I have a deep affection for hand-drown, black and white, low-fi black metal album illustrations.
I suspect it stems from growing up with very early Dungeons & Dragons manuals (as in, the very first editions, before it became Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition) and their wonderfully cheap-looking and somewhat out of proportion monster and warrior illustrations.
Incidentally, if that doesn’t sound very metal to you, keep in mind the unsung influence of D&D on metal and black metal in particular (not that I condone Varg Vikernes’ atrocious behaviour, but the cover of Det Som Engang Var is a knock off of The Temple Of Elemental Evil).
But that aside, for this reason I like the artwork on last year’s Land Beyond The Forest EP by Romania’s Siculicidium.
Land Beyond The Forest
Siculicidium - Land Beyond The Forest
Notwithstanding the fact that the cover illustration is courtesy of Witchfinder from none other than Reverend Bizarre, Land Beyond The Forest is a mixed bag. Siculicidium’s previous full-length, Hosszú Út Az Örökkévalóságba (yeah, I had trouble saying it too) was in 2013, and this follow-up consists of an intro and three new tracks, plus three covers, including a Swans track.
It’s fairly crude black metal, not massively fast or blast-beaty or violent. I feel it’s kind of unimaginative and is dominated by the same growly and inhuman albeit monotonous vocals.
In fact, main-man Béla Lugosi told Zero Tolerance magazine after its release: “Sadly, we couldn’t catch the perfect atmosphere when we recorded. I’m not so happy with the final result, only the drums by Khrul are great!”
Those drums, incidentally, are pretty basic. There is little in the way of fills, texture, or much of anything else, and they could easily be replicated by a machine.
But whatever. People obviously dig Siculicidium. That’s why they’ve got two full-lengths and four EPs. Plus, the world needs more Eastern European black metal bands.
The subjective question of whether the Land Beyond The Forest EP is ‘good’ is secondary to the fact that their music just happens to work for those who appreciate black metal that is minimalist but not overly atmospheric (in itself a black metal paradox — and a discussion for a different time). That, I feel, is something that comes through in the album artwork.
Entire volumes could be written — which makes it yet another discussion for another time — on the paradox of associating and separating any visual aesthetic with black metal music itself.
As far as I’m concerned, if you go to the effort of selecting suitable album artwork, let alone commission something specific, then the element of your art that happens to be visual is a direct reflection of the remainder of that same work of art, which happens to be sonic.
Which means that, like the sound of the Land Beyond The Forest EP, so too is the picture on the cover — created and commissioned with the intent of bringing to life the recording — a reflection and an expression of that minimalist aesthetic.
With this album cover, I love the hand-drawn qualities to the trees, the winding path, the wacky over-sized mushrooms, and the portal to another world. It embodies the weirdness, the absolute niche nature of this music, and brilliantly captures the folky, dark fantasy lore nature of what this band is about, even if it’s something that doesn't necessarily come out merely by listening to it, but has to be learned by way of explanation.
The only thing that’s not so cool? The hard-to-miss and juvenile erotic stylisation of female genitals into that gate.
For all its dark grimness, Siculicidium - Land Beyond The Forest clearly has an element of tongue in cheek going for