Building a stimulating legacy one record at a time.
Metal is a visual genre. Whether it be the outfits, album covers, mascots, or even the merchandise, many have been introduced to our beloved genre through a variety of artistic elements. The ongoing death metal renaissance stands as an example given the vast amounts of top-tier album covers that have guided listeners through the flooded gates of the underground in recent years. Artists have evolved with the changes in technology to bring on a new golden era for metal artwork, resembling a time where Andreas Marschall, Dan Seagrave, Wes Benscoter, and Ed Repka dominated the realm.
Of the many modern acts who understand the importance of visuals, NECROT is one. With the illustrative talents of Marald Van Haasteren at the helm, the Bay Area trio look to stun with their pummeling take on death metal, a take that brings the yesteryear into a modern time with fascinating visuals to boast. What began with Blood Offerings (2017) has now flourished as NECROT and Marald Van Haasteren are slowly but surely leaving their mark on death metal with their collaborative efforts, as evident on the band's forthcoming LP Mortal (releasing August 28th via Tankcrimes). Audience reaction to the unveiling of the album cover spoke volumes of their partnership, leading to rapid sales and multiple pressings of the fascinating vinyl version of the release. Though only two-full lengths in, Mortal is but another chapter in the ongoing legacy that NECROT and Marald look to build.
We go Behind the Cover of Mortal with NECROT frontman Luca Indrio and Marald Van Haasteren to dissect the gruesome entity they've brought forth:
After a long and successful post-release cycle for ‘Blood Offerings’, a new era of Necrot is being ushered in with ‘Mortal’. Seeing as anticipation is high with pre-orders flying off the digital shelves, what do you all set to achieve with this new full-length?
Indrio: ‘Blood Offerings’ was very well received, and that was great, but we’re three years later now. In these three years, a lot of things have happened for us. We’ve been on tour a lot. We’ve been on tour with bigger bands like Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Immolation, and The Black Dahlia Murder. From each and every one of these bands, we’ve learned something that has put us in a spot to be able to play a show for 45 days in a row or be on a plane for 30 hours to get to Australia. We got more experience from doing all of those things.
Not that we weren’t touring before, but we didn’t tour as much. Touring with bigger bands made us better because it sets a bar for what you want to achieve. All of this translated into ‘Mortal’. That’s why I have no doubt that this is a way better album than ‘Blood Offerings’.
I’d back that statement given the multiple listens we’ve had through the record. You couldn’t have kicked things off better than with ‘Your Hell’, which just takes the aggression of ‘Blood Offerings’ to another level. The same can be said about ‘Asleep Forever’ for it stands as really some of the strongest tracks across the three records. All in all, it’s a fantastic death metal record. Where did you all find common ground in terms of musical direction when first approaching ‘Mortal’?
Indrio: The direction was very similar to the first album. I steered the bigger part of the direction because I wrote the songs and lyrics. Chad (Gailey, drums) steered the direction as far as drum beats and Sonny (Reinhardt, guitars) expressed himself through the solos. We do sometimes stress each other out a little bit on the things that we do to keep us doing the best that we can. We challenge each other and make suggestions for each other.
A big difference from ‘Blood Offerings’ is that there’s a little bit more attention to the guitar. I specifically wrote the songs with parts that needed a guitar part on top of it, whether that be a solo or lead. When I started the band, I started it without ever thinking about guitar leads, so every single riff had to be completed as it was. This was before ‘Blood Offerings’ and even before Sonny joined. I would write songs that could totally work without a solo or guitar part on top of it while now I write parts that leave a lot of space for guitar creation. I’ll repeat a riff that by itself actually sounds boring but leaves a lot of room for Sonny to write a sick guitar part. Before, every single riff I would write needed to stand alone with no need of anything else.
I think there’s now more maturity in the sound and the tones. It’s overall a much better album. Not that ‘Blood Offerings’ wasn’t good or I’m not happy with it. I’m really happy with ‘Blood Offerings’. I never listen to it but if I put it on, I’ll still like it 100%. ‘Mortal’ is a step forward and the next one will hopefully be an even bigger step forward. We’re learning and we’re learning by doing this as hard as we can. We’re pushing it to the maximum extent with all of the touring and dedication that we’re putting into this. It’s paying off and you can hear the progression.
From bands on Tankcrimes and Sentient Ruin to the plethora of others across genres, the Bay Area is stacked with talent and consistently delivers with a DIY attitude. You do what you want to do and you do it well. There’s camaraderie between you all and it is reflected on each record. How much of this has an effect on you all as musicians?
Indrio: For us, Tankcrimes is the perfect label because we have the same ideals, same ethics, and really the same way we like to do things. We want to bring people back to going to shows. Scotty wanted to start a campaign for the now canceled tour where he would ask people to draw flyers for the shows, post them around the street, and send pictures of it. The cooler ones would get VIP passes to shows, guest list spots, and other cool shit. Scotty is also doing this postcard thing where if you send one to Tankcrimes, he’s going to send you something. This is reminiscent of the times where people would tape trade and send letters to each other.
It’s important to have Necrot feel like a family. We feel good with each other, we feel good with Scotty and everybody who works with and goes on tour with us. All these people are people who we trust. We know what they think and we know where they come from. They’re not just some corporate record label people. It’s easier for us to be in a reality that is more similar to who we are.
Scotty has been doing great work and is competitive on all levels with all of the other labels, especially in these years of the internet and the multiple ways that bands promote themselves. It just makes sense to work with Scotty and it has been fantastic.
You got a great team around you and the same can be said about the art. You’ve returned with Marald for ‘Mortal’, who again has knocked it out of the park. Despite there being so many options to choose from, what made you come back?
Indrio: It’s important to create a legacy with the people that we work with, some kind of continuity. We want to bring these people with us in time so we’re going to ask Marald again for the next album. It’s also because we’ve met the person. We’re friends and we have the same ethical background. Marald is someone who is an amazing artist but also knows so much about anatomy. He’s been in contact with dead bodies so he’s perfect for something that we do. It’s very important to have a group of people who work together and are happy.
Another point that we always make with Necrot when we go on tour is that we always try and pay our people really well. We know that being on tour is not easy. It’s fun but it’s a lot of hard work. We follow certain rules with the people we work with. We work with people that we trust, people that we believe in, and people that align with us politically, though not to an extreme. We of course don’t work with racists or assholes. We don’t deal with that bullshit. We keep our circle to people we trust. It’s important to create a solid group of people aside from the band and Marald is among those.
As you should. It’s important to surround yourself with the right people, especially in contemporary times. What were you looking visually for when approaching Marald with the project?
Indrio: This time was way harder than it was with ‘Blood Offerings’ because Marald was going through a recent surgery. We started talking to him about the concept and sent him some lyrics. I usually leave him with a lot of material to work with. He knows what we’re looking for and he knows that we want something of impact. We don’t want just something that looks good. We want something that people look at and think ‘oh that’s fucked up’. We’re looking to strike a reaction with the beauty of a piece of art.
Marald is great to work with. He’s patient, he listens to you, and he likes to try different things. We had a crazy deadline because we’ve been touring so much that we had little time to write and practice the new record. We went to the Pacific Northwest, Australia, Japan, and then did the 45-day U.S. tour, all back to back. We got back from that and had to start recording the album three weeks after. As soon as we got back, we had to get in the studio and practice every day to be ready to record. We had a deadline to have the album ready because our tour for the album was getting booked too.
Everything was planned, so we went to Marald with a tight deadline. He didn’t have three months to do it. He then had a retinal detachment and had to get a gnarly surgery. He couldn’t see shit and ended up finishing the cover with only one eye. At one point, he felt he wasn’t going to make it and we had all these deadlines linked to it. He also really wanted to make it happen because he didn’t want to break the continuity of us working together and we didn’t either. Ultimately, all the deadlines went to shit because of the coronavirus. All of the tours got canceled and the album got postponed. Anyway, Marald did it on time and it was fantastic, however the deadlines were all for nothing.
Upon the announcement of 'Mortal', fans were taken aback by the album cover, which speaks first hand to the power of art. Visually, what did you set out to achieve with respect to the concepts and themes presented by Luca?
Marald: This one was really hard because I think it took 9 sketches before we agreed on an idea. It was mostly my fault because I hung on to my initial idea way too long and I didn’t understand that they were actually looking for something different. The first 6 sketches were based on a singular figure because when I first heard of the concept, it became to me about an individual and the concept that we all have to face death alone. We’re all imprisoned in our own personal flesh so for me, that was without a doubt about a singular figure in the void.
The below sketch was an attempt to stay away from traditional interpretations & make a more surreal, flesh landscape of a giant pelvis, with 1 figure ripping himself apart, surrendering to the void. Necrot thought it was nice first attempt but didn’t see this as the front, maybe something for the inside gatefold.
Sometimes it’s really hard for an artist to let go of an idea, so that was one of the lessons I had to relearn during this project. It took a while before I understood what they were looking for, which included way more figures as a collective, a collectiveness whereas I was concentrated on an individual.
The below sketch was my 2nd attempt & my favorite, the one I hung on to way too long. A figure on the brink of the abyss offering its skin to a figure cloaked in human skins, guided to the figure by the dying light of its life’s candle. A metaphor of humans giving death shape, making death manifest itself, e.g. humans are conscious of their mortality.
In abandoning that initial idea, was it due in part to creative differences or rather concerns with the deadlines?
Marald: The deadline became an issue when I had the eye problems with my retinal detachments. We were close to agreeing on a composition and I think I only had to change the back of the gatefold at the stage when I had my first detachment. I informed the band immediately and questioned my ability to complete the drawing.
After the surgery, I consulted with my doctors and they clarified everything would be okay. I would be able to start drawing in two weeks if I felt I could. Shortly after, I had another detachment in the same eye. It all went to hell. There was panic on both sides whether I could make the deadline. I really wanted to do the cover and it became clear to me that I was their only option. They were like, ‘There’s only one person that could do it and that’s you.’ I gave them the guarantee that I could make the deadline but we had to push it back by a week.
The rough start was really me clinging on to the initial idea. I was way too fond of one of the sketches and I thought it was perfect in its simplicity. The story was for me complete and made sense with this sketch. They thought otherwise and it was hard for me to see that. They didn’t want to restrict me too much but I think they should’ve.
You could’ve easily avoided the stress of drawing with limited vision and focused on recovery yet you made it happen in striking fashion. Aside from the deadline, what kept you going to ensure you were able to meet artistic and logistical expectations?
Marald: For me, it was about reassuring myself that I would be able to draw even if I was to lose an eye. I had to overcome this. We’ve been talking about this cover for two years now and I was really looking forward to it. I knew it was really important for those guys and they worked so hard on the release.
The drive never stopped. I gave them my 100% guarantee that I would do it despite my medical concerns. My recovery, especially after the second detachment, was a real trial. I had to put my head down six times a day for an hour, so that’s six hours of a day that you have to keep your head in a certain position to let the retina heal for two weeks. My days were set around those times. I actually had alarms set to a schedule. I kept it in my mind that I was doing this to heal and be able to do the cover for the guys. Friends and family kept telling me, ‘Dude, it’s just a cover.’ It became way more than that because of my situation.
The process of drawing and the difficulties associated with it helped my brain redirect and make new connections. I’m right handed and right handed people are normally dominant in their right eye. To complete the art, I had to shift to the left. Drawing accelerated the process of making my left eye the new dominant eye, which is now the case.
From inception to completion, about how long did the painting take to complete and what tools/techniques were used?
Marald: I had to adjust my techniques. The last couple of pieces I made were done on a black background, which I really liked and implemented for this cover. Looking back, it was the wrong decision. I should’ve gone for a lighter color to make it easier on my eye. I couldn’t make out half of my lines so it became really frustrating. I was tired, had to rest, and could only draw for maybe three hours a day. I couldn’t work the way that I used to.
I’m not ashamed to say that on the second day, I actually cried. When I was drawing, I doubted my ability to finish and really had to pummel through with a strategy. I could just see for maybe twenty centimeters, which is less than ten inches, from my eyes. I really couldn’t oversee a complete composition. The strategy I had was that I had the composition laid out in clear lines, assembled it digitally, and then made the figures all separately by hand. I then scanned them in and reassembled the composition digitally so I could zoom out and verify if it worked.
I sometimes illustrate my pieces separately to make it easier to select once I go digital, however, I do love the fact of having one original piece. It’s very satisfying to have. If someone asks for the original painting of an album cover, I don’t want to hand over fifteen separate pieces and assemble them like a puzzle. On the contrary, it was a good strategy for ‘Mortal’ despite the background being way too dark.
Here is a sample of the digitally assembled pencil pieces before coloring, all drawn by hand.
It’s safe to say that it all worked out in the end.
Marald: It could’ve been easier and it could’ve been done a bit faster. I’m still suffering from my right eye and I still have one last surgery to undergo. There will be some permanent loss but my vision is now more calm. I call the art a kaleidoscope from hell out of pure frustration. Normally, it isn’t like that. Once the composition is figured out, it becomes fun. This time it wasn’t.
In seeing the various sketches above, it would seem there was constant communication between both parties. How would you compare the collaborative process this time around to that of 'Blood Offerings'?
Indrio: I feel that with ‘Blood Offerings’, it went a little more natural. We presented him with a concept and he came out with a sketch. We only asked him to change one thing on the sketch and then boom, we got it. It was very quick.
This time, it was more challenging for everybody. We had something as successful as ‘Blood Offerings’ to beat or least equal. If we as musicians would not have been more satisfied with this album, it would’ve been a failure, same for Marald. If he would’ve come up with something that wasn’t as strong as the cover of ‘Blood Offerings’, he would’ve felt as if he failed. There was a lot of pressure on everybody.
We got sucked into being a full-on professional band, accepting a lot of tours and not being able to take 6 months off to write an album. We’re going to write an album in the 2-3 months that we have between tours and the same can be said about the cover, which was done under a tight deadline. This cover was definitely the result of many tries, changes, and an overall complicated process. It wasn’t as easy as ‘Blood Offerings’. In general, you can say the same thing about the music.
Your work is slowly becoming synonymous with one another to the point where Luca mentions the certainty of continuing the partnership for each album to follow. What can you say about the brand you’ve built together?
Marald: It’s flattering and I’m all for continuing my partnership with the band. Not to sound arrogant and claim Necrot as my band, but I think it’s the perfect fit. I know where those guys come from and I come from the same scene. I’ve known Scotty for years since we both come from the punk scene. We just all get each other. I feel that I bring something to the table that is just a bit different than the standard death metal art, so it all just works. I’m very picky about my projects & only work for bands I truly like, so the work process becomes a labor of love.
Indrio: It’s the best. He’s extremely talented, even more than he knows. To me, it’s so great that he’s someone who has studied a ton of anatomy and I think he even dissected a body. There’s this shit in Europe where everyone eventually does it. I don’t know the exact circumstances of how he got to do it.
Artistically, he’s just amazing. He likes the band, he understands the lyrics, and he understands what the band means. We do like to work with a lot of other artists for our t-shirts, patches, and other merchandise. We’re always paying attention to that and trying to find the right people to work with.
Going beyond Necrot, you've left your mark as part of an art community that includes John Baizley, Jeremy Hush, Aaron Horkey, and Richey Beckett.
Marald: All of those people you mentioned are very dear friends. John is like a brother to me. Jeremy, I love that guy. I love Richey. I actually met Aaron last time I was in Minneapolis. I admire them all. I love how they kept their integrity as they continue to kick major ass with their art. I’m honored to be mentioned among that group.
As Luca mentions, I actually studied anatomy. I have a collection of 15 human skulls & have drawn at the dissection chamber of a hospital & yes, I performed a supervised obduction.
Was this at all what you imagined when you began your artistic career?
Marald: Not at all. I’ve always had fun making covers for bands that I love. I actually didn’t ask for money and would just ask for copies. It was all based on friendship, especially during the punk days. I didn’t want to be a professional artist but meeting John and Jeremy, seeing their drive, and seeing them make a career out of their ambitions left an impact.
Every artist has had a fear of failing and also a doubt in whether you deserve success. It humbles you. I was lucky to have a couple of friends to talk to and convince me that I should do more with my art. At an early point in my career, I already knew so many artists and people that I admired, who in turn admired my own work as well. It then became very easy for me to take the next step.
Death metal artwork is sometimes tagged as being senseless and purely focused on blood, skulls, and gore. Though those particular elements are somewhat visible in ‘Mortal’, there’s an underlying message there, particularly with the character shedding their skin and dumping it into an abyss. Art is open to interpretation, but what did you set out to achieve with the cover?
Indrio: There’s always a message in art, but I also truly believe that the message is different for everybody. Anybody can see whatever they want in it. They can try to put it together with our lyrical content but even then, I think my lyrics are open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of music too. We don’t just go with corpses cutting someone’s head off and eating their guts.
I like anatomy and showing what’s under the skin, but I don’t see it as gory. I’ve had this conversation with Marald about presenting something that is borderline gory with a different meaning. It’s not a horror movie. Even with ‘Blood Offerings’ where a baby is about to be stabbed with a knife and sacrificed into a river, there’s meaning. That to me is really about anybody born on this planet. We get handed over into what society and the world imposes on the human condition.
To me, ‘Mortal’ is kind of a continuation. The bottom line is that everything ends. We have a limited time here. We of course have other topics, but the essence of the cover is again that kind of sacrifice of just being human. Throw away your skin to show your true nature.
Touching on your interpretation, the art is very fitting to what we’re seeing today with communities coming out of their privileged shells and challenging unjust structures, wouldn’t you say?
Indrio: I love your interpretation and I agree with that. That’s the beauty of it. Death metal is so actual. To me, death metal has always been the more real kind of music. It’s driven by the horrors of life and society overall. It’s driven by all the self-inflicting pain, the harshness of the human condition, and the rage and sound that comes out of it. People would agree that death metal is the right soundtrack for this planet.
You as an artist have introduced many to music with eloquent album covers. Do you both recall a time when an album cover made you pick up a record or even change the way you engaged with it?
Marald: There’s a couple of things that made me realize that doing album covers was the way I wanted to go. My dad is a trained artist as well, although he didn’t make a career out of it. I remember that he showed me two albums that he made covers for. Fairy tales like Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood were portrayed and I was amazed when I saw that. I think I was maybe six years old and that’s always stayed with me.
The actual artist that made me realize I wanted to do this was Pushead, specifically Septic Death’s ‘Need So Much Attention’. That 12” LP really grabbed me, especially when I read the lyrics to the song ‘Hardware’, which I interpreted as being about making stuff and showing your creativity. I would say that it’s one cover that was really eye opening for me.
At an early age, I also got exposed to covers by Roger Dean and Hipgnosis, a collective that’s done covers for Black Sabbath and many more. There’s also these two books that are actually called ‘Album Covers’. I used to go through them everyday and remember a lot of the album covers in those books.
Indrio: I would say ‘Dawn of Possession’ (1991) by Immolation with all of the devils and the angels. I don’t remember when but when I saw the record for the first time at the record store, I immediately bought it. It could’ve been Russian polka but I got it and didn’t even care what the album fucking sounded like. Worst case scenario, I throw away the album and keep the cover. The album was amazing and blew my mind. I learned about Immolation thanks to that cover.
What do you intend for audiences to take from your art, specifically with ‘Mortal’?
Marald: The reaction depends on the art of course, but I always look to amaze people. I want to draw them in. That’s it really.
There’s two main themes where you could define my work. There’s the death metal art, which I love to do, and then there’s the more personal. Most themes with death metal are more direct. Everything is there to see, even with ‘Mortal’. There’s some symbolism in there, but I feel it’s plain to see. I have a lot of stories to tell in my art and there’s easter eggs in almost every album cover, ‘Mortal’ included, but they’re for me.
That’s the beauty of art. It’s open to interpretation.
Marald: I love it when people tell me what my art is about. Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes it’s silly. I just want to make a striking image that makes people think or feel something. There has to be a balance between attraction and repulsion. With death metal covers, that’s way more extreme. With my personal work, it’s more subtle but the same sentiment is there. I love duality so there’s always duality in my art.
In my death metal covers, the subject is mostly gruesome or upsetting for most people, but the technique, lighting, or composition that I approach it with is attractive in a way, so there’s duality in that. It’s also something that sets my art a bit apart from the standard death metal art.
It’s a wonderful time for death metal with bands both new and old dominating the scene with great releases. Seeing as you’re part of this newfound movement with Necrot, Acephalix, and Vastum, where do you see the genre now?
Indrio: I think it’s needed. Bands are redefining death metal and it’s proving to be really positive.
There’s also a need for live music. People want to go to shows. People want to release their rage, anger, and their feelings at the shows. People come to shows in most parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe. If you want to put the work into it, you can do it. There’s a need for live music and for people to express themselves in whatever way they’d like. There’s more attention to it now and it’s a reflection of the way the world is going, which I’d argue is going to shit.
Mortal arrives on August 28th via Tankcrimes. Pre-order your copy of the record HERE.