With his third volume in a series of books devoted to heavy metal and hard rock album covers, author Ramon Oscuro Martos completes the definitive curation of the art, history, and significance of the images that have become iconic or otherwise influence our listening experience. In contrast to other genres of music, heavy metal and hard rock album covers stand out for their provocative imagery. Frequently utilizing paintings instead of simple photographs of band members or a graphic design that is more subversive than benign, these works of art create a universe that is instantly recognizable to genre fans. Indeed, as Billboards 2020 review of “The 50 Greatest Album Covers of All Time” features an abundance of simple photographs of the artist adorning their respective covers, while Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Judas Priest’s British Steel abrasively rub against the grain.
…And Justice for Art: Stories About Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Album Covers continues where Martos’ previous volumes left off. Across 260 pages, this third volume features more than 400 images and over 100 exclusive interviews with artists and band members to reveal the stories behind the art. Some highlights in this volume include the covers to Judas Priest’s Painkiller, W.A.S.P.’s The Headless Children, Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains, Rush’s Moving Pictures, AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, and Kiss’ Destroyer, among many others. Of course, it’s not just the interviews, but also Martos’ meticulous research and attention to detail that helps bring the art and stories to life.
As with its predecessors, this third volume is beautiful. Printed on glossy pages, each album cover (and often its variants and related single artwork) is gloriously presented in high resolution. You can choose to flip through the pages to admire the art like a coffee table book or take a deeper dive into the creation of each individual piece as a lesson in art. You do not need to be a metalhead to appreciate what’s offered. Students, art aficionados, and artists will find plenty to love across all three volumes collectively or individually. That’s right, you don’t need to know these volumes in succession. Each stands on its own.
We caught up with Martos to learn more about this final volume of his series. Limited to only 700 copies, click here to grab one while they’re still available.
The first two volumes of …And Justice for Art were focused on Heavy Metal. But, with Volume 3 you’ve expanded the scope to “Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.” What was your motivation to do so?
Hard Rock and Heavy Metal are musical genres intrinsically related in many aspects. One could not exist without the other. So, it made sense to include the covers of some important Hard Rock albums (like Led Zeppelin II, and Rush’s Moving Pictures, etc.) that have influenced many Metal musicians/bands. I believe that inclusion makes the book better and more interesting.
The original cover art for Guns n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction is a fantastic inclusion in the book. For one, the misunderstood nature of the art and second, the discussion of artist Robert Williams’ “Lowbrow Art.”
Definitely. As often happens with unusual imagery, many people who criticized the original Appetite for Destruction artwork (including those who campaigned for the artwork’s removal from the album’s front cover) never took the time to do their homework and learn about the potential meanings behind the artwork and its aesthetic value. The main motivation I had when I decided to include it in the book was to create a better understanding of the artwork and to present an overview of an artistic movement as unique as Lowbrow Art. The …And Justice for Art books, especially the new one, are open invitations to look beyond, to dig deeper into the world of any given image.
Do you think it is common that hard rock and heavy metal album art is often misunderstood or misinterpreted? Be it “Satanic” or otherwise….
That happens all the time in Rock and Heavy Metal, because of the “edgy” nature of the genre’s aesthetics. As someone who comes from a third world country, I have experienced that first-hand. It doesn’t matter if you can be the most honest and productive member of society, if you listen to heavy music, have a long hair, wear a “weird” black t-shirt, or something like that, you’re automatically considered a potential threat to society. Sadly, you can also find that all over the world. People tend to “Satanize” what they do not understand or like, especially at first sight. That is partly what motivated me, besides my love for Metal art, to create the …And Justice for Art books: to create a document that could reach people unfamiliar with heavy music to help them understand its aesthetic particularities.
Do you think it’s unfair to say that Metal album art frequently skews the lines of “Lowbrow” art? For example, I’m thinking of Wes Benscoter’s painting for Cattle Decapitation’s Humanure that you featured in the first volume. Objectively, one cannot argue that it is a great painting; yet it’s absurd and disgusting. In the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the band, it could even be viewed as juvenile. Whereas his painting for The Anthropocene Extinction (covered in this latest volume) may be considered something more profound.
That’s the unique dichotomy that most Metal-related visual imagery proposes. The images can be arrestingly odd, shocking, ludicrous and at the same time, very compelling and challenging from a conceptual standpoint. It’s true that many bands just use visuals to enhance the shocking value of their music, but in many cases, bands and artists use the imagery to challenge the viewer with interesting ideas that could have social, political, ecological connotations, etc. Cattle Decapitation’s album covers embrace that to perfection: they are a perfect marriage between what you might consider shocking and absurd, but also profound and thought-provoking. In the new …And Justice for Art book, I present various examples of that.
Over three volumes you’ve covered hundreds of album covers (often including related single and EP artwork) ranging from Sabbath’s 1970 debut and across all the decades leading up to the present. Whether considering current trends, drawing on history, or the work of current artists, where do you think the story of metal art goes from here? Does it continue to draw on tradition or do you see a unique path forward?
I believe we’re currently in a good place regarding the quality of Metal album covers and overall visuals. Nowadays, there are many different aesthetics co-existing within the genre. You have artists deeply rooted in the traditional Metal tropes and artists that are taking the genre’s visuals into unexpected directions. To have that kind of variety is good instead of just moving into just one specific stylistic direction. You can see the beautiful co-existence of styles that currently exist in Metal and Hard Rock (from traditional illustration to photography to digital design) in the new …And Justice for Art book. I think that heavy music’s art is going to stay strong in the future.
You have independently published all three volumes of …And Justice for Art. Using crowdfunding campaigns, using printers in China, and of course making hundreds of connections among bands, artists, management, and record labels to use the art or conduct the associated interviews. It’s a daunting task and you’ve done it three times. What advice do you have for independent artists and writers who are considering taking a similar path or who are struggling with it?
Putting a book together is an arduous process. My main advice to those embarking into that adventure is to be patient and perseverant…and keep it professional. Many things will happen that will discourage you and deviate you from your creative path, but you need the keep focus and keep going no matter what. Also, you need to know as much as possible about the subject/topic you’re writing about. You need to love it. That’s more important than being a perfect writer. Readers won’t feel your passion if you don’t feel it first. Sadly, there are people out there producing written material (including books about Metal art) that don’t take that in consideration and that is reflected in the material. You can feel the lackluster tone, the mechanical writing style, etc. That’s disappointing. I know I’m not a perfect writer, far from that. But I try to imprint every word with honest passion. I think the new …And Justice for Art exemplifies that to perfection. I would like to invite everyone to check it out.