Many coffee table books have been published with the spotlight on album covers. Some feature selections from a record company or art house, a specific time period, or quite simply the author’s opinion. I’ve enjoyed them all, but one stands out for many reasons: The Art Of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-Shirts, and More. I can’t think of another genre of music so closely connected with its artwork.
I remember being mystified, mesmerized, and sometimes mortified by the visual displays portrayed on the record sleeves of music I listened to growing up. KISS, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, The Scorpions, and W.A.S.P. are a few that come to mind. Ken Kelly, the artist best known for iconic album covers such as Destroyer (KISS) and Rising (Rainbow) said it best, “You’re in your bedroom or your study, and you are looking at this album cover while it’s playing. And this whole effect happens. It takes you in, and the cover becomes part of your memory of the music.” I continue to be impressed by the artistry and imagery coming from designers, photographers, and graphic artists who will elicit the same reactions for generations to come.
The Art Of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-Shirts, and More memorializes metal from its beginnings in the 1960s through modern day. A host of writers each tackle an era and different aspects of the artwork that became part of the heavy metal rock band movement. Origins, British new wave, hair metal, doom and stoner, nu metal, black metal, thrash and death Metal, right up to metal now. The authors of each segment provide background and detail without burdening the reader. Interviews with the artists, illustrators, designers, photographers, and musical acts who make the visions come to life enhance the experience. The pièce de résistance are the album covers, logos, posters, t-shirts, and assorted items accompanied by interesting factoids.
Whether band members had creative control, gave a designer a general concept, and (in some cases) ran with the artist’s vision for the album cover or logo, it is imperative to capture the attention of potential listeners and provide familiarity to their long time fans. They have been inspired by nightmares, folklore, fantasy, and even wit. Sometimes musicians learn illustration, design, or photography to foster their vision. One instance is Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. In Shinoda’s case, he became a graphic designer. “We took what we did very seriously…so spending 40 hours on a painting, then putting it up in front of your class to have thirty people critique it was brutal. At some point, I realized that the criticisms that made me the most defensive were usually the ones that were right. It really helped me to enjoy the process of making my work better, by leaving ego at the door during the creative process,” Shinoda explained in regard to producing the artwork for Hybrid Theory.
It can also be said that some of the characters dreamed up and displayed on album covers become larger than life and band members themselves. Eddie, Iron Maiden’s adored and feared mascot, has been a permanent component since their debut album and has morphed into different forms based on the themes of individual albums and world tours. Megadeth’s Vic Rattlehead, Quiet Riot’s Man With the Iron Mask, Overkill’s bat-winged creature, Chaly, and Dio’s Malcovian monster, Murray, have been longtime favorites.
The book is craftily edited by Martin Popoff, author of over 50 rock books and veteran writer, and Malcolm Dome who was the beloved music journalist for publications such as Kerrang!, RAW, Metal Hammer, Prog, Classic Rock who sadly passed away in 2021, as well as Bryan Reesman – music and pop culture journalist who has contributed to over 100 media outlets, including The Aquarian. The incomparable Lemmy provides the foreword with humor and hubris. Dome and Reesman penned the introduction and postscript respectively. The book is a beautiful masterpiece in and of itself.
The Art Of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-Shirts, and More is ideal for the metalhead in your life, audiophiles who have been enchanted by album artwork they’ve been holding in their hands for years, or fans of graphic design, illustration, or photography. It will remain a fixture on my coffee table for years to come!
THE ART OF METAL IS AVAILABLE NOW VIA SCHIFFER PUBLISHING. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!