GardensTale’s Top Ten(ish) Album Art of 2019

Yes, dear readers, the time has come once again for the favorite annual article of our deaf readership. Yours truly, the Furious Art Maestro, has once again taken it upon himself to make a selection of covers that pleased him personally. I have looked, I have discussed with the rest of the staff, and I have disregarded most of their input. What’s most important is that I’m right, and also that you take this as seriously as a Nanowar of Steel album, because we’re metal critics, not art curators, and if there’s one thing more subjective than music it’s visual artforms. Regardless of how much you agree with the following rundown, let’s take this as a general opportunity to celebrate the beauty that adorns some of our favorite albums.

A quick rundown, then, on the rules.

  • The album must have been reviewed on Angry Metal Guy. That includes TYMHM reviews. I am not sifting through 3000 or so albums, the 800+ we have reviewed are quite enough! Some last-minute TYMHM entries may have been too late for consideration, to which I say: tough titty.
  • One entry per artist, lest we end up with 4 Kantors and 5 Lewandowskis. I’m sure some of you may like that idea, but this is a bit of a celebration of the diversity of metal artwork, so let’s keep to that idea.
  • No re-using of public domain paintings, also known as the “We’ve All Seen The Course Of Empires” rule. This may exclude some awesome-looking covers, but there’s not much creativity involved with choosing an image proven by centuries of worship and using it as your cover. Sorry Vanum.

And with that, let’s begin!

#(ish). Woorms // Slake (artist: Victor Leblanc) — Sometimes you just need one striking image and let everything else fall away. The floating figure gracing Slake’s cover is certainly that, and invites comparisons to Giovanni Strazza’s The Veiled Virgin and similar wonder-invoking details in cloth.

Dialith - Extinction Six album cover

#10. Dialith // Extinction Six (artist: Marta Sokołowska) — Probably the most conventional piece on this list, Sokołowska’s illustration is saved by its great execution. The symmetric composition, subtle thematic mirroring and interesting use of color earns it a spot on the list. Now how to top it for extinction 7?

#9. Hideous Divinity // Simulacrum (artist: Vladimir Chebakov) — Technical death metal loves its body horror and Hideous Divinity is no different. Chebakov’s cover art is perhaps the best looking self-defacing imagery since Relentless Mutation. Can’t melt your face off if it’s not on in the first place!

The album art for Mizmor - Cairn

#8. Mizmor // Cairn (artist: Mariusz Lewandowski) — Lewandowski is perhaps the most wanted and recognizable cover artist in metal right now, and Cairn sports his best work this year. Ominous and grand as always, Lewandowski’s patented Really Big Guy In Hood got himself a cool triangle for Christmas.

#7. Slomatics // Canyons (artist: Roland Scriver) — Scriver’s illustration for Canyons looks like many things at the same time. It looks like the climactic moment of a sci-fi comic. It looks like spermatozoids heading for an ovum. It looks like a giant cosmic eye, iris included. And it’s impressive in all interpretations.

#6. Tenebrae in Perpetuum // Anorexia Obscura (artist: Antithesis Ignis) — Like the documentation of a doctor in a Lovecraft tale, Ignis’ art looks official, detailed, true to 19th century form, and downright horrifying in its implications. I don’t know whether this guy got a face full of Chernobyl or is actually John Carpenter’s The Thing, and I’m not sure I want to find out.

#5. The Ghost Next Door // A Feast for the Sixth Sense (artist: Aldo Katayanagi) — This piece is a great example of using your medium to its maximum advantage. The thick strokes and gobs of paint serve to intensify the ghostly flow surrounding the mystical, shamanic figure. Combined with the contrast between dark and bright colors and unconventional subject, and you get a spellbinding piece.

#4. Skelator // Cyber Metal (artist: Dordji Bowles) — Look, all the intense seriousness of most of the art in here is all well and good, but sometimes you just gotta soak up something that is over the top with ridiculous awesomeness. A perfectly composited battle scene with a mustachioed robot samurai slicing off a head, a torso and a face in one mighty swoop is the ultimate antidote to artists taking themselves too seriously.

The album cover of Wilderun's - Veil of Imagination - a slightly surrealist, twisted tree covered in flowers

#3. Wilderun // Veil of Imagination (artist: Adrian Cox) — On the one hand, this gorgeous painting has enough flowers, lush color and blue skies to hang in your grandmother’s hallway. On the other hand, there is something sinister about this display. It’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s bones and skulls in the strange rock-tree amalgamation. A beautiful piece full of subtleties.

#2. Unfathomable Ruination // Enraged and Unbound (artist: Eliran Kantor) — Kantor is another huge name for good reason. His paintings are both hard to look at and difficult to look away from. Their classical style and gruesome imagery make for some intense covers, and he has outdone himself for Enraged and Unbound. It’s an image as punishing as the album it graces.

#1. Birdeatsbaby // The World Conspires (artist: Jack Flamel) — Covers that instantly make my jaw drop and my heart stop occur only a few times a year. Flamel’s piece for Birdeatsbaby’s excellent slab of cabaret metal is certainly one of those times. It has so many elements that it would have easily become a huge jumbled mess, but it’s the perfect composition and use of contrasting colors that makes the image very easy to read. Between the biblical and pagan imagery, the apocalyptic background and erotic overtones, it makes for an immediately striking picture that reveals more the longer it’s looked at. This piece is begging to be turned into a tattoo, and leaves behind some very strong competition to be Angry Metal Guy’s album art of the year.

Inter Arma - Sulphur English

Best Photography: Inter Arma // Sulphur English (artist: Kari Greer) — Photography is a different beast from illustration entirely, relying on a completely separate skill set. This year’s best use of photography in metal covers comes from Kari Greer, who specializes in wildfire photography, with this intense shot of an inferno enveloping a huge tree. The layout of the artist and title’s integration into the photo, courtesy of Jacob Speis, is beautiful and classy as well, the collaboration resulting in the best photo-based album cover of the year.

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