Judging a Book by Its Cover

imagesIn my free time when I’m not attached to some video game or repeatedly listening to whatever album I’m currently hot on I like to scour through Bandcamp and Metal State’s Haulix promo pile (for those who don’t know, Haulix is a commonly used streaming/downloading platform for giving reviewers access to promo albums) and see if anything catches my ear.  With literally hundreds of records to choose from at any given moment I don’t have the time nor the will to listen to everything.  So, what do I do to narrow down my selections?  Well, first there are certain P.R. reps we have a good rapport with as well as the very rare, well written review request (for another article, but, independent bands, proofread your shit, keep it short, and use Bandcamp or some other super easy streaming service).  Otherwise, I break a Golden Rule.  I judge a book, errr, album by its cover.

With over 30 years of metal fandom I’ve noticed nuanced trends to album art that tells me right off the bat if something will appeal to me or if it will be something I will hate.  More often than not I have been able to guess the style and quality of metal within the album just by a glance at the cover.  Yes, I do miss out on some great music due to my stereotyping, but damn does it save me some precious time.

If I’m in the mood for some blackened nature metal I know that the landscape shot with muted colors is what I need to keep my eye out for. Power metal- I’m looking for bold colors and shiny, computer aided drawing. Doom metal- Earthen color tones, something hand drawn by someone with talent, a grim reaper or sword or animal of wisdom like an owl or something.  Thrash- Bright, bold colors, hand drawn by a guy obsessed with Pushead, skulls somewhere.  Modern Prog Metal- Shiny as fuck and abstract shapes and/or outer-space.  Something that looks like it was drawn in a high-schooler’s notebook, features excessive bodily fluids, necrophilia, bad Photoshop, over-saturation of red, or in-your-face sexual imagery, you’re probably some kind of goregrind/porngrind/half-assed death metal band, not my bag, not going to give it a second glance let alone listen to it.

I have a strong feeling that I’m far from the only one with this marvelous talent of stereotyping albums on their cover art.  I bet that nearly every single person who reads this (all 7 of you) has bought an album before listening to it based on the fact that the album art intrigued them.  Hell, even recently both the kick ass doom metal record Absolution by Khemmis and post-metal powerhouse Settler by Vattnet Viskar nearly sold me on the album even before I hit play.  Luckily both turned out to be outstanding.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, that even in this digital age, good album art is a huge part of a record.  It conveys what your band is about and how much quality and attention to detail you put into the art.  You half-ass the cover art I can only assume you half-assed the music.  With so much music out there to listen to you need to connect to the fans and more so than plastering the internet with your pleas to listen to your new single, a good piece of visual art can convey your message much more directly than a wall of text.  So, create or get someone to create quality art and it will bring more attention to your record.

For a bit of fun I’m going to go to the Bandcamp homepage, filter the ‘Discover’ album previewer to ‘Metal’ and ‘Best-sellers’ and go to the third page and try to guess the music from 5 of the albums from the art.  Let’s see how accurate I am.  You should be able to get a larger view of the art by clicking on the player and going to the bands Bandcamp page.

Migration by Giza

Ok, here we have a hand-drawn cover with very dark colors.  There are some spaceship pyramid thingies, astronauts, and lightning.  The band logo is in an Old English font and is readable.  It’s quite well done and it does intrigue me.  If it weren’t done with the smudge effect of a paintbrush I would say it would be a tech-death album, but that blurry hand-painted style has me leaning towards sludge metal or old-school death metal.

Annnnnd, clicking play, it’s instrumental sludgy doom metal played at a funeral pace.  Kinda like Yob at their slower moments.  I kind of dig this.  Wishlisted.

A Tunnel to Eden by Alustrium

This one really catches my eye.  It has a head that is some kind of planet that goes down to the bust where there is a beautiful river landscape.  Then there is a little miner digging down from the head to the landscape.  A very literal image of the album title.  An image of a head with something going on in/on/around it immediately tells me that this is some kind of prog.  The tones are Earthen, but still pop out.  It looks hand-painted but just sharp enough to make me think that it was definitely done on a painting program on the computer.  Not smudgy enough or ‘metal’ enough to make me think of doom, yet it’s not shiny enough to make me lean towards power metal.  Going with my gut though I’m going to say that slightly symphonic power prog.  The non-hand drawn logo pushes me in that direction.  Regardless, I think I will enjoy the song I listen to.

Moment of truth…..  Well…. I was pretty wrong about this one besides the call on the prog.  Here we have some brutal, techy death metal reminiscent of The Black Dahlia Murder.  Not to bad, good energy, loud as fuck.  I’m interested.  Fans of tech-death should check it out.  Onto the next one.

Ruins by Iskra

Hard to read band logo, mountains, typical Old-English black metal font for the album title.  Everything about this one screams black metal.  It could be a nature-y black metal band due to the mountains, but nature metal bands are usually a bit more artistic with their logos.  I’m calling this as traditional black metal in the vein of Emperor.

I was right.  There just needed to be a mutilated goat on those mountains to make this even more black metal.  Nothing too bad, but like its cover, it’s pretty standard, fast paced black metal with touches of thrash.  Much more listenable than Carpathian Forest or Mayhem….  Not as mystical or epic as Emperor.

Cloak of Ash by Hope Drone

This cover I like a lot.  Clouds, smoke, waves, water stains, circular, subdued colors.  It looks like a portal into the lair of the Deep Ones.  The abstractness leads me to think this will be some kind of post-metal style of band.  I can’t really pinpoint if it will be airy, trippy, and clean like *shels or something a bit more extreme in the vein of The Great Old Ones.  My gut says it will be a mix of the two, meandering, airy, brutality.  This looks like it will be something I will enjoy.

Annnnd……  Sludgy atmosphere, doomy drums, black screams and tremolo guitars, and airy as hell post metal composition.  There is only one song since the album isn’t out yet, but I’m pre-ordering right now.  The art does represent what I heard quite well.

Sermons to Death by Goat Torment

More red possibly?  Seriously, this is just bad.  I can’t make out what the hell the picture is because of all the damn red saturating everything.  I guess I see a Satanic priest doing some kind of goat torture.  All that red is making my eyes bleed and I really don’t want to look closer at whats going on.  Like the album cover, I’m going to say that this is mixed-way-too-loud ‘brutal’ death metal.  I will make it about 3 minutes into a song before the loudness kills my old man ears.

Ok…. It’s blackened death metal mixed way to freaking loud.  Evil and in your face.  The riffs aren’t too bad and it’s not as shit as I was expecting.  If the mix was a bit more tolerable I might be able to get into this a bit.  If bands with song names like ‘Defloration of the Holy Cunt’ is your thing and don’t mind some hearing loss, give this a shot.  Others, this may be something you could use to piss off your neighbors.


About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on July 21, 2015, in Rants and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. ChristopherMammal

    That was a novel and fun game! I’m useless at judging most kinds of things by their appearance. I’m not a very visual person. Often I’m not even visible. I’d be delighted with a an album cover consisting of nothing but the name of the band, title of the album and the genre in big, bold text on a plain grey background. Those are the things I search for on the Internet.

  2. I do this all the time. Bought loads of albums on the strength of the artwork/packaging – I figure if the artist/design team has gone the extra mile into making the package appealing, they must believe in it. Artists that spring to mind are Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, Marillion, Mastodon, Pixies… but I’ve often taken a punt on artists I’ve never heard of, on the basis of a cool cover.

    • If it wasn’t for Marillion’s album art I would have never bought Script for a Jesters Tear and never found out about one of the coolest prog bands out there (though I do think word of mouth would have gotten to me eventually 😉 )

  3. Guilty as charged. There is so much metal out there! Often it comes down to what is the band trying to say about themselves based on the art…and, did they hit or miss the mark. I often rely on band names as well, but that is another article.

    I have bought several albums based on artwork and got very lucky now and then. I have probably missed out as well. Don’t we do this to people when looking for someone to pair up with? First thing we see is their appearance. Interesting…

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