Wells features a painting by Russian realist Vasily Perov called the Last Journey.
When Drudkh released their digipak for Blood in Our Wells, it also included this magnificent painting Cossack Rode to War, 1954 by Ukrainian Mykola Kryvenko.
7. Blood Axis – “the Gospel of Inhumanity”
Der Krieg, or “the War” by Bavarian symbolist painter Franz von Stuck is an allegory of war, mounted on his dark steed death. The Gospel of Inhumanity from dark folk band Blood Axis, whose founder Michael Moynihan authored a book on black metal, Lords of Chaos, is a glorification of willpower and brute force. The album is ornamented with audio clips of poet Ezra Pound and readings from Nietzsche‘s Thus Spake Zarathustra.
8. Candlemass – “Nightfall”
Prolific Swedish doom metal band Candlemass uses American landscapist Thomas Cole‘s picture of the ferrying of a dead soul at eventide to celestial full effect, on their 1987 second studio album Nightfall. The image is almost sweet in contrast to the doom of the record.
9. Bathory – “Hammerheart”
The middle album in Bathory‘s cornerstone Viking Trilogy, this influential recording employs, once again, imagery of Norse tradition. This time it’s from English Victorian painter Frank Dicksee. In his epic and heart-rending Funeral of a Viking, a warrior is sent to sea atop his funeral pyre.
10. Zebulon Pike – “Space is the Corpse of Time”
An androgynous body, fragile in its fleshy humanness hangs suspended in time and space in American painter Luke Hillestad‘s cover for experimental metal project Zebulon Pike‘s Space is the Corpse of Time. Halos of spirit seem to rise up from the corpse as it floats in peaceful limbo.
11. Aquilus – “Griseus”
The well-rounded, luscious craftedness of Griseus becomes even more impressive upon learning that Aquilus is only one man. He comes from the land down under (Australia, not Hades) and he has released only one album to date. Let’s hope the ones to follow feature as good of imagery as this kitschy piece, which his parents had displayed in his childhood home. Painter unknown.