The Obelisk Presents: 10 of 2015’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 4th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

I didn’t get to do this list last year — at least not that I can find — but especially as vinyl continues to grow as the dominant media for underground and/or heavy genres, it seems more and more necessary to highlight quality cover art as a focal point. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. There were way more than 10 badass album covers, and I’m hoping you’ll add your favorites to the comments on this post, but these were some of the ones and some of the artists who most caught my eye. A few of the names are familiar — one artist also appeared on the 2013 list — and the work of some was new to me, but all made striking impressions one way or another in a range of styles, and I hope you’ll agree.

No need to delay. Let’s dive in:

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake

ruby the hatchet valley of the snake

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website here.

Formerly (or at least sort-of-formerly) of Fellwoods and currently also playing in Pushy, Adam Burke‘s style has become essential to the aesthetics of doom and heavy rock. His work for bands like Ice Dragon, Mystery Ship, Pastor, Mos Generator and a slew of others — including me — never fails to impress with its deep colors, natural tones and, in many cases, a sense of underlying threat. So it is with Ruby the Hatchet‘s Tee Pee Records label debut, Valley of the Snake (review here). Burke presents the title literally as a winding serpent in the sky becomes a river leading to a waterfall, the colors of a sun either rising or setting giving a glimpse of the otherworldly while the earth below is presented in darker browns and the jagged rocks in the foreground. There were a few candidates for Burke this year, but this one continues to stun.

Elder, Lore

elder lore

Cover by Adrian Dexter. Artist website here.

A record that, for many, defines 2015 in a major way, Elder‘s Lore (review here) is not the first collaboration between the Massachusetts trio and artist Adrian Dexter, but the results this time around are particularly satisfying. And since we’re talking about vinyl, the creativity in the gatefold design and the other pieces Dexter contributed to the album proves no less impressive than the progressive turn Elder took in their songwriting — a fitting match in scope and execution. Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman RecordsLore has pushed Elder into a different echelon entirely, and this will not be the final year-end-type list on which it appears around here, but Dexter‘s work, detail, subtlety and use of color for the cover simply had to be seen to be believed.

Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Cover by Josh Graham. Artist website here.

Though he’s perhaps best known for his work doing live visuals over a stretch of years for Neurosis, Brooklyn-based Josh Graham‘s list of cover art accomplishments also include Soundgarden, KENmode, Vattnet Viskar and his own projects, A Storm of Light, Battle of Mice and Red Sparowes. With the cover for the self-titled third album from fellow New Yorkers Kings Destroy (review here), he seemed to encapsulate everything the War Crime Recordings release was driving toward with its urban crunch, aggression, and the feeling that all of this is a part of something larger and barely understood. Is it a bowl? Part of some ritual offering? Is it a drain? The expertly manipulated photography takes landmarks from the city and turns them into something as beautiful as it is malevolent, and Kings Destroy lived up to that standard on the album itself.

Snail, Feral

snail feral
Cover by Seldon Hunt. Artist website here.

Every bit worthy of the frame it has. Going back to pieces for Neurosis, Isis, Made out of Babies and more, Seldon Hunt‘s work is always widely varied, covering a range of styles and media. His piece for Feral (review here), a pivotal fourth album by West Coast heavy psych rockers Snail (released by Small Stone), seems to play off the single-word title in portraying a threatening vision of nature. At the bottom, we see human skulls as giant snails, weird glowing dogs and a deer with yellow eyes and snakes entwined in its antlers survey the landscape of huge mushrooms and sparse grass. Behind, two tangled trees add to the sense of foreboding, and a sky that runs from black to red speaks to a night that doesn’t look like it’s about to end anytime soon. Is this Hunt‘s vision of nature’s revenge? Either way, it’s engrossing in its three-dimensionality.

Valkyrie, Shadows

valkyrie shadows

Cover by Jeremy Hush. Artist website here.

Valkyrie‘s third full-length, first for Relapse Records and first in seven years, Shadows (review here), was a classic guitar rock fan’s dream come true. Brothers Jake and Pete Adams led the band through cascading solos, memorable songs and unpretentious vibes. The cover art by Jeremy Hush stood out to me particularly for the violence of its depiction. We see smaller blackbirds using spears or arrows to attack a hawk, and three on one is hardly a fair fight, even with a bird of prey, as a skull looks on from nearby grass. What I don’t know, ultimately, is whose side we’re on — ravens are hardly a traditional harbinger of good fortune — but somehow not knowing that only makes the piece more evocative, and from the detail and use of empty space in its parchment-style background to the struggle it portrays, Hush‘s work certainly grabbed attention.

Ahab, The Boats of the Glen Carrig

ahab the boats of the glen carrig
Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website here.

A Germany-based painter who’s done art for Desertfest Berlin, Colour Haze, as well as the Freak Valley and Keep it Low festivals, Sebastian Jerke contributed several artworks to Napalm Records this year. He’ll continue that thread in 2016 with Greenleaf likely among others, but in 2015, his pieces for My Sleeping Karma and Ahab especially stood out, and the latter most of all. The funeral doomers don’t to anything on a scale less than grand, and Jerke‘s cover for The Boats of the Glen Carrig (review here) offered scope to match. Its sea monsters have breathtaking color and detail, and are familiar and alien at the same time, the central figure’s human-esque hand drawing a crowd either awed or looking to feast. This was one you could stare at over and over again and still always find something new.

Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere
Cover by Tim Lehi. Artist website here.

I actually saw when Acid King unveiled the cover for their first album in a decade, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (review here), that there were some people giving them shit for the artwork out front. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and if you ever wanted to find a bunch of conflicting ones look no further than the internet, but excuse me — it’s a wizard (Hell, that might be Gandalf), riding a tiger, in outer space. If there’s any part of that that isn’t frickin’ awesome, I’m not sure what it might be. What directive tattoo artist Tim Lehi was given going into the project, which would eventually surface on Svart Records, I don’t know, but it’s hard for me to listen to the far-no-farther out riffs of “Center of Everywhere” and not at very least want to be that wizard. Riding that tiger. In outer space. I’ll defend this one all day if necessary.

Serial Hawk, Searching for Light

serial hawk searching for light
Cover by Samantha Muljat and Sara Winkle. Artist websites here and here.

If I had gotten to do this list in 2014, Samantha Muljat could have easily appeared on it for her manipulated landscape that adorned Earth‘s Primitive and Deadly. For Serial Hawk‘s debut album, Searching for Light (review here), she’s partnered with Sara Winkle, whose work ranges from commercial design and album covers to animation and more. What the two offer in their work for Serial Hawk is a blend of the real and the unreal. We don’t see the face of the photographed subject, but she leads our eye toward the white circle, which, on a horizon could be the sun, but here seems to have descended to the field, landed there toward some unknown purpose. The tall grasses seem to fade into a wash of lighter green, but note the angle of the arm on the right side and the legs toward the center is nearly identical and seems to be working opposite the windblown direction of the field surrounding. Like the piece as a whole, it’s as much natural as unnatural.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux]

various artists electric ladyland redux
Cover by David Paul Seymour. Artist website here.

My notes for this list contain no fewer than three separate entries for Minneapolis artist David Paul Seymour. There’s one for ChiefsTomorrow’s Over (review here), and one for Wo Fat‘s Live Juju (review here), but when it came time to pick just one, nothing stood out like Magnetic Eye RecordsElectric Ladyland [Redux] (review here). The full-gatefold spread is my favorite album cover of the year — and a good deal of this year’s covers were by Seymour, who has become nigh on ubiquitous in heavy and psychedelic rock — and for Jimi Hendrix, who’s been portrayed so many times it would be impossible to count, to show up in an original way in an original setting, it showed creativity on a scale fitting to the logistics of the compilation itself, which pulled together groups from around the world in due homage to Hendrix‘s 70th birthday. Its colors, its shading, its strange mercurial pool and waterfall — it’s just perfect for what it was intended to do.

Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science
Cover by Alexander von Wieding. Artist website here.

He’s split his time these last several years with his one-man band incarnation Larman Clamor, but Hamburg’s Alexander von Wieding continues to find time for copious design work for the likes of Brant BjorkKarma to BurnEnos and more. This year, in addition to a logo for a forthcoming The Obelisk t-shirt, he also did a cover for a split between Larman Clamor and Blackwolfgoat, whose Darryl Shepard also plays guitar in Kind, so to have him also illustrate that project’s Ripple debut, Rocket Science (review here), only seems fair. I’ll make no pretense of being anything other than a fan of von Wieding‘s work, and he’s in his element with Rocket Science, line drawing a spacescape with a crashed ship manned by what appears to be a frustrated chicken and rabbit (“Rabbit Astronaut” is one of the song titles). A lizard looks on and sticks a forked tongue out at the scene, and as mountains and planets loom behind, von Wieding reinforces a charm in his work that has drawn bands and labels his way for the better part of the last decade.

Like I said at the outset, there were far too many covers for me to call this list comprehensive — right off the top of my head: SunderGroanMos Generator/StubbMonolord (that solo figure walking into the lake continues to haunt), BaronessHigh on FireGraveyardMonster MagnetThe MachineEggnogg/BorrachoEcstatic Vision, Uncle Acid, on and on — but these were just some that particularly resonated with me. If you feel like something was criminally ignored — maybe I missed it — please let me know in the comments.

And thanks for reading.

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Valkyrie, Shadows: A New Golden Age

Posted in Reviews on June 17th, 2015 by JJ Koczan


It has been seven years since Virginia dual-guitar rockers Valkyrie issued their second album, Man of Two Visions, which was a record that never got its due. The core of the band has been and remains brothers Jake and Peter Adams, and with that second full-length following up their 2006 self-titled debut, they delivered a harmonized-lead kick in the ass to the traditions of Maryland-style doom, marking what seemed at the time like a generational shift in approach. The tones were organic, the vibe schooled but dipping back to ’70s rock in a way that, particularly at the time, was refreshing and exciting for an American band, and with just a touch of Southern heavy at its roots it seemed to hold promise that Valkyrie were bound to turn heads in the years to come.

In 2015, they make their debut on Relapse Records with Shadows, a 42-minute heavy-groover that boasts a track for its year of Valkyrie‘s absence — notable that opener “Mountain Stomp” was featured on a 2012 split with Earthling, whose Alan Fary here plays bass — and finds them no less ready than they were to be commended for their exploration of Pentagram-meets-Thin Lizzy vibes with the occasional flourish of Spirit Caravan‘s irresistible roll. With Warren Hawkins‘ drums setting the pace, Jake and Pete — the latter of whom joined Baroness on lead guitar in 2008 and also features in the latest live incarnation of Samhain — are at the fore as ever in Valkyrie, and Shadows is a guitar-lover’s guitar album, “Temple” showing off swirling leads while the aforementioned and aptly-titled “Mountain Stomp” and subsequent “Golden Age” reaffirm both the guitarists’ harmonic tendencies and the memorable songwriting that made the band such a standout during their initial run.

The heavy rock climate having shifted as greatly as it has in the last decade, and Baroness having ascended to the fore of progressive metal, it seems likely that Valkyrie‘s methods will garner more attention with Shadows than they had previously, and fair enough. It is a mature album, steady in its pace and naturalist in its intent, as “Golden Age” demonstrates in following and developing the nod of “Mountain Stop” with one of Shadows‘ more resonant hooks, and “Temple” affirms with a greater sense of spaciousness and sure-footed shuffle to bridge the lines of its verse. More than either of the opening two, “Temple” feels like a guitar showcase in its second half, but the simple fact is that the Adams brothers can pull that kind of thing off — easily, or at least easily-sounding — and emerge on the other end of six and a half minutes having long since departed the structure of a track without blisters either existential or on their already well-calloused hands.


Centerpiece “Shadow of Reality” refreshes a doomier spirit with peppered-in lead work and pushes through a midsection offsetting weightier impulses with airy tones on the way to a sun-soaked pastoral instrumental burst in its second half, the guitars locking step harmonically for a run no less memorable than the chorus subsequently referenced prior to the rumbling finish that leads the way into “Wintry Plains,” the longest track at 6:49 and a singular highlight for its patient feel, strong hook and rhythmic fluidity. That hook is reinforced, which makes a big difference compared to “Temple” or “Shadow of Reality” before it, the song moving into a jam and returning to the chorus before departing again at the close. One wouldn’t ask Valkyrie to do the same thing all the time, but even if it makes “Wintry Plains” the longest cut here — not by much; songs range on either side of six minutes — the extra seconds are well spent and go toward making the song a landmark for the band, which it is.

And the album is classic enough in its construction that “Wintry Plains” isn’t the last landmark to come, either. “Echoes (of the Way We Lived)” moves at a speedier clip than more relaxed earlier cuts like “Mountain Stomp” or “Golden Age” — though I wouldn’t go so far as to call anything on Shadows languid — and the effect it has is to sustain the momentum from the end of “Wintry Plains” over to closer “Carry On,” which leaves an impression that lasts much longer than the song’s six minutes, its theme and the repeated line, “Our voice will carry on,” as appropriate for a finishing track as it is for the story of Valkyrie in particular. With seven years between Man of Two Visions and their third, one can’t help but wonder if either or both of the Adams brothers are questioning if Shadows will be the last chapter in Valkyrie‘s story. It may well be, or it may be a new beginning, but whatever context time gives, it’s a worthy follow-up to their second album and a look at some of what the band might’ve been able to accomplish had they kept going the first time around.

To be perfectly honest, it’s a somewhat bittersweet listen on that level, since it’s easy to imagine that, had their circumstances not worked out the way they did, Valkyrie would probably be two or three records beyond their third offering by now, and there are points in making my way through Shadows where I ask what those could-have-been moments would sound like, where the obvious chemistry between Jake and Pete might have taken their songwriting. We may yet find that out — and better late than never, of course — and while it’s hard to hear these tracks and wonder if this is Valkyrie‘s shining moment or if that might still come, it’s worth remembering that in the intervening seven years they’ve been (mostly) gone, a new generation of American heavy rock fans has emerged, and for them, it’s just as likely Shadows will be a first exposure. On that level, it is nothing if not welcoming.

Valkyrie, Shadows (2015)

Valkyrie on Thee Facebooks

Valkyrie on Bandcamp

Valkyrie at Relapse Records

Relapse Records on Thee Facebooks

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Valkyrie Announce July Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 11th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Reborn Virginian heavy rockers Valkyrie continue their surge in the wake of the release last month of their third album, first in seven-plus years and first for RelapseShadows (review pending). They’ve just announced a new round of tour dates supporting the record for next month, and that’s awesome, but if I can, I’d like to draw your eyes for just a moment to their three festival slots in the coming months.

June 27, they’re at Maryland Doom Fest, and in one weekend in August, they play both the Death to False Metal festival in Connecticut (that’s Aug. 14) and the GwarBQ in Richmond, Virginia (that’s Aug. 15). Yeah, there’s a whole tour between and I’ve no doubt the four-piece are going to play with some kickass bands along the way, but god damn, if Valkyrie were going to make a comeback, at least they’re doing it in style.

Okay, now we can go back to the business at hand, which comes off the PR wire:


Valkyrie Announce Tour In Support of “Shadows”

Valkyrie recently released their Shadows LP via Relapse Records, and now the band is gearing up for a tour and set of festival appearances.

Propelled by the stunning guitar heroics of brothers Pete and Jake Adams, Virginia’s Valkyrie return with their third full length Shadows, one of the year’s best guitar-driven, heavy rock records. Valkyrie’s twin harmonized guitar leads and clean dual vocal assault matched with a strong nod to classic doom and heavy metal creates a psychedelic and heavy sound that pays homage to classic heavy rock bands like Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy while bringing to mind the pastoral and organic sounds of Jethro Tull. With no regard to current trends, or retro-rock posturing, Valkyrie rides on with a true, classic, heavy metal assault that has turned many heads with its impressive live shows and soul-stirring conviction. You can stream the album here, and check them out when they ride through your town…

Valkyrie shows:
Jun 27 Frederick, MD – Maryland Doom Fest
Jul 17 Athens, OH – Casa Nueva
Jul 18 Cleveland, OH – Now That’s Class
Jul 19 Chicago, IL – Livewire
Jul 21 Madison, WI – Wisco
Jul 22 Minneapolis, MN – Hexagon
Jul 23 Omaha, NE – Lookout Lounge
Jul 24 Kansas City, KS – Riot Room
Jul 25 St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
Jul 27 Memphis, TN – Hi-Tone Cafe
Jul 28 Nashville, TN – The End
Jul 29 Johnson City, TN – The Hideaway
Jul 30 Asheville, NC – Odditorium
Jul 31 Raleigh, NC – Slim’s
Aug 14 Hamden, CT – Death to False Metal Fest
Aug 15 Richmond VA – Gwar BBQ @ Hadad’s Lake

Valkyrie, “Mountain Stomp”

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Valkyrie Announce Live Shows

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 29th, 2015 by JJ Koczan


Virginian heavy rockers Valkyrie are edging closer to the release of their third album and much-anticipated return, Shadows. Also serving as their debut on Relapse Records, it’s due on May 19, and in addition to appearances at the upcoming inaugural Maryland Doom Fest in June and Death to False Metal fest in Connecticut in August, they’ll be playing a few regional shows around the release date that are newly announced.

It works out to be a pair of weekenders late in May before the fest spots, heading as far north from Virginia as Philadelphia. Presumably more will follow, but for now, here’s this off the PR wire:

maryland doom fest 1

Valkyrie Announce Shows and New Song From “Shadows” LP

Valkyrie will release Shadows on May 19th via Relapse Records, and the band just announced a set of dates and unveiled a new track from the their upcoming LP.

Propelled by the stunning guitar heroics of brothers Pete and Jake Adams, Virginia’s Valkyrie return with their third full length Shadows, one of the year’s best guitar-driven, heavy rock records. Valkyrie’s twin harmonized guitar leads and clean dual vocal assault matched with a strong nod to classic doom and heavy metal creates a psychedelic and heavy sound that pays homage to classic heavy rock bands like Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy while bringing to mind the pastoral and organic sounds of Pagan Altar and Jethro Tull. With no regard to current trends, or retro-rock posturing, Valkyrie rides on with a true, classic, heavy metal assault that has turned many heads with its impressive live shows and soul-stirring conviction. Make sure you catch the band live if they are in your area!

Valkyrie shows:
May 22 Harrisonburg, VA – Golden Pony
May 23 Charlottesville, VA – Main Street Annex
May 29 Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
May 30 Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
June 27 Frederick, MD – Maryland Doom Fest
August 14 Hamden, CT – Death to False Metal Fest

Valkyrie, “Wintry Plains”

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Valkyrie’s Shadows Due May 19; Album Trailer and Details Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 13th, 2015 by JJ Koczan


As a first taste of the forthcoming third Valkyrie LP and first in seven years, the sampler clip of opener “Mountain Stomp” serves notice of classic rock intent and the double-guitar antics one expects from brothers Jake and Pete Adams. The record, titled Shadows, is out May 19 on Relapse, and along with the trailer and the tracklisting, the cover art by Jeremy Hush has been revealed. After so long an absence, though, it’s mostly just good to have Valkyrie up and kicking again. They’ll play the Maryland Doom Fest in June at Cafe 611 with Sixty Watt ShamanSpirit CaravanApostle of Solitude and many more (info here).

The PR wire has details:

valkyrie shadows

Relapse Records Details Valkyrie “Shadows” LP

Relapse Records, who is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has announced that they will be releasing a new LP from Valkyrie called Shadows on May 19th. The label is teasing the release with a trailer….

Propelled by the stunning guitar heroics of brothers Pete and Jake Adams, Virginia’s Valkyrie return with their third full length Shadows, one of the year’s best guitar-driven, heavy rock records. Jam packed with harmonized leads, rich solos and melodic, blues-based riffs, Valkyrie sound like the perfect blend of American style doom rock bands like Pentagram or Spirit Caravan and classic hard rock like Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, and Deep Purple. Where Pete Adams’ other band Baroness focuses more on the modern proggy and poppy side of metal, Valkyrie looks to proto metal trailblazers for influence while injecting plenty of current day inspiration. Produced by Sanford Parker (Pelican, Leviathan, YOB), Shadows is the perfect summer heavy rock record!

Check out the cover art by Jeremy Hush and track listing below…

Track Listing:
1. Mountain Stomp
2. Golden Age
3. Temple
4. Shadow of Reality
5. Wintry Plains
6. Echoes (Of The Way We Lived)
7. Carry On

Valkyrie, Shadows album trailer

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