A conversation with Andrew Tremblay regarding this visceral piece.
Welcome to the first entry of Behind the Cover, a series that highlights and dives into the visual aspects behind some of metal's more illustrious covers. Metal is as glorious visually as it is musically, and we'll be spotlighting artists and records that capture audiences before even hitting the needle. Our first feature happens to be one that merges two opposite extremes on the metal spectrum with clear cut precision, embodying emptiness and bleak soundscapes alongside a depiction of hopelessness.
The mysterious duo of TOTALED welcomed us to the abyss on their first ever studio production Lament, which found New Jersey-based artist Andrew Tremblay at the forefront. As visceral as the music itself, Tremblay's work presents human decay and consumption under the finest detail, doing so through the creation of his own tools and lack of color for the purpose of added bleakness.
Tremblay talks to Heaviest of Art about Lament's gruesome artistic introduction:
Before we dive into the art itself, what did you think of the record?
While we were working together, they (TOTALED) sent me things as they were finishing them up. When I heard everything come together on the final record, it just fit so well together. My expectations were definitely blown away despite being part of the process throughout its creation. I never would’ve considered elements like hardcore and black metal gelling, so I was actually really blown away by how refined it sounded. It didn’t sound like a bunch of people trying something out. It sounded very dark and gruesome.
I’ve bounced back and forth between favorite tracks, but the closing song “Bereft” is still my absolute favorite at this point because it hits you in such a low place. That guitar solo at the end...ugh! It’s excellent and I was very excited when I heard it.
I definitely share the sentiment. As you briefly mentioned, the band was sending you material as work on the cover progressed. Would you say that the art itself is representative of the lyrical themes sent to you?
Yes, yes. Actually, the individual who wrote the lyrics put together a few sketches of what he had in mind and stuff. I was definitely working with him a lot on that end to depict some of those lyrical themes.
Well, it is definitely representative of the music. Cover art is always open to interpretation, and this seems to depict individuals being consumed by either extraterrestrial beings of sorts or their own personal demons. Can you run down what it was like putting that together?
I took a different route than what I normally take in the past, at least with commission projects. They expressed that they wanted something that was very empty, absolute loss and total hell. I feel it’s very reminiscent of that concept of “no exit.” It’s like you’re all in hell, and what is hell? Basically suffering and crying for help yet no one can hear you. There is no embrace. There is no catharsis. It’s just suffering and sorrow for an eternity.
When discussing the means of the way I wanted to go about producing the work, I took a different route by creating the actual tools themselves to make the illustrations. They’re large. They’re all on roughly 18 x 30 Bristol paper. It’s basically all about learning how to use these tools and applying ink that isn’t just quill or pen, so that added an additional level of suffering I guess.
The actual imagery itself is just being digested. These individuals are in a sparse, flesh-like cavern and they’re all being digested by these worm-like creatures. You can even see some poses, like someone reaching out trying to get someone’s attention, trying to find someone to share in their sorrow, but everyone’s too busy being mutilated and broken down.
One glance and you can tell that a lot of focus and detail went into it. I think the black and white truly highlights the visceral characteristics.
I tried to keep it a bit vague, though. I like a certain level of abstraction in really detailed work. I also just don't think you see a lot of it. Even if you go back to old artists, like Francisco de Goya, there's always a bit of unusual, surreal elements. With all the technical drawing ability that the guy had, there will always be strange pockets. Are you familiar with the painting "Saturn Devouring His Son?"
The scary, kind of creepy part about it is the eyes that kind of just lock on you, almost like googly eyes. I like those very odd elements implemented within those drawings because it gives them more power as aggressive images.
On the back cover, you have skulls being devoured by tree-like roots (or tentacles) on top of a pentagram and in between an inverted cross. What was the thought process behind this and was the focus similar to that of the front cover?
It was the same process as the first cover. They did mention that they wanted something a little more traditional in imagery for the back just because they liked that juxtaposition of the cow skull and all of those sorts of elements with the upside down cross to really tie in with the elements of the record. So for me it's like, "How do I correlate this with a much more surreal and abstract experience like the front cover?"
I imagine it like it's rotting. It's not a skull, it's flesh falling off the bone. There's fungus and mold growing. It's all of these kind of unusual, gross textures that you're experiencing with it that help tie it in with the other cover.
I assume the same idea translated over to the art on the inner part of the gatefold? I'm looking at the woman being devoured by vermin and obliterated near her pelvic area.
It's definitely similar to what's going on in the front cover. I wanted to make it a little bit more of an intimate scene, almost to where you're down and rotting. Your flesh is just kind of falling off the bone and you're a husk again. It's that feeling of emptiness in a lonely place. You're no longer a conscious human. You're kind of just meat, withering into whatever hell you're in.
Would you say then that this a reason the color scheme was selected as black and white? To add to the bleak qualities of the record itself?
They actually did want to have it be black and white. I honestly think it works better that way. I always enjoy working strictly in black and white, so it was actually kind of refreshing to me. A lot of the times, I end up doing all these strange, colorful posters and things for a lot of other jobs. I like just going back to the basics.
It carries the tone of the actual album. I couldn't see it going any other way.
You also did a lot of intricate work with the tarot cards that come included with the vinyl copies of the record. Was the inclusion of the cards something that was planned from the start or something that was added along the way?
The band themselves initially announced the idea to me when we initially started the project. They wanted to create these tarot cards that resonate within different songs on their album. I was very interested in the idea of how they wanted to go about that because they even kept it a little bit cryptic to me. It's definitely interesting to hear the actual songs and see how they correlate back to
There's also a stronger usage of shapes on the tarot cards, from crescent moons to triangles, in comparison to the front and back covers.
I enjoy the traditional, classic occult symbols and imagery present throughout tarot cards. You could even go as far as INCANTATION stills. All of them have these sort of geometric kind of symbols. In finding a way to correlate those ideas within these tarot cards, it would be like an interesting homage. It also gives it a bit more structure, otherwise, it wouldn't necessarily translate as a card.
There's also use of color, blood red specifically, which wasn't used at all in any other art piece for the album.
I wanted to have that vile, gross, worms or intestinal-like qualities stand out a little bit more. Tarot cards have a lot of symbolism and there's some kind of visual hierarchy present. It was more about having something that correlates between the entire set, which gives it a little bit more continuity.
I figured if there was going to be a color, it had to be this deep red. I really wanted to focus it on these ambiguous worm and intestinal elements.
I think it's clear that a lot of effort went into putting this together. About how long did the entire visual process take, from inception to conclusion?
Since the front and back covers were really large pieces, I'm going to say about a couple months of nonstop work. There's constantly something going on and things needed to be troubleshooted. Even now, I think there's still portions of those pieces that didn't get shown immediately on this record that maybe we can do something with later. I wanted to create a very large scene and then pick out a portion of that to be a cover that sums up this record. It was definitely a couple moths of nonstop work.
The tarot cards were done a little bit more traditionally. I drafted them out, started drawing, and they came together in probably about a month.
So practically three months for the covers and tarot cards.
Yes, and also the logo and all of the fun, exciting layout stuff that you have to do.
Any closing thoughts or comments?
I had a lot of fun working on this record and could not be happier with the correlation between the album visually and musically. I take that as something very important to me and to see things take that good narrative quality, I really respond to.
In the coming months, people will be very excited to see what TOTALED have in store...