In the NCAA Tournament, the Final Four is treated as a kind of Mount Rushmore for that season of college basketball. All year, analysts talk up great teams, but will temper their hype with phrases like “I’m not quite ready to say they are a Final Four team.” It is sports royalty, and even though it happens every year, it means more to teams and fans than anything that happens in the regular season or conference tournaments.
When there are merely four, it is easier to dig deeper into each contender — be it a basketball team or heavy metal album cover — and truly explore their qualities and weaknesses, if there are any remaining by that point. We will obviously do the same here, although ironically only two albums will receive full tribute below, and they are the losers. But by reaching this point, these four works of art have proven their places in our team’s minds and hearts. The music of these albums has been strong enough to keep these paintings in our subconscious.
Undoubtedly all four of these albums are classics in both music and visual art. Emperor and Necrolord. Iron Maiden and Derek Riggs. Mercyful Fate and Thomas Holm. Dio and Randy Barrett. Two of these covers will move on to the finals. One will be a champion.
The men have been separated from the boys. The wheat from the chaff. Enter your favorite cliche here. The proverbial shit is getting real.
BEHOLD, YOUR GLADIATORS!
DON’T BREAK THE OATH
The Battle of Great Beasts. The War of Underworld Demons. The Clash of Genuinely Imposing Painted Figures. Call it whatever you want, but pitting Dio’s Murray against The Devil himself from Don’t Break the Oath is bound to result in tectonic movements. But while Murray rises from the mountains, damning a priest to his watery grave, Thomas Holm’s Fate-ful Satan is of the flames, damning everything with one admonishing point of the finger. Murray’s eyes are a quite evil red, but the demon of Don’t Break the Oath has white hot eyes of an inextinguishable fire. Murray doesn’t just burn, he submits.
Our very own Captain pays tribute to Randy Barrett’s classic painting for Holy Diver below.
Region IV Champion and #2 Seed
Dio – Holy Diver
Artist: Randy Berrett
In select nerd-circles of the globe, there are people who count “the angler fish” that made a brief appearance in Finding Nemo to be one of the most frightening characters ever produced by Pixar Studios. As is the case with any animated feature such as this, the final product is the direct result of a near countless amount of souls toiling over drawing tables, but the original concept behind that particular angler fish was pitched by Randy Berrett, the very same artist who illustrated Dio’s debut album, Holy Diver. A brief video on Pixar’s homepage showcases an affable Berrett, who shows surprise that such a menacing looking creature would ever get the green light for Nemo. But, like most professional illustrators, he has an amazing knack for delivering the perfect visual representation of a storyteller’s concept, and someone up the ladder for Finding Nemo apparently told him to not be afraid of “going dark.” Mission accomplished.
On a smaller scale, and with time dialed back 20 years, a concept was delivered to Berrett via RJD’s manager and wife, Wendy, and, just as he’s likely done his entire career, Randy Berrett delivered something that made all interested parties stand up and shout. An apocalyptic sky where twilight battles moonlight while illuminating a horrifically imposing “Murray” as he sees to the grisly demise of a priest bound in heavy chains – critics cried about the cover art’s overt evilness, and metal fans who were thrilled with that era’s focus on all things dark and Dungeon & Dragony were drawn in like moths to a glowing torch flame.
Everything a headbanger needed was represented in spades with this artwork: grim drama, rich detail and a fearsome climax delivered by a heavy hand. The theme pairs perfectly with the driving metal fury of Holy Diver, and similar to the animated features Berrett would eventually lend his talents to, the full realization was achieved with the help of a select few others – Gene Hunter, Jerry McManus and Simon Levy – who added the necessary shading, coloring and direction to help make the overall image leap to life and become solidified as one of heavy metal’s truly defining moments. [Michael Wuensch]
IN THE NIGHTSIDE ECLIPSE
If the above faceoff felt like a war between individual entities, this feels like a great struggle between realms. Sure, Eddie is front and center on the Powerslave cover, but just as important is Derek Riggs’s depiction of ancient Egypt. Necrolord’s fantastical cover for In the Nightside Eclipse, meanwhile, might show what appear to be orcs outside of some evil fortress (it’s Minas Morgul; come on, we all know it’s Minas Morgul), but they are merely an afterthought to this vast landscape of unimaginable powers. And that’s the key to Emperor’s victory here: We know that the ancient Egyptians were merely people, and that for all their grandiose monuments they did not possess magic(k) or control the stars. The land of Nightside Eclipse is unknown, it’s powers unmeasurable. Besides, if that is Minas Morgul, well, the Lord of the Nazgul was never going to lose to any number of Eddie-Ramses hybrids.
Jeremy Morse dives deeper into the wonder of Derek Riggs’s great Powerslave art below.
Region II Champion and #3 Seed
Iron Maiden – Powerslave
Artist: Derek Riggs
Powerslave was, arguably, the high-water mark for Iron Maiden. The band’s fifth album finds the group at the peak of its powers, and it contains some of Maiden’s best known, best loved, and most epic songs. With his magnificent cover art for the album, Derek Riggs matched Iron Maiden’s masterwork with a masterwork of his own.
Creating this masterwork, however, wasn’t easy for Riggs. Presumably as a reward of sorts, Riggs was flown to Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas – where Iron Maiden was recording Powerslave – and installed in a beach house. Nassau, however, was virtually bereft of art supplies, and so virtually all of Riggs’s paint and equipment had to be flown in. Work eventually began, but Nassau’s high humidity played Hell with Riggs’s air-brushing machine, and, despite numerous attempts at rectifying the situation, Riggs was eventually forced to return to England with the piece only half completed.
In spite of the difficulties, the final product of Riggs’s labor was nothing short of spectacular. As we are all used to seeing the monuments of ancient Egypt standing lonely, sand-swept and eroded, Riggs’ vividly colored, highly detailed depiction of a monument to the king of metal mascots is striking beyond words. With a pair of sphynx at his feet and flanked by cynocephali, Pharaoh Eddie sits his enormous throne, with his head haloed by the tail of winged asp, and as the glowing pinnacle of his pyramid crackles with lightning, Eddie gazes over what is likely his own funeral procession. The seven wonders of the real world pale in comparison.
As majestic as the Powerslave cover is, it is also riddled with jokes, though many of them are too small to see, even if you have the vinyl version. While much of the hieroglyphics in the piece were based on authentic Egyptian texts, Riggs also threw in plenty of cheeky bits: above the sphynx in the left foreground is an inscription that says, “Indiana Jones was here, 1941,” and above the smaller dog-headed fellows next to the big sphynx on the left, Riggs has written “Wot a load of Crap.” Elsewhere, Mickey Mouse makes an appearance, a few English cuss-words are sprinkled about, and there are likely more things that only Riggs knows about. The biggest joke of all, of course, is that the entrance to this imposing edifice is right through Pharaoh Eddie’s crotch. [Jeremy Morse]
PREPARE THE ARENA FOR THE BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS!