The 25 Most Important People in Metal, #25: Mark Riddick

  • Axl Rosenberg

As much as metal is a genre of music and a lifestyle, it is also a community. And like all communities, it has its leaders — men and women whose work, be it by design or circumstance, affects all lovers of extreme music on a regular basis.

Throughout November, MetalSucks will celebrate these industry leaders by counting down The 25 Most Important People in Metal one per day. To be clear, this is a list of the people we believe are most important to metal today, in 2016 — not necessarily the most important people overall in the entire history of the genre. Some of them are musicians. Many of them are not. Some of them are people you’ve heard of. Many of them work behind the scenes and do not routinely get to take a bow. But they all have one thing in common: more than just cogs in a machine, they are truly, undeniably irreplaceable. 

The creation of mass media may have made visual presentation a key component in all genres, but few styles of music value illustration and design to the extent that metal does. Rare is the pop music fan who wears a different t-shirt representing a different artist on a daily basis, pores obsessively over liner notes, and writes lyrics and logos all over her shoes when she gets bored. Because metal is a culture and not just a sound, ocular elements are of the utmost importance.

And few graphic artists better represent the visual element of metal than Mark Riddick.

Like a lot of artists whose output ends up making a big impact, Riddick’s work is not overtly commercial or populist. Wearing a Metallica or Iron Maiden shirt in public is not likely to elicit stares; Riddick’s illustrations are uniformly gruesome and confrontational. His stuff makes Slayer’s horrific tableaus look like Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Nightmares have nightmares about Mark Riddick’s art.

So it’s a testament to Riddick’s talent that he hasn’t been condemned to the lowest depths of the underground, but was instead hired this year by no less a mainstream institution than Justin Bieber. Riddick has become one of the most recognizable, in-demand, and frequently-copied graphic artists in all of metal. Like Derek Riggs and Ed Repka before him, Riddick’s name is now an adjective: “Oh, that’s cool! Very Riddick-esque!

What makes Riddick so damn good?  It is at once intricately detailed and deceptively messy, using layout to direct your eye where Riddick wants it to go without ever waving its proverbial arms and screaming “Hey, over here!” You can see the brush strokes and feel the artist’s hand. Every Riddick piece feels DYI, yet wholly professional. When you were stuck in detention drawing fucked-up shit on your notebook while listening to Obituary on your Walkman, you imagined the final product would look like a Riddick piece, but it never actually did.

That makes Riddick a guy who has realized both your dreams and your nightmares.

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