Diving into a wondrous, death metal world of pure immersion and self-reflection.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
As the world came to a full stop, periods of isolation allowed for introspection while a sociopolitical and natural turmoil ran rampant across countries. This distinction of looking for peace at a time where there is none on a collective scale sparks a great desire for creative expression, an expression that harnesses from said turmoil and pursues a deeper thought as a reaction of society's shortcomings. This takes form via music, literature, film, and the arts as a whole. Nottingham, UK-based death metal act Beyond Grace allow their music to serve as a conduit for their resentment, as evident on their all-encompassing new full-length, Our Kingdom Undone.
Arriving on September 3rd via the always consistent Prosthetic Records, Our Kingdom Undone expands upon the band's debut, Seekers (2015), through a multi-pronged delivery of technicality, profound lyricism, and more importantly, heart. Every line and reference to personal experiences was consciously layered by frontman Andy Walmsley, who took the frustrations of religious indoctrination and Brexit and channeled it into the hard-hitting composition that became Our Kingdom Undone. Shindy Reehal of Shindy Design took Walmsley's thoughts and crafted an inviting landscape that is equal parts empowering and melancholic. With each passing listen, viewers learn of the intricacies depicted throughout Shindy's and Walmsley's mutual vision, encouraging repeated engagement that is both welcome and needed to experience it all. Exquisite riffs and stimulating visuals await on a standout offering that Heaviest of Art has helped prepared you for.
We go Behind The Cover of Our Kingdom Undone with Andy Walmsley and Shindy Design to learn about the significance invested within every bloody detail of their war torn battlefield:
Andy, Beyond Grace is on a grandiose new chapter, and of course, it's a big step up from the debut. What drew you to Shindy's work when approaching the creative aspect of ‘Our Kingdom Undone’?
Andy: It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll try to shorten it. We originally had different art for the album and that art was actually done before we wrote the record. We had some big ideas and my friend Michael Cowell, who did the art for our first record (Seekers, 2017), had done the piece for us. It was really good, so we sent it to the label. Though they’ve been really hands off and very supportive of our vision, they mentioned the artwork doesn’t quite fit the record. What they were hearing and reading from the lyrics weren’t represented. They weren’t wrong at all. We’re actually using this design for a t-shirt on the next record because we’re already starting to write the next one and his art inspired some of the lyrics.
The record label recommended 6 or 7 people. Shindy was the second or third person I looked at, and I basically stopped looking after that. I was just struck with inspiration. Depending on him was risky actually because if he couldn’t do it, I had no other ideas. I had the idea in my head for the Boudica, this archetypal image. I use a lot of these images in my lyrics and visuals in my head.
When I looked at Shindy’s stuff, he had that grasp of the female form. It was solid and real, and it wasn’t overly sexualized. He’s done some sexy stuff, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have that slightly, leering gaze to it. It was very real. He’s done some other stuff with horses, so I knew this was the guy. I could see the ideas in my head in his art form. Thankfully, he said yes. I would’ve been screwed if he hadn’t.
It’s always great to see how a collaboration began, so thank you for elaborating on that. In speaking to that and seeing the camaraderie between you two, how would you characterize the partnership throughout the creation of the cover illustration? There was a clear vision from the start.
Shindy: As Andy has said, he had a clear idea in his said regarding the themes and concepts. He’s seen a lot of my stuff with anatomy and figurative art with a sort of Renaissance feel. I’m very inspired by Renaissance art and the contortive bodies. The anatomy has to be perfect and the lighting has to be really visceral. When he approached me with the rough concept and the theme of Boudica, it was just ideal for me. It was like working on a personal piece. It was something that was within my comfort zone. They were also very clear about the overall color scheme and design as well. They wanted red hair, Celtic engravings and tattoos. It was in tune with what I love doing on a daily basis, so it just worked and I had a lot of creative freedom. Everything was flowing easily, which is always a blessing.
The results speak for themselves. In seeing some of the sketches and how it evolved over the days, it’s evident the ideas were established early on and you found common ground fairly early in the creative stage. Would you say that’s the case, where it was just a matter of fleshing out the details after over the design phases?
Andy: Though it would seem that way, not quite actually. I gave him the seed of the idea. If you look at the Microsoft Paint file I sent him, I knew I wanted a central figure on a horseback, the vultures in the background. It was meant to resemble the feel of a battlefield, touching on the futility of war. I could see certain aspects of the painting in my head, but not quite the whole, which is where Shindy came in. I’m usually a big picture guy, so this was one of those rare circumstances where that didn’t happen. I’m the guy in the band that does a lot of the structure work. For example, the title track of the album is 12 minutes long. Once we had the core riffs, I could see the shape of it and where the extra bits were going to go. I knew how this was going to sound in the end.
For this one, it was the other way around. I had this key figure, but it was misty around the edges. I couldn’t see what finishes off. It couldn’t just be a figure in a blank space. It needed to feel like it was in a world with a lot more to it. I gave Shindy a text description along with the terrible Paint description, the lyrics, and the album. He took that and made exactly what was in my head, even though I didn’t know it. There’s a lot of references there that I keep spotting. Even though I’m not an artist, I think in visual images a lot. I don’t know the specifics of composition and how things should be done, artistically. My original idea was that she would be holding a battered flag. I remember Shindy telling me it was good, but we’d have to make her quite small in the center to allow space for the flag above. Instead, Shindy made her bigger, which was the right decision as the central figure. The movement of her hair essentially fills in the idea that I had about the flag. He cut back on the ideas that wouldn’t work and drilled it.
Something neat that gets overlooked at times when presenting the cover digitally is the full cover illustration. You of course stick to just the frontal cover for streaming services and whatnot, but for those unaware, this is a full gatefold painting. For those picking it up physically, there’s an extra layer of material to dissect. Was it always the intention to extend the illustration all around or was it something that came about as the ideas began flowing?
Andy: Yes, I’ve always liked the wraparound covers. I’m not a vinyl collector myself. I just got my first record player on my birthday this year. I’ve always been a CD collector though, so I still enjoy picking up the booklets and going through them. Though Bandcamp has a similar feature, I kind of miss going to a local record shop and going through the “Thank You” list that bands put on their records. What bands have they toured with? Who do they know? They sound interesting, so I went and checked them out. That would snowball. I always liked the ability to open up a cover and have a full canvas. The front cover is the instant striking image and it opens up the world in a sense.
With a full cover spread, you have more space to play with. Once you open it up, you get a totally different perspective on the artwork. Suddenly you realize that the person on the front is actually running away from someone on the back cover. It’s a simple twist, but it’s effective. ‘Our Kingdom Undone’ was always meant to be a two-panel piece.
Shindy: You pitched it as a panoramic piece, if I remember correctly. The original Paint sketch you sent had the back cover on the left and the front cover on the right. I knew I could have a lot of fun with it in terms of setting the scene, even if Boudica herself didn’t have the flag on the front and she wasn’t quite small. I knew in terms of enhancing her size, it would make her really striking, but there’s still that entire landscape we could fill around that scene. It gave us a lot of options in terms of how we could portray a whole concept with it being a wraparound piece. Even with just the streaming option of just the front cover, it’s still a striking image with a lot of room to breathe.
That’s a perfect segue into my next point. Shindy, the landscapes and attention to detail that you invest in make your work stand tall. One of the covers that blew me away when I first saw it was the one you did for Joss Allen’s ‘At Warrior’s End’. There’s this knight slashing heads off while thunderous skies are being controlled by a witch of sorts. In the same vein, ‘Our Kingdom Undone’ is immersive and welcomes you to a new world. In terms of layering this all, do you feel as though the surrounding detail and atmosphere is as critical as the core visual element for the cover, in this case the Boudica?
Shindy: Yeah, and in recent years, I’ve found a lot of beauty in allowing the core elements to really breathe. It’s not like they have to be really large on the surface area for audiences to know exactly what is happening. The skies, the landscapes, and everything around the core figure enhances it greatly. Before, maybe a few years ago, I would look at my work and think I should probably add more atmosphere. I think I’ve almost kind of developed a complex recently. Once I’ve got the main stuff down, I’ll sit back and think of how I can give it more room to breathe. I’m constantly learning and figuring out ways to make the work more striking. My work is hyper detailed, which is cool, but you can go a bit overboard at times. What might seem striking to me might seem like a mess of hardcore line work, shadows, and contrast to others. When you look from a further distance, it can be a bit of a mess and I’ve developed a bit of a complex with that. So now, why not open it a bit more? The bits that are super detailed and in the foreground are then even more impactful I find. It’s just about finding the balance between atmosphere and detail.
Andy: I’d say from an outside perspective, there’s a sense of depth and space to your recent work. Every millimeter isn’t packed with as much detail as possible. It feels like you can fall into the image. It’s not flat. It’s got a sense of space to it where your eyes aren’t really overwhelmed. There’s detail where it’s needed rather than just throwing it all over the place.
Shindy: I’m glad that has been resonating with people. You’re always going to be very self critical with any art you create. You’re always going to think about how you can make it better. That was the main thing with me. Not that I look at my work and think that everything’s perfect now, but that was one thing I developed a complex for. I needed to add more atmosphere. When I look at works that inspire me like the Renaissance paintings, it’s very atmospheric. There’s big crazy, stormy skies in the background. There are crescent moons, there are plants in the foreground, they’re something just tying the whole piece together. It has great depth. When it comes to doing cover illustrations, especially if it’s going to be a panoramic piece, there has to be that room for the piece to breathe. I’m chuffed with hearing that it comes across on this one.
It’s one of those things that draws a keen eye to the record when there are so many releases on a weekly basis. It sets it apart from the bunch. Andy, ‘Our Kingdom Undone’ was of course inspired by isolation, religious indoctrination, and really the turmoil of today’s times. We’ve touched on the symbolism of the Boudica, but where does the art coincide with the lyrics?
Andy: Spoiler alert, but the artwork is filled with tons of little references to the lyrics. The title track ends with a massive chanted mantra of “All the kingdom’s horses and all the kingdom’s men”. I won’t ruin it, but it’s my favorite part of the record and it’s strong. The horses were obviously a key part of it. She’s blindfolded and we did a promo photo blindfolded as well. I’m still trying to convince the guys to do a show fully blindfolded. The chorus of the title track is “We are the blinded led by the blind”.
‘Hive Mind’, which was the single we did most recently, is about meeting with a member of the Quiverfull movement, a fundamentalist Christian sect originally from America. They’ve got this weird misreading of the bible where children are arrows for the lord. Their idea is that women exist to breed children for what they think is the coming of a holy war. It’s the smiling face of an apocalyptic cult. It was a weird encounter that struck me for years, so there are little arrows across the cover. ‘The Price of Peace’ is about the futility of war. There are vulture references on both ‘Barmecide Feast’ and ‘Fearmonger’. The whole record is reminiscent of the wonderful old-style prog album covers that I remember my dad raised me on. You’d be looking at it and would think, “That’s a line from that one song.” These details were added by Shindy as he would reference the lyrics. He created a microcosm of the album’s lyrical content.
It wasn’t meant to be a political record or even a full on death metal record. After the first album, we planned to go a bit proggier, more clean vocals and quiet parts. However, we just kept writing heavier stuff and I kept writing angrier lyrics. Chris (Morley), our guitarist, nudged me at one point and said, “It’s the title track for Brexit.” Clearly, I was going through some stuff at the time. It’s a lions led by donkeys kind of thing. It’s a frustrated album more than anything. I’m not a nihilist in any way. Humanity has shown wonderful potential for great things in the past, even though so much of our history is built on bloodshed. The human potential for good is always there. Humanity goes forward, but there’s definitely a sense that for every two steps forward, we take one step back. Recently, it’s been one step forward, several steps back. I was just sick of it and I needed to write about it. It’s not an activist record. I’m not telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t be doing. This was catharsis for me. A lot of it is very personal, a lot more so than our first one.
It just poured out of you subconsciously.
Andy: Yeah, definitely. The first track, ‘Dark Forest Doctrine’, had a different title at some point. We thought about shifting another direction. I tried, but nothing felt as honest. I tried to write more from the head rather than the heart, so we just sat back and decided on a direction. It flowed seamlessly after that. Hopefully people read the lyrics.
We’d be remiss not to recommend doing so. Shindy, there’s a lot of patience and a lot of detail layered throughout it all. How long did the cover painting take to complete?
Shindy: Once a sketch was approved and everything was mapped out in terms of sizing, scale, and all of that, I did it increments. I’d say anywhere from 12 to 16 hours, and that’s including changing my mind about doing certain colors. That’s from the approval of the sketch where the pencils are all done and ready to go where I just jump in and add color.
Andy: As soon as I saw the first pencil sketch, I’d be happy with that as the artwork. I know we needed it to be fleshed out and whatnot, but it was so perfect. It was so right. You’ve seen the pencil sketches, Luis. It’s already amazingly detailed. Adding the color gave it the texture it needed. It was one shot.
Shindy: Just to go back actually, I’m probably overestimating the time. As we were saying before, it was so smooth. You had such a clear idea of what you wanted and everything was mostly laid out. To be fair, the 12 to 16 hours is probably including the really rough sketch and really fleshing it out. The pencils were down, and once we figured out the background, we ran through it pretty quickly. I do want to say for the record that the Paint sketch that Andy gave me is actually one of the better ones that I’ve seen. I’ve seen some horrendous scribbles on some other commissions. Andy smashed it.
Andy: That makes me feel so much better.
I can imagine. I’ve seen many musician sketches and art is clearly not their talent, myself included. How would you two really elaborate upon the camaraderie you’ve built throughout the enter process? And for you, Shindy, was this distinct in any way to the work you’ve done for the 150+ bands you’ve partnered with?
Shindy: Andy is a really sound guy and he’s easy to chat to. He was very clear cut and had a clear idea of what he wanted. The music is great and it’s the kind of music that I love. It’s such a cool relationship to have from the get go. If a band approaches me and I love their music, I’m already invested in it. I’m already excited for it and it all works out really well from there. What I like about Beyond Grace’s music is there’s a great sense of epicness, wonder, and horror that encapsulates the human experience. It’s something that is very tied to history, like Boudica fighting against the invasion of the Romans. It’s a very epic story about struggle and fighting for something that you believe in no matter how ridiculous the odds are.
I approach every request and commission like it’s all about the artwork itself. I just love what I do. If the image and the idea is something that I’m passionate about, everything else just flows and it’s really easy. At the end of the day, I got my dream job. I love what I do, so it flows really nicely. For it to coincide with music that I really love and ideologies that I can get behind myself, the interactions with bands are purely genuine and exciting. That’s probably why I ended up gaining a few covers from bands in one given time. I put a lot of love into it. It’s not a job for me. I’m really grateful for that and I’m glad my art coincides with heavy, technical, nuanced music.
Andy: What more can I say to that? I know this is going to be transcribed, so this is me speaking to the audience more than anything. One thing that might not translate as well in text, but I hope it does, is how enthusiastic and upbeat Shindy is in terms of his demeanor. We’ve never spoken prior to the commission, but were on the same wavelength from those early conversations. I got back from Shindy what I put in. It was a wonderful feedback loop. There’s something unique about working with people that are that passionate about what they do. We as a band have been generally on the outside of the UK scene over the years, so because of that, we’ve turned inwards in a lot of ways. We’ve been very intentional about the people we work with and have built an extended family, including Shindy. These are people who bring their all into it. I’ve been reflecting on the artwork and it’s quite a melancholic image. It’s got a little bit of war torn elements and gore, but it’s not gory. It’s not stereotypical for the genre. It gave me an impression of great sadness and I didn’t impart that to you, but that’s an underlying theme for the record. The artwork has made me reflect back on what we’ve done in a different way, which is just a fantastic turnaround where I can see it through someone else’s eyes. I can’t say anything higher than that. It’s inspiring.
Just having this conversation with you both is a testament of the relationship that you’ve built throughout the album cycle. For some artists, commissions are obviously what puts food on the table, so they take on any and all projects. Nothing wrong with that, but this is purely genuine and comes brimming with passion from both parties. Many will become aware of Beyond Grace through this cover, whether that be through a digital library or by seeing the record on a shelf somewhere. Do both of you recall a moment where that has happened, being introduced to a band or film through the arts?
Andy: All the time. As you probably know, I do a lot of writing and reviewing for No Clean Singing. I’ve been writing for them for over 10 years now. In reviews, I’m always putting out bits of advice to bands. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest image, but something that catches the eye will entice people to check you out. I’m going through promos for the site and I always think of what looks interesting because of the fantastic covers. It’s not always the music I want or want to listen to, but it’s amazing that we’re grabbed in that way. We’re human beings, we’re very visual creatures. It makes the whole process of finding fans easier.
Shindy: For me, one of the first couple of CDs I actually bought was Slipknot’s ‘self-titled’ (1999). I saw the cover and thought, “This was insane!” I bought the CD and just fell in love with it. I was into the sort of stuff my dad got me into like classic rock and punk and stuff like that. That was the most ridiculous cover I had seen at that point. The music tied it in so well, that horror and insanity-infused rage. Then, there was the whole thing with being a maggot. There’s a cult thing with bands like that because there’s so much emphasis being placed on visuals and stage setup. The other one was Decapitated ‘Nihility’ (2002). I remember seeing that and thinking it was such a bleak cover. There were these blues and greys and this corpse with barbed wires coming out of him. Seeing that and then hearing music just went so well and it was an audiovisual experience that just pulled you in. Those are two very solid examples.
Andy: I can give you two examples. One is quite old, so it might date me a little bit, and one more recent. I was in a shop in Malta of all places, the only shop in the town. There were a bunch of records alphabetized and not even sorted by genre. I found ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ (2000) by Nevermore. It’s a brilliant cover with a fantastic logo. I remember getting that and falling in love with the band straight away.
One of the more recent ones was ‘Eyes Alive’ (2015) by Turbid North from Texas. They’re essentially what you get if you mix Crowbar, Misery Index, and Mastodon. It’s a perfect record from start to finish. It has a concept about the end of the world as the Earth gets swallowed by a red giant. The cover is essentially two covers, red and black, and fades into orange at the top. It’s simple but it tells you everything you need to know about the record in a glance. I remember seeing that, pressing play, and instantly falling in love. That was one of those moments where the art, music, and where I was in my life, was just meant for me. A great piece of artwork can tell you so much about the band without hearing a single note. That’s what this did.
And that’s the case with Beyond Grace and ‘Our Kingdom Undone’. There’s a message being conveyed here that is a byproduct of Andy’s subconscious influence and Shindy’s interpretation of it all. That said, is there an intended effect when it comes to sparking some thought in the listener or viewer, as if encouraging them to look beyond the service level?
Andy: I’m going to say no. We’re quite an insular group. We write very much for ourselves. We’re not working to get a limbic response. We try not to concern ourselves too much with writing for a particular audience. You can easily fall into a trap and become stagnant with trying to please a specific group of people. For the lyrics and the themes of the album, it was really just me purging what I had going on at the time. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, so I’m certain it will connect to some people. I’m saying these things for myself. I don’t want to be dismissive because I hope people get a lot out of it. I hope people connect with it and I hope the artwork helps as well. We created it for ourselves and we want it to live on its own two feet.
Shindy: It’s quite a tough question. Being an artist and it being all about visuals, I want it to be striking and I want it to have an impact. Andy was posting on some of the Facebook groups and showing the artwork, and there was one comment where a guy said the cover looked like a power metal cover.
I could see why someone would say that.
Shindy: And that’s not a bad thing! I quite like that. I quite like the fact that it’s not a quintessential tech death cover, whatever you would call that because it’s such a nuanced genre.
Andy: There’s not enough mutants, wormholes, and cyborgs. That’s not an insult, but all genres tend to attract a certain aesthetic. If you see a black and white cover with a figure dressed in corpse paint, you’d expect for it to be a raw black metal record. That’s reality.
Shindy: Definitely. We can go on for ages about semantics and genres and whatnot, but I like for people to look at something and second guess what they’re looking at. You want to pull people in, but you don’t want to remain stagnant as an artist or musician. You want to innovate and evolve, and really do it for yourself. You want to be good at what you do, but you want to make sure it gives you some gratification in the long term. It’s not just a thing about making money. It’s about being true to yourself as an artist and as an artist. It sounds cliché, but I’m always the happiest when I enjoy the work I’m doing. I don’t do caricatures or tattoo designs. I do stuff that I love and fortunately, that’s the stuff that bands want to see on covers and shirts.
If you pick up ‘Our Kingdom Undone’ expecting some power metal, you’ll be gravely disappointed.
Andy: I just can’t hit those high notes! I can’t go that high. That’ll be the tagline for this interview, “I’m sorry, I can’t go hit those notes anymore!”
Our Kingdom Undone arrives on September 3rd via Prosthetic Records. Order it HERE.