Today I would like to discuss a recent trend in the field of album artwork as it pertains to metal bands. When you think about the artwork of most metal albums, images of skulls, demons, fire and misogyny spring to mind. Metal is supposed to be evil and the artwork is supposed to reflect that right? In the past this was the case. Cliched imagery, was combined with a mono- or duo-chromatic colour palette to create something dark and unsettling. Blue implies coldness, red symbolizes fire, purple is alien, etc. A combination of sickly green and blue are used to startle and disgust the viewer. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but in the majority of cases, the design and execution of metal album artwork has followed strict, unwritten rules.
But things are different now. Metal musicians can have short hair, merch can be neon, and a genre called djent can exist and be taken seriously. So what does this mean for album artwork? Perhaps you have seen the signs already, noticed the changes, album art is no longer the one colour festival of evil that it used to be. Bands are embracing warm and varied colour palettes, comforting textures, landscape images and even sunshine! Gasp, you say! I’m not just talking about scene golems who have embraced all over print design like your nearest BAPE outlet (LOL at this image). I’m talking about bands that are lauded by critics and recognized as talented and original.
Let’s examine some evidence.
In the above images we can see colours that span the rainbow. The We Are The Illusion cover looks like those little wax disks you make when you melt all the crayons together in the microwave (although holy lens flares batman, whoever designed that thing must have recently watched the latest Star Trek movie). The Structures cover features an almost peaceful landscape, the explosion is barely noticeable. The texture placed over the whole thing makes it look like a hipster photograph. The Red Fang cover looks like the coral reef from Finding Nemo and even the All Shall Perish cover, while pretty grim imagery-wise, could stand in for a traffic cone. With the exception of the ASP cover, these are all warm, colourful and serene.
I’ve pulled together some examples of bands transitioning from their old digs, to new, more people friendly, sunshiny locales. First we have Devil Sold His Soul. On the left we see the cover for A Fragile Hope. Let me tell you, I don’t feel very hopeful when I look at this. Judging by the cold, dark colours and the bubbles coming out of her mouth and nose, I don’t think that girl is taking a quick nap. On the right we have Blessed and Cursed. We have subtle textures, no obvious death, hints of warm reds, purples and peaches. To top it all off, we have two birds about to make out. This is a picture of true love.
The DSHS transition is fairly subtle. Let’s look at another one. On the left below is the cover for The Black Dahlia Murder‘s Nocturnal. It’s one colour, it’s night time, there’s a big scary castle, apocalyptic clouds, it’s the whole package. Contrast that to the cover for Deflorate on the right. It’s bright, it’s day time, there’s an obese person. It’s the polar opposite of BDM’s previous emissions. Even the upcoming album, while not as bright as Deflorate, is a rich forest green. How often do you see that on a metal album?
Furthermore, there is previously unheard of amount of sunlight on recent album covers and even in pictures of bands themselves. The Volumes artwork below features a picturesque sunset as does the photo of Vestascension. Even one of the new Devin Townsend covers has a bright glowing aura that is very sun-like.
Perhaps the most glaring proof of how much the aesthetic of metal has changed over the years, is the below image of Ihsahn. This is a man who was in Emperor, and yet here he is wearing cop shades (almost) with a jaunty glint of sunshine reflecting off of his fair Norwegian skin.