Posted on November 25 2016
By Ariana Black
Frank Frazetta, fantasy art maestro, cult idol supreme, illustration maven, among other titles is a prominent figure within and out of the metal community. Surveying the countless imitations of his work plastered on tattoos, motorcycles, and Volkswagen Microbus’ throughout the seventies and eighties there is no denying that Frazetta was HEAVILY rooted in heavy metal culture. My personal favorite pieces being his Vampirella draw-ups and his contributions to Fire and Ice (1983), Frazetta has breached many territories including the comic and movie world (from posters for screwball comedies to horror comedies like Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers). His craftsmanship can be traced back most notably to the covers of the infamous Conan novels, Jon Mikl Thor vibes on that
one anyone? For someone who has seemingly rejected rock and metal in his interviews, Frazetta is a critical figure for metal iconography. The many metal songs that revolve around fantasy themes pose no shock that their accompaniment are grandeur covers of barbarians mounting their stallions, wielding spiked maces and warrior women clad in chains and leather (in the holy words of Running Wild). Frazetta’s work exudes the dream worlds we all create at some point in our heads.
The do-it-yourself attitude he had toward his work is one comparable to many metal bands. In a Juxtapoz Magazine interview by George Petros in reference to his work, “What you see is what you get,” he proclaims. “There’s nothing complicated about it. But, if you see deeper into it, far be it from me to say anything different.” The mysticism surrounding the worlds he’s built can be directly linked to the process most band's take when developing albums, the open interpretation mindset that urges listeners to develop their own understanding of songs despite the band’s original intent. Heavy metal after all is an art form in itself. Heavy Load, Cirith Ungol, Manowar, Manilla Road, Attacker, Visigoth, Warlock, Yngwie Malmsteen, have all featured the master’s art or have borrowed heavily from the concepts portrayed on canvas. Certain artists for these bands like Ken Kelly (Rainbow, Manowar- and interestingly, Frazetta’s nephew), Michael Whelan (Cirith Ungol, Sacred Rite, Sepultura), Eric Larnoy, Boris Vallejo, and others have interpreted and produced work with an uncanny resemblance to Frazetta’s.
I’ve been reflecting on why heavy metallers are so drawn to the ideas of mysticism implemented in this category of art. Maybe we associate the liberation of these characters as something we can attain through listening and playing our music? It makes us feel like holier-than-thou figures and give us the might to detract from everything else in the world due to the illusory nature of it all. Swords, magick, and wonder are the equivalent of a kid in a candy store for some. Manilla Road’s Spiral Castle is a prime example as a pictorial trope. The attention to details borders on hypnotizing.
As a sucker for bizarre album covers, I’ve come across the conversation of the importance of album art more times than I would like. You’ve heard it all before, “It’s all about the music, who cares about the rest?” The music is certainly a deal breaker, but aesthetically displeasing artwork is almost as irritable as musical material that is terribly lacking. Cover art is a strong component in the desire to buy a physical copy. Being immersed in both the artistic and production realm, it’s important that an album serves as a full package. For a teenager in a bygone era like the seventies, immersing oneself in the world of Dungeons and Dragons and supernatural paperbacks certainly must have warranted an attraction to darkness and wonder, in turn offering a sense of enchantment whilst listening to the music that accompany those visions. Icons like Frazetta’s Death Dealer are made that much more interesting in that regard, paired with the fact that they are an embodiment of true metal spirit.