Best Of 2019 – Our Album Art Favorites

What is “ART?” Some people think it’s an acronym. There are basically two groups of thought here. And I’ll warn you in advance, they are very confrontational about their differing beliefs. The first group believes that the acronym stands for Anonymous Radical Tyrannosauruses. This belief dates back to the Paleolithic age where these devout followers believe that the Tyrannosaurus led a charge for intellectualism among our scale-covered ancestors. Plagued with tiny arms these creatures needed other more agile dinosaurs to carry out their visions. Thus, they acted as directors of their vision. Sadly, all evidence has been wiped out by numerous comet and meteoroid strikes and an endless war on the earth by insect larvae that are presumed to believe that dinosaurs were cultureless inbreds.

Now, the second school of thought is even a bit more out there. These secretive adherents believe that the acronym stands for Arithmetic Relative to Telemetry. As you can clearly deduce, this cult is of the belief that all art has been pre-determined by the spirits that control earth’s evolutionary processes. Humans are only allowed the artistic endeavors that they are mentally ready for. Thus, the simplistic paint on canvas and computer-based styles. Dubbed the BajARTans, they look forward to a time when human brains have evolved enough to comprehend art through telepathy at which point their acronym will likely evolve to Arithmetic Relative to Telepathy which, incidentally, was a forgotten new wave band staunchly in this camp.

Now, Last Rites respects everyone’s wishes when it comes to worship and enlightenment. I can however attest without hesitancy that no members of our staff belong to either camp. Our crew sees art as a human enhancement to our natural surroundings. Art offers us alternative ways to see, filter, and make sense of this pointless mortal existence. We assume that heaven and hell are art free zones because severing ourselves from this mortal coil will free our minds to perceive multidimensional and multi-aural sensations without the need for simplistic visual meditations on every subject. But since that is is not our stage of evolution, we still use visual stimuli to make connections, interpret, and otherwise enhance our experiences. Food tastes better when artistically presented. Even our most utilitarian tools, devices, and machines have artistic design in an effort to enhance our experiences with them. It is in that way that art adorning the covers of our most beloved – or perhaps yet unheard – albums serves to amplify our experience with that music.

So please do not cancel the Mona Lisa or Gauguin. Please study, appreciate, and honor the artists that have so endeavored to make our time on this Earth more beautiful. Pay homage to the unique connection between musical and visual artists who work together to produce a multi-sensory experience for the consumer. For that is why we take this day of the year to honor a few artists who made our year richer with their talent, vision, and hard work. [MANNY-O-WAR]

ADAM BURKE

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For as long as I can remember, people have been warning against “judging a book by its cover.” I get it, mind you—I was tricked into Molly Hatchet as a youth and also love the Scorpions. But I still judge every single book by its cover, even if it’s just a little bit, because I’m human and also happen to be lucky enough to have lived through a time when we had no choice but to do so for first impressions. That risk factor was part of the fun back then, and it’s completely lost in a modern world where all information is at the ready on the same device originally designed to keep in touch with your dear mother.

Relatedly, Adam Burke is the sort of artist who would have made a killing back in those wild cover-judging days of yore, because Adam Burke is generally in the business of slam dunking first impressions. He’s very bold with colors, has a feral imagination, and most importantly, he understands that the first key to falling in love lies in an artist’s ability to inspire the words “holy shit” when the work first meets a stranger’s eyes.

When I look at the cover for Unyielding, I can’t help but think about old science fiction book covers from the late 60s and early 70s—a time when the cover told a story that often appeared more in-depth than the actual book itself, which always seemed to tap out around 120 pages. The story here looks impossibly elaborate and inviting: violently red skies backdrop a pitiless onslaught on a city that somehow manages to float above an untamed land that’s overlooked by four knights who themselves seem bizarrely comfortable enough with the distant future to be holding sabers ov light. Say what? That, my friends, is a tale I want in my life. [CAPTAIN]

Adam Burke’s Official Website

FELIPE DEL CASTILLO

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Around these parts we are of the collective belief that Mexico’s The Chasm rocks pretty hard and is probably the most underrated death metal band of all time as well as one of the absolute best death metal bands on the planet (especially live). It would seem that Infernal Conjuration agrees with us. Not only did they tour with The Chasm in 2019, they released the above LP that clearly paid homage to their paisanos. Beyond the music, the cover art gave a bit of a lean into the style festooning the cover of The Chasm’s 2009 collection of bombtracks, Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm. 

The artwork of Castillo is soft, utilizing earth tones and a mastery of depth to draw the viewer’s gaze far into the abyss beyond the wetlands. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of candles adorn the mountains, hills, and valleys, perhaps paying their respects to the fallen. The sky is angry, gray clouds swirl, obscuring the sun and threatening to unleash devastation, but there is also life-saving water, upon the countryside. A solitary reaper hovers above the valley floor, extinguishing candles in an apt metaphor for harvesting souls. The whole landscape not only holds intrinsic value and beauty but perfectly accompanies the blistering, perfect death metal found on the LP itself.

It can’t be said enough that logo placement and, even more frequently, album title placement (and font choice, color, etc.) can absolutely ruin what otherwise has potential to be a masterpiece. Here, the layout has complemented the work with soft shadowing, complementary colors and perfect logo placement. Kudos. Viva el death metal Mexicano! [MANNY-O-WAR]

Felipe del Castillo at Facebook

LUCAS KORTE

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Confession: I have not heard Rocket Hammer Brain Surgery, the debut full length from SoCal’s Skullsmasher. I know that Rocket Hammer Brain Surgery is a very good name for a heavy metal album, and that Skullsmasher is a very good name for a heavy metal band.

I also know that the artwork of Lucas Korte adorning said album is nothing short of ludicrously magnificent. The artistic touch is impeccable, with Korte’s hatching skills, nuanced use of color (so many greens!), and ability to make things look real(ish) giving it a high-end comic book look (also helps the logo to not look out of place). And the detail is absolutely bonkers. From the cracks in the main figure’s body armor and believable flow of all the fumes to very functional look of the gun and the squelch you can imagine from seeing all that splatter.

What does Korte paint with all his skill? Well, those splatters, for one. Plus the hammer coming down with what appears to be combustion propulsion (shout out to Fallout players that prefer melee combat). Plus the zombie-soldier-Skeletor guy wielding the hammer and his buddies the cyclops-bat-larva-bombers. Plus the huge friggin’ war mech and a giant worm that is relegated to the background because the rest of this battlefield is so crowded (and effectively in-your-face).

More than anything, this art rules because it has the look of a Very Great High School Notebook Drawing from that friend that you just know is going to make it as an artist. Highly refined fun. [ZACH DUVALL]

Lucas Korte’s Official Website

MAX RAIN

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Death metal has always had a penchant for horror covers. Of course, Cannibal Corpse comes quickly to mind when thinking of an all-out gore fest, but the ones that have always caught my eye were the covers that left a bit more to the imagination. Mortician’s Hacked Up For Barbeque, for example. Sure, it’s got a gutted corpse or two, but the focus is on the empty chair of bones. It’s the mystery behind it that makes it so menacing, allowing the viewer’s mind to fill in the blanks, to let their own fears creep into the picture.

What I enjoy so much about the Leather Glove cover for Perpetual Animation comes much from the same place. The color scheme alone, the high contrast black and white, littered with sinister shading that bleeds like blood stains on fabric covering a fresh wound contrasted with a solid red sky in the background is enough to give the cover an edge of malice. The way the shovel is portrayed, beginning its long and labored job of digging into the fresh earth, supposedly for a mass grave for the mound of bodies on the cart behind its wielder is simply unsettling. Even the small detail of having the sleeves rolled up is a nice touch that makes the illustration all the more real. The long sleeve button up and the polished dress shoes of the shovelman’s accomplice hint at a normal, Average Joe white collar man with a wife and 2.5 kids and ¾ of a dog who may have a bit darker hobby than poker for his “getaway” with the boys.

Really, there are probably 50 more ways this cover could be interpreted, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. Why is it a cart? When did those people die? Why is the guy on the right lifting a leg out of the grave? Or is he dropping a body in? Either way, it conveys the burial soil grit behind the music, and that’s really what matters. It looks like the album sounds, and helps push the listener into the headspace required for maximum brutal enjoyment. [RYAN TYSINGER]

HEAVY HAND ILLUSTRATION
(Mark W. Richards)

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Mark W. Richards’ excellent cover for Xoth’s Interdimensional Invocations was already covered in my review, but I love the damn thing too much not to give it some extra love. I’m a sucker for sci-fi, and rad scenes full of action and ominous intent are always welcome in metal, so you can bet that interdimensional monster had me salivating before I heard a single note of Xoth’s death metal techno-thrash. Richards uses rich reds and complementary light greens and purples to create a distinctive and terrifying event full of potential narratives. The tentacled eyeball monster demands your gaze at first, but the work opens up as you examine the details of the different cityscapes in each dimension. The hooded figures, melting either because they’re just melty dudes, or because their summoning of the giant (beholder? Shuma-Gorath? unique creation of horror?) is like looking inside the Ark of the Covenant, have opened up quite an impressive portal to another world. It’s an evocative scene for an evocative and fun romp through the sci-fi tales of Interdimensional Invocations. Xoth’s pre-existing biomech logo (courtesy of Christopher Horst) fits perfectly with the tentacled theme.

Richards has worked with metal underground heavyweights like Pig Destroyer, Revocation, Psycroptic, and Municipal Waste, as well as cycling companies, Netflix, and others. Regardless of clientele, his work is always bold, frequently colorful, and often covered in slime and gore. In short, it’s metal as hell and it rules. [FETUSGHOST]

Heavy Hand Illustration’s Official Website

MICHAEL WHELAN

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Unless you were born without the gene allowing an appreciation and natural pursuit of science fiction and fantasy (you poor, poor bastard), the name responsible for the cover artwork that adorns Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring should be very familiar: Michael Whelan. He is “the first living artist honored in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame,” and he’s responsible for helping visualize the works of authors such as Michael Moorcock, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, Steven King, Melanie Rawn and Robert A. Heinlein, as well as bands like Cirith Ungol (all of it), Obituary (Cause of Death) and Sepultura (Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos AD, Roots). So, yes, he’s clearly one of the more accomplished artists you could hope to see attached to an album you’re interested in, and any band that wins his services automatically adds a +10 arrow to the quiver.

There is a lot to love about this artwork: the details that include a demon sword whose blade draws power from the cosmos, the striking warrior who wields it with a look of familiarity that suggests full mastery, and the bound fugitive who appears moments away from suffering the power of both—Whelan is a master of artwork that tells a deep story inside a single piece of the puzzle. [CAPTAIN]

Michael Whelan’s Official Website

ADAM BURKE (again)

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“Okay, what are we wanting for the cover on the album? We kind of have a good-verse-evil theme going on, so let’s get an angel and a demon fighting it out. Make them both badass though, none of that Littlest Angel shit. Give one of them a trident and one of them a sickle so people know one’s good and one’s bad. Make sure there’s a lot of power coming from the weapons colliding, and put them over a castle. What is the castle defending? Doesn’t matter. Just have it rising up so it looks really massive and ominous. Gotta have AT LEAST three, preferably more, spiky turrets. Sick. Now put a bunch of mountains in the background. Wait, even better, make them volcanos, and really make the lava pop out. Now throw some more mountains behind that, and add a few more angels and demons fighting in the background. Make sure one of them is really getting their ass kicked so you know it’s a big battle with high stakes. Now add more mountains. Hmm, maybe make them even bigger, like they’re looming over the whole cover. Really put some detail into the peaks to add some depth. Going to have to have a moon rising behind them, and make sure its a crescent moon so no one thinks its a weird planet or the sun or a Denny’s. Great! But it’s still missing… something else. Put an eagle or a vulture or whatever over there on the right, in front of the moon. Perfect. Now make sure it’s shooting lightning from its beak. At what? It doesn’t matter, just make sure there’s lightning. Sweet. Now just keep the band logo centered and outta the way, and don’t forget the sword!. Just get Adam Burke to paint it and the speed metal nerds will eat this shit up.”

Mission accomplished, fellas. [RYAN TYSINGER]

Adam Burke’s Official Website

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM CALL & TODD BURDETTE; LAYOUT BY DAN FRIED

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Where have they put my Triscuits!? Why have you forsaken me and my snack!? While there are lots of things a friar-looking dude could be angry about, I choose to think that he’s most upset about his missing Triscuits. I mean, imagine doing back-to-back masses and going back to your little room and there’s your sacramental wine but your plate of Triscuits is empty. This level of anger is likely related to the fact that they were flavored with balsamic vinegar and rosemary. For those are the holiest of Triscuits flavors. So, you can understand his anger and the need to step outside the ancient compound to commune with His Lord and Savior, Keeper of the Triscuits in nature where His presence is most easily reached. And not only did he commune with His Holiness but this guy’s sanity was completely deranged as a result of his Triscuits being taken.

It’s that seriousness that probably led to the high level of contrast and deep monochromatic palette adorning the cover of the heavily doom-influenced work of Nightfell’s A Sanity Deranged. The dramatic angle of the doctored photo being taken from the ground using perspective to create a vast height differential between Mr. Friar Man and the tops of those pine trees. The forest adds to the feeling of isolation that this Triscuits-less man had to endure to reach a higher plane of consciousness in an effort to commune with his God who has clearly betrayed him.

It is the apocalypse and nothing will save you. Nothing will replace those Triscuits. You will march towards your radiation-burn death with an empty stomach and a heart full of betrayal after a lifetime of unilateral dedication. That’s pretty much what listening to this amazing album feels like. Thus, the cover art is perfect. [MANNY-O-WAR]

JOHN BROSIO

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Confession: I have not heard Never Decide, the second full length from Greece’s Bus. I know that Never Decide is an ambiguous title that could mean just about anything but probably means something specific that is revealed by actually listening to the album, and that Bus is a curious name for a band from Greece, where they say “leoforeío” and not “bus.”

I also know that chickens are hilarious. Quick, think of funny animals. There are a lot of funny animals, but chickens are among them. Giant chickens towering over small businesses in a very sprawled urban area? Even funnier. Artist John Brosio loves his depictions of giant animals crashing down on places that may not be but are probably Albuquerque. It isn’t hard to imagine a certain dry cleaners not far from this scene where Gustavo Fring set up a basement meth lab for one Walter White. Gus was even “The Chicken Man.” Wait a minute… Bus… Gus… Is there a little similarity?

Anyway, I simply love everything about this piece. It reminds a bit of the type of surrealism that late 70s prog bands dug, but it’s more fun than that and every detail is perfect. The look of the cars and the way that one drive is just a bit over-crowded; the rendering of it all, especially the feathers; and the fact that the chickens look as oblivious to their path of destruction as chickens normally look to everything. Brosio is a colossally talented artist, and you’re encouraged to visit his website to see even more of this Giant Animal Rampages or his fun Star Wars art, among other pieces. For now, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing for months: staring at this cover while somehow still not listening to the record. [ZACH DUVALL]

John Brosio’s Official Website

SHEPAINTSWITHBLOOD
(Aria Fawn)

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With all due respect to Toronto’s Yurei, the reason we’re spotlighting the cover to their latest album Saudade has essentially nothing to do with the music. In fairness, Saudade is crammed full of thoughtful, pleasant progressive instrumental music in the general vein of Cloudkicker, Animals as Leaders, Scale the Summit, and so on. But no, the reason we are truly here is to shine a well-deserved light on the absurdly beautiful art selected for its cover.

Just… I mean, would you just look at it for a bit? The piece, called The Ardor of Longing, is by a Colorado artist called Aria Fawn, whose style takes a darkly surreal and magical approach that suggests gauzy, almost watercolor-inspired dreamscapes, but which is actually rendered with a stunningly precise touch. This is an overflowingly detailed work which continues to reveal layer after layer of complexity the more one stares at it. It wasn’t until probably the tenth close look at this piece that I noticed the seated creature is holding some unidentifiable object in its right hand. Careful flourishes like this leave the viewer with an inescapable sense that there is no eye sharp enough to capture and tame all the elements at play in this marvelous tapestry. Isn’t that what motivates art? Not only to make sense of the world that is, but to chase after that humbling notion of the limitlessness of the universe that could be, and which we (mercifully) can never master or exhaust?

Scattered throughout the piece are a number of Fibonacci spirals, which are a recurring motif in the artist’s other works. Here, those mathematically beguiling spirals help to evoke a naturalistic sense of movement even in the presumably stolid mountains and earthen landscape. In contrast, the movement of the water in the river is presented in a highly stylized form. There is so much simply to wonder at here: the mushrooms, the eerie bend of the tree trunks, the faint pawprints trailing off toward the treeline, the scattered houses that look like Japanese pagodas, the stark and almost bloody red blooms in the sky, and of course that shockingly other circular portal into yellow and green that draws the eye down like an unshakable memory. I can’t say anything about what the artist meant by this gorgeous piece of work, but I know that its lines and colors, its texture and depth, its balance and sympathy: all of these things move me like music moves me, which is to say fully, gratefully, and blessedly toward peace. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

ShePaintsWithBlood’s Official Website

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

  1. Brutalist_Receptacle December 3, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Best design, artwork, logo: this one was over early, This was over rather quickly, like 15 January
    Cénotaphe Empyrée.
    Runner up: AgendaApocalyptic Wasteland Blues

    Best logo: Flail
    Runner up: Primitive Warfare

    Reply

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