GardensTale’s Top Ten(ish) Album Art of 2022

Listurnalia is at its end, and the last bits of dessert are being devoured as we speak. Yet there is one course that must still be consumed. You know of what I speak. Mostly because it’s in the header. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, though it is late, there is yet time to take a last look behind us at the beauty adorning our sometimes so ugly music of choice. Last year I was rather raving about the album art overall; this year was a small step down overall, I feel, but there were still plenty of wonderful and exciting pieces of art plastered across our front page and social media feeds. Thanks as usual to AMG Himself, Steel and the editor team for letting me highlight a few of them.

First, the house rules. If you still remember this from last year, you can skip to the next paragraph. If you do that and are still going to complain about something covered by these rules, we’ll use our orbital laser death cannon with extreme prejudice. So, if you’re not sure what you’re allowed to complain about, better read again.

  • The album must have been reviewed here. I have to narrow that down. I will not make a selection of the 3000 or so metal albums released across the year.
  • Every artist gets one entry. I like variety, and this is my list, so arbitrary variety rules are a go.
  • No public domain works. I always try to stick with this, but it’s not always obvious, so something may slip through. King Buffalo got lucky last year.

IN MEMORIAM

This year, I won’t be doing a ‘worst album covers’ section. Instead, I’d like to dedicate a moment to the passing of one of metal’s greatest cover artists. Mariusz Lewandowski first gained fame within the scene in 2017, with his oil painting titled “The essence of freedom” which adorned the cover for Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper. Since then, his art has graced dozens of albums, some of which have yet to be released. Few artists have ever been so instantly recognizable as Lewandowski. Towering hooded figures, tiny silhouetted morals, imposing monoliths and surreal mountain ranges were welcome subjects in his art, and the fine style of orange and blue oil paint rendered them in perfect despondency, which made him a go-to for doom and post-metal artists. While it did open up some criticism and gentle ribbing for re-using the “big sepia dude in robes” trope, few would argue with the quality of his output, and his art graced these artwork run-downs a total of 4 out of 5 times, including this one. Lewandowski passed July 15th, 2022, and his presence among metal artworks will be greatly missed.


THE BEST

#(ish). Devenial Verdict // Ash Blind (artist: Mariusz Lewandowski) — One of Lewandowski’s final pieces is all about doing a lot with a little. There is a lot of dark space, but it belies a yawning, unfathomable abyss. Fire pouring out of the blood red sky, dissecting the scene. A tiny, helpless figure in front, waiting for the end. It’s a piece both violent and forlorn, and I greatly enjoy the way the band logo and album title were included.

#(ish). Charlie Griffiths // Tiktaalika (artist: Dan Goldsworth) — This landscape is beautiful in its subtlety. The odd, skewed ice-mushroom in the back and the weird lightning-like branch in the front make for an otherworldly scene. Then you notice the fossils in the foreground. Then you notice the root-like structures and the spine. And when you look at the main feature again, you suddenly spot the giant leering skull hidden in the top. It’s a clever and subtle cover, even if it seems much darker in nature than the album it adorns.

#10. Bloodywood // Rakshak (artist: Anirudh Singh) — With so many covers graced by demons and gods and monsters, it can be easy to forget the unfathomable power of some of our own wildlife. Many of these beasts are worshipped as gods in their own right, and Bloodywood did not hesitate to bring that aspect of their native culture to the fore. Singh erects this elephant god as a hulking, ominous figure with most of its bulk hidden in the shadows. The symmetrical composition feels confrontational, defiant, and it seems like the choices left to the viewer are to back down or be trampled like a blade of grass.

#9. Celeste // Assassine(s) (artist: Mira Nedyalkova) — Nabbing both Best Photography and Best Black & White, Mira Nedyalkova demonstrates a talent for setting striking scenes. This cover is reminiscent of last year’s The Decline of I, and it shares its cult-like quality. But rather than the unsettling isolation of the cult leader, this visage draws comparison to initiations, of subjugation of the innocent or feral predation. Even the unusual quarter-turned framing helps to both disorient and create a sense of movement. A powerful photo indeed.

#8. IATT // Magnum Opus (artist: Adam Burke) — Burke has an annual subscription to this top 10, but he is ordinarily known more for his cosmic landscapes than his spooky rituals. It’s no less effective, however. The red-robed priestess seems to sway, the symbols behind her glowing malevolently. And inside her robes, the universe looms with shimmering stars. Burke demonstrates that he is no one-trick pony with this excellent and unsettling piece.

#7. Wormrot // Hiss (artist: Jon Chan) — I tend to consider leaving off the artist and title a bit of a cop-out, but I’ll forgive Wormrot and Jon Chan this time. Because damn, has the wet top half of a woman’s head ever looked more threatening? Considering the video that accompanied the album, the alarm bells are accurate, but it’s Chan’s fantastic rendering that cause them in the first place, with beautiful detailed trickles and drops of water.

#6. Pure Wrath // Hymn to the Woeful Hearts (artist: Aghy Purakusuma) — There’s something very striking about Purakusuma’s artwork. His style looks like classic realism style landscape painting, and may have been inspired by the Mooi Indie (Beautiful Indies) style from the first half of the 1900s, which was supposed to serve as equal parts tourist advertisements and propaganda for the Dutch colonists in Indonesia. But the subject matter is a complete reversal, showing devastation and self-sacrifice, more in line with the actual historical horrors that took place there and the themes of the album itself.

#5. Trial // Feed the Fire (artist: Costin Chioreanu) — I didn’t even need to double-check the artist for this cover. There’s no mistaking Costin Chioreanu’s signature style, combining hard borders of variable thickness with organic shapes and comic-like coloring. His piece for Trial jumps out at you right away, with the hooded figure and a face spewing flames. But there is plenty to discover in the details: the eyes on the flask, the flame-drinking skull, the relief on the arches above. A vibrant surrealistic artwork.

#4. Dawnwalker // House of Sand (artist: Mitchell Nolte) — I had several pieces from Mitchell Nolte’s hand in this list, including his excellent art for Dødsengel. But the rich, vivid painting that adorns House of Sand takes the cake. The scene is drawn in broad, rough strokes. The family looks dour and unpleasant despite the verdant surroundings. A quiet eerie lays over the house. And then, fully zoomed in, you scroll across the second-floor window and your heart jumps into your throat. A very effective “Where’s Waldo” with some of the best coloration this year.

#3. Venom Prison // Erebos (artist: Eliran Kantor) — Kantor is perhaps the most celebrated metal artwork creator today. One of his greatest strengths is the combination of his very classic painting style with deeply unsettling scenes of violence and horror. His best piece this year barely edges out his art for Scalpture due to the visceral reaction it triggers. The panicked eyes immediately send me into fight or flight as soon as I look at them, and I’m not alone. Quoth my fiancee: “Nope. Nope. Nuh-uh. Could you please move on to the next one? That one can go fuck itself.” Only the best and worst art can evoke responses like that, and this is clearly an example of the former.

#2. Aeternam // Heir of the Rising Sun (artist: Khaos Diktator) — I love Aeternam, I love Heir of the Rising Sun, and the first thing I loved about it was the artwork. The framing is perfect, achieving an alluring near-symmetry, drawing your eyes upward from the jumble of the army to the destruction of the once-proud battlements of Constantinople. And the point of view makes you more than a spectator; it places you as a participant, a soldier in Osman’s army, poised to storm the city at the center of the world. A vivid scene of historic destruction, fantastically rendered.

#1. Warforged // The Grove | Sundial (artist: Samuel Nelson) — If there is one thing I haven’t seen as much this year, it’s clever use of light. Samuel Nelson more than makes up for that, though, because the lighting is the primary reason his artwork was my favorite of this year. Though the scene is dark, light pours in from every direction. The forehead of the tree-skull is bathed in it, blocked only by the pulsing heart. The dancing figures in the eye-socket are so filled with light it drips off them onto the glowing forest floor, itself caught in the beams of the car which highlight the sundial on the left. Besides the fantastic use of light, the art seems to tell a story with various elements that have been interwoven. The skull and forest, the booze and pills, the dancing couple, the house stuck to the skull’s temple. It all hints at a narrative, drawing you in before you even heard the first note of the album. A beautiful, thoughtful work of art, and a fitting Album Art of the Year.

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