Looking back at a death metal legacy as we come face to face with a new gruesome killer.
*Viewer discretion is advised*
If you're viewing the article as an avid death metal listener, pay no mind to the above warning. Chances are you've already been exposed to the grotesque works of today's legendary subjects, the likes of who have defined a genre's image after decades of consistent reign. You just can't imagine one without the other as they coexist as one unified death metal being. One could even dare say that they're the face of the genre and you wouldn't be wrong. Instead of writing a dissertation on their impact however, we're here to dive deep into the artistic makings of Violence Unimagined, the forthcoming entry in the CANNIBAL CORPSE discography.
Arriving on April 16th via their longtime partners at Metal Blade Records, Violence Unimagined comes equipped with Vince Locke's artistic prowess once again, putting a bloody face to the hymns embodied within. In true CANNIBAL CORPSE fashion, the originally intended cover is too extreme for the general public, which led to an alternate illustration that features the same character in a different perspective. It's still gory, but it's a tad more appropriate for the masses, serving as a good entry point for those looking to get their feet wet. Now over thirty years into their partnership, Violence Unimagined is the result of a genuine bond formed by two like minded entities, each of which comes together to form one audiovisual beast.
We go Behind the Cover of Violence Unimagined with CANNIBAL CORPSE drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz and artist Vince Locke to reflect on the decades of an iconic partnership as we enter another contemporary chapter for the death metal legends:
‘Violence Unimagined’ and the associated press cycle is well underway, a good portion of which revolves around Vince Locke’s twisted artwork. What can you comment about the working relationship that you’ve built together over the years?
Mazurkiewicz: Oh, just an amazing friendship and an amazing relationship between him and the band of course. We’re very fortunate to have him be there from the beginning. It gives us such consistency. It’s a huge thing for the fans and for us to portray what we want visually. He’s a great artist and we’ve forged such a great relationship. It’s almost like we don’t even need to say anything anymore. It’s not like we have a contract with him or anything, but it’s like we don’t even need to ask him anymore.
I remember back a few years ago when we were doing ‘Vile’ (1996), ‘Gallery’ (1998), and those things, we were scrambling to get a hold of Vince. We would get a hold of him and be like, “Hey man, we’re going to do another album. Are you interested?” Now, we just send him the email with the title, themes, and such. We’re not even asking him if he’s up for the project. It’s kind of a given at this point and that’s awesome. I know he loves doing the covers for us and he’s a great artist.
Locke: It has been a pretty comfortable working relationship. There's usually a bit of back and forth on ideas. Sometimes we start with an album or song titles, etc. and I come up with a few rough sketches to start getting input from the band. I try and give the band plenty of opportunity to speak up with what they like and don't like, or to offer up their own ideas or additions. I'm honored that they still want to use me for their covers! I always worry they'll get tired of my work and look for someone new.
You can say that Vince is practically an honorary member of the band at this point.
Mazurkiewicz: Right! He’s definitely our visual guy. I remember when I first talked to him, he didn’t really care for the music. I’m sure he doesn’t mind it, but he’s not a death metal guy or anything like that. I think he just knew what went hand in hand and what we wanted to portray with respect to his artistic style. He’s definitely an honorary member in that sense. Like I said, it’s great to have him involved always so that we can get the artwork out there to everybody.
Vince, has your interest in death metal changed at all 30 years later?
Locke: Yes, seeing them play live was incredible! I finally made it to a show about 7 years ago. It was an amazing show!
Great to hear! Seeing as you’ve built a legacy together since the early 90’s, it definitely goes hand in hand. Decades later and you’re still here in partnership. How would you describe the collaborative process when it comes to approaching this particular aspect of a Cannibal Corpse release? Some artists prefer a lot of detail and direction whereas others prefer to roam freely with their artistic interpretation of the titles and themes.
Mazurkiewicz: It just varies really. When Barnes was still in the band, he was the one dealing with Vince up until around ‘Vile’. I was always the one that was talking to Vince after Barnes. I don’t know how Barnes went about the process for the first few covers, but when the band took over, one of us had to be sort of the spokesperson, which turned out to be me. It varies on each release, though.
Vince has always been open to our vision and has always wanted to please us first and foremost. Yes, he’s an artist and wants to draw, but he wants to please us and never wants to put us in a position of having to ‘take it or leave it’. He has always opened up for any changes, alterations, and things of that nature. There’s been albums where we’ve given him a detailed description and he does it seamlessly. There’s been others where we present only a title and we let him go for it. We’re always confident that he’s going to come up with something that we’re going to be happy with. It’s good to have that openness where we can mix it up like that and not just rely on one method of doing things. It makes it all the better.
It’s always great to have that artistic flexibility, especially when it comes to depicting some of the insanity that you all present to him.
Mazurkiewicz: Definitely, and we’ve tweaked many covers. I remember having to tweak ‘Vile’ several times, having Vince try out several different things. We went through maybe 6 or 7 variants of that cover. He’s just always open to making us happy. If things need to be altered or changed, he’s down to do it. We all have that common goal of making the best cover we can make at the time.
Right on. As you mention, the process for each cover design varies in more ways than one. When it came to working with Vince for ‘Violence Unimagined’, what were you looking for? It definitely harnesses from that ‘Wretched Spawn’ (2004) sort of feel.
Mazurkiewicz: This is one of those albums where I came up with the title. I came up with ‘Violence Unimagined’ and immediately thought it had to be insane. It’s ‘Violence Unimagined’ here. We need a sick cover. We needed something sick. We had to be old school in a sense, go back to the roots of source and have something mind blowing. None of us had any idea of what it could be aside from the title itself. This is one of those where we went to Vince and said, “What do you got?” He came up with what he felt unimaginable violence was.
We did have a few different sketches and ideas and just worked together as a team to narrow it down. We of course did our tweaking and things of that nature, but everything came from Vince and he came to us with a great cover as usual. We ended up doing that censored version as well, but man, what a great cover. I think it’s one of our best and one of Vince’s best. That’s Cannibal Corpse right there. I’m glad we went that route because I know the fans have reacted so positively.
Locke: As mentioned, Paul gave me the title for the album and just wanted to see what I came up with. I had a few sketches going in different directions, some a bit fantasy or monster oriented, some more “real”. One was the demon woman eating her own baby. I made a few tweaks to the design and started painting. I was trying to finish it before I went on a week vacation over the summer, but I didn't make it. I was thinking about the cover while on vacation and I just wasn't happy with it. It didn't have the “in your face' impact it should have. So, I worked up some new sketches to show them when I got back. It was the same concept, just zoomed in a bit more, making for a bolder composition. The band was all for it, so I set aside my half finished painting and worked up what became the NSFW cover.
Thank you for touching on the censorship of the cover, which is a perfect segue into my following point. There’s the gory one where the character eats through the newborn and then we have the safer version where we have just the character’s face with bloody teeth. Knowing that censorship would be at play here as it has been throughout the decades, does that ever make you reconsider or maybe take a different approach to the visual aspect of the record given that fans have to do a little extra digging to find it? Metal Blade has of course always had your backs on that end, but has that censorship ever limited you in any way?
Locke: Originally, just the gore cover was planned. There wasn't any talk of a second cover. In the back of my mind though, I was thinking they might call for another cover. About a month after that first cover was turned in, I got a group email with the production people from various outlets. Not too surprisingly, there was going to be issue with printing and distribution of the art in some markets. So, I worked up the second cover, making it a a nice companion piece to the first.
Mazurkiewicz: We’d love to just have the one cover of course. That’s what you want. We’re Cannibal Corpse and we should have a brutal cover. I remember when we submitted it and gave it to management, everyone was like “whoa”. What ended up happening? We hear back from Metal Blade, who told us we’d need to have an alternate cover. We wouldn’t be able to carry it there, it’s going to get censored there, we’re going to have problems in this market, and all sorts of stuff. Man, come on! What year is this? It’s just a piece of art. It’s not Metal Blade’s fault of course, but it’s ridiculous that we can’t have a cover like that and just leave it at that. We weren’t even thinking of the two covers when working with Vince really. I was just hoping it wouldn’t go to that route.
It wasn’t like Vince came up with the two versions at first and here we go. It was more like, “Hey Vince, we need the censored one now.” We had to go back to work and do the censored version, so that was something else to think about. We didn’t just want to go with a separate piece of art. No, it just made more sense to tie it in of course. We wanted a close up of her face, which we did. It’s still pretty gruesome and cool looking, but nowhere near as intense as the uncensored version. That’s how that came about.
In a perfect world, we’d have just the one cover. You want the music to get out there and the record label is in charge of supporting that aspect, so we of course have to be on the same page. It’s cool though, Vince did a great job and now fans have more visuals to look at. It was a win win at the end.
Definitely. No complaints on our end! From inception to completion, about how long did the two covers take to complete?
Locke: It's hard to say. I don't really keep track, and working during the pandemic has been pretty slow for me. Everything got stretched out, working a few hours a day. The two covers were probably a months work, plus a couple weeks on the first version I abandoned. The sketch stage takes a while as I go back and forth with the band.
For those who ordered the deluxe version of the record, they’ll be getting an art book with even more art of course, putting the Cannibal Corpse imagery on a pedestal. What went into the making of that book? And for you, Vince, what were you looking to achieve?
Mazurkiewicz: I didn’t even know they were going to make the art book, which ended up being such a cool idea. The CD booklet itself is going to be a really cool booklet. What we did do, which was a cool first for us, was have Vince do accompanying pieces for every song. If you notice our career and our t-shirts, we always ended up doing t-shirts for our songs, so we went that route. We had Vince do a separate piece per song title. I wouldn’t say it’s as detailed as the covers of course, but they’re great Vince pieces that coincide with the song titles on the album. These 11 accompanying pieces will be nicely printed on those booklets in addition to the covers, both censored and uncensored.
In terms of the art book, that’s a good question. I haven’t actually seen the full layout and format of how it’s going to look. They’re doing it alongside the vinyl version of the record, so I assume it’ll be album cover size. That’s basically how the booklet idea came about though. We had all these Vince art pieces and figured it would be best to utilize them on a book, which was a great idea.
Locke: I just thought it would be fun. I told the band that if they had the time, I could do an image for each of the songs. I felt a little weird bringing it up, I did't want to be fishing for work, but they were excited about it. The style changed a bit from illo to illo, as I was just having fun. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all comes together in the book.
It’s definitely a neat addition to an already great record. Even though streaming and digital downloads is the dominant form of music consumption, it’s elements like the art book and partnership with Vince that get audiences excited for the physical release, which is being seen across the board now that vinyl is undergoing a big resurgence in sales and popularity in general. For the old school fan, they’ll never forget the feeling of picking up ‘Tomb of the Mutilated’ (1992) or ‘Butchered at Birth’ (1991) for the first time and getting a good look at that record cover.
Mazurkiewicz: Definitely. The metal fans are always going to want the physical copy. That’s what helps sell the CDs and the albums. You get to look at the art and always want to read the lyrics, liner notes, and extra stuff. In this day and age of digital, metal continues to survive and sell hard copies, and that’s a great thing.
Of course. Cannibal Corpse covers, like the mentioned ‘Butchered At Birth’, ‘Eaten Back To Life‘ (1990), and really anything from your 90’s era have shocked thousands, if not millions, through various grotesque means. They’ve also introduced many listeners to death metal and metal overall, paving the path early on for what has been a legendary career. What album, book, or movie covers, if any, have had a similar impact on you growing up?
Locke: Meatloaf's 'Bat of Hell' (1977) was an incredible cover. It didn't get me into the music, but it fueled my love of art. I had a poster of that in my room when I was about twelve. A few years later, I discovered Richard Corben's work on Heavy Metal.
Mazurkiewicz: I would say Slayer’s ‘Hell Awaits’ (1983). When we first saw that, it was so intense. It took things to a whole new level in the early 80’s, especially compared to covers we were used to seeing, like the main regular metal ones.
An album cover like Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ (1981) was also an amazing cover. That may have been the one that got it started it all out in a sense, having Eddie with a hatchet. That was always an intense cover that I remember loving when I was younger. Getting into the heavier stuff, ‘Hell Awaits’. Another huge one would be Kreator’s ‘Pleasure To Kill’ (1986). That album cover is just a great piece of art. It’s not too bloody, but it’s very evil looking with that demon on top of a pile of skulls. I’ve always admired that one.
That’s what made us want to do what we did with Cannibal Corpse. We were fans of these art pieces and the accompanying music that when we finally formed the band, we just wanted to put out what we as fans wanted to see at that point. We wanted to take it even further and put out an ‘Eaten Back To Life’ or ‘Butchered at Birth’ that as fans, you’d go to the record store and go “whoa”. That’s how we bought a lot of our stuff back then, by looking at the covers. 90% of the time it was a great album or a band that we didn’t even know about. That said, we wanted to do what our heroes were doing and take the violence a step further, lyrically and visually. Going back to your question, those 3 in particular are my big 3.
That’s a fantastic big 3, Paul. You both have really defined death metal artwork as it is and really paved the way moving forward, which had a lot of bands following suit for decades to come. Many debate over which Cannibal Corpse cover is best. There’s clearly no wrong choice, but which is your favorite Cannibal Corpse cover and why?
Mazurkiewicz: Vince has done a lot of great ones and we love all of them. We’re Cannibal Corpse, so what’s going to be the one that stands out the most? Probably ‘Butchered at Birth’. I’ll never forget seeing ‘Butchered’ for the first time. It was insane. It was intense. We just had to do it because we’re Cannibal Corpse. It’s one for the ages. That’s our most shocking and most intense piece.
That’s a tough question though because he’s done a lot of great ones. ‘Violence Unimagined’ is a great one as well. The fact that 30 years later we can still come up with a piece like that is awesome. Some of the censored versions that he’s done have been pretty cool too. Those don’t get a lot of talk because you’re normally focused on the uncensored version, but the censored version of ‘Bloodthirst’ (1999) is very cool with the mask on the creature on top of the bones.
I’ve always liked the censored version of ‘Gallery of Suicide’ as well. You’re looking at the gallery of suicide from the outside. For a censored version, it’s very effective and a cool piece of art. Vince has done great for us, but to close out, ‘Butchered’ would take the top prize.
Locke: My favorite is 'Kill' (2006), even though it didn't make it on the cover. I like it because it's disturbing and intense, but just a portrait.
As mentioned, there’s no wrong choice and ‘Butchered’ is a heavy favorite. I’d personally go with ‘Tomb’ myself, but hey, they’re all great. How much of a role do you feel that the shock value caused by the Vince Locke artwork, music videos, and censorship has played into developing the band into what it is today?
Mazurkiewicz: It’s played a significant part. It’s important to note that it has always been music first because we’re a band of course, but we like to have the visuals. I think that we would still do good without any visuals, but they have been key. They get people talking and it has been a big part of our success, having covers like ‘Butchered at Birth’, ‘Tomb of the Mutilated’, ‘The Wretched Spawn’, and all that. It goes hand in hand for Cannibal Corpse. Violent imagery is where it has to be.
The talk that I see from fans on the sites regarding ‘Violence Unimagined’ is great. People are excited that we have this awesome cover and they love the first song of course, ‘Inhumane Harvest’. Having that cover gets audiences more energized, which is good to see and hear. I think it has played a significant part in our success, so we’re definitely happy about that.
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity and this certainly put you in the eyes of people who wouldn’t otherwise check out the band. Do you feel as though the artwork ever had an adverse impact on the records themselves, aside from the possible logistical concerns with shipping the gory covers in certain countries?
Locke: The only negative part I've seen is when some outlets wouldn't put the albums on the shelves. I think that was a bigger issue in the 1990's when Best Buy, Walmart, etc. were major sellers of CD's, but that's why we would do two covers, or I would design a single cover that cold be cropped for those markets. I think the art fits the music, so hopefully it brought new people in.
As mentioned, the Cannibal Corpse visual identity has played a huge role in their dominance of the genre and really their legacy over the years. How does it feel to have had this kind of impact, especially seeing as death metal album covers aren’t something you normally take on during your day to day operations?
Locke: It has been a slow realization that still surprises me. It wasn't until everyone started getting on the Internet that I saw how popular the band and cover art had become. I'm seeing that from my comic work now too. Occasionally when I meet someone new, it turns out they know my comic or Cannibal Corpse work.
Is illustrating for the band distinct in any way to any of your comics or other personal works, where you’re meeting your own artistic needs rather than someone else's?
Locke: The Cannibal Corpse work is bloodier than what I would do for my self, but my first comic work was Deadworld, a graphic zombie comic. I think there's some overlap there, between the graphic violence and dark humor.
Though you’ve done covers for Meatwound, Rademassaker, and a couple of others aside from Cannibal Corpse, the amount of music related illustrations is quite low considering the prominence you’ve reached with projects like ‘Tomb Of The Mutilated’. Is this intentional or is it a mere result of your time being focused on comics and other projects? One would assume you’re inundated with cover art requests.
Locke: It's a combination of things. Drawing comics does take up a lot of time, so bands have to catch me at the right time. I make time for Cannibal Corpse though! And I kind of like that it gives Cannibal Corpse a unique identity.
Paul, in looking back at all of your records, they’re each audiovisual beasts. For as grotesque as shocking an impact that your covers have left behind, the music is equally intense and you all raise the bar time after time. It can be easy for bands who have been at it this long to phone it in and serve as a more or less a nostalgia act, but that’s not the case here. You push your technicality on each record and with Erik now joining the ranks, ‘Violence Unimagined’ is an all around monster. Where do you see yourself coming into this?
Mazurkiewicz: I appreciate it man. We’re not getting any younger and we’re just doing the best that we can. You don’t know how much time you have left, so you have to make the best of it. The way the band has been going in the last few years and with this album in particular, it’s like you said: a monster. I can’t wait for the bands to hear it. When people ask, “How can they top their last album?” We seem to do it and continue to do it pretty regularly. It’s what we do and what we love. We’re just going to keep pushing the boundaries like you said, both musically and visually. I think we got ourselves a great record here and the fans are really going to enjoy it.
Violence Unimagined arrives on April 19th via Metal Blade Records. Order yours HERE.