Last Rites Cover Art Tournament: The Sweet Six(66)teen

If it has not become abundantly clear already, the main purpose of this tournament was not necessarily to do a ride-along to the NCAA tournament, but really to honor the great visual side of heavy metal. Behind the scenes, when we haven’t been arguing about covers that didn’t even make the field (some pretty notable anger about Live After Death, Somewhere In Time, etc.), there was an awful lot of reminiscing. Someone would think of the artwork of some classic album, then someone else would bring up more obscure art by that artist, and then I would get on a Necrophobic kick. Music leads to visual art leads to visual art leads back to music.

From Seagrave and Whelan to Repka and Necrolord, metal’s notable visual artists have built hugely impressive portfolios. Fans and bands alike seek out this visual art, and it can be exciting to find out that a well-known painter is providing the art for a highly anticipated release. Just imagine the explosion of excitement that will occur if Iron Maiden makes one last album and brings Derek Riggs back? He’s like their long-lost sixth (seventh) man.

So sure, the tournament angle is fun, but the real meat is our chance to honor these artists, and tell what they have meant to our lives as metal fans.


At the end of this round, a mere eight album covers will remain (spoiler alert: none of them are for Judas Priest albums). But that’s when it becomes harder and harder to chop down these giants. Let’s get to it.

[Zach Duvall]




They made it to the round of 16, slaying some classic giants on their way, but here is where the more recent covers for Kosmonument and Arcturian meet their end. While impressive, the works of Kiviluoto and Chioreanu were simply not enough to take down their 80s classic opponents. Arcturian, the closest thing this tournament had to a Cinderella story, had to fall to Eddie’s axe, whilst Kosmonument‘s path led it right into the hands of the number one overall seed.

These covers are NO MORE. They have CEASED TO BE…

#5 Seed: Oranssi Pazuzu – Kosmonument
Artist: Olli Kiviluoto

Kosmonument may just be the most unsettling of the 64 album covers we’ve featured here. The slow unfolding parabola of fascination to horror back to fascination again mirrors the experience of subsuming oneself in Oranssi Pazuzu’s music. The biomechanical fluidity of the piece recalls some of H.R. Giger’s most famous work, while the blue and pink color scheme adds a seething otherworldly light to the proceedings. What is this alien monstrosity? See the thin mucous caul stretching beneath horrid gaping mouths. Feel the oozing pustule pierced by a monstrous finger. Hear the despair of the humanoid face caught up in this mass having its soul dragged out through its eyes. Kosmonument is entirely about the apocalyptic destruction and horrific recreation of the human world by technological and cosmic powers. Could there be a better artistic representation? No. This is the writhing, wriggling devastation that has been wrought upon us. [K. Scott Ross] 

#11 Seed: Arcturus – Arcturian
Artist: Costin Chioreanu

When Arcturus returned with their first album in a decade, the task for Costin Chioreanu — at the time a rising talent in metal’s cover art world — was to capture all zany sides of their music visually. And he succeeded, more so than any artist before. The central figure possesses a certain whimsy, or even circus-like quality, but by being there, also emphasizes the band’s tendency to ooze with personality and charisma. To this Chioreanu added bits of astronomy (the stars), science fiction and fantasy (the surreal forms, that one, single horn), and probably mysticism or astrology (some sorta weird conjuration going on here, I figure). To it all, Chioreanu applies his impeccable craft and undeniable style. Nary a mistake is made in page composition or color selection, and even the band’s logo is placed perfectly. There’s a reason why he’s probably the best in the business today. [Zach Duvall] 




The four albums that were remaining in Region II were not just behemoths of visual art, but of music as well. DeathJudas PriestIron MaidenBlack Sabbath. That two of these bands had to be removed would be tragic if not for the quality of the art that dropped them. Repka and Riggs took out the sleek, brilliantly cool graphic design of Screaming for Vengeance and the forever imitated haunting of Black Sabbath. This region during this round merely proves that the tournament is entering the stages where every cover is a legend.

The bell tolls for theese…

#2 Seed: Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Artist: Keith MacMillan (under the name Marcus Keef)

Most would agree that literally everything about Black Sabbath’s pioneering debut is perfect, including the album cover. Apart from being a perfect representation of the overall witchiness of the music it embodies, there’s a mystery afoot. And who else but Jessica Fletcher loves a whodunit more than metal fans. Who was that black-robed sorceress looming before the Mapledurham Watermill back in 1970? Who IS Louise? An innocent fan who made herself known backstage at an early Sabbath show? A ghostly image that magically appeared sans manipulation from photographer Keith MacMillan? Or is she really just some girl’s granny who lived in Michigan and happened to be lucky enough to have a “witchy nose” when MacMillan leafed through a book of available models? That’s the latest development, and it’s clearly the least exciting. But even then, given such an ordinary circumstance, why hasn’t she stepped up for an interview? Because she’s clearly a ghost and OH MY GOD SHE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU. [Michael Wuensch] 

#4 Seed: Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance
Artist: Doug Johnson

This is a cover I expected to easily roll its way into the final four like a dick-punching point guard on a George Mason basketball squad. The mechanical eagle, touched with Native American art stylings, is an easy choice for go-to back patch. It matches everything. That’s the versatility, recognizability and importance of this artwork. Priest was a band that appealed to a wide, wide audience, because of their era. The artwork is so strong that bikers, aspiring metalheads, rock lovers and punks would purchase this album on strength of cover art alone (remember that being a thing?). It’s an active cover that draws you in as the eagle screams towards its unpictured prey. Probably some of the most iconic artwork of all time, Screaming for Vengeance deserves a place in the metal artwork hall of fame. [Manny-O-War] 




Seagrave took out Seagrave, only to be taken out by another of metal’s all time great cover artists: Kristian “Necrolord” Wåhlin. Meanwhile, Patrick Woodroffe’s striking art for Sad Wings of Destiny, fell victim to this region’s top seed, the seemingly unstoppable To Mega Therion. What will happen when Giger, master of metal and Hollywood alike, comes face-to-face with Necrolord, metal’s Lord of All Blue?

Now these are taken unto the Island of Elimination…

#2 Seed: Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
Artist: Dan Seagrave

Dan Seagrave prominently features in this tournament, and with good reason. Some of us were on the fence about Effigy Of The Forgotten, but like The Key it defeated, the sheer density of this artwork is a sight to behold. The color scheme works perfectly, and the inclusion of red with the band name and the album title meshes in just the right way with the lime green sky. The whole sordid mess evokes an environmental apocalypse. I also find the artwork a bit whimsical; the combination of the robot crab dismantling a junk heap with the weird, grinning creature seemingly waiting for his dinner (that’s what I’ve always thought of, anyway) gives this groundbreaking brutal death metal album just the right amount of tongue planted firmly in cheek silliness that the genre needs. [Dave Schalek] 

#5 Seed: Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny
Artist: Patrick Woodroffe

When compared to most other art in the Judas Priest catalog, Sad Wings of Destiny stands alone in both style and mood. Absent is the shimmering metal of Stained Class or Killing Machine, or the graphic design of Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith. This was a painting of both barren emotion and unabashed fantasy. Those wings really are sad, and the feeling of doom or destiny is undeniable in every aspect of Patrick Woodroffe’s painting. His choice of color and texture gave the angel a feeling of being both alive and stone, or perhaps a living being that was becoming a statue, too afraid or despair-ridden to continue its holy tasks. The pose of that central figure, meanwhile, suggests a struggle, further emphasizing the impression that there are apocalyptic events afoot. This painting is as intimate as it is grandiose, as fitting for “Victim of Changes” as it is for “Dreamer Deceiver,” and as timeless as this monumental album. [Zach Duvall] 




Along with Region I, Region IV is the only place where the top two seeds will face each other with a trip to the Fatal Four on the line. To get to this point, Altars of Madness took out Reign In Blood, a bit of art that is as terrifying as the music it represents. Holy Diver, meanwhile, was able to get past Phil Lawvere’s work for Celtic Frost’s Emperor’s Return EP. Now, it is Seagrave’s one remaining horse against the only one Randy Berrett brought to the track. Is sacrificing that priest to the ocean enough to overcome the horrors of Madness?

I have yet only just begun to take your fucking covers

#4 Seed: Slayer – Reign in Blood
Artist: Larry W. Carroll

When commissioned to create the cover art for Slayer’s monumental album Reign in Blood, the sum of the guidance offered to artist Larry Carroll amounted to “Put a goat’s head on the cover.” With that lone proviso, Carrol bent to the task with vigor, creating a work of such blasphemous depravity and sadistic brutality it equals, if not surpasses, the album’s sonic savagery. Severed heads and corpses of the impaled and hanged litter the cavernous scene, while grotesque demons — some horned, some winged, some with bishop hats and some literally bopping the bishop — bear the throne of the goat-headed king who sits at the center of it all, reigning in and raining down a lake of blood, blood, blood. The band itself was not immediately enamored of Carroll’s work, but as he went on to do three more covers for Slayer, it’s safe to say the group grew to appreciate his unique genius. [Jeremy Morse] 

#6 Seed: Celtic Frost – Emperor’s Return
Artist: Phil Lawvere

Difficult to know precisely what went on behind the hallowed halls of Noise Records in the early-to-mid 80s, but all signs point to a certain…looseness with regard to everyday affairs. Owner Karl-Ulrich Walterbach had the perfect formula for schlepping essentially every valuable Teutonic thrash band under his roof, though, and he also made the right move by throwing a (hopefully suitable, but probably not) sum of cash toward a young Phil Lawvere for a pile of Frazetta-motivated fantasy artwork to use at his discretion. One of those works – “Three Witches” – quickly drew the attention of T. Warrior and Martin Ain when they saw it hanging on a wall during a visit, and they convinced Walterbach to earmark it for Emperor’s Return. The painting is exquisitely wicked, provocative and ensorcelling, but what makes it truly great is the fascinating roles portrayed: the witches seem suspiciously submissive, wrapped around the powerful coils of the Lizard Lord, but that chain-link leash beats home the explicit realization that the EP should’ve been titled Empress’s Return[Michael Wuensch] 



Up next is The Execrable Eight. May they battle with honor.

Posted by Last Rites


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.