...And Justice For Art: As I Lay Dying's "Awakened" - Pure American Metalcore... with a French Twist!

- Feb 08, 2013 at 06:20PM
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In 2012, ten years into their career, California’s As I Lay Dying released their sixth studio album titled Awakened. With the help of legendary Black Flag drummer and producer Bill Stevenson, the group successfully refined their blend of Metalcore adding sudden slabs of neo-Thrash and occasional melodic catchiness. "We really needed to make sure that we are still progressing and showing that we’re only getting stronger with our sound. We’re always trying to throw in new elements and always expand our sound somewhat," says long time guitarist Phil Sgrosso about the band’s mindset while recording the album. Indeed, tracks like the opener "Cauterize", the frantic "A Greater Foundation" or the sonically dense "Overcome" only come to confirm that this is probably one of the quintet’s finest recorded efforts to date.


With that musical approach in mind, and an album title that conveyed such concepts as self discovery and enlightenment, the band needed more than ever, the right cover artwork. The logical choice was to hire the band’s long-time collaborator, graphic artist - and Converge vocalist - Jacob Bannon for the job. But that was not meant to be: "We actually started working on the album cover very early in our writing process. We wanted to make sure the album artwork was done in time. Jacob Bannon wasn't necessarily available to do it. I think he was pretty busy with Converge stuff," Sgrosso remembers. "So, we thought we just had to find someone who could work with what our style is and make something that was captivating, visually. It was kind of a tough decision. We had to go with someone else."


Enter French designing boutique Metastazis. In recent years, the relatively young, talented company had found success thanks to their unique use of hand drawing, photography, and digital techniques in designs for bands like Secrets Of The Moon, Ulver, and Alcest, among others. The members of As I Lay Dying were aware of their talents: “We were just fans of a lot of the work they've done for some other bands," remembers the guitarist. "We just looked through all the artworks and we thought 'This is something that could work for us!'" From point on, the most distinctive album cover in the band’s career started to take shape.

French artist and Metastazis mainman Valnoir Mortasonge, then contacted his fellow illustrator Tiffanie Uldry to assist him with the project. "He had seen my Blogspot profile and wanted to work with me," remembers Tiffanie. "I didn't know him before but I realized that I already knew several of his works." She claims that making the illustration was a careful but simple process. "The composition was made by Valnoir. I did my drawings on sheets of Bristol paper, element by element. I scanned and printed them in a light blue version. Then, it was time to ink them. As for the rest, it was Valnoir's work."


The artwork depicts a sort of symmetrical emblem containing naturalistic elements like cranes, a moth and celestial bodies interacting with a human skull and other shapes. It clearly represents a stylistic change of direction in comparison with the more abrasive trademark of Bannon’s work. "It’s a sort of dark vision of 'Art Nouveau,'" says Tiffanie when referring to the artwork’s abundance of well-defined lines, detailed shapes and the quasi-monochromatic palette of black, gray, and gold tonalities. "It just has this kind of regal sort of look" enthuses Phil Sgrosso. "There’s a lot of detail, different layers. Visually, is more captivating that way."


On Awekened's artwork, the dominating element of the composition is a skull, which provides a certain sense of visual unity with the band’s previous album covers. It initially appeared on the sleeve of 2003's Frail Words Collapse and on every subsequent album since. Consciously or not, it has become a constant leitmotiv and a vital component of the quintet’s graphic imagery. Is this element a reflection of the human condition? Maybe a graphic representation of the darker aspects of their music? Phil suggests a less complex meaning, "It has always been part of our imagery. That’s something that Jacob Bannon created, that was part of his style. It has become part of our look. Is something that we don’t feel is necessary to abandon at all."


No doubt, the making of this cover sleeve was a twist of fate that became a happy accident of sorts. Choosing Metastazis and their uncompromising work ethics - they claim "not carry out its clients' every whim" - was a decision that eventually paid off. The band is pleased with the final result. "I think it does represents the album visually," enthuses Sgrosso. "In general, I think the artwork is very good and it gets the job done for what we want." The feeling of satisfaction seems to be mutual, "It was a great experience for me," says illustrator Tiffanie Uldry. "I hope that one day I could work again on another album cover." Hopefully Jacob Bannon will remain unavailable.

Band and Album Title: As I Lay Dying, "Awakened"
Release Date: September 25th, 2012 via Metal Blade Records
Cover Artwork Commissioned by: As I Lay Dying
Author: Valnoir, Mestastazis (Concept and Design) Tiffanie Uldry (Design)
Original Dimensions: Unkown
Technique: Hand drawing and Digital

Next Time on AJFA: An interview with legendary Blind Guardian and Obituary illustrator, Andreas Marschall
Previously on AJFA: Van Halen's "1984" - A Naughty Little Angel Meets a Hard Rock Landmark
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