Behind the Cover: DARKTHRONE - Eternal Hails

Fenriz and David A. Hardy present the story of the 'Eternal Hails' cover illustration.

Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):

DARKTHRONE's audiovisual history is one that has left a lasting impact for a black metal genre that has evolved great lengths over the decades. From working with the acclaimed Jim Fitzpatrick for The Underground Resistance (2013) to Duncan Fegredo on the legendary Soulside Journey (1991), Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have delivered tenfold on the DARKTHRONE experience with a plethora of collaborators among their list. Dennis Dread's punk laden prowess for F.O.A.D. (2013), Dark Thrones and Black Flags (2008), and Circle The Wagons (2010) and Zibgniew M. Bielak's illustrations for the Plaguewielder (2011) reissue and the Shadows of Iconoclasm (2021) boxset proves that the band stray from a linear visual identity, employing different techniques that are representative of their sonic exploration. Beyond just their illustrated covers, the most striking appear to be the photographs, as we've seen with A Blaze In The Northern Sky (1992) and Transilvanian Hunger (1994), two records that still hold the strength of their initial release window. No matter what DARKTHRONE era you look at, the band has delivered on the artistic end.

For their newest endeavor, Eternal Hails, DARKTHRONE have utilized UK artist David A. Hardy's Pluto and Charon, a painting that has drawn plenty eyes since its inception in 1972. The painting, which we showcase in its various forms below, presents a look at one of Pluto's moons, Charon, from the perspective of being inside a cave. It evokes a sense of discovery and depth known to the curious wanderer that was David A. Hardy at the time, Pluto and Charon didn't contain Charon when first painted and only depicted the Sun, but it was updated to reflect the scientific finding shortly after. The phenomenon intrigued David, who went on to illustrate Pluto and its several moons from varying views.

Though Pluto is no longer officially a planet, it remains an awe-inspiring series in the catalog of David's works, works that have served as an inspiration to many with an asteroid being named after David himself. With Eternal Hails, DARKTHRONE breathe new life to a work renowned within the space art community, introducing it to viewers not privy of David's legacy as is the longest-established living space artist in the West.

We engage in a brief exchange with Fenriz and David A. Hardy to elaborate on what went into the cover selection:

Fenriz, a new album approaches and with it comes another magnificent album cover that further expands upon Darkthrone's visual identity. This isn't of course the first time you've found commonalities within an existing painting to the point where you've used it for the cover, as we saw with Chadwick St. John's painting for 'Old Star'. What drew you to this magnificent David A. Hardy painting for 'Eternal Hails'? Many have compared its cosmic qualities to 'Total Death' and 'Soulside Journey'.

Fenriz: It would be easy as Paul (Peaceville label manager) suggesting to have my "spaced out" title for the next album on THIS album, but it would be too obvious and perfect. I struggle with perfect. I like music to have friction, to find the diamond and not just get a diamond ring or whatever. 'Eternal Hails' was a standard ending of letters back in the day, be it 80's or 90's (90% of my letter correspondence were in '87, '88, '89). 'Eternal Hails' is therefore the bonds of old. If you want to connect it to the artwork, then that is fine, but I will not say how. Everyone can see the artwork. The title is not an underground correspondence thing, but perhaps a yearning or a deep respect or simply AWE.

I xeroxed this artwork for correspondence purposes back in '88 at Waldemarhøy in Ski when I went to school there and got placed as an office boy at that culture centre. I had access to an awesome xeroxer! I first saw that artwork in a book about space that my cousin Fonne had and it was 40 years ago, It is my favourite space image of all time and I was HAPPY AS LARRY (!!!) when Paul fixed it so that we could use it. David A. Hardy, man! THE CIRCLE IS COMPLETE.

Amazing how life works. Appreciate the insight! David, decades have passed since you first painted ‘Pluto and Charon’ and with Darkthrone’s new full-length ‘Eternal Hails’, a new generation of viewers will feast their eyes on the work. In reflecting back at the creation of the painting, what were you looking to envision, especially since Pluto was still considered a planet at the time?

Hardy: I think it will be easiest and most helpful in this case if I explain the progress of my Pluto art – and space at generally – over the years.

'New Horizons at Pluto' (2015) by David A. Hardy (©David A. Hardy/AstroArt)

In 1950, when I was 14, I found a book in my local library called 'The Conquest of Space' (1949) by Willy Ley with the most amazing photographic illustrations by Chesley Bonestell, except that they were of course not photographs but paintings. Bonestell was, among other things, an architect, and worked on movies, including 'Destination Moon' (1950), which I saw shortly afterwards. I was hooked! This is what I wanted to do! In 1952, I discovered the British Interplanetary Society, and also the books of Arthur C. Clarke. At 16, I left grammar school and took a job in a laboratory; and it turned out that the BIS held its local meetings in the same building.

A friend, Michael, who I met at those meetings, was going to visit Patrick Moore, who was becoming known as a writer of astronomy books, to observe through his telescope. He asked if I'd like him to take some of my early art to show Patrick, in case he could use them. The result was a telegram (we had no phone in those days!) asking me to illustrate his new book, 'Suns, Myths and Men' (1968). The only problem there was that, at 18, I was due to join the RAF for National Service in just under a week. In that time, I had to produce eight black-and-white illustrations. I used scraperboard (scratchboard, USA), and posted them to the pictures on my way to the station to join the RAF.

Eventually, I met Patrick, and we agreed that we should do a book together – a sort of English version of 'Conquest of Space' (1949), which we were going to call 'Challenge of the Stars' (1972). I actually started producing the paintings while I was in the RAF, but when Patrick's agent sent these to various publishers, they rejected them as 'too speculative'! It was not until 1972 that we found a publisher who would take on 'Challenge'; and this is where Pluto comes into the picture!

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'Pluto and Charon' (2015) by David A. Hardy (©David A. Hardy/AstroArt)

At that time, Pluto was considered a planet, though a very distant and icy one, from which the Sun would be no more than a very bright star (actually 100 times brighter than a Full Moon). To emphasize its iciness, I showed the Sun through the entrance of a cave, framed by icicles. It wasn't until 22 June 1978 that it was discovered that Pluto had a moon, named Charon; so of course, I had to produce a new version showing this; sadly too late to make 'The New Challenge of the Stars', published that year. This is the version which appears on 'Eternal Hails'.

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'Pluto' original painting by David A. Hardy (©David A. Hardy/AstroArt)
'Pluto and Charon' (1972) by David A. Hardy (©David A. Hardy/AstroArt)

Astounding chain of events. Happy to shine a light on this rich history. Judging from the size of your other paintings, they appear to be quite large, allowing for you to meticulously layer them with detail. They're not essentially made to fit within the perimeters of an album cover, but thankfully, the scans are able to preserve it all to help them fit within the dimensions. About how large was the original 'Pluto and Charon' painting?

Hardy: The original wasn't all that big actually – about 18" high. I just painted in Charon, but of course nowadays, I would do this digitally in Photoshop, so size doesn’t apply.

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David A. Hardy alongside 'Pluto and Charon'

The picture serves as a perfect size reference. 'Pluto and Charon' has proved to be one of your more popular ones over the years, resulting in an updated version. To what do you attribute this popularity, if anything?

Hardy: I don't really know why 'Pluto' has been so popular, in various forms. It was (and still is, really!) our outermost planet, and from being a boring ball of ice, it has proved to be remarkably active with geysers.

'Geyser on Pluto' by David A. Hardy (©David A. Hardy/AstroArt)

I have painted several other versions of Pluto with Charon. The most imaginative is from Galactic Tours (1981) with tourists!

Pluto Illustration from 'Galactic Tours: Thomas Cook out of This World Vacations' by David A. Hardy

Music illustration is of course nowhere near your typical line of work, but if anything the ability of Darkthrone to find relativity with 'Pluto and Charon' speaks to the power of art. Beyond Darkthrone, your work has appeared on releases by Hawkwind, Gustav Holst, and almost made it to be the cover of Pink Floyd's legendary 'Dark Side of the Moon' (1973)! What was that experience like?

Hardy: I was asked to submit a cover for Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon', which I did as a wraparound, with an eclipsed Moon on the front and Sun passing behind the Earth on the back. Everyone who's seen it likes it better than that enigmatic prism and spectrum! As noted, I have also done or supplied art for quite a few independent bands, usually for 12" albums.

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Unused illustration for Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' by David A. Hardy

Like David, we too agree that his iteration would've served as a better option. Pink Floyd aside though, David's work has a universality to it that makes it accessible to audiences across the different mediums it finds itself on, DARKTHRONE record included. Unless you of course know of the duo's uncompromising metal, one would believe the record to be of ambient or experimental nature given the nature of the painting. It's welcoming to general audiences, but for those all too familiar, Hardy's talent is a conduit that encourages an excursion into the great beyond, an excursion driven by the raw power of the Norwegian unit. With Pluto and Charon at the helm for artistic duties, Eternal Hails proves to be an encounter worth basking in. DARKTHRONE have simply done it again.

Eternal Hails arrives on June 25th via Peaceville Records. Pre-order your copy HERE and stream the lead single Hate Cloak below.

“Pluto and Charon” (1972) by David A. Hardy