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Behind the Cover: Blackbraid — Blackbraid II

The devil is in the details for the grand partnership between the indigenous black metal entity and the standout artist from Bradford, United Kingdom.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.

Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):


If you've had a chance to dive through our Top 30 Album Covers of 2023 list, then you would have come across the audiovisual gem that is Blackbraid's sophomore release, Blackbraid II. Released earlier this year on July 7, Blackbraid II stands tall amongst its black metal contemporaries for its ability to maximize every inch of space within its composition. Listeners are fully immersed within its wondrous atmospheres and instrumental variety, soon counteracted by ripping black metal passages that are excellent in their riff selection. It's a special experience, one that all begins with the symmetrical precision and visual symbolism illustrated by artist Adrian Baxter (Paradise Lost, The Halo Effect). A green flame burns between two elk skulls amidst foliage and above a crescent moon, drawing intrigue through waypoints that narrate a strong byproduct between Baxter and Blackbraid.


As the year comes to a close, we look back at Blackbraid II and dive into conversation with Blackbraid mastermind Jon Krieger and Adrian Baxter to learn of what makes their partnership so fruitful, what informs their detailed approach, and more:

 

Jon, Adrian Baxter has established the visual identity for your ongoing discography, which just concluded its second album cycle through “Blackbraid II”. Looking back at when your partnership with him first started for the debut album, where did you two find common ground in terms of visual direction?


Blackbraid: Working with Adrian has always been really easy. With the first album being so special to me, I wanted to make sure I found an artist that would do it justice as well. Adrian has always been great at taking my ideas and making them come to life.


Adrian: When Jon first got in touch, he essentially sent the perfect first email, explaining it was a solo black metal project, his influences, lyrics, raw tracks etc. — everything I need to see if I resonate with the project. Often when someone is making their first release, they don't have much of an online presence for me to check out - so those key details are very important.


His music and my artwork are both inspired by nature and the connections we receive when we're in that environment, so that certainly bridged the gap early on. After some suggestions of elements he'd like to see included, as well as a great explanation of the albums lyrical theme, I got the early sketches together and we built it up from there.


Expanding on that a bit further, to what do you attribute the return for a second time? It would seem you struck a collaborative chord that is minimal in its presentation, but vivid in its detail.


Blackbraid: I really felt like the two albums are very closely related to each other and come from a similar place, so I wanted the art to seem consistent across the two as well.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
Cover Artwork by Adrian Baxter

Adrian: I can only speak for myself, but I imagine it's partly because we communicated well from the start, and any questions or edits etc. were well considered on both sides. We both appreciated and respected each other's part in the project, and that's always so important.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Sketch by Adrian Baxter

I agree. There’s a strong audiovisual synergy to Adrian’s art and your music. Blackbraid of course has a strong lyrical and conceptual foundation that is rooted in the Adirondack wilderness and indigenous roots. Where did you two look to take that from an artistic perspective?


Blackbraid: A lot of the time when I write songs, especially lyrics, I try to paint a picture with my words, so I already have a rough idea of what kind of visuals I want to associate with the album before we even start making the art. In the end, I just want the art to reflect the emotion of the album as a whole.

blackbraid interview, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Vinyl Gatefold Artwork by Adrian Baxter

Adrian: Jon did a great job of giving me very particular reference notes when it came to elements for me to use — eagle feather, a branch of hemlock, a hawk talon, a tomahawk, etc. I also looked up some clothing patterns and designs used in that area and they helped influence some of the details in the artwork, especially the inner gatefold design.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Inner Gatefold Artwork Sketch by Adrian Baxter

That inner gatefold artwork was so intricately done. Was “Blackbraid II” more guided or open to your artistic interpretation? Judging from “Blackbraid I” and what you mention of Jon's reference notes, I would argue that it was a mixture of having creative freedom with respect to the symbols and themes desired by Jon.


Adrian: "Blackbraid II" was a very similar process to "I". I think Jon wanted to incorporate more border work and try out some colour options, but that was about it. It's common when working with a band/musician for the 2nd time that we get more detailed in our discussions over artwork details, and I believe much of that is that we've learnt how each other communicates these thoughts from the first project. So, we can come into the 2nd project able to bring ideas to each other with more confidence, knowing they'll be respectfully considered even if we don't end up using them.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Sketch by Adrian Baxter

To add to that, between "BBI" and "BBII", I got a clearer sense of his visual plans for the band's aesthetic as a whole from his online presence, and that certainly helped.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Work In Progress Photo by Adrian Baxter

Definitely, which is a perfect segue into a following point. Jon, how significant is the aforementioned visual identity to Blackbraid’s creative development and presentation? When performing live, the music lives beyond its means with a visual experience as great as the musical one with live wind instruments, intentional attire, mic stands, and more.


Blackbraid: The visual aspects usually come after I have already written the majority of the songs, but I would say the two are definitely intertwined as well.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
Blackbraid in Tucson, AZ. Photograph by Maurice Nunez

It's inevitable to note that synchronicity. Adrian, like the music it represents, your artwork is very intentional in that it pays a heavy attention to detail, symbolism, and of course, great respect for the source material. How distinct are commissioned projects to that of your own personal work, which are largely acts of reflection?


Adrian: There's certainly a degree of separation between commission work and personal work. The intent is different, and I'm often working with the client's own initial ideas and visions, but there's also a reason the client has been drawn to my work and decided to get in touch. I still keep many of my own preferred techniques and motifs, but I work with them in a way that suits us both.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Work In Progress by Adrian Baxter

One could see that in the Blackbraid covers, which are true to your style and unique to that of Blackbraid's visual identity. Illustrating is of course a very intimate process for you, but when commissioned, you’re meeting the creative needs of others while remaining faithful to your own artistic ambitions. Would you say there’s an element of detachment with doing so where now your work is in constant circulation to audiences that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be introduced to the art of Adrian Baxter?


Adrian: Absolutely. I've learnt over the years not to get too attached to commissioned pieces. Everyone sees artwork in their own way, so there's every chance someone may enjoy an album cover I've done yet not be into my personal work, and vice versa. I do what needs to be done for that particular project and as long as both parties are happy, that's all I have control over.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
"Blackbraid II" Work In Progress by Adrian Baxter

As you note, there’s an element of internal pathfinding to be identified in your portfolio, achieved through a wondrous symmetry and iconography. Is there an intended reaction as you detach from a piece? Surely there’s a rewarding feeling with having bands of the like of Paradise Lost, The Halo Effect, and more connect to you in this way.


Adrian: In the early days of doing freelance work, I quickly realised the importance of creating work for my own satisfaction first and let clients be drawn to that rather than try to create what I think bands would want to see. Music has always been a big influence for me, so when bands get in touch - often bands I already listen to - it's great. There's clearly a connection formed from both sides and that's not something I take for granted. Getting to play a band's back catalogue in the early sketching stages is always a great feeling. I've also discovered a lot of great music I may not have heard unless they'd wanted to work together.


When you sit back and see how well received “Blackbraid II” and “Blackbraid I” have been, do you get a sense of realization from seeing it all happen? Perhaps a feeling or observation that you take in reflection after a few years of doing this? It’s certainly been a fast climb through the black metal underground with notable acclaim, festival placements, and high praise across the world, especially after this latest tour with Gaerea.


Blackbraid: Yes, it has been absolutely surreal to see the reception with Blackbraid and how so many people identify with the music. It definitely motivates me to write better music and hold myself to a higher standard lyrically as well a bit.


This whole year has been amazing and I think this last tour was a perfect way to finish it off. I have been listening to Wolves in the Throne Room for many years, so getting to tour with them was a big deal for me, and Gaerea was so tight every night it really inspired us to be better as a band as a whole too. That tour was definitely a blast and a perfect end to an amazing year.

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
Blackbraid in Tucson, AZ. Photograph by Maurice Nunez

I agree wholeheartedly. Adrian, you've been able to see the significant role your art plays in the band’s fast rising acclaim through the black metal genre. What do you take from this experience in reflection?


Adrian: To be honest, I don't pay much attention to how the cover art is received once it's released. I'll occasionally be tagged in online posts where some kind words are directed towards the artwork, and that's always nice. It was a pleasure to work on both albums, but for the main part, I'm just happy for Jon and the people around him for making his vision a reality and it's been great to see his music and message resonate with as many people as it has so far.

 

Blackbraid II is available now (Listen).

blackbraid ii, blackbraid, black metal.
Cover Artwork by Adrian Baxter

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