If you go to your favourite official download site, or wander around the CD racks if you still do, you’d assume that the art of the album cover has been mostly lost and what little remains is predominantly generic Photoshop images so pointless and emotionless you wonder why they bothered. It’s a sad state of affairs, particularly for metal which has such an impossibly rich illustrative history. You see for me metal music in all its forms has always been about the whole concept; the music, the visuals on and off stage, the vibrant ideas and the even philosophy and lifestyle.

With the artwork as with so much else these days, though, the underground still carries the torch as this lavish, glossy paged large format book from Cult Never Dies showcases.

Described as their most ambitious publication yet, this is a fascinating and entrancing history of David Thiérrée’s work from his beginnings in the very early 90s with illustrations for a variety of fanzines, demos and eventually albums by such luminaries as Behemoth and Gorgoroth, through to the present day and his fully professional career as artist and illustrator. Through interviews with Dayal Patterson (author and journalist who should by now be well known to you all through his extraordinary Black Metal series of books) the text charts Thiérrée’s beginnings and journey from childhood passion to professional career. As usual Dayal’s skill is allowing his interviewee’s voice to come through clear and unfiltered, so we get a path that beautifully parallels that of so many of the musicians he listened to (and make no mistake, Thiérrée is a fan of extreme metal). In concise but honest passages he talks of unpaid work, dead ends, drawing in secret at work and lost originals and the unstoppable urge to simply keep on drawing. It’s actually really uplifting, hearing from the man how he has, after more than twenty years succeeded against the odds to be able to be a full time artist.

It is of course though the art that shines here, though. From his early quite sparse illustrations in simple black and white through to the extraordinary, vibrant and intricate pictures today, this book captures the remarkable development of Thiérrée’s technique and composition in clear reproductions and many beautiful full page images. His early work will be familiar in style for many; misty and grey shadowed images, haunted places and cowled figures but even here with a notable eye for line and form that sets it apart. As we progress through the book and on his own journey, with timely interjections from the likes of Mortiis, Nergal and Nocturno Culto, we see the compositions grow in ambition and skill, new technologies added from simply growing comfortable with colour to judicious use of digital technology in conjunction with the hand drawn. We see an expansion into the realms of a fantasy which despite having echoes of artists like Alan Lee is somehow far more earthy and, dare I say it, real. His long nosed, often melancholy looking trolls seem to be drawn from life such is their vibrancy, pulled from a living culture by observations and sketching. His giants merge with the landscape and his owls, well, they stare and often look bemused by the presence of their portrait artist. It’s a dark but grounded and real beauty that almost smells of damp forest floors and misty early mornings

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Regardless of your taste in metal this is a wonderful world to explore, a sideways look at some shared history and the perfect book to do enable you to do so, putting big publishers to shame.

I bought my copy at Warhorns, but the link below should sort you nicely.