Guts, Skulls and Monsters Inc: Meet The Top Indian Metal Artists
Indian designers and illustrators from across the country tell us why metallers are big on graphic art
In 2009, visual artist Vince Locke was asked why he came up with what is still regarded as the most horrific album art in music history. Two decapitated bodies in an act of sexual cannibalÂism was Locke’s provocative cover art for AmerÂican death metal band Cannibal Corpse’s 1992 album Tomb of the Mutilated. Locke said, “My main focus on the album covers is an eye-catching image. You just picture these rows and rows of CDs and you want something that is going to grab your eye. I never thought it had to be exÂtremely gruesome, but that’s where the band wanted to go.”
It’s true, it wasn’t just the song “Hammer Smashed Face,” off the same album that brought Cannibal Corpse into the limelight, but also all the publicity the artwork gained, inÂcluding being banned from sale in Germany. In an interÂview with Rolling Stone India earlier this year, the band’s drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz said that they were a death metal band, and “not family entertainment.” He added about Cannibal Corpse’s associaÂtion with Locke and other artists for graphic, ultraviolent album art: “That [artwork] is what we want as musicians, as fans of the music and if it causes problems, so be it. You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt.”
Locke’s original idea of wanting to grab eyeballs remains relevant to this day, esÂpecially in the metal sphere. Where other genres use digital photography or computer graphics for their artwork, most metal bands prefer intricate, illustratÂed, hand-drawn artwork ”” whether it’s a warrior slaying a giant, mythic creatures or a skull with barbed wire around it.
Metal bands are as passionate about artwork as they are about the music, according to Demonic RessurecÂtion frontman Sahil Makhija. You don’t have to look far beyond the greatest metal bands for proof ”“ from BritÂish heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s creation of their half-zombie half-cyborg mascot Eddie by Brit artist Derek Riggs in 1980, which became the face of all their future albums, to more recent intricate, surreal artwork from Paul Romano for sludge/prog metal band Mastodon for their concept albums like Crack the Skye and Leviathan.
Makhija, who had roped in Polish designer Michal ”˜Xaay’ Loranc to design the artwork for the last two DR albums, The Return to Darkness in 2010 and The Demon King in 2014, and his death metal project Reptilian Death’s 2013 album The Dawn of Consummation and Emergence, says he only looked abroad because no one in India was able to deÂliver sleek, edgy yet cinematically realisÂtic artwork. Says Makhija, “It fit the style we wanted to give the artwork a movÂie-like effect. But I think just like the music, the artwork is also evolving in Indian metal. I think soon enough, there’ll be kids in India who will start drawing something like Xaay.”
Reuben Bhattacharya/Visual Amnesia, New Delhi
Bhattacharya, who is also the bassist for Delhi groove metal band Undying Inc, started Visual Amnesia in 2007 as a part-time means to create artwork for bands around India. He quit an advertising career to create artwork and illustrations fulltime last year. Seven years on, Visual Amnesia has been the brains behind merchandize artwork for Mumbai metallers Bhayanak Maut, Delhi nu-metal band Joint Family’s 2007 album Hotbox and black metallers 1833 AD’s concept artwork for their 2012 album My Dark Symphony, along with his own work for Undying Inc. Bhattacharya is also two-time winner for Best Album Art at the Rolling Stone Metal Awards.
Bhattacharya, who belongs to a family of designers and artists, took to recreating artwork of bands like groove metallers Sepultura’s 1993 album Chaos A.D. for mixtapes he would make. Bhattacharya says that every concept album from American death metal lers Morbid Angel and Danish heavy metal bands Mercyful Fate and King Diamond has inf luenced his work. While he calls Mercyful Fate’s skull-bearing artwork for 1994 album Time “minimalistic,” thrash metal band Anthrax’s trippy artwork for Persistence of Time  is just as inspiring for Bhattacharya.
From the drawing board:
Says Bhattacharya, “I don’t do any album artwork without listening to the band’s songs. For me, as a listener, it’s a drug-like effect to be listening to the music while looking at the album art. I love making concept-based art the most ”” from Undying Inc to 1833 AD to [prog metal band] Skyharbor’s ”˜Maeva’ T-shirt.”
Visual Amnesia is currently working on merchandize artwork for groove metallers Providence from Mumbai and has been commissioned to draw the artwork for the 10th anniversary special edition T-shirt for Dutch prog metal band Textures.
This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.