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A compact gallery of progressive metal design: Justin Bartlett

December 31, 2009

Illustration for The Secret, by Justin Bartlett


The exploration of contemporary heavy metal design continues apace; why not end the year with a round of intense, detailed yet schematic, patently evil illustration?

This work, by the formidable Justin Bartlett, is not an explicit comment on the collective state of mind at the turn of oh-nine (unless you’re vibing that way, go there!). My research agenda includes advocating for the design subcultures that unaccountably persist in this visually omnivorous era. Music graphics are still a key source of graphic innovation, despite assertions to the contrary (confusingly, by the very designers who paved the way, like Peter Saville). Even in the vaunted iTunes era, a band’s visual output—identity, standard and limited-edition packaging, merch, etc.—can still be central to a band’s whole being; as listeners, we still mentally append images to the otherwise imageless, yet evocative, music.

For more extreme musics, this is moreso. I wrote a piece about progressive heavy metal design for Print, which I derived from an earlier podcast I produced on the subject.

Featured in the article are Stephen O’Malley of SUNN O))), Aaron Turner of Isis, and Seldon Hunt, a trio of excellent designers who occasionally contribute to each other’s projects. Also quoted are Ian Christe, author of the excellent Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal and publisher of Bazillion Points, and Mike Essl, head of Graphic Design at Cooper Union. The Print piece doesn’t include links, so I took the opportunity to correct that here.

This is the first of a short series of compact portfolios of the main artists mentioned in the piece. As he said of the article on his blog Vberkvlt, “I will NOT be exiling Satan any time soon…” Justin’s high-contrast, pen-and-ink work is thematically perhaps in the most trad metal vein—corpses, goats, 666, Petrine crosses, and pentagrams abound. But the starkness of the work—the way the iconically occult figures stand solitary against the field, as in Aubrey Beardsley’s work—contributes to its ambiguity.

Justin is featured in the latest edition of Taschen’s Illustration Now series, and you can read an interview with him in a recent ILOVEFAKE (it’s a PDF). Plus his links page is an excellent resource to more amazing design and illustration.

Broad as it is, the graphic work featured in my article does not represent all the bewildering strains of metal design today; like the music itself, the design and illustration splinters in a hundred other directions. But as the Print article shows only a small sliver of the work mentioned, it makes sense to give a more extensive gallery here. Of course, the designers’ sites themselves are worthy of more exploration.

Justin Bartlett

AwayInMyHypergrave

Cthonicrites

Raven

Pakt

draggedIntoMoonlight

TheSabbath

DarkFolke

Mindroots

Captions for the work above:

1. Away In My Hypergrave
2. Cthonicrites
3. The Raven
4. Pakt
5. Dragged Into Moonlight
6. The Sabbath
7. Dark Folke
8. Mind Roots

Earlier: The look of metal today

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