When it comes to the art of metal, Rodney Githens of Vertebrae33 – a.k.a. the man who designed this awesome MetalSucks t-shirt – obviously knows his shit. Join him now as he tells you which albums had the best cover art of ’09, and why…

As the music industry crumbles around itself trying to deal with the digital age, metal bands have fought hard to give fans a reason to buy their music. There has always been a heavy importance placed on the artwork used by metal bands. This is evident when you check out album covers and, of course, when everyone races to the merch booth as the doors open at a show. However, recently bands have worked hard to give you a reason to buy the physical CD/record. There are kids who will buy music based on the cover and buy shirts from bands that they do not like that much, just because they think they look cool(see Cradle of Filth). So it is time to give some credit to the visual artists who have kicked some ass this past year.

10. Ancestors – Of Sound Mind

Artist: Derek Albeck –

This cover has a strong graphic quality with the tribal face on the left side looking out into the more painterly background. It grabs you as soon as you look at it and you want to know more. The open space juxtaposed against the detailed tribal face creates visual tension, which causes you to look for more and in this case leads you to want to open the CD.

9. Buried Inside – Spoils of Failure

Artist: Matias Palacios-Hardy –

Staring up into a blood red sky with the moon as a backdrop for circling birds of prey. Did I get it right? Not sure but this cover certainly has an iconic feel, with the circle being in the center and the use of red. This would grab you from across the room, as it is a very bold and powerful image.

8. GraveHill – Rites of the Pentagram

Artist: Mark Riddick –

If you are not familiar with the artwork of Riddick, then you have not been paying attention to metal scene at all. His work has a distinctive look to it and this cover is no different. Gnarly black and white drawing placed dead center, complete with horns, drips and tons of detail.

7. Cattle Decapitation – The Harvest Floor

Artist: Wes Benscoter –

The story of this record is told in a visually stunning manner by the artwork. Humans led to the slaughter in dark times executed to perfection. The artwork has a science fiction feel to it and I cannot help but think…soylent green is people.

6. Isis – Wavering Radiant

Artist: Aaron Turner-

A graphic dream state, with blasts of aggression leading us on a quirky atmospheric journey…this would describe both the music and the visual. This works because it perfectly melds the art with the music and artistically it has a very Van Gogh “Starry Night” quality.

5. Zoroaster – Voice of Saturn

Artist: Brian Mercer-

This cover has a rock poster feel. It depicts an ancient goddess floating amongst patterns, flowers and images of Saturn. It works well as a storytelling piece, has a comic book quality to it and it goes hand in hand with the music. The balance of the seemingly free flowing elements gives it the feel of organized chaos.

4. Job for a Cowboy – Ruination

Artist: Brent Elliot White-

This band gets it. The importance of awesome artwork for everything they do. They must sell a ton of merch and they have hit a home run with this album cover. Front and center is some sort of animal-skull-headed-demon-man on a throne, who must be the leader of the ruined nation. There are lots of little clues, which undoubtedly lend themselves to the lyrics or the theme of the record. It is well-executed, very eye catching and would make one awesome action figure.

3. Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know

Artist: Per Haagensen-

There is no more of an artistic metal icon than Satan. This cover shows him in all his glory, messing with a beheaded person on a cross, as more crucified people float in the background. This cover works for that reason, but also the design work with the logo and title is a good contrast to the evil imagery. Check out the original piece at the artist’s site, as you get to see more of his badass rendition of Satan.

2. Baroness – Blue Record

Artist: John Dyer Baizley-

This cover has all the qualities of a Mr. Baizley piece of art, women, nature and copious details that would make Pushead happy. Of course it works well with the music because it was created by one of the people that makes the music. But when you look past that, you get a cover that does the job it needs to do and that is to engage the viewer…to give them a reason to listen. The artwork has classic yet modern feel to it much like the music contained within.

1. Mastodon – Crack The Skye

Artist: Paul Romano-

From the start Mastodon has worked closely with Paul Romano to create the Mastodon look, which fits the music just perfectly. They truly care about every aspect of their visual presentation. The artwork on this record has all the trademark details complete with ornate gold flourishes throughout the entire packaging. The artwork follows the storyline of the record and much like the album it is very multi-layered. It has a good mix of painting, drawing and computer generated elements. There is no better example of the importance of great visuals and the commitment to excellent artwork for a band than the Mastodon/Romano connection.

-Rodney Githens

Check out Rodeny’s work at Vertebrae33.

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