Review: “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” By Cradle Of Filth (Album)

Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, this title illustration was made before I reviewed Judas Priest’s latest album about a month and a half ago.

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a heavy metal album that I’d meant to get over seven years ago but only finally got round to buying a while before I wrote this review. I am, of course talking about “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” by Cradle Of Filth.

This album by the venerable heavy metal/ symphonic black metal/ gothic metal band was originally released in late 2010. I actually remember this quite well since the band took the unusual step of giving out free MP3 copies of the song “Lilith Immaculate” on their website at the time.

This track really bowled me over, although I couldn’t afford to get the full album at the time. I then pretty much forgot about the album (apart from checking out another couple of songs on Youtube) until I noticed that it had come down in price and was able to snap up a second-hand copy on Amazon for about three quid.

One of the first things that I will say about this album is that it is very much it’s own distinctive thing. It mostly eschews the grandiose fire and brimstone drama of 2008’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder“, but it is also a far cry from the decadent De Sade-ian opulence of 2012’s “The Manticore And Other Horrors“. This album is a lot “colder”, more melodic and more gothic. And, it is probably one of the best Cradle albums that I’ve heard. Seriously, it’s almost up there with classic albums like “Cruelty And The Beast” and “Nymphetamine”.

“Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is a concept album about the mythological character Lilith. However, it also focuses on a tragic character called Victoria Varco, a 14th century noblewoman who bears an illegitimate child and suffers unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the church because of this. This eventually leads to her having visions of Lilith (and possibly being possessed by Lilith’s spirit), before being brutally murdered by the church’s torturers.

She is then exhumed by her grief-stricken lover, Isaac, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Heathcliff and Cathy from Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights“. The later parts of the album focus both on Lilith herself and on Isaac’s memories of meeting her through Victoria.

The final song ends with a mildly Lovecraftian flutter, with Isaac saying: “…These words I speak are gates to hell“, evoking the ‘last words’ narrative device used in many of H.P. Lovecraft‘s short stories. In addition to this, it is also a repetition of an early verse from the first song on the album. This gives the album an intriguingly circular storyline, which also hints strongly at a Lovecraft-style unreliable narrator.

And, yes, this album actually has a continuous story. However, this actually harms the album’s lyrics very slightly. Whilst I’ve written before about how Cradle Of Filth songs are basically old-school poetry in disguise, the lyrics in “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” often read more like a historical ballad of some kind.

Whilst the lyrics still contain a fair number of poetic flourishes (eg: “By flights of morbid fancy/ Psychomancy, rites of ancient wrong”), the focus on storytelling means that the lyrics are often a little bit more “functional” and can occasionally lack some of the dark eloquence of Cradle’s other albums.

But, enough literary criticism. What about how this album actually sounds?

Well, for the most part, it sounds like Cradle Of Filth. However, unlike some of their albums, this one has quite a few melodic elements, such as a vaguely harpsichord-like segment at the beginning of the first song in addition to other creepily gothic string and keyboard segments throughout the album. These go really well with the more intense guitar segments, which often sound more like a “heavier” version of traditional heavy metal. Personally, I really love all of these melodic elements, but more “traditionalist” fans of the band might not like them.

Likewise, despite the occasional well-placed death growl from Dani Filth, his fast-paced and guttural singing in this album is considerably more understandable than in some previous albums. As much as I love Dani’s older vocal style, his more modern style certainly has merit too.

Plus, like in many of Cradle’s albums, Dani’s harsh vocals are counterpointed by more elegant female vocals. In “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa”, these are provided by Lucy Atkins (and Dora Kemp).

Like with some of Sarah Jezebel Deva’s vocal segments in “Cruelty And The Beast”, Atkins speaks rather than sings. This lends the character of Lilith a stern, cold gravitas that goes really well with Dani’s more emotional vocals.

The best songs on the album are probably “The Persecution Song”, “Deceiving Eyes”, “Lilith Immaculate”, “Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” and “Beyond Eleventh Hour”.

“The Persecution Song” begins with a beautifully haunting instrumental segment, which manages to be both creepily cold and reminiscent of the warm lushness of Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album. Dani’s vocals near the beginning of the song are noticeably slower too, which helps to add to the oppressively gothic atmosphere.

Musically, the song is dark, intense and overwhelmingly powerful. Vocally, Dani alternates between several singing styles (eg: slower singing, emotional growling, ominous whispering etc..) which helps to add to the surprising array of musical variety within this song. Seriously, it is one of the most atmospheric songs on the album.

“Deceiving Eyes” has some really intriguing hints of both thrash metal and traditional heavy metal. Although it is mostly just a fairly solid Cradle Of Filth song, these extra musical elements really help to turn it into something a bit more distinctive.

“Lilith Immaculate” is a fast, powerful, opulent and intense song. The opening instrumental is vaguely reminiscent of something from “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder”, but, as soon as Dani begins howling, you’ll remember that this is a very different album. This song is something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins, and it is brilliant! It is filled with dramatic descriptions and powerful emotion. If it wasn’t for the fact that this song tells a later part of the album’s story, it would have been a perfect opening song.

“Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” is a slightly lighter, faster and more “goth”-like song. The opening segments of it are something of a palate cleanser from the heavier and more intense songs earlier in the album. Likewise, the guitars sound a little bit less distorted here, which lends the song a very distinctive sound. Like with “Lilith Immaculate”, it is also something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins – which is always cool to hear.

“Beyond Eleventh Hour” is the stunningly opulent ending to the album. It begins in a creepily understated way, with quiet keyboard music and some poetic vocals from Atkins. But, it quickly builds to a spectacularly dramatic climax soon after Atkins intones the words “…and hell will come with him”.

The lyrics in this intense and dramatic song also contain a few gloriously obscene “classic Cradle Of Filth”-style flourishes too. This song is Cradle at their most eloquent, poetic, debauched, blasphemous best! At one point, there’s even some vaguely horror movie-style cackling in the background too πŸ™‚

All in all, “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is one of Cradle Of Filth’s best albums. It’s a cold, heavily atmospheric, furiously intense and creepily gothic album. Yes, it isn’t quite their best album in purely lyrical terms but – musically – it is absolutely stunning. Like with all great metal bands, this album manages to be both the kind of unique thing that only one band could make whilst also being noticeably different from both previous and subsequent albums.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Three Other Things That Heavy Metal Music Can Teach Creative People

Although I’ve written about this topic a couple of times before, I thought that I’d return to the subject of what heavy metal music can teach creative people. This is mostly since I seem to be going through another phase of listening to even more metal than usual (mostly songs by Cradle Of Filth this time round).

So, what else can heavy metal teach creative people?

1) Sophistication (appears in unlikely places): Believe it or not, modern heavy metal is one of the most complex and sophisticated genres of music out there. Since I’m going through a bit of a Cradle Of Filth phase at the moment, I’ll use this band as an example.

At first glance, they don’t really look like a “sophisticated” band – mostly due to the zombie make-up, the borderline-incomprehensible shouted vocals and the fact that some of their songs have “shock value” lyrics.

But, although I’ve already written about how their lyrics are basically old-school poetry in disguise, they are sophisticated in so many other ways too. At least a couple of their albums (eg: “Cruelty And The Beast”, “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” etc..) are concept albums based on various obscure parts of European history.

Not only that, if you listen to the instrumental parts of many of their songs (especially their stuff from the late 1990s/early-mid 2000s onwards), you’ll notice that it can almost sound like a heavier version of classical music of some kind sometimes. Their music videos usually tell a story of some kind or another, and frequently look like small self-contained gothic horror movies.

Especially in the present day, heavy metal is a very sophisticated genre (just listen to Nightwish or most songs by Iron Maiden if you don’t believe me). Yet, there’s surprisingly little pretentiousness surrounding it. Heavy metal bands do all of this amazingly complex and sophisticated stuff, yet metal is one of the most welcoming, generation-neutral (eg: some metal bands are in their 20s, some are in their 60s etc..) and unpretentious musical subcultures out there.

So, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it all has to do with letting your work speak for itself. It is about putting substance over style. It is about the importance of skills and practice, rather than trying to become popular for the sake of it. It’s about building up a fanbase because of the quality of your work rather than “being famous for being famous”.

2) Personality: One cool thing about metal bands is that they each have their own unique personalities and sensibilities. Even when they seem slightly similar, they are still unique in different ways. You can usually tell two metal bands apart from each other just by listening to the way that they play their instruments, write their own songs etc… (Seriously, I cannot overstate the “write their own songs” part enough!)

Even bands within the same sub-genre of metal who have had members in common with each other (such as Gamma Ray and Helloween) are very distinctive. For example, Gamma Ray’s music tends to be a lot louder, slightly slower and more intense, whereas Helloween’s music tends to be slightly lighter, faster and more horror/fantasy-themed. The two bands still sound like they are related to each other, but they also sound different to each other too.

So, again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it is all to do with the value of developing a unique and recognisable style. This is something which is typically developed by taking inspiration from a unique mixture of things that you consider to be “cool”. It also involves, amongst other things, looking for what these “cool” things have in common with each other.

For example, in my own art – many of my influences (be they heavy metal album covers, old horror novel covers, cyberpunk films, old computer games etc..) often make use of high-contrast lighting (or “Tenebrist” lighting, to use the fancy word for it). This is where the colours and/or light sources in a picture are made to look bolder by contrasting them with a darker background. So, naturally, this is a part of my art style. It looks a bit like this:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

3) Maturity: This might surprise you, but heavy metal is probably one of the most sensible and mature genres of music out there. And, I don’t mean “mature” in the sense of one of those silly 1980s “explicit lyrics” stickers that are still somehow a thing these days.

In short, the metal genre has got a lot of the more immature “rebellious shock value” stuff out of it’s system during the 1980s/90s. Since metal is a non-mainstream genre these days, metal bands are thankfully spared the endless controversies that seem to plague anything vaguely popular.

As such, metal bands don’t have to worry too much about either courting controversy or about inadvertently causing it. After all, the only people who listen to metal these days are fans of the genre, so they’re unlikely to be shocked by more traditional elements of the genre.

In other words, metal bands have more creative freedom and, after using it to rebel for a while, they’ve got most of this out of their system and instead usually focus more on making music that is meaningful (or just fun), that sounds good and impresses their fans.

This means that when long-running or modern metal bands use things like four-letter words, disturbing descriptions, risquΓ© descriptions etc… it is often done in a way that is either more moderate, meaningful, infrequent, creative, comedic and/or carefully-considered than you might think. And, surprisingly, the music still sounds just as good!

Since there’s no point in shocking people just for the sake of it any more, these elements either have to be used in a way that actually has artistic merit or not used at all. And, despite heavy metal’s historical reputation as an “edgy” or “controversial” genre, you’d be surprised at how many modern metal songs could probably be played on the radio without censorship if DJs were willing.

So, yet again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…?

Well, simply put, it’s a good example of how creative people mature over time, if given the creative freedom to do so (eg: without having to worry about and/or court controversy all the time). It’s an example of how immature “shock value” will often give way to maturity and artistic merit if creative people aren’t held back by constant controversies etc..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Extra Review: Rage Of Light – Complete Digital Discography (Music)

Although I first discovered a couple of music videos by trance metal/ melodic death metal band Rage Of Light on Youtube a month or two ago (and bought a couple of their songs at the time), I recently ended up finding a video that included clips from several of their older songs from 2016.

And, after noticing that a MP3 copy of their current digital discography (containing an EP and three singles) cost a little over six quid on Bandcamp (the listed price is six Euros, but it was more like Β£6.20-30 when UK VAT was automatically applied), I decided to splash out on it. Hence this review.

So, let’s take a look at Rage Of Light’s current digital discography:

This is what the band’s digital discography currently contains at the time of writing.

Let’s start with the digital singles. “I Can, I Will” is one of the first songs by this band that I heard and it is probably their strongest song. It is a brilliantly intense mixture between melodic synth-pop/ symphonic metal- style vocals and growled death metal vocals.

All of this is backed up by a complex, resplendent mixture of crunchier guitars and electronic trance music that reminded me a little bit of a much heavier and more intense version of the background music from an old computer game πŸ™‚ It is a fast, complex, cathartic and catchy song.

The next digital single, “Mechanicals”, is a song that I was indifferent to at first, but it grew on me after listening to it a couple of times.

This is a sci-fi themed song about some kind of robot attack on a space station. It starts with an echoey distress signal, before some ominous clanking and tapping sounds play over piano music. Then, an electric guitar cuts in and there are a few ominously slow/quieter vocals. Then there’s a shout and the death metal-style guitars kick in.

Like with many of the band’s songs, this one contains a good contrast between melodic and more intense music. Personally, I vastly prefer the melodic segments of this song – with the chorus vocals (“Here come the mechanicals…”) and guitars just sounding a little bit too much like generic shouty/intense metal. But, the rest of the song has a really cool symphonic metal/ power metal kind of sound to it that is really awesome. At 7:18 minutes long, it is also the band’s longest song too.

Also, a couple of the quiet electronic background sounds are vaguely reminiscient of Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” and some of Perturbator’s music πŸ™‚

The final digital single, a cover of Amon Amarth’s “Twilight Of The Thunder God”, is pretty interesting. It starts with a wonderfully gothic piano solo, before the guitars kick in and lead singer Melissa Bonny lets out a suitably intense and prolonged death metal growl.

As a whole, this cover version is a little bit more “electronic” and “gothic” than Amon Amarth’s original version of the song. The growled vocals have a suitably hoarse sound to them and – for the most part, the electronic and guitar music roils menacingly in the background – with a few sudden moments of intense guitar and/or synthesiser music. It’s a pretty cool cover that is both reminiscent of the original song, whilst also being it’s own thing at the same time.

The band’s 2016 EP “Chasing A Reflection” starts out with a song called “Beautiful Slave” that initially sounds a lot like a vaguely Xandria-style symphonic metal song, before the trance music really kicks in. All of this melody is later contrasted with a few brilliantly intense growled death metal segments. There are also a few classic heavy metal-style guitar flourishes too πŸ™‚

This song is one of the more melodic Rage Of Light songs and, after “I Can, I Will”, it is probably one of my favourite songs by the band. It is a wonderfully brilliant mixture between melody, intensity, metal and electronica πŸ™‚

“Deception” starts out with a jauntily gothic piano instrumental, paired with some dramatic drums and, later, some menacingly understated gothic synth music. The intense electronic background music that plays during many parts of this song is pretty cool too. Like with the other songs, there’s a contrast between growls and melody, intensity and quietness. However, the lyrics to this song seem a little bit random. Even so, it’s still a reasonably cool song.

“Lollipop (Candyman)” is comedy metal at it’s best πŸ™‚ If you have childhood memories of the 1990s, you’ll probably remember an annoyingly catchy pop band called Aqua. Well, this song is a trance metal-style cover of one of their songs, and it is hilarious. Plus, due to the fact that it is heavy metal music, the song’s catchiness actually works in it’s favour too πŸ™‚

“Sick” is a more intense, growly kind of song. The trance elements fade into the background slightly and there is more emphasis on the heavy, crunchy guitars. The melodic vocal segments in this song are also more like traditional symphonic metal than synth-pop too. This is one of those songs where, although it didn’t really impress me when I first saw the music video for it, it has grown on me a bit after listening to the MP3 a couple of times.

The final song on the EP, “Requiem” starts out in a slower and more melodic way, before becoming more intense. This song contains a lot more electronic elements than many of the other songs and is probably the most “trance music”-like song in their current discography. It also includes a couple of vaguely dubstep-like electronic segments too. Of course, it also contains death metal and symphonic metal elements too. The more intensive mixture of styles is a little bit puzzling at first, but it works reasonably well.

All in all, this discography is pretty cool. Although only a few songs really grabbed my attention at first (eg: “I Can, I Will”, “Lollipop” and “Beautiful Slave”), the rest of the collection has grown on me after listening to it a couple of times.

If you like intense metal that isn’t afraid to be melodic and creative too, then you’ll like this. Somehow, the mixture of trance music and metal works surprisingly well and this is a modern band that is probably worth taking a look at.

If I had to give the discography a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Short Story: “Stage Fright” By C. A. Brown

With a soul-shuddering screech, the guitars kicked in. Not even pausing to draw breath, Skull almost crushed the mic in his hand and let rip: ‘Thundering steel, electric eel. Skies darken, rise the electro-kraken!

Below him, the crowd went frigging wild. Against the blood red glare of the stage lights, he saw a thousand black T-shirts and a thousand faces twisted in frantic ecstasy. Somehow, it never quite got old. Beside him, Razor raised his obsidian guitar and let out a volley of crunching chords. Taking his cue, Skull ducked towards the crowd and screamed: ‘Crushing jaws, lock your doors! Bladed tendrils, slashing claws.

The crowd roared back. A hundred horned hands saluted him. The bass throbbed through his body. As the drums let off another salvo and Razor launched into a machine-gun guitar solo, Skull raised his arms and shouted to the crowd: ‘I wanna hear you scream! Raise the roof, you mean metal mother…

He paused. For a second, he didn’t know why. Then it hit him. Two of the stage lights were in the wrong place! At the back of the crowd, two red points of light stared back at him from ground level. A hundred thoughts raced through his head. What if someone had got crushed? What if one of the roadies screwed up the safety checks? How the hell are those lights still working if they’ve just fallen from the ceiling?

Then, he noticed that Razor’s guitar solo was almost over. He glanced at the rest of the band, none of them had noticed the lights. He stared at the crowd again, they weren’t screaming in agony or fleeing in panic. Maybe it was just a reflection of some kind?

Letting out a silent sigh, Skull went into autopilot and belted out the chorus: ‘Fear the seas, ancient prophecies! Deep evil, deep evil! Primeval creature!

When he glanced at the cavorting crowd again, the two lights seemed brighter. They were larger. They were getting closer. For a second, he was frozen like the proverbial deer in the headlights until a crashing cymbal from the back of the stage shook him back into action. Leaning towards Razor, Skull pointed at the lights. Not even pausing, Razor just raised his eyebrows and mouthed: ‘Wanna stop?

Skull shook his head. The song was almost over. The show must go on.

But, a few seconds later, the red lights had reached the mosh pit and the crowd had started to notice. Like the seas from some stern sermon, the crowd parted. The music fell silent. Even the drummer had noticed that something was wrong. The only sound that filled the air was slow, thudding footsteps. The two red lights glowed like suns.

And then, as it walked under the scarlet stage lights, Skull saw it. It looked like something from the record covers of his youth. A great, hulking horned demon with skin as scaly as a crocodile and teeth like twenty knives. What Skull didn’t expect were the clothes. The hellish monster was wearing a three-piece suit! As the apparition drew even closer to the stage, he even noticed a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles around the creature’s fiery eyes.

When the creature opened his fearsome maw, Skull had expected a deep growl from the pits of hell. Instead, the creature’s voice sounded thin, severe and sharp. ‘Will you turn that racket down?! Can’t you play some nice music instead? Something that everyone can enjoy?

Skull was dumbfounded. Razor’s mouth fell open. Ignoring them, the demon levelled a bony claw at the crowd: ‘And, all of you, why are you staying up late? Don’t you have work tomorrow? You know, I’d bet that some of you are still in school. You don’t get good grades by going to dismal dives like this and listening to music that is clearly unsuitable for people your age.

Everyone remained silent, unsure whether to laugh or scream. The demon growled menacingly and opened his fearsome maw. Amidst the confusion, Skull knew one thing. He was on stage. Everyone looked up to him. He was the closest thing to a real authority figure in the room. Shuddering at the implications of this, he realised that he had to do something. Then it struck him. When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Standing to attention, he turned to Razor and barked: ‘Start “Crypt Of The Corpses”! Don’t question me, just bloody do it!

Shocked into action, Razor reached down to his guitar and launched into the blistering opening riff. The noise cut through the air like a katana. The demon winced. A second later, the drums kicked in and Skull heard the bass thrum loudly. The demon recoiled. Grabbing the mic like the hilt of a sword, Skull took a deep breath and then let the words explode from his throat: ‘Crushed skulls, evil rituals! Vestal virgins, sacrificial surgeons!

The demon let out an unholy screech. A second later, it was drowned out by the roaring of the crowd. As Skull watched with stunned fascination, the pulsing mass of humanity in front of him converged on the demon. The swarming mass undulated and jumped. A sickening squelch filled the air. For a second, Skull felt like he was in a terrifying freefall. Without even noticing it, he began to mutter “oh shi….

But then he saw her. Below the red lights, a cheering woman with raven hair held a long, twisted horn above her head. Dark ichor dripped from the base of it. A second later, something flew through the air and landed near the drummer with a loud splat. Skull didn’t turn around, but he heard the drummer shout: ‘That was pretty… heartless… of you all!‘ The crowd laughed. A smile crossed Skull’s lips and he launched into the next verse.

Later, the band sat around backstage. The adrenaline rush had faded and they were on their fifth beer, unsure whether they were drinking to celebrate or to forget or both. Finally, Skull picked up the remote and turned on the TV.

On the evening news, pictures of police officers milling around an old stone building splashed across the screen. In received pronunciation, the newsreader said: ‘Following reports of several lost pets, police visited the offices of the local conservative club. They found what can only be described as some form of ritual sacrifice...’

Beside him, Razor raised his bottle and said: ‘Makes sense, you know.

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

Well, as something of a continuation of an article about the heavy metal genre and artistic inspiration that I posted a few days ago, I thought that I’d look at a few more things that (visual) artists can learn from the heavy metal genre.

1) Humour, silliness and theatricality: One of the brilliant things about heavy metal music is that, despite the melodramatic imagery that is often associated with it, it doesn’t always take itself entirely seriously.

There are too many examples of humourous metal songs to list here, but they include songs like “Born To Be Epic” by Equilibrium, “Metal Inquisition” By Piledriver, pretty much anything by Alestorm, “Mr. Torture” by Helloween etc…

Even more “serious” metal often tends to have a slightly tongue-in-cheek element to it that is absolute joy to listen to. These songs are deliberately melodramatic in a way that makes them much less “serious” than they might initially appear to be. Some examples of this kind of song include “Kill For Metal” By Iron Fire, “Iron Maiden” by Iron Maiden, “For Your Vulgar Delectation” by Cradle Of Filth, “Metal Machine” by Sabaton etc..

So, what does any of this have to do with art? Well, including the visual equivalent of this kind of thing in your art can be a great way to give your paintings or drawings a distinctive look.

Including overly melodramatic (but knowingly humourous) horror imagery and/or dark humour in your art can really make it stand out from the crowd.

Although this is something that I should probably do a lot more in my own art, I’ve experimented with it a bit, like in this digitally-edited painting called “Skeleton Service” (which was originally inspired by old horror novel covers):

"Skeleton Service" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Service” By C. A. Brown

2) Minimalist storytelling: One of the great things about heavy metal songs is that they sometimes contain a certain amount of storytelling. Whilst this is hardly exclusive to the metal genre, it seems to be a much larger feature of the metal genre compared to many other genres. Within the space of just 100-500 words, a metal song can tell a dramatic story in a similar manner to the epic narrative poems of old.

For example, Judas Priest’s “The Sentinel” tells a story about gladiatorial combat in a post-apocalyptic world using just 189 words. Iron Maiden’s “Number Of The Beast” tells the story of someone witnessing an evil ritual using just 301 words. Turisas’ “To Holmgard And Beyond” tells the story of an epic Viking sea voyage (with multiple fictional characters) in just 279 words etc…

So, again, what does all this writing-based stuff have to do with art?

Well, it’s all to do with the power of minimalist storytelling. When you make art, you often have to tell part of a story within the space of a single image and often without using words.

So, learning the value of compact, minimalist (visual) storytelling can be incredibly useful. And learning how to focus on important details, important events etc.. is something that listening to narrative-based metal songs can help you with.

3) Metal Covers: One of the awesome things about the metal genre, especially within the past couple of decades, is that metal bands will occasionally cover non-metal songs in a metal style. Sometimes, this is just done for laughs, but it can often give these songs more intensity and depth than they originally had.

Examples include Cradle Of Filth’s dramatic covers of both Shakespeares Sister’s “Stay” and The Sisters Of Mercy’s “No Time To Cry”, The Birthday Massacre’s cover of James And The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter’s Cover of “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, Nightwish’s epic cover of Gary Moore’s “Over The Hills And Far Away”, Alestorm’s hilarious cover of Taio Cruz’s “Hangover”, Inkubus Sukkubus’ creative cover of Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves” etc…

So, yet again, what does any of this have to do with art?

First of all, it isn’t a suggestion that you should directly copy other people’s art. With a very small number of exceptions (eg: private practice, parodies, making studies of out-of-copyright paintings etc..) this is usually considered to be plagiarism. So, stick to just taking inspiration from art that you consider to be cool.

Anyway, the reason why I mentioned metal covers is because they’re often examples of a band showing off their own distinctive “style”. It’s also an example of why it’s so important to develop your own unique art style since, like with metal covers of non-metal songs, whatever you paint or draw will be distinctly “yours”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚ Now, listen to some metal \m/

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 πŸ™‚

Four Very Basic Tips For Making Heavy Metal Art

2017 Artwork Heavy Metal Art article sketch

Although heavy metal is perhaps the most awesome type of music in the world, it’s always been a genre that I’ve found difficult to use for direct artistic inspiration. Although I might be listening to it when making a lot of my art, relatively little of my art has actually been recognisable as “heavy metal art”.

Likewise, although some of the visual techniques I use all of the time (eg: tenebrism etc..) were probably inspired by heavy metal album covers, I still found it difficult to make art that was explicitly “heavy metal art”.

But, when I was feeling uninspired the day before writing this article, I eventually decided to try to make some heavy metal art. In the process of working out how to do this, I learnt a bit about how to make art in this genre. But, here’s a preview of part of the painting that I made (which will be posted here in early-mid March):

This is a preview of a painting that will appear here in early-mid March.

This is a preview of a painting that will appear here in early-mid March.

So, here are some basic tips for making heavy metal art if you haven’t really made any before, but already have some art experience/practice:

1) Music: This almost goes without saying, but there is only one genre of music that should be playing in the background when you are making heavy metal art. I probably don’t need to expand on this point much.

2) Research: Do a quick image search for heavy metal art online (it’s probably not a good idea to do this if you’re at work etc.. though!) and look at as many pieces of it as you can. Likewise, dust off your CD collection and look at as many album covers as you can.

Once you’ve done this, try to look for common visual themes in all of the heavy metal art that you’ve seen. For example, during my research, I found that the common visual elements were tenebrism, skeletons (glowing eyes are cool, but optional), swords, semi-nude/nude women, semi-nude muscular men, grotesque monsters, gory violence, creepy old buildings etc…

When you’ve found all of the common visual themes, choose the ones that interest you (for the painting earlier in the e-mail, the elements were tenebrism, skeletons and old buildings) and try to find a way to incorporate these generic elements into a new and original painting.

3) Action: If there’s one thing that can be said about heavy metal art, it’s that it includes a lot of action. Something is always happening in a heavy metal painting. So, when doing your research into heavy metal artwork – look at the kinds of things that are happening in each piece of art.

Once you’ve looked at enough examples, try to think of a dramatic scene that looks like something from a horror movie and then use this new imagined scene as a basis for your painting.

Likewise, if you see a common/ frequently-used pose that you like, then find a slightly new variation on it and use it in your artwork. Although I’m not a copyright expert, my brief online research on the subject seems to suggest that poses, in and of themselves, probably cannot be copyrighted (under the same principle that ideas, but not specific expressions of those ideas, cannot be copyrighted).

Still, both to err on the side of caution and to make your art slightly more distictive, it’s best to come up with a very slight variation on any poses that interest you.

For example, the “outstretched hand” pose used in my painting was probably made famous by Iron Maiden, but variations have also been used in art for bands like Children Of Bodom. My own variation features a slightly tilted head, a very slight forward lean, an outstretched left arm and a few other small changes that help to differentiate it from either of these things (as well as the fact that the actual content of the art is totally different to either example).

4) Other inspirations: It almost goes without saying, but your inspirations for heavy metal art should be more than just other heavy metal art. The thing to remember here is that the best heavy metal art is often a heavy metal-style twist on another genre of art. All of the classic metal album cover artists have probably taken inspiration from things like horror movies, comics, old paintings etc… rather than just other heavy metal album covers.

So, make sure that you have other sources of inspiration too. For example, my painting was at least partly inspired by the wonderfully grotesque artwork in old American horror comics from the 1940s/50s. Likewise, the lighting in the painting was inspired by both classic computer games. I could probably go on for a while, but this painting has more inspirations than just other pieces of heavy metal art.

If you have some non-metal influences, then your art will look significantly more original and interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚