A Gift to Artwork, taken from the Caligula’s Horse song “A Gift to Afterthought”, breaks down and analyses your favourite album artwork. The first time an album’s name appears, it will link to a large and (where possible) high-resolution image of the cover so that you can take a closer look. Read other entries in this series here.
Editor’s Note: A Gift to Artwork features a regular guest contribution from Luis Flores, who runs and regularly writes for the excellent Heaviest of Art. If you’re looking for more analysis and discussion of album artwork Luis’ Behind The Cover column is a must-read.
Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of A Gift to Artwork. We’ve got a variety of cool covers to discuss today, from the gorgeous simplicity of Cicada the Burrower, to the thought-provoking brilliance of Meslamtaea, and the fun comic-book style of Mephobia. Let’s get right into it!
Cicada the Burrower – Corpseflower (Cover art by Sawyer Hildebrandt)
I love a simple, iconic design. Sawyer Hildebrandt’s work on this Cicada the Burrower cover, with help from the themes found within the music, has this way of blossoming from a relatively simple composition – a skeleton surrounded by flowers – to a strong, nuanced representation of the music itself. As Corpseflower accounts project mastermind Cameron Davis’ experiences, thoughts, and emotions as a transgender woman, the musical blend of jazz and black metal brings together disparate worlds and reconciles these extremes in a wonderfully harmonious way. It’s tragic, beautiful, challenging, heavy, inspiring, and complicated, her compositions are as unconsciously moving as they are cerebral and engaging; it’s fitting that the music is matched by a visual as initially stunning and complex.
As face-value subject material, the skeleton and flowers are organic symbols that underscore the natural world and are rooted in reality. There’s nothing abstract about it, they’re quite realistic and natural in their portrayal, depicting a contradiction of organic material – substitutes for life and death. As one dies, the other thrives, flowers blooming and consuming the central figure as they peek to the foreground around the neck and skull and interlace within the rib cage. Sadness and hope are intertwined, history and future are combined, a simultaneous hardness and delicateness exists; this dichotomy is very effective, inspiring and deep, in spite of its simplicity. Similarly, these components also function as stand-ins for the musical worlds Davis brings together – the raw and stark nature of black metal and the complex diversity of jazz.
The use of color in the flowers is also significant, where “traditional” gender colors pop amidst muted greens; it becomes a kind of morphed transgender pride flag with the central white bound with blues, pinks, and reds. The skeleton is centered, portrait-style with the person as a focal point, and appears to be looking forward – a nod to progress, change, motivation, and hope. Further, the solitary figure speaks to loneliness, the self, and the private nature of the human experience. It’s dark, but alongside the florals becomes uplifting, conveying a funeral-like feeling of celebration, honor, and respect. Hildebrandt’s work is deceptively quick and accessible, but as the album unfolds and the metaphorical skeletons come out of the closet, it opens up doors to so much possibility, a precisely enlightening counterpart to an enlightening album.
Meslamtaea – Geketend in de schaduw van het leven (Cover art by Maya Kurkhuli)
Few bands have been able to lure me in like Meslamtaea has. My introduction to this band from the Netherlands came by way of their 2019 record, Niets en niemendal. I stumbled upon it while browsing Bandcamp, similar to how you might pick up a random record from a record store on cover art alone, albeit digitally. I didn’t know what to expect from a composition with a child depressively playing with a broken snow globe among an industrial battlefield. The social commentary and harrowing imagery were striking enough to garner attention, but the band’s black metal really brought it home. Fast track a year later and their third full-length, Geketend in de schaduw van het leven, arrived with yet another Maya Kurkhuli piece to analyze.
Sure enough, Geketend in de schaduw van het leven was among our Top 30 Album Covers of 2020 for its ability to convey such striking messaging through a monotone color palette. Said color palette is present throughout Kurkhuli’s sci-fi and horror book illustrations, and it’s truly representative of the emotion that Meslamtaea delivers. Like its predecessor, Geketend employs much in the realm of symbolism and foreshadows a disparaging world where industrialism, deforestation, and capitalism as a whole are slowly contributing towards desolation. You’ll find the cover’s protagonist sitting among a destroyed set of buildings, breathing clean air from a tube connected to a slowly withering tree. Seeing as the tree is encapsulated, it questions whether trees themselves are a scarce resource in Kurkhuli’s theoretical world and poses large concerns over the air quality of the surrounding environment. Judging by facial expressions alone, the protagonist here is holding on to dear life and embracing every bit of oxygen from the tube, a moving scene as we witness a crumbling factory in the background.
Geketend in de schaduw van het leven, which roughly translates to “chained in the shadow of life”, is an endeavor worth experiencing. Meslamtaea composed the soundtrack to mankind’s own demise and Kurkhuli’s artistic prowess puts a face to it all. With another Kurkhuli-illustrated Meslamtaea full-length in the works, anticipation is high to see if and how they can continue the artistic excellence they’ve achieved on Geketend and Niets en niemendal. Our eyes and ears await until then.
– Luis Flores
Coiled Around Thy Spine – From The Ashes
Next up, we have melodic death metal outfit Coiled Around Thy Spine with their sophomore LP From The Ashes. The cover art brings to mind Avatar: The Last Airbender, in particular the fire nation, only a little more badass. In the centre we find a lonesome figure, their tunic tattered and torn, the color a dark charcoal as if still alight. Orange embers spread from the figure in all directions, so too wisps of smoke-like air. But it can’t be smoke, for it is being carried in all directions, part of it looping over the top of the image to form an enormous, ashen halo around our protagonists head. This is no ordinary smoke, instead there is some kind of magic or sorcery at play.
The source of magic appears to be a glowing, orbicular (*winks at HGIH members*) orange pendant which our protagonist is holding in their right hand. In the background two rings of fire, one perfectly shaped and the other perhaps some kind of rune, further suggest some form of spell is being cast as we witness the embodiment of tracks like “Burning Souls” and “From the Ashes”. Indeed, we see ethereal skulls racing away from our protagonist in both directions, jaws agape in howls of fear or anguish. The skulls, smoke, and flying hair give the scene a great sense of movement, yet our protagonist’s red skull mask and stationary pose command most of our attention. Are they being resurrected or are they dying? Is that skull truly a mask or has their skin simply been burned away? Dive into the record and maybe you will find out.
– Karlo Doroc
Mephobia – REIGN OF THE DEGENERATES (Cover art by Costin Chioreanu)
The following piece, adorning Mephobia’s debut record REIGN OF THE DEGENERATES, feels like a really different take on one of our favourite pieces of the year – Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville. Both feature a sprawling cityscape with themes of decay and societal collapse, but instead of the architectural precision of Alphaville here we see them a more fun comic-book style that expresses the themes more overtly. Let’s check it out!
In the foreground we see two figures wrestling with one another. The first has sallow flesh which he covers in a hooded patchwork cloak, its color a pale and faded copper. Its legs and feet are embalmed in grey bandages as if they’ve been partially mummified, while its torso features a one-eyed monster staring hungrily toward the figure’s head, its jaw wide. Meanwhile, in its left hand it holds a dagger poised inwards, ready to strike the beast, while in its right hand we have a skull. The figure feels like it has been sitting on one of the levitating thrones seen throughout the piece before being snatched by the second protagonist with the same sallow complexion. The latter’s cloak is the same pale gold/bronze color, rather than copper, while their mouth appears to have been sewn shut. It’s a scene of chaos and motion, commanding our attention, but more importantly our intrigue too.
Like most great pieces of artwork, we’re left with more questions than answers. Who are these two protagonists? Are they working in unison, trying to help one another against the beasts surrounding and consuming them? Or is our copper-cloaked figure the villain, one of the degenerates reigning from a throne before being attacked or kidnapped by the other? Perhaps it is the one-eyed monster who is symbolic of degeneracy, consuming the first figure and inviting them to thrust the dagger upon themselves. This image of self-harm permeates throughout the entire piece, the reign of the degenerates leading to widespread societal decay and destruction amid a firebrand sky and crumbling city skyscrapers. A striking piece and a great introduction to Mephobia’s thrashing first record.
Vollmond – Wolves In Turmoil (Cover art by Luciana Nedelea)
Vollmond, a project from Peter of Blaze of Sorrow, delivered their third full-length record, Wolves In Turmoil, earlier this year and with it came a ritualistic cover illustration by Romanian artist Luciana Nedelea. You may have encountered Nedelea’s work if you’ve dabbled in the underground black metal ranks with her works representing the likes of Mare Cognitum, Fuath, Mons Absconditus, and more, but Wolves In Turmoil stands among the cream of the crop.
Among violet skies and somber woods is a protagonist evaporating into energy as a goat looks on and bats fly from the scene. Nedelea’s cover palette is apt for the atmospheric elements of the composition embodied within, giving listeners a tantalizing scene to look at while Vollmond’s black riffs wash you over. Vollmond translates to ‘full moon’, so it only makes sense that their third incarnation embraces the coming of said occurrence, and we all know what happens during a full moon. From the setting sun to the foliage amidst the forest trees, Nedelea packed an abundance of detail into the cover, completing the audiovisual experience of Wolves In Turmoil. Vollmond themselves centered their black and white promo photographs for the release cycle as masked beings among a forest, ready to commence a ritual. As a band with lyricism channelling darkness and paganism, partnering with Nedelea’s occult talents was a match made in heaven, or hell for this matter. As an archaeologist with a Ph.D. in Ancient History, Nedelea’s influences and experience are plentiful, which is visible in her art.
Wolves In Turmoil is the band’s best effort yet, not just musically but visually as well with Luciana Nedelea having a large stake in the achievement. Great black metal with great art, have at it!
That’s all for this month’s edition, hope you enjoyed it and we will see you next time!