Last Rites Cover Art Tournament: The Brutal Round of 64

Heavy metal is many things, but being the world’s most brutal music is one of its chief roles. This is not to say that music of other styles can’t be brutal; anyone that has heard early Swans knows that you don’t need slams and unrelenting blast beats to be destroyed by sound. But a fair amount of metal is meticulously designed to beat you to a fine pulp, to be the aural equivalent of violence. Once metal started its path towards extremity in the 80s, it was an arms race that really wasn’t fully realized until Suffocation arose to power.

Another thing that is brutal: single elimination tournaments. Anyone foolish enough to be a fan of college basketball knows how much the NCAA Tournament hurts. In one round, half of the field is eliminated. Dreams are dashed, college careers are over. A couple days after that, and the field is down to a quarter of its original slate of 64. No second chances. No tournament points based on draws that might get you into the next round. Just done.

The same thing happens here. In one swift stroke, the Last Rites team voted and unceremoniously swept away half of the field that they argued so extensively to compile. But none of this art is forgotten. Below you shall find small homages to the dearly departed covers, because not one of these covers made it onto our tournament field without being hugely important to one, if not many members of the Last Rites crew.

Now eviscerate us for already eliminating your personal favorites.

[Zach Duvall]




In the initial round, Region I yielded very few surprises. For the most part, the higher seeds went over their low-seeded challengers. The region’s major upset, however, comes from Costin Chioreanu with his art for Arcturian, a #11 seed that toppled #6 seed At the Heart of Winter. Could Chioreanu’s recent run of success making highly stylized artwork for numerous bands see him ride deep into the tournament? Or are this region’s far more iconic covers, such as Chioreanu’s Ungolish opponent this round, destined to overcome any upstarts?

Many fond farewells to…

#6 Seed: Immortal – At the Heart of Winter
Artist: J.P. Fournier

While all of Immortal’s previous album covers featured band photos, for the pivotal At the Heart of Winter, we were given a glimpse of the band’s mythical realm of Blashyrkh. J.P. Fournier captures the realm’s essence – and with it Immortal’s essence – perfectly: icy and grim, but with a fire in its heart. [Jeremy Morse]

#8 Seed: Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
Artist: Vincent Locke

Zombies spilling their guts. Mutilated corpses. Body horror on a scale that has become such a deluge that everyone nowadays collectively yawns and shrugs. Even the PMRC seems to have better things to do these days. The reason is Vincent Locke’s beautiful rendering of two corpses enjoying an intimate moment. [Dave Schalek]

#10 Seed: Necroblaspheme –  Destination: Nulle Part
Artist: Valnoir

A serene country landscape. A gorgeous, cloud-painted sky. A massive, alien, invasive black smudge slopped over the entire thing. Like the album, Valnoir’s notably “modern art” album cover feels as if it is violating something comfortable, something familiar. A less-than-subtle bit of art to go with the album’s less-than-subtle music. [Zach Duvall]

#12 Seed: Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty
Artist: Reinhard Wieczorek

A melting skull with sticky, old-school colored blood dripping from it, forming the name of the album title. Three evil hands clutching the skull with one being nailed right where the brain should be. A Sodom logo behind it all. Does it get better than this in heavy metal artwork? No, it does not. It’s fucking Caravaggio of metal. [Mire Travar] 

#13 Seed: Absu – The Sun of Tiphareth
Artist: Kris Verwimp

The fact that Kris Verwimp has worked with over 150 bands is testament enough to his overall talent. The Sun of Tiphareth may not stand as his best artwork in terms of impressive detail, but his choice of color to offset the controlling darkness gives the piece a wonderful richness and depth that goes far beyond the protagonist who serves as its focal point. [Michael Wuensch]

#14 Seed: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin
Artist: Boris Vallejo

Thank God for the bomb is right! The aftermath has produced a ghoulishly hulking evolution of Ozzy with all-star quarterback hair and an ensorcelling witchwoman with a keister captivating enough to suspend the Battle of Stalingrad. Boris Vallejo: A master artist whose spicy 80s calendars always ended up smuggled into non-calendar related areas of the bookstore. [Michael Wuensch]

#15 Seed: Opeth – Morningrise
Artist: Tuija Lindström

So, it’s just a mopey picture of a dumb ol’ mopey bridge, right? Well, sure. But as an image, nothing in Opeth’s catalog exemplifies the band’s sound better than this somber, elegant, and mysteriously inviting photograph. The beckoning woods, the black water, the austere edifice: monuments to melancholy, exquisitely rendered. [Dan Obstkrieg]

#16 Seed: Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation
Artist: Paolo Girardi

Futuristic hellscapes have been a large part of metal since the early 80s. Here, the hellscape is heavily mechanized providing the viewer with a glimpse into the robotic-insect led takeover that will eventually be the demise of our beautiful castle culture. [Manny-O-War]




By straight seeding, Region II experienced zero upsets in the initial round. However, for fans of great variety, these results might be seen as a disappointment independent of such things as “rules.” For instance, in eliminating LovedriveMinoans, and Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, we lose some of the more unique works in the entire tournament. Not that legends aren’t left, however, and the resulting Round of 32 match-ups feature some heavyweights. Hell, Ed Repka himself is pitting Leprosy and Game Over against Derek Riggs’ Powerslave and Phil Lawvere’ Pleasure to Kill. Should be fun. And painful.

Goodnight, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye to…

#9 Seed: Inquisition – Ominous Doctines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
Artist: Antichrist Kramer

Best seen in the full LP foldout, this is what Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm look like visualized. Hear Dagon’s voice coming from a three-eyed terror skull on tongues of blood that gently caress a celestial eyeball while monstrous bony talons reach from the echoing red depths to grasp wisdom. [K. Scott Ross]

#10 Seed: Scorpions – Lovedrive
Artist: Storm Thorgerson

Bubblegum boobie – I understand it as much as any other person seeing this cover, but the sheer what-the-fuckness of this cover, the fact that it’s memorable and mesmerizing, absurd and brilliant at the same time, is what’s made this artwork iconic. This lovedrive is one pretty albeit disturbing ride. [Mire Travar] 

#11 Seed: Destruction – Release From Agony
Artist: Joachim Luetke

With its surrealistic depiction of pure, unrelenting agony, Joachim Luetke wants you to be uneasy, uncomfortable and disturbed by this image. A creature that used to be human is inside a story you’re afraid and nauseated to imagine. There is no release from agony in this cover. [Mire Travar] 

#12 Seed: Immolation – Here in After
Artist: Andreas Marschall

A sequel to the cover of Immolation’s debut, Dawn of Possession, Andreas Marschall’s Here in After cover displays, in vivid detail, the aftermath of its predecessor’s clash of angels and demons, and presents a choice: Will you bask in the light of the lord or will you, even in defeat, rage against it? [Jeremy Morse]

#13 Seed: King Diamond – Abigail
Artists: Jorgen Bak, Öle Ludgren, Thomas Holm, Torbjorn Jorgensen

This all-timer cover fits this all-timer album because it sets the tone for the tale that unravels once you push play. On its own it is foreboding, but more importantly it feels less like a single work of art and more an illustration of a single scene that exists within a far greater narrative. [Matthew Cooper]

#14 Seed: Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Artist: Kev Walker

The struggle of life and pain of existence may never be produced quite as effectively as Kev Walker’s interpretation in this work. That split nose; that stretched sneer; those wobbling cysts; that… puckered orifice? It is a perfectly appropriate representation of a distorted birth of unreal misery. A true mental funeral. [Michael Wuensch]

#15 Seed: The Gates of Slumber – Suffer No Guilt
Artist: Ken Kelly

What Ken Kelly’s cover artwork does so well here is convey an irrefutable sense of ultimate POWER. The hero is dominating his foe with a force so violent that even the rocky crag they’re battling atop is exploding! All expertly rendered by a man who is certainly no stranger to the art of the warrior. [Michael Wuensch]

#16 Seed: Giant Squid – Minoans
Artist: Aaron Gregory

For a band that dedicated its entire existence to the worship of marine life, Giant Squid’s Aaron John Gregory couldn’t have drawn up a more human-focused cover to celebrate the end of both a civilization and a band that was astonishingly good at every point in its career. [Konrad Kantor]




Like Region II, Region the Third experienced zero natural upsets in the initial round. However, emotional disappointments abound. First, with the axing of both Tekeli-li and Scar Sighted, we lose two cases of a band member also making (great) cover art. Also, first round exits for Master of Puppets and Tales from the Thousand Lakes just absolutely hurt, man. But move on we must, and in Region III, the Round of 32 gives us… SEAGRAVE V SEAGRAVE. When The Key goes up against Effigy of the Forgotten, metal’s most famous visual artist can’t lose.

So long and thanks for all the fish to…

#9 Seed: The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-li
Artist: Jeff Grimal

This abstract depiction of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness comes from none other than TGOO’s vocalist Jeff Grimal. After all, for a band as full honed-in to their disturbed vision as is TGOO, the visual side of their art must come from within their ranks. The alternate vinyl cover is pretty damn wicked too. [Zach Duvall]

#10 Seed: Amorphis – Tales from the Thousand Lakes
Artist: Sjlvain Bellemare

In a style that splits the difference between Seagrave and Necrolord, Sylvain Bellemare conjured a breathtaking rendering of Finland’s imaginary geography for this landmark album. And just look at how the band’s logo matches the curve of those mountains! Dive into the deep waters of the gods’ doom, and drink. [Dan Obstkrieg]

#11 Seed: Katatonia – Discouraged Ones
Artists: Tom Martinsen & Katatonia

The cover of Discouraged Ones perfectly captures not only that album, but Katatonia’s entire aura. Is the man welcoming the engulfing flames, accepting that the end has finally arrived? Or is he maintaining hope and defiance in the face of seemingly inevitable destruction? It is both. It is always both. [Zach Duvall]

#12 Seed: Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Artist: Wrest (Jef Whitehead)

One-man black metal projects usually make due with blurry, grayscale photography to go with their blurry, grayscale music. Not Leviathan. Wrest is as much a talented artist as he is a multi-instrumentalist. The many-eyed creatures of Scar Sighted are a singular vision of purpose only one man could pull off. [K. Scott Ross]

#13 Seed: Metallica – Master of Puppets
Artist: Don Brautigam

The visceral sophistication of the legendary music on Master of Puppets is forever tied to the equally haunting sophistication of its unmistakeable cover art. No matter the puller of strings — a government, an addiction, a doctor, a god — Brautigam made sure that his art brought to mind far more than just the album’s title track. [Zach Duvall]

#14 Seed: Vektor – Outer Isolation
Artist: Andrei Bouzikov

The spaciest of space thrash deserves the spaciest of album covers. Bold greens and yellows draw the eye while blue crags compose a nameless asteroid somewhere infinitely far away. See that astronaut being smothered by cosmic forces while drifting into a dangerous valley of razor stones? That’s the listener. Slain. [K. Scott Ross]

#15 Seed: Gorguts  – Colored Sands
Artist: Martin Lacroix

The mandala theme of the album is visually displayed on the cover, yet the sands are uncolored. Mala prayer beads become ropes of bondage in the hands of the faithful. Are these contradictions inherent? Are we bound and incomplete in the Kalachakra? This is the very question of Colored Sands. [K. Scott Ross]

#16 Seed: Evoken – Atra Mors
Artist: Robert Hoyem

Using a mix of digital media techniques, this cover evokes some serious emotions. The haunted forest look, with the creeping, cloaked shadows perfectly marries with the music across Atra Mors to create a complete package shrouded in the misty quagmire of funeral doom spit forth by Evoken. [Manny-O-War] 




After the opening round, the list of names alive in Region IV is a who’s who of absolute metal legends. Just look at that list of survivors; lords of death, black, speed, thrash, doom, stoner, traditional, etc. That they aren’t just here because of their great music speaks volumes to the collaboration between visual art and music in metal. Oh, you don’t think Transilvanian Hunger is great art? Well of course it isn’t, but also, it is. And a more iconic image may not exist in all of metal. Too bad Seagrave exists in this region as well, and is coming for Fenriz…

To these, and all the dearly departed, we say…

#8 Seed: Sulphur Aeon – Gateway to the Antisphere
Artist: Ola Larsson

Grandiose. That’s really the most fitting word for Larsson’s massive Lovecraftian image. The unknown horrors attack from both the depths of the ocean and space itself, conquering all. Sulphur Aeon has a very large sound, but nothing sounds this massive. Check out the full album spread for maximum destruction. [Zach Duvall]

#10 Seed: Anthrax – Spreading the Disease
Artist: David Heffernan

It’s Anthrax, people. It’s a metalhead on a presumably medical table in a really scary room. He’s really not okay with this situation, but hey, for once someone in the sci-fi universe thought metalheads would be useful for something, in this case, for spreading some disease. For spreading THE disease. Yes, that cover owns. [Mire Travar] 

#11 Seed: KuolemanlaaksoTulijoutsen
Artist: Maahy Abdul Muhsin

A phoenix is an uncommon enough motif in heavy metal already, but when have you seen one rendered as a swan, and it ends up this glorious? The intricate designs of the feathers fascinate the eye, while fiery reds and oranges contrast a dark frame that implies both fire and lotus blossoms. [K. Scott Ross]

#12 Seed: Voivod – Killing Technology
Artist: Michel “Away” Langevin

By the time of this third album cover painting for his sci-fi thrash epic Voivod, Michel “Away” Langevin had fully realized a nightmarish, post apocalyptic world where the literary possibilities seem endless. This is storytelling within the perfect marriage of artwork, lyrical content, and music. [Dave Schalek]

#13 Seed: Pyrrhon – The Mother of Virtues
Artist: Caroline Harrison

Roaches take the place of sperm racing towards a faceless pregnant female in the place of saintly honor, glorified by eyes as weeping sores. Fecundity is a disease. Both the music and the art are searingly uncomfortable, yet fascinating in a way that it is absolutely impossible to turn away. [K. Scott Ross]

#14 Seed: Napalm Death – Scum
Artist: Jeff Walker

The debut album from a legendary band is remembered not only for its groundbreaking music, but also for its cover artwork, created by Carcass’ Jeff Walker. The artwork depicts everything Scum talks about: multinational corporations, unjust distribution of wealth, brainwashing and dumbing down by popular culture, while the ones leading these processes are lovely black-and-white zombies. [Mire Travar]

#15 Seed: Progenie Terrestre Pura – U.M.A.
Artist: Alexander Preuss

Progenie Terrestre Pura’s deliriously inviting black metal futurism finds its perfect amplifier in this rich, geometrically striking, and surprisingly restful cover. By sanding down the pulpiness of The Fifth Element and scaling back the noirishness of Blade Runner, U.M.A. is more like a Roddenberry platonic ideal, eager to boldly go. [Dan Obstkrieg]

#16 Seed: Manilla Road – Open the Gates
Artist: Eric Larnoy

In conjunction with darker, heavier music, for its fourth album, Open the Gates, Manilla road enlisted Eric Larnoy for some darker, more serious (and much more professional) cover art. In it, an imposing warrior/wizard figure (Elric?) stands among a singularly forbidding landscape, surely questioning whether opening those gates was such a hot idea after all. [Jeremy Morse] 



See you on Monday, when we will have again cut the field in half. Brutal.

Posted by Last Rites


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