Breaking down the visual depth of the Norwegian black metal effort.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
The desolate nature of a black and white color scheme is at times limiting and at times exquisite. During the latter, it bridges two opposite extremes for an elegant duality that welcomes further immersion. As for the former, the two-colored scheme appears monotone and uninviting to the eye. In the case of Bizarrekult, the black metal outfit takes the coldness of the aesthetic and flips the script for a cover illustration riddled with heart, symbolism, and synchronicity. The thematic elements represented on the subject matter, Vi Overlevde, may be in sharp contrast to the feelings otherwise associated with the color palette, but artist Ivan Gladkih and band mastermind Roman V use it to their advantage. It's been months since the arrival of Vi Overlevde via Petrichor and since then, listeners across the world continue to engage in a unique way. Some have even paired the album's physical copies with foliage and bones to complement the natural feel radiating from Gladkih's work. In short, it's a multi-sensory black metal experience worth dissecting with patience.
We welcome Roman V and Ivan Gladkih to an insightful conversation on the visual components accompanying Vi Overlevde:
‘Vi Overlevde’ has been in worldwide circulation for a few months now. Visually, you partnered with Ivan Gladkih (IG) who excelled at crafting a simple yet intriguing cover. It’s a blank canvas inviting deeper engagement. Where did you and Ivan find common ground when exploring the visual direction for the cover?
Roman: Prior to reaching out to Ivan, me and Dina (my wife, she is behind the female voice in Bizarrekult and helps me to forge musical ideas) had many discussions and even arguments about the visual concept. It would be appropriate to say that she is the person behind the idea of connecting each song with a specific artwork and that the main cover should be something monumental and deep. She even made a mock-up by printing different photographs and stitching them together (none of us are visual artists). So, this is how we ended up with the idea that it should be something simple, yet connecting with monumental nature, where a man is only a minor event in time.
Using this concept as a starting point and supplemented with lyrics, Ivan created the moose and then all other artworks that decorate the album. Each and every art has a strong connection to the poetry behind songs, but at the same time, it leaves room for interpretation for anyone so that you can enjoy both the visual aesthetics and music at the same time.
The interplay between each of the elements is astounding, so hats off to yourself, Dina, and Ivan for the effort. There’s no shortage of great artists to choose from, each of which has their own unique style and niche. I’m always curious to know, what drew you to Ivan’s work as it pertains to commissioning him as the artist for Bizarrekult?
Roman: I agree, there are so many great artists around and I initially thought of Kim Holm from Norway (I first met him in Bergen back in 2009, enjoying his live ink painting during the concerts), but he was fully booked for the whole year. Then, I simply started browsing Instagram for album covers and found Ivan’s work for Wowod (blackened sludge band) and then his personal profile.
I immediately got an impression that this is someone that I would like to work with. The style was speaking to me right from the screen...a sense of trust? Don’t know, but it resonated well with the ideas we had and after another discussion with Dina, we decided to make contact with him and it worked...a perfect match!
He was a great choice! Jumping into the cover itself, what inspired the animal choice? On the forefront, you of course utilized a moose but you also have an owl, as seen on the cassette copies, and each one is quite symbolic.
Roman: Here, I would leave the word to Ivan himself, to explain his vision. When it comes to different covers on different formats - moose is the main storyteller. Owl is the subject of CD slip case cover (with moose gracing the CD booklet) and tape cover. We thought that for the tape with its rectangular shape, the owl suits better.
IG: After listening to a draft version of the album and discussing the lyrics with Roman, I have not decided on a final cover for myself, therefore I suggested two "main" ideas. Sub-genre mix of music on this record creates a sound that is fast, fierce, but at the same time, thoughtful, heavy and solid. This gave me the idea of a fast sophisticated predator (owl) and chthonic ruler of the forest (moose). However, it is not that simple. The symbolism of these animals with regards to forest themes is just a minor bit of the overall picture, the album is soaked into and pierced by the heart-breaking lyrics, the emotions and thoughts of the author, and that makes it a living substance with artwork, music, and lyrics interacting with each other.
Expanding further on that point, was there anything in particular that you were aiming for? You mention in a separate interview that a few different ideas were discussed, which led to Ivan's use of the moose and owl as conceptual figures.
Roman: Taking from Ivan’s words - these covers show the many faces of what is inside. The deep range of emotions that one can experience while listening to the music and also especially if one gets into the lyrical journey through the heterogenous and turbulent life experiences...it is sometimes mad, sometimes happy, complex and complicated, devastating, exhausting but beautiful.
The moose here is a symbolic image of an exhausted middle-aged person that had its share of hardships that will not end, drifting further on with the burden. The owl with the sharp claws symbolizes life itself, attacking you when you are least ready for it, taking everything from you and eating you up, swallowing everything that is precious for you.
Judging from the appreciation and acceptance of the album I think that we succeeded with the cover art - I have seen a number of posts and reviews where people said that they simply got away by the cover when they saw it and then discovered that the music is on par with it.
That's how you know you've done well, and you’re of course very intentional about the way you approach your craft visually, expanding upon each track on the record with a dedicated artwork for each. How significant a role do you feel the arts play in the delivery of the album’s message?
Roman: I think it plays a big role as the album title and the lyrics are in a language that is not understood on the fly by the majority of the listeners. I have to admit that this was an intentional choice to do all-Norwegian lyrics, although I was aware that it would be a limiting factor (it actually is!), but for me, it was a matter of identity and I have seen no other choice for these tracks than to do them with Norwegian lyrics.
In our case, the different arts for different tracks give a hint to a listener that there is actually something different going on behind that wall of screaming (that can be sometimes perceived as monotonous due to language perception). These artworks are simply inviting listeners to discover the content (and I have put English translation of lyrics to the Bandcamp page after a number of requests).
Seeing as the booklet contains these additional pieces, do you feel as though some of the magic is lost for those who choose to engage with ‘Vi Overlevde’ purely by streaming?
Roman: Yes and no. We (people) are all different, some of us would need the visual stimuli, consider them essential, while others do not consider it important at all. But what is common for all of us is that we all resonate to the sound waves, be it from streamed or live music, headphones or hi-fi stereo. Add to this the current culture of streaming services where people often listen to playlists and see artworks only as small thumbnails on their computer or mobile device - you can’t expect much, especially for a small, lesser known band or project.
However, both me and Ivan really wanted to make the album unique for those that still appreciate physical items and deliver them a real 3D experience with music, visuals, and lyrics. This is why the layouts for CD, LP, and tapes are a bit different - if you get a full collection from Bizarrekult, you will not receive the very same thing just scaled up or downsized - it is all tailored to the format, which you can of course then supplement with merchandise (that is also taking ideas further).
For me personally, it was worth the investment on my side (even if I will probably never make any profit from this album) - seeing people reacting to art and LPs with their own art is mindblowing (especially from the vinyl community).
I applaud the commitment here. Though some might view colors as a mere aesthetic or marketing choice, they play a critical role in the overall picture and help set the tone for what listeners will hear within. That said, you went with the duality of black and white. Why take the bleak direction?
IG: The colour palette choice was selected in order to connect artworks that are a bit different in their emotional landscape. I think the neutral colours work perfectly for this. Also, I did not want to oversaturate the artworks and to match the music itself. Monochrome, contrasted colours resulted in an "art-chaos collage", distinct but at the same time distorted, reflecting the multi-faceted thought work behind, instability, negligence, dirt/noise that is well contrasted against the light background.
Roman: I can only add to this that the monochromatic concept is simply beautiful as there are so many nuances! It also somehow resonates with bleak life around and faded colours that we have up in Northern Europe during the darker autumn days.
Appreciate the insight, Ivan. It’s a great time for art and music alike. They exist as one and lucky for us (the listeners), musicians are aware of the power that a great cover, merch design, and overall visual approach could have in the contemporary world where streaming is the dominant form of media consumption. As someone who pays a great deal of attention to the art associated with Bizarrekult, you understand this well. Care to share any favorite album covers from recent months and years?
Roman: Oh, there are so many great album covers (if we take recent years) that we would easily run out of space. What I can say is that I am not a fan of gore, satanic, or violent covers, although I understand that they are simply a cliche and a necessity for some genres and I do like to listen to bands with those kinds of artworks.
Let’s keep it rather short and mention a few metal albums that I have listened to a lot in 2021:
Sunken - 'Livslede' (linocut print by Emil Underbjerg)
Ellende - 'Triebe' (artwork painted by LG himself)
Wiegedood - 'De Doden Hebben Het Goet' Trilogy (simple, yet very powerful images on all 3 covers by Stefaan Temmerman)
Vi Overlevde is available now via Petrichor. Stream/order your copy HERE.