10 Emerging Visual Artists Every Metalhead Needs To Know
Words: Chris Krovatin
When it comes to music inspiring amazing visual art, few genres can match heavy metal. Metal’s love of iconic and inspiring imagery, along with its cultural birth during the height of dark psychedelia and unhinged fantasy, make it a form of music whose aesthetic is just more entertaining than others. Sure, you can try to convince yourself that a record with a band photo or logo on the front is really cool… but then you see a record whose sleeve features art by Frank Frazetta, HR Giger, or Wes Benscoter, and you realize that you’ve been lying to yourself, and that metal is the way.
But like metal imagery – in which Vikings fight dinosaurs with laser guns – the world of metal artists exists on a time warp that doesn’t often give young hopefuls much of a leg up. The work of the great heavy metal artists feels so timeless that fans forget to look for up-and-coming creators whose art will adorn the next generation’s shirts and albums. So here, for your perusal, are ten emerging heavy metal artists whose work every hesher should know:
One of the artists leading the charge in metal right now is Samuel “Defame” Mills. His stark, oozing black and white work is reminiscent of that of underground legends like Mark Riddick and Chris Moyen, but Defame leaves his own signature touches in the slime-webs, snarling faces, and weathered wood that swirls its way into his morbid depictions of torture and zombies. His talents have definitely gotten him noticed, his work having recently been featured on gear for bands like Whitechapel and Gatecreeper (a Defame shirt for whom is pictured above).
“I just came out of the womb as an artist,” says Defame. “You either have it or you don’t just like music or any other talent. And if my memory serves me correctly it was started with a crayon.” When it comes to what aspects of metal he tries to include in every drawing, Defame’s answer is simple: “Brutal fucking death! That and just a crusty, stringy, putridness that can only be described with double bass, blasting riffs and guttural noises.”
Tallboy’s talents show off a mixture that metal does better than any genre: retro yet current. On the one hand, his work is definitely couched in the style of classic comix art of old-school dudes like Rick Griffin and Robert Crumb, and exudes the laid-back stoner biker vibe that was so present in the rise of bands like Black Sabbath. On the other hand, his work doesn’t seem to go too hard in a retro/tribute direction, and approaches the more insane or ridiculous aspects of stoner metal art with tongue-in-cheek self-awareness (you gotta love anyone who sells a ‘Hippies: Use Side Door’ print). All of this makes his art feel both timeless and current, an expression of boiled-down heavy metal outlaw attitude that can get lost in the scene-choked world of modern music.
Maegan Lemay’s art almost looks like the doodles you might find in a teenage metalhead’s high school notebook – if that metalhead studied art all day and had an extreme sense of scope. Her work ranges from sprawling scenes of apocalyptic death right off of a Bay Area thrash LP to low-to-the-ground depictions of fanged skulls and gasmask goats. There’s a strong tattooability to her work; even her detailed black-and-gray drawings or her paintings feel iconic and badass in a way that years to be inked down someone’s thigh. She’s currently an artist at Spilt Milk Tattoo in Hyannis, so if you’re in the Massachusetts area, leave a couple of hours free to get some work done by her.
Woah, did it just get warmer in here? Known for his brash mix of classical satanism and pornographic sexuality, Kerbcrawlerghost has become a mainstay of the underground metalhead art scene, particularly amongst those heshers who like to push the sensitivity buttons of polite society. His piece “Suck”, pictured above, has become an iconic image in lowbrow art circles, and is regularly ripped off by models and directors looking to channel the brash steaminess behind his unique, sexually-charged atmosphere. It’s unsurprising, if a little annoying, that an artist so talented keeps getting his Instagram account shut down – but then again, that’s the price one pays for pushing buttons (and pushing them real, real good).
“I try to put the aggressive energy out of heavy metal on my drawings,” says Kerbcrawlerghost. “The twisted, tormented, dark lyrics of bands like Black Sabbath for example always helps me to create interesting narrative conflicts on my drawings… but I have to say that Doom and Black metal are the most relevant in that matter. I like to put the dark, cold, and ancient mental landscapes that northern metal evokes me… different music inspires different pieces, and I always love to change [my style].”
To be fair, Simon Turner has been around the block – his work has graced the covers of albums by bands including Primordial, Armoured Angel, and Destroyer 666 – so “emerging” might sell him short. But the Australian artist’s recent work both as a tattoo artist and for his own website has shown him breaking awesome new ground. His Boschian demon series brings a kickass cartoonishness to the animal demons of classical art, while his ethereal corpse-painted warrior women seem to come straight out of a thrasher’s Conan-inspired wet dream.
If your personal artistic sensibilities revolve around skulls, bongs, and dripping candles, then Denver’s own J. Partylord is your dude. His ultra-streamlined style is chock full of dirtbag culture and outlaw imagery, full of bong monsters, skull castles, demons, eight balls, weed wizards, and battle axes. The result is like the concept art for a video game that no one’s been smart enough to make, and looks like the kind of tattoo everyone wants to get but worries they’ll regret.
“I just really like drawing fucking skulls, man,” says Partylord. “And drugs. But especially fucking skulls. I just draw them fuckers automatically when I draw for fun. If I have to work on commissions, sometimes I’ll sit and draw a few to get em out of my system and warm up before I get to the serious shit. Why are fools so scared of death, yet spend all their time doing shit they hate? When I’m just fucking around in the studio I just like to get fuckin’ Rip City and see what comes out. Bong rips and quick sketches, or just freehand drawing. I’ll come back to that graveyard for tattoo ideas or use them for pieces of art later on when I’ve got time to dig into them.”
When it comes to heavy metal art, hard lines are often tougher than smears and splatters; while those are open-ended and atmospheric, firm lines have to be deliberate. That’s where Alex Matus shines – her work is as hard-edged and direct as the logos of classic metal bands like Judas Priest and Slayer. But Alex’s work goes one step further, drawing strange flavors from stoner doom, street metal, outlaw biker rock, and even old music and movie posters, so that her solid lines and simple images draw the eye into them, and feel symbolic in their representation of classic metal’s eternal power.
Karl Dahmer’s art is, in a word, gross. Just looking at one of the rotting skulls that fills his work gives you the vague sensation that you need to take a fuckin’ bath. But that textured, busy, overdriven sense of filth and decay sets his work apart from that of every other dude drawing a corpse; each one of Karl’s images is so imbued with the busy nature of rot that the viewer can easily get lost in the elaborate, tangible depth of it all. And it’s gotten him noticed – Karl’s work can be found on shirts of bands including Killswitch Engage and Exodus, making him an in-demand figure amongst those who worship at the altar of death and darkness.
Identical twins and co-owners of Black Veil Tattoo in the witch-haunted town of Salem, Massachusetts, Ryan and Matthew Murray’s gothic surrealism seems like the perfect artistic accompaniment to black and death metal heavyweights like Behemoth, Cradle Of Filth, and Midnight. Plenty of artists use elements of gothic horror in their work, but the way the Murrays combine them into dreamy tattoo collages make them especially unsettling and romantic. Though each Murray has his own distinct style – Ryan’s work is slightly more ethereal, while Matt’s has a touch more of a driven aggression to it – their uncommon running themes and distinct adherence to creeping shadows make them a combined force to be reckoned with, and on worth a trip to Salem to have inked on your arm.
Toxic mutants? Wrestling vegetables? Epic Batman-on-Batman orgies of violence? It all exists in the twisted work of James Callahan, creator of Barf Comics. The weirdness and overkill-driven line work in James’ illustrations are certainly the mainstays in all of James’ art, which has been featured in Thrasher Magazine and on Creature skate decks. But more than anything, its James’ sense of hilarious, unhinged freedom that makes him stand out from the pack. His ability to channel heavy metal fantasy via classic comics and cartoons is a direct route into the subconscious of every kid who grew up feeding their head with sugared cereal and Saturday morning animation.