As far as Metal music goes 2012 was one of the most interesting years in a long time. Masterful albums such as Sigh’s In Somniphobia, Ihsahn’s Eremita, Enslaved’s Riitiir, Katatonia’s Dead End Kings, among many others, kept the quality and innovative spirit on the genre at supremely high levels. Cover artworks were also a big thing. They went from being epic (Testament), to nightmarish (Sigh), and even to minimalist (Ihsahn). Most importantly though, they helped to enhance the music and general aura of each album while introducing fans to new worlds where the power of imagination seems not to have limits. Through 2012 PureGrainAudio interviewed some of the designers and musicians involved with the creation of some of these amazing cover artworks and what we learned was, as with the music itself, totally fascinating!

01. Testament – The Dark Roots Of The Earth:
Four years after 2008’s highly acclaimed album The Formation Of Damnation, Testament returned to the world stage with another Thrash Metal masterclass titled Dark Roots Of The Earth. The album’s cover sleeve, courtesy of German visual maestro Eliran Kantor, depicts a mystical gathering between men, the spiritual world and nature. It’s an artwork as commanding and epic as the music itself!

“I think Eric (Peterson, Testament’s guitarist) was in England demoing riffs at (producer) Andy Sneap’s house and came across a figure of the forest god Cernunnos at a local market. He then texted me the forest god’s name and the album title as a general starting point,” remembers Eliran about the genesis of the project. “It was a collaborative effort with Eric so everything was done and discussed in stages.”

Fans went crazy over the web when the cover was released months before the album would hit the streets. Everyone embraced it. It came to demonstrate that the first collaboration between Testament and Kantor on the previous album wasn’t just a fortuitous cosmic event, but rather the beginning of a very successful professional relationship.

“It’s exciting and rewarding for sure,” says the artist. “Arguing with someone you used to do air guitar to, feels a bit surreal at first, especially at age of 18 which was when I started doing this. In Testament’s case I’ve been a fan since high-school actually, I don’t think I told them but back then I actually stood in line once to get their autographs at a festival. I think the collaboration benefits from this sincere love for the music.”

02. Katatonia – Dead End Kings:
“Travis has done the cover for every album we’ve released since 1999. He’s a great, talented guy. There was no question really; it had to be him. It’s a tradition and it hasn’t been broken,” says Katatonia’s guitarist Anders Nyström about appointing American designer Travis Smith with the task of designing the cover artwork for the Swedish quintet new album Dead End Kings.

The bleak scenario on the cover could be described as a very ominous relationship between both man and nature’s decay. A sort of paradox between urbanity and the wilderness. A landscape coming out of nowhere and going nowhere: a the dead end. “We also have that paradox in the title already,” affirms Anders. “So this just enhances it.”

The band is totally satisfied with the finished cover artwork and its designer: “It’s beautiful!” says the guitarist, “I have to say that I absolutely cherish the collaboration we have with Travis. He’s a great guy, a talented artist and it’s just an honor that we share the representation of Katatonia together with someone who lives across the Atlantic. He should be included in the line-up, haha!” (Read More about this story here)

03. Enslaved – Riitiir:
“It’s been quite a big musical step in terms of production and everything,” says Enslaved’s guitarist Ivar Bjorson about their 2012’s opus Riitiir, the Norwegians’ first album released worldwide under the Nuclear Blast banner.

To develop the cover concept for Riittiir, Ivar, bassit Grutle Kjelson, and longtime designer Truls Espedal adopted the same creative method they’ve been using on their six previous collaborations. “It has become sort of a tradition” enthuses the painter. “I talk to Grutle and Ivar on the phone about the themes and ideas in the music. They also give me some thoughts on visual elements they want included. Then, we spend a day discussing my sketches, eating and drinking and we come to an agreement on where we want to go with the cover.”

The resulting artwork was nothing short of striking: a painting of a group of arms surrounded by a sort of mystical tattoo-like symbol. “For me it represents the essence of the human as a ritualistic being,” theorizes Bjorson in reference to the image‘s meaning. Without a doubt, it’s the right kind of image for the unique breed of Prog/Epic/Black Metal that Enslaved has conjured on this superb album. Expect more about this artwork in future issues of …And Justice For Art!!!

04. Vita Imana – Uluh:
2012 was a hell of a year for Spain’s Groove/Hardcore/Thrash Metal collective Vita Imana. It began with the January release of their second album Uluh, a well-paced and musically focused journey that captured the attention of many Metalheads around the globe. “ Uluh is a place in the middle of an unknown place, where everything is possible and the music is the engine that drives it all,” says drummer Daniel Garcia in reference to the meaning behind the name of the album.

That imaginary, subjective place is suggested in the album cover artwork: the photo of a mysterious island in the middle of a foggy ocean. “We wanted that the cover and the inside booklet showcased interesting and spectacular photos,” reveals Garcia. The album design was created by David Sobrino. “He, as well as our producer on this record, is also our manager and a great friend. We have been working together for some time and we knew he was the best to guide us and get us the design and production that the band needed.”

The overall result became very reminiscent of what the band was striving for. “Both the music and the pictures, we think they formed a perfect work and just what we were looking for. We wanted to be sure that listeners would let their feelings flow while seeing all these photos of landscapes while listening to all the songs.”

05. Tiamat – The Scarred People:
Towards the end of the year, veteran Swedish Goth Metallers Tiamat, finally released their long-awaited tenth studio full-length recording, The Scarred People, to widely critical acclaim.

Band leader and singer Johan Edlund was also responsible for the design of the album layout, including the multilayered and conceptually complex cover artwork. “I wanted to include a lot of symbols,” says Edlund about his own visual interpretation of a Greek orthodox icon adorned with symbols of different origins. “It’s a bit Crowley-influenced and how he took what he believed being the best parts from different religions to form his own, the Thelema, which in Greek means ‘Will’.”

The most surprising aspect of the artwork resides on the methods Edlund employed to create it. Since the initial stages of creation, the process included intuitive techniques typical of Dadaism, a French Avant Garde movement of early XX century. The first layer of the painting, containing images taken from different sources, is not visible to the viewer. Using an equal mix of photography, drawing, painting and Photoshop, Edlund finally designed the second layer that eventually became the front cover. Indeed, a very complex and interesting piece of art. More about this story on future issues of …And Justice For Art!!

More outstanding 2012 album covers coming next week…

Next Time on AJFA: A Guide to (some of) the Best Metal Album Covers of 2012 (Part 2)
Previously on AJFA: “Motorized” – An Interview with Motorhead’s Longtime Illustrator Joe Petagno