Vibrant artistry channeled through demonic means.
When DEVIL MASTER first burst onto the scene, audiences were greeted by a sense of nostalgia that achieved such feats with a breath of fresh air. From their demos to their Relapse Records debut Satan Spits on Children of Light (2019), the Philadelphian unit took on 80’s hardcore punk through an energetic and eclectic black metal lens, perfectly coalescing with the band’s dark presence. DEVIL MASTER has since amassed a larger following thanks to the widespread talent present throughout opportunities to display their malevolent body of work across the country, including this week’s highly anticipated Psycho Las Vegas festival.
With music this sinister and a stage presence to match, it’s inevitable that the band’s hymns would have to find appropriate artistry for proper introduction. The art of Erica Frevel, which matches the band’s energy and essence, would be the one to do it. Her cover painting is the ideal visual representation of DEVIL MASTER’s aura, illustrating true lunacy with vibrancy just as the band achieves with synth. One glance and it’s clear that there’s a deeper, underlying being beneath the winged demons and tortured souls.
Heaviest of Art had the privilege of welcoming conversation with Erica Frevel and DEVIL MASTER to go Behind The Cover of the art for one of this year's most daring records:
Months after Satan Spits and it’s clear you’re headed in the right direction, garnering acclaim for the record and landing spots on Psycho Las Vegas and a tour with Abbath, Obituary, and Midnight. What does this mean for you as a band?
Devil Master: As a band, we are happy people obviously are enjoying it as much as we are, though we are simply doing the same live show and playing that we were still doing last year playing mostly basements and DIY venues. Having Relapse notice us being a local Philadelphia band where they are based has obviously opened these massive doors, which may have remained locked had we continued on self releasing. Saying how Relapse only encourage us to continue on as we have done, nothing has changed for the band itself despite playing to a bigger audience.
You’re a band that triumphs musically, seamlessly fusing black metal and punk among other elements and creating a fun yet haunting listening experience. How does that all come together?
Devil Master: Thanks for the kind words! While all of those elements are definitely present, originally Hades Apparition (rhythm guitar) recruited us to play in the vein of 80’s Japanese hardcore punk, which always had metallic and sometimes upbeat sound while championing diabolical aesthetics and theatrics. Prior to Devil Master, Spirit Mirror has been playing in her chorus drenched hardcore punk band Blank Spell while her and I played in Cape of Bats for the past decade, which melds the genres you have mentioned in a different way. To say it just seems natural would be an understatement. As fans of all of the aforementioned, which have such huge overlapping in themes, aesthetics and sound, it has been an organic process as opposed to a conscious effort to Frankenstein anything, despite what some detractors may say who demand everything in a neat little confined box.
The art (stage theatrics, album cover, etc.) is representative of the album’s vivid use of synth, atmosphere, and most importantly, Satan. How important is it for you to have the art be in sync with the music?
Devil Master: Looking at all of the bands we grew up loving, aesthetics for the most were almost always as important as the music. When you are pouring everything you have in to such a labor of love this should only be natural that you would care about how it is perceived at a visual level the same we choose to dress ourselves every day. Today, there is an attitude where many musicians adopt minimal aesthetics personally and for their music, as if they are too cool or artsy to be too expressive (revealing their own lack of confidence in their output). We wanted to make a classic record and the art was very important that it not be indicative of any trend.
Before we get into the art, how fucking great is Satan Spits on Children of Light? Assuming you enjoyed it of course.
Erica: It was as awesome as just the raw recording - which I was lucky enough to get to hear very early on. When the vocals and mastering went over it, I was fucking floored to be honest. It's so fucking rare that a band dares to expand metal or punk in a direction that is innovative and genuinely otherworldly. The members just work together really well I think - they all bring serious magic to the table and this record brought that to another level.
When a record is magic, its got a strange quality to it - people all hear something different like it was written for them. I've heard this record compared to such widely different genres, it's insane. Bottom line is they fucking make the Devil's music and they were a hidden Philly gem for a while...now they're not so hidden anymore.
Having heard the record in advance, was there any particular musical element or lyrical theme that struck you early on as something you'd want to include in the artwork?
Erica: Not specifically, the whole album is put together really well. In my opinion an album's either got it or it doesn't. Details or genre or lyrical themes of the album are just a vehicle for the energy. I can tell real early on whether music has that power in it. Its funny, spirits hanging around my house have opinions on the music too. Its pretty obvious if there's a lack of darker energies emanating from it because they will all disperse or fuck with the electrical outlets if they really hate it. I've had spirits glitch the shit out of my mp3 player and delete shit they don't want to hear anymore. Let's just say this album played on repeat for a long time unimpeded. That alone aided in the quality of the artwork and that would not have happened if this album wasn't important. Honestly, it becomes quite a task to take on commissions that don't mesh with the demons I work with. Just listening to the earlier recordings was enough to know what this painting needed to be.
It's clear that a lot of thought and commitment went into the making. From inception to completion, how long did the cover take to create and what tools/techniques were used in the process?
Erica: The entire painting process took about 4 months, maybe a bit more. Due to the drying time oil takes, each layer took a week or two to work on. I discussed the project with Devil Master when they were initially signing to Relapse Records because they knew they would need a painting for this album. I believe I was performing a tattoo session actually - nothing like blood and ink and whiskey to cement plans for demonic artwork. Once the recording sessions began, I started working on developing the sigil and the sketches. Lots of time spent rifling through my extensive magazine and book collection finding examples of Medieval demons and torturous hellscapes. I had already pre-consecrated my tools but I did continue to use the full moon to charge the paintbrushes. There are a lot of extra steps to take when making occult art.
Coming into the record, it seems you had your eyes set on Erica being the one to illustrate the cover. What about her work drove the decision?
Devil Master: My meeting with Erica was destined from the start it would seem. Having noticed and obsessed over a collage piece she did for a heretical and militant Satanic cult I will not mention here, finally I searched for the artist and saw she had done pieces for Philadelphia based bands such as Infernal Stronghold. As I reached out, her and her husband were planning on returning to Philly for the first time in 6 years I think. Having someone so genuine in their devotion to their work (meaning her art and occult works which are inseparable), is ideal for anyone who is the same with their own art (our music). She is a master of many art forms, and we settled on an oil painting after seeing some of her own, which gleam an essence I have never seen before.
Winged demons, fire breathing beasts, and bodies torn in half are illustrated among a multitude of other malicious deeds and beings. This is not a simple piece by any means, provoking thought upon first glance and even controversy to some. Is there an intended reaction you wish to provoke upon the viewer?
Erica: Considering that my work has always been controversial to some degree, that doesn't really surprise me. It's truly not intentional, it's just the reaction people have to certain forces or entities channeled into my work. I don't make any art that isn't also black magic and there is a reason most occultists do not openly admit to being such. You can't expect everyone to be comfortable with demonic, chthonic or death forces.
In the case of this painting, the reaction we were collaborating towards was the experience of a psychedelic nightmare in the underworld. Like the name of the album indicates, we have no allegiance to the forces of light. If someone thinks this album is controversial, they're probably a child of light.
During the time I was painting it, I had two active death shrines in the studio and another in an adjacent room. As far as adjacent projects, I was also researching and writing a piece about the Demogorgon and the cosmology of the Underworld. Obviously, this lent a great deal of appropriate energy towards invoking spirits of the Underworld. So if people look at this painting and hear the record and feel physical or psychic changes or sensations - that was an intentional part of this collaboration.
Mushrooms were used during the initial phases of the painting and that certainly affected the energy of the painting and the reaction of those who see it. I think it's fairly jarring, actually, especially the colors. Sometimes the album gets recommended to me on YouTube and I feel it – that electric shock in your chest like something just woke up. It was painted in the dark so maybe that’s how I was able to get that crazy bright effect. I think we even edited it to tone it down haha but that painting has a life of its own.
Like Erica, your music harnesses the energy from beyond the physical realm through ritualistic practices. Would you say this was an ideal collaboration just waiting to happen?
Devil Master: Considering the story above, I would say more than an ideal collaboration it was one we had simply no choice in the matter. Having had the privilege to see her work in her home where studio and ritual place are one and the same, you know that whatever she is working on will harness all of the tense and hungry energies you can feel there. We had already planned on working with Erica before being approached by Relapse. After that was planned though, the idea that her work would be put forth to such a world wide audience we could not help but laugh at the diabolical implications.
In working with her, what did you envision for the album cover?
Devil Master: A psychedelic Medieval Hellmouth. I would say she did an amazing job.
What did collaboration between you and the band look like in terms of being able to carefully illustrate their thoughts through your own artistic measures and beliefs?
Erica: I've worked with members of Devil Master before and know some personally, so that goes a long way towards successful communications, especially when there is an esoteric component to the work. People who aren’t aware that my work is a devotional practice can be a bit difficult to work with because they focus only on the appearance or some trendy occult content, which is not demonic at all. I can't make a painting alive if I have no idea which spirits to channel. So if you don’t specify, you might just get a random Sumerian or chthonic spirit I know.
Anyway, that's the benefit of working with musicians who want real powerful occult art - they know the Devil already or at least a devil. As with most projects I collaborate on, it started with a sigil. I often bury sigils in the base layer of a painting, which is part of a much more elaborate ritual process. Anyway, once we agreed on the sigil, the actual painting went in the intended direction. Feedback on color and small additions are fairly seamless after laying down a strong demonic intent.
With that said, did the artistic direction evolve or change in any way throughout the entire process?
Erica: Yes, when working this way, I'm in trance a lot so I really have somewhat limited control over whatever happens. It can be an intense process while collaborating and sometimes having to tell people "I can change this aspect of the piece but it was directly channeled so it is potent and we should just leave it as is." I can consciously tweak certain aspects of the work, though, but often I find myself adding strange little details that weren't in the original sketch. The colors certainly became more and more intense the longer it was worked on. Magenta and the purple together are really important to the band to maintain a visual projection consistent with their core power (like any skilled occultist) in order to project genuine Devil music with a thick fog of the ancient and vampiric.
What was different about your approach to this piece given that you were now making art for someone else compared to you taking your own pieces in whatever direction you'd like?
Erica: I've been taking on commissions for various collaborative projects for about 4 years now. I'm actually really picky (or I should say, my protective demon is really picky) about who I choose to work with. So given that the band members are familiar with my esoteric practices and I don't have to pretend I'm not performing blood sacrifices behind the scenes - the approach of this painting was very much like my personal approach. The only real difference was being able to bounce progress shots back and forth for input and the fact that there was a deadline for the release.
Your personal work is centered around and done on behalf of the Void. Can you elaborate a bit more on what that entails and how it drives your artistic endeavors?
Erica: The way I see it, I'm just a mediator between the Void and our plane of material reality which is where the magical function of art itself comes in. Art exists half in material reality (the literal paint or drawing material) and half in the astral (the ritual of invocation used to channel the power attached to it), so I simply use my abilities to form cracks between our reality and the Abyss. I don't really want any power for myself, which does set me apart from most other cultists. I'm more of a medium in that way. I took an oath - an artistic or creative oath - that I would dedicate my magical abilities only to the Void because It is the ultimate Power. If I take on a commission, it's because I can see that project falls in line with my devotional priorities.