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Glyn Smyth’s artwork for Subrosa

Front page: Detail from back artwork

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Imagine that you are an album cover artist. Your task is to create imagery for these sounds:

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Subrosa – “The Inheritance”

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That’s “The Inheritance”, from Subrosa’s No Help for the Mighty Ones, out March 1 on Profound Lore. Subrosa are a doomy band from Salt Lake City. Their lineup is unique: two female violinists, a female guitarist/vocalist, and a male rhythm section. Gender matters here – see below.

Glyn Smyth did the artwork for No Help for the Mighty Ones. He also did the artwork for Unearthly Trance’s V. V‘s cover is good, but I like its liner notes even more. Their assemblage of drawings, symbols, numbers, and fonts drapes the album in an occult visual atmosphere. You can read Smyth’s background regarding V‘s artwork here.

If I were a visual artist and I heard “The Inheritance”, I wouldn’t know where to start. (This is why I’m not a visual artist.) The song is both pedestrian and interesting. Its core is standard stoner rock, but its violins and noisy bridge are nice embellishments. No images come to my mind (except for a live pairing with Black Math Horseman).

Smyth, however, is much more imaginative and resourceful. In this blog post, he lays out in detail the process behind his cover for Subrosa’s record (see above). Three parts  jumped out at me (my comments are indented):

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the band suggested concept regarding the union & balancing of male and female energies

This regards the album’s title, but could also refer to the band itself.

I often find magickal symbolism to be very dense and overpowering – indeed this is its very purpose and attraction, but I was keen to avoid swamping the composition with a mass of shapes and symbol

Weapon’s From the Devil’s Tomb comes to mind. To me, its cover falls victim to “swamping the composition with a mass of shapes and symbol”. I appreciate density of meaning, but that cover is a mess. In more minimalist hands, like, say, the minds behind Norma Evangelium Diaboli, it would have done well with just the wheel and the body hanging from it. Perhaps that small image could have folded out into a totality of the mess. Or perhaps the various images on the cover could have been spread through the liner notes.

Smyth’s treatment of symbolism is much cleaner. When you compare the cover of Subrosa’s album to that of Unearthly Trance’s V, it’s obvious that the same mind is at work.

The band were keen to have some sort of sigil representing the album title

Few bands are this directed about their visual presentation. The idea of encapsulating a title – words, with their attendant meanings – in a symbol is a powerful one. If you think about it, many metal album titles lend themselves to potent symbology: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, In the Sign of Evil, Nemesis Divina, even the Soundgarden EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Led Zeppelin’s IV had a representative sigil (“Zoso”). More metal bands should explore this device.

I am not a magick and symbols kind of person, but I appreciate how steeped Smyth is in these things, and how he holistically ties them in with music to create powerful works. Again, for rare insight into the imagery behind a record (in this case, Subrosa’s upcoming one), read Smyth’s blog post here. Much energy runs through it.

— Cosmo Lee

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SUBROSA LINKS

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