Picking our way through the Texas unit's deadly homage to classic slasher films.
Time is of the essence and Fort Worth-based FROZEN SOUL are wasting none of it by letting their work ethic speak for itself. Since first arriving on the scene in 2018, the band have grown substantially in reach, amassing praise from death metal goers across the world and inking a major label debut in a matter of 2 years with only a demo under their belt. As exemplary as one would view their dedication to their craft, it's best to note that this is all happening without forced intentions and best of all, in good spirits. Needless to say, you can count on FROZEN SOUL to carry the death metal torch forward for a new generation.
Now days away from their debut full length, FROZEN SOUL have crafted a death metal benchmark with the mighty Crypt Of Ice, which we further detail on our review. Arriving on January 8th via Century Media, Crypt Of Ice stands as a barn burner ready to impact the inevitable return of live shows, battering one away with the cataclysmic sonics known as a signature element of the Fort Worth five-piece. This debut offering is more than a thrilling listen, but a stimulating one as well, giving listeners one of this month's top album covers. It bridges Velio Josto's retro art style with the band's fascination for slasher films, making for a seamless collaborative effort that we'll be diving into shortly.
We go Behind the Cover of Crypt Of Ice with FROZEN SOUL frontman Chad Green and artist Velio Josto to learn of the artistic inspirations and evolution that led to the final album cover:
In just a few days, you’ll be kicking off 2021 the right way with your highly anticipated debut, ‘Crypt Of Ice’. For as much excitement and uncertainty that lies within a debut record’s ability to set the stage for a band’s career, fan support is through the roof. What does this response mean to you as a relatively new band?
Green: Honestly, we’re still mind blown. We’ve all played in bands and have tried to do stuff like this for a very long time. The support right from when we first released the demo was unheard of, so it means a whole lot. It’s kind of scary, but it’s definitely awesome. It still feels surreal though and with this COVID thing on top of it, it makes it feel even weirder. We’re just stoked to see what’s going to happen.
Frozen Soul was only formed a couple of years ago and yet you’ve seen such substantial growth in a short period of time, first releasing the demo on Maggot Stomp and now making your Century Media full-length debut. To what do you attribute said growth?
Green: It was a combination of Scott having a platform with Maggot Stomp, but also the fact that we knew what we wanted. When Michael (Munday, guitars) and I started the band, we knew what we wanted. We wrote some songs that we were really excited about and we just really loved them. When you truly love something that you do and put everything into it, other people are going to feel that in some way. The fact that we were feeling it so much and our other band wasn’t working out the way we wanted it to, we were able to put all of our energy into this, start touring, and really get our name out there one way or another.
It was also about making the right decisions, though I wouldn’t say the “right decisions” because I don’t necessarily think there’s a right or wrong way to do it. We capitalized on our name and the meaning behind our songs. We added the atmosphere to our live shows and it caught a lot of death metal listeners off guard. I think it’s a combination of hard work and luck. Touring definitely helped a lot because it got us into the eyes and ears of more people that probably wouldn’t have taken the time of day to listen to us if it wasn’t for them seeing what we did live.
That visual element is key, especially as more audiences become accustomed to hearing your name. Touching on your point about passion and love that goes into your craft, Dallas and Texas in general is another regional hotspot for quality bands and shows. I can think of Oath of Cruelty, Devourment, and Power Trip off top. How much does the camaraderie between yourselves as a band and the Texas scene overall play into your work?
Green: Honestly, it plays a lot because we wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for our friends. We were able to get on shows that most bands from here don’t get to play. We got to skip playing uncool little shows, but got to play some badass house shows in the very beginning that helped set us up. That was all from friends that play in bands. We’re good friends with the dudes in Devourment and I’ve played in bands with the dudes from Power Trip. I’ve known those guys for well over a decade. We also grew up with the guys from Creeping Death as well, helped each other get opportunities, shows, etc. That camaraderie is definitely something that has helped us a lot. It’s awesome being surrounded by so much cool shit.
There’s value in that. In jumping over to the artistic side of ‘Crypt’, there’s a plethora of artists to choose from and you went with the mighty Velio Josto, a creative who holds the underground down with exquisite covers. What made you want to go with Velio? Perhaps an album cover of his?
Green: I’ve never been a wild fan of theirs, but ever since I saw the cover of Vulture’s ‘The Guillotine’ (2017), the UK thrash band, I was drawn to them. The perspective of the artwork was really great. Also, I’m a huge fan of horror and so is everyone else in the band. I’ve always liked horror posters, like the Friday The 13th Part III (1982) poster. I just love that horror perspective, 3-D style that kind of pops at you.
When we started looking around for cover artists, I came across him one day. I looked at his art style and it looked super old school. The detail was really great, so it reminded me of old school, late 80’s and early 90’s slasher novels and movies. We really wanted to have that perspective on our album cover because it kind of has to do with a killer that kills bad people, loosely speaking at least. I started talking to him, messaged me, and he was really cool and receptive. He got to sending me sketches and we ended up going in a completely different direction that we originally wanted. His art just stuck out to me. In a world of Seagraves and bands using the same artist like Adam Burke, we wanted to try something different, someone that nobody in death metal was really using, which is why we went with him.
He just does some crazy stuff and it’s super detailed. It still has blemishes, which is what makes it so perfect to me. It’s not like he just pops it in the computer and completely redigitalizes it. There’s some really old school vibe to it that I just love.
I’d agree, which again speaks to his talents. Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Velio for ‘Crypt of Ice’?
Green: We had the idea of including the killer in some way with the cover being from the perspective of the killer himself or from the victim being killed. Aborted has similar covers that are from the perspective of the doctor doing the surgery or whatever. That’s kind of what we were looking for initially. We weren’t totally sure on how it was going to be because there’s only one artist in the band as far as painting, and that’s our bass player Sam. We all came to an agreement through talking to her. We talked to Velio and got an image to go along with our ideas based on what he knew. That’s really all we wanted, to capture a cold vibe but also capture the death metal aspect of what we were talking about.
As a consistent illustrator in the underground metal scene, your works have drawn many to new records on intrigue alone. Though each cover of yours is unique and varied, it’s immediately apparent how much attention is put to atmosphere, immersing listeners into the world crafted by a record. Notable examples include ‘The Search’, RIOT’s ‘Archives Volume 5’, and today’s subject, ‘Crypt of Ice’. How do you approach that particular aspect of the work?
Josto: I appreciate what you say, it means the images seem to be working well. Actually, it’s pretty hard for me to reply: surely the atmosphere in an image is a fundamental aspect, but, in my opinion, it is something I still need to work on. You see, I think, looking at my work, that aspect is still a bit vague, too much suspended: it doesn’t go towards that descriptive realism of painting that can let you feel the sense of the depicted scene nor there’s a dramatization proper of illustrations of a certain caliber.
That’s frustrating for me, on one hand this versatility is not so much appreciated and on the other one that atmosphere which changes constantly isn’t able to feature my own style. Probably every work is a different case: what I can say for sure is that I’m trying to depict some light effects you can see in photography and digital illustration, and to push the overall style towards a 80’s freaky style. This later aspect may impact totally on the image atmosphere but not every time is it in line with the musician's expectations.
Was the illustration purely conceptual or was it driven by the music in any way?
Josto: I should probably apologize to the bands I worked with. I’ve never started from their music for making an artwork. Although I listen to the music, which is available on the web platforms (Bandcamp, YouTube, etc.), I haven’t so much sensibility for being driven by it. Moreover, it isn’t my duty to judge the client's music nor my choice to pick a job up based on my tastes. The lack of time does the rest.
The amount of detail incorporated is insane. About how long did the cover illustration take to complete?
Josto: I’m really slow. I end up taking no less than 2/3 weeks for finishing every time, but I can’t be sure. Moreover, it’s hard to count properly the working time when you have to work on several stuff at the same time. Oddly, when this kind of job becomes a full-time, the time seems to be beaten by a virtual clock: the details or the complexity don’t affect an artist’s personal speed. Probably, you can enter in a temporal paradox and it’s the time that adapts itself to the painting execution, at least this is it for me.
Chad, you mentioned earlier you went in a different direction. So the cover we see now isn’t initially what you all had in mind?
Green: No. Originally, we had the idea of having some hands coming out of an ice lake. Aside from the generalness that I put in with lyrics, the story is loosely about somebody that kills bad people and puts their bodies in a frozen lake. It’s much deeper than that, but that’s more or less what it’s about on a surface level. We had that idea of some hands coming out of a crack in the ice lake, looking at the killer standing in front of you. He was either going to be standing there with a knife or pickaxe in his hand and you could see the mountains behind him with white and blue hues. He drew up a sketch of that and we added a horror cover vibe to it where there was a big skull in the sky above the killer. He sketched something else, which was the killer with a pickaxe and it was as if the view was from a third person perspective behind the killer. The camera was looking down and you could see the killer’s back with half decomposed frozen bodies beneath the ice.
We played with those ideas a few times, with several variations coming out of it. We decided to take the killer out of it altogether and have it be from the eyes of the person that did it. Basically, he actually added in the idea of what’s called a blue hole. It’s sort of like an endless abyss. There’s a bunch of them throughout the world in the water. This abyss goes really deep into the earth. He added that in and it’s basically like the bodies were piled up, trailing all the way down getting smaller as you move away from the abyss. It’s exactly what we wanted. It’s very general but it has a lot of heaviness to it. We totally weren’t going with that route initially. I feel like it’s much more ominous than our original idea.
It creates a sense of mystery and strays from it being literal, which is sometimes expected from bloody and gory death metal covers. Appreciate you sharing the sketches too! Some artists prefer lots of details and directions when approaching a commission while others prefer vagueness to allow for interpretation. How would you two characterize your partnership throughout the entire creative process?
Josto: More or less, you’re describing the two majority approaches in this field, but, actually, there’re some nuances in between. With Chad, the approach to the images, in the sketching phase, actually the phase I prefer in this job, was something more complicated, maybe a bit schizophrenic. I started sketching four ideas I thought to fit with the thematic of the band, just for breaking the ice. Chad asked me to work on one of them as first choice, but also on a second one as to have a different option. This latter would have become the concept of the definitive artwork even if I was mainly working on the other idea.
After a couple of revisions, the image ended up in a sketch which had lost the force. So, Chad agreed to switch on the second option: the iced lake, the corpses sinking on that abyss I imagined seeing the pics of blue holes on the web. Summarizing: Chad’s ideas has merged with mine. Later, some ideas left behind came back in the work for the single and the merchandising.
Green: He kind of led the charge on it. I’m big on letting artists have their freedom. I’m not the type of person to draw up a bunch of stuff and direct an artist on how we want things. I know some artists like that because it helps take the stress off. When I looked at Velio’s art though, I felt it was important for me to let him be himself. I can tell when covers have too much band direction. Having a professional tattoo artist in our band, we have the insight of how annoying it is sometimes to have a customer be completely overbearing with what they want. Even though the artist clearly knows it’s not going to work, they have to do it because the customer is always right or whatever. For me, I thought it was important to let him be himself and honor his ideas.
Originally, we wanted a lot more blues on the cover. He went with a more grey and white scheme, closer to what cold really looks like. That ended up being way better than what I imagined in my head. It was a pretty clear line of communication overall. The sketches that he did for us ended up being a t-shirt and a single cover, specifically the one for ‘Wraith Of Death’. Fun fact, that design was actually what we had intended for the album cover.
Interesting! Usually, the single artwork and merchandise designs derive from the album cover itself.
Green: Yeah, that was actually the original cover. That was the first sketch that he sent. He altered it a bit to make it more of a t-shirt, making it more elongated rather than a square. I believe the original sketch was on a wide panel.
Happy to have these sketches here for readers to see. You’ve created a musical identity characterized by Bolt Thrower-esque heaviness and a visual one characterized by elements associated with the Frozen Soul band name, mainly through the use of blue hues in promo shots, effects in music videos, frigid cover art atmosphere, and of course, merch. How important was it for you all a band to have created this visual allure to pair well with your music?
Green: It was the single most important aspect of everything we’ve done. We wouldn’t be in this situation if we didn’t have that. We wouldn’t have been able to obtain what we’ve obtained if we didn’t think of our visuals proactively. In the grand scheme of things, that’s how people identify us as a band. If we had some regular death metal songs in the vein of Bolt Thrower, it would be cool and all, but having our identity as a band changed the direction upward for us. We had fun doing it. We had fun with the whole cold stuff, always thinking about what the hell we were going to come up with next. I guess we’re going to need a fucking snow machine at some point. It just keeps escalating further and further.
There’s a million cold things out there and there’s a million ways to reference the temperature. Our songs have a deeper meaning than “I’m cold and I want to put on a jacket”, but there’s a ton of different ways we can take it and it’s all fun. We’re really lucky that it all worked out. We didn’t come up with this visual identity with the intention of getting popularity out of it. We did it because we liked it and it’s funny. It just happened to work out, but yeah, it’s every bit important.
The best part about it all is that it came organically, rather than it being a forced marketing ploy. When you think of Iron Maiden, you think of Eddie. When you think of Megadeth, you think of Vic Rattlehead. Same can be said about low temperatures and Frozen Soul.
Green: Exactly! It’s like a total package, and we’re all having fun with it.
Velio, how did you look to interpret this visual aesthetic in your own artistic manner?
Josto: I was showed a cover art of another band’s release gone out recently under Century Media, asking me to avoid using the same chromatic tones, just in order not to create confusion. It was funny because that illustration was all built on very dark blue, almost grey/black, and it would have been really strange to use that palette in my image. It’s enough to take a look to reality: ice, snow, frost can’t have anything but nuances going from transparency to dirty white, and to “celeste”. Instead, it’s automatic to associate “cold” with the colour blue, as that’s -of course- a cold colour.
The most important thing in “Crypt Of Ice” was to depict this iced lake containing some corpses in several states of decomposition, and I don’t know if I did it properly. Obviously it isn’t photo-realism and it's absolutely fine how the band uses blue for its promo photos, so maybe the artwork could look a bit different from their own imagination. Later, when the band released the first video clip from the album, I started to wonder if I would have been able to compete with such a visual quality.
Mandatory question for us here at Heaviest of Art. Do you both recall a time when an album cover struck you from the beginning and made you pick up a record prior to even listening to it?
Josto: I have to admit I haven’t a large collection of music, or better, one comparable to the average metal fan. Partially it’s due to the lack of money, partially to prefer to buy stuff related to the figurative art, books and comics… I can say I bought only one CD because I was hit by the external look. Actually, it was the packaging made by a plastic sleeve that hid the cover-art, pretending to reproducing a specimen bag. The cover art was good as well, a sort of update of the Carcass pathological-collage-artwork. I didn’t know anything of the band. It was 'Olidous Operettas' (2007) by The County Medical Examiners.
Green: That has happened a lot, especially when I started getting into death metal. One was ‘The Spectral Sorrows’ (1993) by Edge of Sanity. That album cover really took me.
If we want to dig back man, I’d say it happened often during the nu metal days in middle school. Seeing Rob Zombie’s covers like ‘Hellbilly Deluxe’ (1998) just scared me as a kid. My mom ended up getting me that CD for Christmas. I was starting to get into that weirder stuff back in like the late 90’s.
The album cover for Korn’s ‘Issues’ (1999) was also another one that really stuck to me.
I’ve never been a huge Vital Remains fan, but one of the album covers that I’ll always remember is that one with a war hammer smashing Jesus’ chest or something. ‘Icons Of Evil’ (2007) I think it is. I’d say that cover changed the game for me.