Talking through the band's state of mind and 3-D approach to their soaring new record.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
Having an artist among a band's fold is an asset that yields cohesive results during an album's release cycle. With no need to explain the concepts or thematic elements to a third party, it removes the possibility of there being a disconnect between the two integral components. However, this doesn't come without an added sense of pressure on the musician taking on the illustration, who now has to craft visuals to expand upon the record, please the band, and of course, contribute to a successful rollout. Needless to say, it's a task some might prefer to delegate outwards. In the case of LIGHT THE TORCH, guitarist Francesco Artusato has embraced the role with excellence and uses it as a conduit for his own personal growth as a multifaceted artist.
Consisting of frontman Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage), Francesco Artusato (All Shall Perish, The Francesco Artusato Project), and bassist Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through), LIGHT THE TORCH are a metal force to be reckoned with. The band's upcoming album, You Will Be The Death Of Me, welcomes Whitechapel’s Alex Rudinger on the drum kit for a truly explosive collection of tracks representative of the band's growth since first being known as Devil You Know. It arrives on June 25th via Nuclear Blast Records and as mentioned, comes illustrated by the 3-D art of Artusato for an all encompassing experience of soaring capabilities. Howard's vocal range continues to be among the genre's elite while Artusato delivers electrifying riffs and solos that pair well with Wombacher's rumbling bass lines, all the while Rudinger sets the pace underneath. Musicianship this grand guarantees that You Will Be The Death Of Me will follow the chart-listing steps of the predecessor, a feat that exemplifies the material's ability to connect with audiences on a global level.
We talk through all things You Will Be The Death Of Me with Francesco Artusato in anticipation of the release:
Summer is here and with ‘You Will Be The Death Of Me’ releasing in a matter of days, audiences will have heartfelt hymns to enjoy throughout the season. Much has happened since 2018’s ‘Revival’. Where does this new record find you all, mentally and musically?
Artusato: Musically, there’s definitely an evolution. At least that’s how we see it. Mentally, I think the thought of finally having this music out is such a good feeling. We’re so happy and with the singles released so far, fans seem to really like it and it’s a great feeling. The weird thing is that this record was done right before the pandemic and basically, it was just a matter of sitting and waiting. It was a hard thing to deal with because the record was supposed to be out last summer and we had the entire year planned with tours and other things to do, but that all fell apart. There were bigger problems in the world of course. It was a good decision to wait and put it out now.
Definitely, and there’s a new level of anticipation with the record having sat there for the past year. Like with ‘Revival’, you took on the cover illustration for ‘You Will Be The Death of Me’. Visually, what were you looking to achieve this time around? You’ve mentioned that the three flames are representative of the three of you and there’s also a John Carpenter film feel to it as well.
Artusato: After we started working on the record in the studio and I began to hear the vocal tracks over the instrumentals, those colors on the cover started filling my head. I started sending some ideas to the guys. This time, I wanted to have more of a symbol or emblem type of artwork. The colors happened that way and Howard gave me the idea for the album title. John Carpenter’s influences are definitely there with the neon outline of the shapes, the smoke, and ‘The Fog’ (1980) kind of aesthetic. It’s something that I grew up watching and I’ve always loved the music in John Carpenter’s movies, so that aural vibe felt right. In a way, you can describe it as a dark image, but I didn’t want to have the typical metal look. I wanted it to have neons and distant colors to make it vibrant.
It’s appealing to the eyes, that’s for certain, and the music is represented through the colors used on the cover. Touching a bit on the metal look, the cover is a bit of a departure from the connotations one would assume of records in the genre. There’s a certain expectation of metal and its many subgenres, but for this one, it strays from those linear conventions and displays an eclectic color use while retaining some core elements of the band’s visual identity. At what point in the creative process does the artwork come together, especially as it draws from and complements the music itself?
Artusato: With the first Light The Torch record, it happened after the music was done. In this case, it happened right after we started with pre-production. We had a couple of months off after pre-production and during that time, I was writing more music. That’s when I started messing around with ideas for the artwork, so yeah the artwork was done before the record itself.
That said, did it influence the music in any way? Normally, bands who commission covers usually present the album and song titles to the artist as inspiration. In this case, the visual elements were already done by the time the music came together.
Artusato: I think they influence each other in a way. Before going in the studio, the music is basically all done, specifically during pre-production. After that first studio session, it became clear what the record was going to sound like. I was seeing the lyrics that Howard was writing along with the music and the colors just started to fit with the cover. Everything just coincided once we hit the studio, especially since most of the ideas came together during the pre-production phase. I think it’s an interesting process because in the past, art came after the music and for this one, they came together simultaneously in a way.
This is evident through the seamless audiovisual cohesion on the record. The visualizer really brings it all to life! Using Unreal Engine and then Adobe Premiere Pro, how long did the visualizer and artwork take to complete? Excellent stuff.
Artusato: It took a while! The visualizer was done on Unreal Engine but all of the 3-D modeling was done on other programs, like Adobe. It was a long process of creating shapes, sketching things together in 2-D, placing things in 3-D, and just going back and forth a lot. After you have the overall model, that’s when you can start rendering with the different kinds of software. I was playing with different environments and different looks, which required a lot of planning due to the multiple software. I used maybe 6 or 7 different kinds of software for the record. There’s also the fact that the first thing I create isn’t going to be the final image. There’s a lot of trial and error, changing things, and so forth.
For those unaware, it’s more than just putting a few shapes together.
Artusato: Yes! I of course take on commissions for clients and I’ve had some people hitting me up thinking there’s a magic button I can press to turn things into 3-D. It’s really not that simple.
It’s a huge skill, and thanks for touching on that because it provides a good segue into my following point. You put together the album cover for the new Fear Factory record, ‘Aggression Continuum’. Was this experience distinct in any way, especially as you were meeting someone else’s creative needs rather than your own?
Artusato: Yeah, the “easy” part about working with Light The Torch is that it’s relatively easy to please Howard and Ryan. They tend to like everything that I do, mainly because they put a lot of faith into my ideas and the creative process behind them. When you’re working with different bands, they have different expectations. They’re seeing things in their own mind and it’s not always easy to communicate what you see. I’ve had clients ask me to do artwork that I decide not to do because I don’t think it’s good. If the actual concept behind it is something that I don’t like, it’s not going to work. It’s something that I realized as I studied art. When people hit you up with an idea, you develop the ability to visualize it and see if it’s going to work or not, at least through your own interpretation of it.
For Fear Factory, Dino had seen some of my work on my website. He had the idea of having the Fear Factory symbol shaped like an x, this being their tenth record. He was looking for this in a robotic shape, and that’s how it came together. I then created something for the background that would loosely coincide with the concepts of the record. He liked the first sketch that I sent him a lot. After that, it was just a matter of perfecting the different elements. As you can imagine, I don’t put all the details right away. What would be the point of adding all of the details initially and then having a client not like it? It’s an evolution. You start adding more and more things slowly.
It’s neat to see your approach to this because artists are sometimes seen as purely vendors. Some aren’t really allowed full creative expression because a client wants to see something very particular and isn’t flexible to many changes. If an artist makes suggestions or disagrees with the approach in any way, then it causes some friction. Others just take on any commission whether they agree or not because it pays the bills, which is completely fine and understandable. It’s an interesting dynamic. For Light The Torch, you mentioned the visual approach being relatively easy, but is there ever a sense of pressure that you put on yourself to deliver a great cover, Light The Torch being your own band?
Artusato: Absolutely, absolutely. If anything, there’s more pressure. When you have complete freedom of doing whatever you want, that’s really where it tests your creativity. That’s why it took a while for me to develop this artwork. I kept changing things and I had so many sketches. I got to a point where I had colors and concepts figured out, but I still didn’t feel it would pop like I wanted it to. At that point, the guys loved the cover, and then I went and changed a bunch. You sometimes start overthinking and make it worse, so there’s definitely a lot of pressure with illustrating for your own band.
Once we figured out we weren’t releasing the record last year, that image became old to me. I worked on it for so many hours and started thinking about redoing it. It was torture, but I realized everyone liked it a lot. At the end of the day, I’m very happy with the image. I’m glad I kept it and didn’t redo it.
Seeing as you have a role in both the musical and visual side of things, do you feel as though there’s a synchrony there that perhaps might be affected if you were to commission the artwork through a third party?
Artusato: I think so. One of the biggest lessons I learned by doing artwork was how much the two different mediums are similar. They’re part of the same creative process. During the Devil You Know years, I was already doing some stuff but I would not have wanted the album covers to be done by me. I wanted someone really good to make it because I didn’t have the confidence. The thought of releasing a new album and working on both the music and visual elements makes it all the more special. It’s one whole project.
‘Revival’ was of course the first Light The Torch record you illustrated. Is this a task you’ve assigned to yourself moving forward as you continue to grow as both a musician and an artist?
Artusato: Definitely. Things like the visualizer I created was stuff that I learned during the pandemic. I started learning about Unreal Engine around September or October of 2020. I did some Unreal-related stuff like that for Dino and Fear Factory. Now, I’m having all sorts of bands hitting me up to do this kind of work. It’s awesome because I have so much fun doing it. Now, I’m learning how to animate things. All the imagery behind the music is so important and so necessary to bring the entire message together.
There’s obviously a lot of bad that came from the pandemic, but if anything, it allowed for audiences to engage with music and the arts in a different way, at least from what I’ve observed. People are more intentional about the way they interact with music, which includes gazing upon the neat vinyl gatefolds, inner artwork, liner notes, and so on. Is this something that you foresee continuing moving forward? The record was completed prior to the pandemic but it comes a full year later during a period of reopening in many different states.
Artusato: Definitely. The pandemic is still such a big deal. Even if things open up and we slowly return to normal, it changed everybody’s life in some way or another. The impacts go beyond just this period of quarantine. People developed new sensibilities towards certain things. Everyone I’ve talked to has either developed new skills or worked on new things that they weren’t able to do otherwise. Even if it wasn’t learning a new skill, people worked on themselves. We had more time to ourselves and it allowed for our own self-growth on many levels amidst the grief and overall sadness. Music played a huge role through it all. I still see that people will continue having an attraction to the connection between visuals and music.
Time will tell, but I do agree with your assessment. Musically, you worked with Josh Gilbert and Joseph McQueen on production once more and as Howard has mentioned, ‘You Will Be The Death of Me’ is the result of your experiences both as a band and individually. All in all, it’s a collection worth basking in. How much did camaraderie play a role in the album’s development?
Artusato: It’s massive how important it is. We developed a relationship over the years where we really know each other so well. The only way you feel completely confident working with other people is when you can trust them, and we trust one another so well. Lyrically, Howard is able to express certain things and is more and more comfortable with certain feelings and emotions. We all feel that way. It’s fun to be around each other. Most of the time when we talk, we don’t even talk about band stuff. We’re best friends. The only way we made this record feel this good while doing it was by being alongside the people we felt were our brothers.
The music can certainly attest to that. In closing, the artwork, visualizer, and all around artistic approach is sure to introduce audiences to Light The Torch prior to having knowledge of the band or the new record. Do you recall a time when an album cover, movie poster, book cover, or artwork in general had a similar effect of introducing you to something you wouldn’t otherwise check out?
Artusato: It would happen all of the time. In the past, I’ve actually had the inverse effect where I bought so many albums that ended up not being good. I thought it would be good because of the cover, so I would buy it and then be disappointed later. For me though, it’s such an important element to have as part of the release cycle, even with movies. I have a degree in film scoring. When I watch movies, I listen to the music so much. A great movie with terrible music wouldn’t be a great movie anymore. You need both and I’ve always seen the connection between the two. Even now when you’re browsing through Spotify or digital streaming platforms, I click on the things with a cool cover. It’s natural. If I see something that intrigues me visually, I want to know what the music sounds like. In a way, it has to be connected. There’s no way this cool looking album cover was made without having any connection with the music.
You Will Be The Death Of Me arrives June 25th via Nuclear Blast. Order yours HERE.