Three Things That (Visual) Artists Can Learn From Heavy Metal Music

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written about the heavy metal genre. But, although I’ve talked about how listening to certain metal bands can improve any poetry you write, I wondered if the heavy metal genre can improve any drawings, paintings etc.. that you make.

So, here are a few things that (visual) artists can learn from heavy metal music.

1) Album art: It almost goes without saying, but heavy metal albums have historically had some of the most detailed, dramatic and/or interesting cover art of any musical genre. This was probably more true in decades past when most metal albums featured painted cover art, but it still holds true to some extent today.

If you don’t believe me, check out some of Derek Riggs’ classic 1980s album covers for Iron Maiden. They’re filled with action-packed visual storytelling, very “realistic” stylised artwork and a surprising amount of background detail (Riggs’ cover art for “Somewhere In Time” is outstanding in this regard).

The artwork on a lot of classic metal albums is designed to reflect the kind of music within the album – whether it’s the horror imagery on the cover of a classic Slayer album or the bold cover art of a 1980s Judas Priest album, heavy metal album covers provide many great examples of how an artist can convert non-visual inspiration into fittingly awesome visual art.

In addition to this, classic heavy metal album covers (and T-shirt art) often feature really interesting lighting too. In keeping with the classic inspirations for the genre (eg: horror movies etc…), heavy metal album art will often feature large amounts of contrast between lighter and darker areas of the painting. Often, the most dramatic parts of an album cover will be emphasised by contrasting them with a dark background. This is especially true when you consider that the album art often ends up being printed on black T-shirts too.

In fact, this is probably one of the things that inspired my “make sure that at least 30%-50% of the surface area of each painting is covered with black paint” rule. This rule is a central part of my art style and it’s one of the things that gives my paintings, in any genre, their distinctive look. Like this:

Even though this is a gothic horror cyberpunk painting, my approach to lighting has been inspired heavily by heavy metal album art. ["Storage" By C. A. Brown]

Even though this is a gothic horror cyberpunk painting, my approach to lighting has been inspired heavily by heavy metal album art.
[“Storage” By C. A. Brown]

2) Taking inspiration (whilst staying original): The heavy metal genre is a genre about taking inspiration, whilst still remaining original. This is something that all visual artists need to learn how to do.

Contrary to the erroneous old-fashioned idea that metal is a “mindless” genre, heavy metal is one of the most intelligent and wide-ranging genres of music you will ever listen to. Whilst most pop songs may only have a limited range of subject matter (eg: love and fame), heavy metal songs have taken inspiration from a gigantic range of subjects.

Whether it’s the first world war (“Paschendale” by Iron Maiden), a Clive Barker novel (“Tortured Soul Asylum” by Cradle Of Filth), the poetry of Walt Whitman (“Song Of Myself” by Nightwish), government surveillance (“Electric Eye” by Judas Priest), keel-hauling by 17th century pirates (“Keelhauled” by Alestorm), the Vikings (eg: anything by Turisas, Amon Amarth or TYR), secret societies (“Square Hammer” by Ghost), pyromania (“Benzin” By Rammstein), slasher movies (“Overkill” by Overkill) etc… Heavy metal music takes inspiration from a gigantic range of things.

In addition to this, metal bands are unafraid to take inspiration from both other metal bands and other musical genres… whilst still producing original music.

Although I’ve written a more detailed article about how to take inspiration properly, listening to heavy metal music can give you numerous examples of how to take inspiration from other things whilst still being original.

3) Doing your own thing: The heavy metal genre has rarely been a “popular” genre. Metal bands don’t give a damn whether they end up in the charts or not. As long as they can express themselves and their fans like it, then they can do all sorts of interesting creative things.

Heavy metal is a genre about creativity and it’s attitude to this is often more “punk” than some punk bands are. Because they don’t have to worry about being “mainstream”, metal bands make the music that they want to make. This is why there are literally hundreds of wildly different sub-genres of heavy metal (eg: for a good contrasting example, listen to “Twilight Of The Gods” by Helloween, then listen to “Desire In Violent Overture” by Cradle Of Filth. They’re both metal songs, but they sound very different), compared to the limited range of sub-genres in most other types of music.

Needless to say, this is an attitude that leads to a lot more self-expression and creativity. And it’s an attitude that is worth taking if you are an artist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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