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In 2012, ten years into their career, California’s As I Lay Dying released their sixth studio album titled Awakened. With the help of legendary Black Flag drummer and producer Bill Stevenson, the group successfully refined their blend of Metalcore adding sudden slabs of neo-Thrash and occasional melodic catchiness. “We really needed to make sure that we are still progressing and showing that we’re only getting stronger with our sound. We’re always trying to throw in new elements and always expand our sound somewhat,” says long time guitarist Phil Sgrosso about the band’s mindset while recording the album. Indeed, tracks like the opener “Cauterize”, the frantic “A Greater Foundation” or the sonically dense “Overcome” only come to confirm that this is probably one of the quintet’s finest recorded efforts to date.

Despite the mainstream success and commercial appeal of Van Halen’s 1984, this mega-selling album was released with some accompanying controversial issues. For instance, though the album featured muscular Heavy Rock cuts such as “Panama” and “Hot For A Teacher”, it also proposed dramatic stylistic challenges in the keyboard-oriented hit singles “Jump” and “I‘ll Wait”. Additionally, the cover sleeve depicting a little angel smoking a cigarette while naughtily smiling was indeed, a polemical subject, even though it never caused major issues for the quartet’s successful career.

This is the second part to our “A Guide to (some of) the Best Metal Album Covers of 2012” posting last week. As we know, cover artwork was a big thing for Metal music in 2012. Many of them were epic, cryptic, nightmarish and more importantly, artfully executed. They helped to both enrich many listeners’ imaginations and to enhance the music itself; and this is why we’re covering them! In the second part to our guide, we keep exploring the stories behind some of these magnificent visual pieces. We’ve interviewed some of the designers and musicians involved with said art and they in turn opened for us new worlds of imagination an awe. Check it out!

On the heels of three well-received singles comes Ride Your Heart, the bombastic debut album by LA band, Bleached, out April 2 via Dead Oceans. Sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin match their ability to blend a mix of freewheeling ’77 punk with vintage sunny Southern California melodic rock and roll; creating blindingly bright hooks and dark heartfelt lyrics about love, loss, and the crazy fun moments in between. That’s the goal: the sugary and sour, repurposed by two aggressively harmonic musicians and songwriters. Their first single “Next Stop” epitomizes this movement – fun, raw, adventurous and free. Tossing you out onto the dance floor, hair mussed from make-outs, cigarette still dangling from your fingertips.

Century Media’s latest signing, Chicagoland-based, melodic death metal band Starkill, will release their debut album, Fires of Life, on March 4th in Europe and March 5th in North America. The album will feature the 10 tracks listed below. The album artwork was done by renowned metal artist, Joshua Belanger, in which he properly portrayed the epic musical styling of the band. You can check out the track “Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire” below as well.

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!

In 2005, legendary North American illustrator Joe Petagno published via Feral House the book “Orgasmatron: The Heavy Metal Art of Joe Petagno”. The impressively-illustrated volume compiled some of the most outstanding, eye-popping works the designer had produced for bands such as Vital Remains, Angelcorpse, and of course, Motorhead.

Veteran visual artist Paul Raymond Gregory seems to be one of the busiest personalities in the world of heavy Metal. The British painter and illustrator recently completed the cover artwork for Saxon’s upcoming album Sacrifice (his 12th for the band), as he continues producing large, detailed canvases based on Tolkien’s literary works. Also, he’s preparing the 2013 edition of the popular UK festival “Bloodstock Open Air”, a massive Heavy Metal gathering of bands and fans that Gregory helped to create more than 10 years ago. On top of all this, Gregory just published a book titled “Beyond Time And Place”. These glossy, 176 illustrated pages showcases the artist’s visual works and achievements over the past 35 years of his career. It includes most of his major Tolkien-inspired pieces and many artworks he has produced for bands such as Saxon, Dio, Molly Hatchet, and Blind Guardian among others. A true feast for the eyes, no doubt about it!

“For The Heart, Soul and Mind”, a brand new song from Croatian doom/Gothic metallers Ashes You Leave, can be streamed using the SoundCloud player below – listen NOW! “For The Heart, Soul and Mind” comes off Ashes You Leave’s sixth studio album, The Cure For Happiness, which is scheduled for release on November 29th worldwide via Rock N Growl Records.

Let’s compare the first half of Guns N’ Roses’ roller coaster-like career with a winning hand in a card game. We have the mega-selling, game-changer Appetite for Destruction (1987) and the twin behemoths Use Your Illusion I & II (1991). Then, stuck in the middle we find their 1988 EP Lies, a sort of well-placed wildcard between a trio of aces. Despite its apparent lesser importance, this EP spawned the now-classic acoustic ballad “Patience” and the polemic track “One In A Million”. It also exemplified to perfection, everything the band was about at the time. This included a previously released faux live recording and cover artwork that had many things to say, even if they weren’t true.

“To follow your own vision without compromising and conforming to other people’s demands and expectations would make you a king in what people would just define as a dead end”, says Katatonia’s guitarist Anders Nyström when referring to the title of the band’s ninth full-length album Dead End Kings. Despite being around for more than 20 years, these Swedish purveyors of heavy, gloomy soundscapes and dark, melancholic lyrics still keep pushing their own musical boundaries. “Stylistically”, Nyström acknowledges, “it continues where the last album Night Is The New Day ended, but once again we’ve tried to sharpen the sword in terms of performances and the sound. The rest is up to our listeners to discover….”

In many ways, Cynic’s 1993 debut full-length, Focus, was such a revolutionary recording that even by today’s standards it still sounds as current as ever. Its unparalleled uniqueness still produces amusement, especially among the legions of Progressive Metal enthusiasts. Could this album be the product of the musical maturity the young Floridian quartet found after recording their early demos? Was it maybe, the wizardry showcased by producer Scott Burns in one of his finest studio efforts ever? Or perhaps, could it be the result of a “butterfly effect”-like cosmic event happening on the other side of the galaxy? Whatever the case, the truth is that Focus rapidly became an instant musical landmark that established new standards within the world of extreme music. As founding member and guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal acknowledges: “We had something we were proud of. It succeeded and survived as a creative work and that’s really all that matters from an artistic standpoint. It also served the greater purpose of inspiring other musicians.”

Croatian doom/gothic metallers Ashes You Leave will release their sixth full-length album, The Cure For Happiness, on November 29th worldwide via Rock N Growl Records. The CD was recorded in the G.I.S. studios, under Matej Zec’s watchful eye. The record will see the enchanting Ms. Giada “Jade” Etro behind the microphone. Be prepared to hear the perfect soundtrack to your suicide! The artwork, track listing and a new song titled “Summer’s End” are all available just below.