An illustration for an article about Isis in Revolver magazine

“There are so many sub-genres of metal these days,” says Chris. “Power metal artwork, for example, can be corny as hell, and thrash bands still prefer the photocopied, hand-drawn punk look of the early days.

“Then there are bands like Baroness and Mastodon, [who have] album art that could be at home in a high-end gallery. There’s something for everyone within the metal umbrella in 2011.”

Another factor in the changing look of metal art may be that many of the prominent artists are also musicians. For example, Aaron Turner, graphic artist and founder of label Hydra Head Records, was also the guitarist and vocalist for Isis, among other bands.

Aaron says it’s hard to qualify whether or not sleeves have really become less literal as a result of this relationship.

“It seems logical to me that the closer the relationship between the designer or artist and music they are working on creating visuals for,” he says, “the more likely it is that what they create will truly suit that music.”

Let the music inspire you

“You aren’t just creating artwork for an album; it’s about being able to customise websites, posters, social networking sites and so on,” says artist Dan Mumford, who has created posters and covers for bands from metalheads Trivium to old-skool punks Gallows.

“The fans really get into that. The Internet has transformed the whole way bands operate in the last decade, massively so, and it’s fun, too; record launches are a big deal online. It’s just a shame the physical medium is dying in its place,” says Dan.

Cover art for Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO’s album Recurring Dream And Apocalypse Of Darkness

“Bands are always going to need images. But yes, gig posters and T-shirts have replaced the gatefold sleeve,” says artist Godmachine. His fun and knowing take on traditional heavy metal iconography – including skulls and gore – revels in its tropes, without seeming exploitative or crude.

Ask any of these artists, what’s the best way to create artworks for metal bands, and the answer is the same: spend a lot of time with their music, and the creative ideas will naturally begin to start flowing.

“Listen to the album and get inspired,” says Chris Parks.