Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Occult Roots of Metal Iconography (part 2)

(PART 2)

Welcome back to The Occult Roots of Metal Iconography, wherein we draw back the veil of dust and time to reveal the lost lineage of sacred heavy metal imagery. A couple years ago I posted the first installment of this investigative work in progress and nerds went ape shit and re-posted it all over the goddamn cybersphere. I appreciate your enthusiasm. If you have a favorite album cover that deserves to make the next round-up, don't hesitate to drop me a line. I love uncovering these arcane reference points and for me this is just another way of wringing even more pleasure from art that has already given us so much. Allow me to remind you once again that I absolutely adore these records and the art that adorns their sleeves. Don't think for one moment that this is some smug post-ironic deconstruction meant to undermine the artists or bands depicted. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Seek...


Let's start with a return to Mother North, that land I love so dearly, and one of the true progenitors of black metal! This one shouldn't be too earth shattering for most of you. Here we have the back cover of Bathory's brilliant second LP The Return......., initially released in 1985. Look closer at that bottom left corner...

What is this that stands before me? 

Aha! That's Jos. A. Smith posing as a reference for his own painting of the Black Pope. This illustration, like his legendary Baphomet drawing that was also swiped by Quorthon (see Occult Roots part 1), was published in Erica Jong's 1981 classic Witches. I honestly have nothing against creative appropriation. Modern graphic design is more or less founded upon principles of creative appropriation and imagery recycling. But let's give this master the credit he so rightly deserves! Smith is still alive. The man is still drawing and painting everyday at age 77. And he's never been properly acknowledged for the artwork that was stolen by Bathory back in the 80s. Even today, the Discogs page devoted to Quorthon insults Smith's legacy by republishing a line of bullshit taken directly from the official Bathory website about the supposed creation of the first LP cover. C'mon. Now in the spirit of fair play, lots of artists employ references to convincingly render realistic likenesses, complex lighting, dynamic composition and difficult anatomy. Check out this great Smith painting titled Innocent Have I Been Tortured:

Here's the still from the 1975 film Story of O from which he referenced that composition:


I had the privilege of seeing Denmark's Witch Cross this past summer at Muskel Rock in Sweden and to be perfectly honest they were disappointing. My apologies to all the acid washed mullets in attendance, but their performance was lazy retro glory at its least inspired (don't be such a cry baby, you know I'm right). In fact, after just two songs I crawled into a trailer behind the stage and took a much needed nap. But their 1984 LP was a pretty rockin' slab of lightweight metal which boasted beautiful production values and I'm glad to see it back in rotation at reasonable prices. Where the hell was Thomas Holm when Witch Cross needed him? This cover features some sort of cartoon bat with a peculiar tail taunting a musclebound dude in a thong and two very awkwardly reclining ladies that look like they fell out of a retarded 15 year old's wet dream. Truth be told, this imagery fell from even more obvious sources...

Frank Frazetta. Wolfman. 1965. Creepy #4.

What about that muscular ass? (Fit, indeed!)

Frank Frazetta. Land of Terror. 1964. One of many variations for the Edgar Rice Burroughs paperback of the same name.


More ripping European NWOBHM...and more blatant Frazetta rip-offery! Behold Stormwitch's 1989 Live in Budapest LP.

And Frazetta's 1974 painting Flashman on the Charge

I've often wondered if perhaps Frazetta was somehow inspired by the great German Symbolist Franz Von Stuck's 1899 masterpiece titled Wild Chase. There's something about those flaring horse nostrils and the sense of frenzy conveyed in both artist's deliberate brush strokes. Artistic atavism?

Anyway, back to the task at hand...


Teutonic speed metal enforcers Warrant (not to be confused with the American embarrassment of the same name) released this heavy as plutonium EP in 1985 with classic cover art by Phil "The Law" Lawvere! It sorta looks like that dude from Piledriver if he had been raised like Conan on the Wheel of Pain instead of weaned on Twinkies and Dorritos coming at you with absolutely no mercy (foreshadowing!). By the way, isn't it weird how slow this record sounds nowadays?

Truly, where would we be without the genius of Frank Frazetta? 

Here's his iconic painting The Brain as it appeared on the cover of Eerie magazine #8 in 1967, ostensibly for a story titled "Demon Sword." And here's how it appeared ten years later on the officially licensed cover for Nazareth's Expect No Mercy:

And here's some punk we threw against a wall to demonstrate that the occult roots of our artistic heritage wind their way even through underground 80s Italian hardcore...


You're not off the hook just yet, Deutschland. Behold Iron Angel's 1985 debut LP Hellish Crossfire. Great album but seriously, what the fuck is going on here? No offense to Uwe Karczewski, who had his hands full painting Helloween's Wall of Jericho that same year, but this looks like it should've been airbrushed on the side of some amusement park ride that goes too fast and repeats itself backwards until everyone pukes. In hindsight that pterodactyl muppet is particularly disconcerting... 

Here's the source of inspiration for this one. Peruvian born Frazetta disciple Boris Vallejo painted this in '82 and it soon appeared in books, calendars and on t-shirts around the world, obviously influencing a lot of younger artists who needed some compositional guidance:  


Boris reprise. The very first Sepultura release with cover art by a dude named Sergio Jackal is a killer and might be the first to employ the term "bestial" in its title. The lower grey wash section is my favorite part of this painting with its grim reaper motif nodding in deathlike reverence to Derek Riggs who liked to occasionally slip the reaper into his paintings for Maiden. Now that I think about it, I wonder if this cover had some influence on the art direction for Burzum's self-titled debut a couple years later.

One more time...


Let's push our time machine into maximum overdrive and take a look at some art from the classic rock era. Hopefully you've seen this little gem spinning toward certain death on your turntable over the years while rolling doobies on your worn out copy of the Death Wish II soundtrack. Did you know this icon of 70s rock was painted by none other than Joe "Mötorhead" Petagno? That's right. He wasn't given much creative leeway with this one since the boys gave him specific instructions to design their new Swan Song Records logo after an old American Symbolist masterpiece.

William Rimmer's beautiful drawing titled Evening: Fall of Day is believed to have been completed in 1870 though it doesn't appear to be dated by the artist himself. Lucifer or Icarus?


Don't know this one? You should. These high steppin' stoners hailed from Indiana and released this sole LP before vanishing in a cloud of hookah smoke. Leavin' is my jam on this one. Total ripper! If you've ever heard me play records in public you've probably heard it but didn't know what the hell was spinning (and thanks for not asking). Anyway, this cover should look familiar...

Master of ZOS/KIA, sire to all who understand that magic spills forth from the hands of worthy vessels, psychonaught of unconscious desire, harbinger of atavistic urges, receiver of the void...Austin Osman Spare (see Occult Roots part 1)! ARISE!    


Time to pick on one of my teen art heroes again. Here is Phil Lawvere's brand new cover art for the unstoppable California thrashing force known as Hirax! This is classic Lawvere in every sense: brooding post-kill expression, muscles coiled tighter than a nest of snakes, blade bloodied, icy cold tundra pulled right out of Endless Pain era Kreator! I wanna listen to this record immediately! Lawvere has Frazetta to thank (again) for that epic anatomy and posture. Check out the original 1971 cover for Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel Tanar of Pellucidar, a masterful exercise in minimalism, silhouette and narrative:


Ok, let's speed things the fuck up even more with one of my favorite crossover bands of all time...CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER! When Convicted came out in 1986 it totally blew my mind. These kids looked punk (they were wearing Dead Kennedys and Suicidal Tendencies shirts on the back cover...and Jeff Harp of Final Conflict did the cover art for their second LP Money Talks!) but played metal and didn't seem to give a fuck about dumb labels anyway. Perfect! Hopefully by now you've seen their more recent collection of cover songs, Band in S.M. (I do like a pun), that Relapse put out a few years ago, yes?

Long before the Band in S.M. record, this drawing by Convicted cover artist Jesse Rothbeind (who also designed their logo and graveyard butcher mascot!) was featured on the flyer of what was probably a killer gig at some Masonic Lodge in May 1987 and the Mohican zombie's original message was "SET YOUR OWN PACE":

And here's cinematic illustrator extraordinaire William Stout's original drawing for the reader mail page of the early 80s horror anthology comic Twisted Tales: 

Aw, don't act all smug and self-righteous. Shit like this happens. Jesse was a teenager when he banged out that flyer, probably with an extremely tight deadline in between drinking beer and jamming on his skateboard when he should've been studying for the SAT exams. He certainly never expected that it would be used on t-shirts and an album cover two decades later! In fact, OG shredder Les Evans was pretty bummed when he recently discovered the original source of his band's graphics. "We didn't know we were using borrowed artwork. It was presented to us as original at the time, and truthfully, Jesse is a good artist so it certainly wasn't beyond the scope of his own talents. He probably figured it was only ever going to be used as a show flyer." Being the cool cats that they are, the band decided to reach out to Mr. Stout as soon as they realized their error to get his blessings or at least acknowledge their mistake. Honorable move. That's why Cryptic Slaughter are still one of my fave bands of all time.


Another favorite! Severed Survival is of course one of the best death metal records of all time (as far as I'm concerned it's right up there with Mental Funeral and The Headless Ritual, so now you know where I stand on the matter). This one has an interesting history because the original cover art by Kent Mathieu was censored after distributors refused to stock it (his Hellraiser inspired art seems downright quaint by today's standards) and British comic artist Kev Walker was quickly commissioned to create the alternative artwork, featuring zombie surgeons performing ghastly medical atrocities upon YOU, the hapless viewer! Walker's painting has arguably become even more beloved than the cruder original painting.

Could his iconic nightmare have been inspired by this totally lifeless artwork for the 1982 flick They Call It An Accident??? I don't know. But it seems plausible when you view them next to each other like this, does it not?

Or perhaps he was influenced by this painting from the genuinely creepy and far superior Michael Ironside joint from the same year, Visiting Hours:


Don't worry, I never let myself off the chopping block. I obviously used several references for this one but the artistic rip-off that is most noticeable in this little mess is the zombie pin-up girl in the foreground:

Take a closer look...

Dread. You shameless motherfucker. That undead cutie looks an awful lot like S. Clay Wilson's cover for Zap Comix #14. Guilty as charged, your honor. Scandalous! Fuck off.

Until next time...


Anonymous said...

Awesome. Really enjoyable.

Kim Riot said...

Never a dull moment here. We get a metal and art history lesson at the same time.

Unknown said...

Lot of classic covers and albums. Glad somebody's brought up Warrant, classic speed fucking metal!! Way under heard! Speaking of teutonic speed and a highly Frazetta inspired cover how about this ripping slap crystal smoke

Dennis Dread said...

Interestingly, since publishing this post just two days ago, the Bathory page on Discogs has been updated and the erroneous information about the album cover art has been removed.

heresy IS progress said...

i think Amebix's "no gods, no masters" graphic is the same design that Primevil used.

Dennis Dread said...

heresy IS progress: Correct. I covered Amebix in the first installment a few years ago. Check it out:

Unknown said...

That's so weird. I was just looking at some Frank Frazetta's the other day and noticed that one of his paintings is totally the influence for the Bathory tribute to Quorthon box and t shirt art. Its the same pose and face only the Bathory art added wings and took away the sword and put a right hand on the left arm. Haha! Thanks for this. I missed the first one.

Jesse Rothbeind said...

Yeah I was a 16 year old stoner metalhead when I "appropriated" Mr. Stout's skeleton graphic without thinking it would live on to become an iconic image still floating around 25 years later. Damn kids let that be a lesson to ya hahah!!

Dennis Dread said...

Haha! Glad you dropped by, Jesse!