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As much as they might ultimately be unrelated, it's difficult to separate the initial reaction to an album's artwork from how you receive the music itself. Not much in the world today can crush my soul like digging into a record with phenomenal cover art only to find out that it's musically on par with scribbled bar bathroom graffiti, and I've definitely skipped some notable releases on account of their art, at least initially (are we all guilty?). Artwork sets the tone for the music, and so misusing that initial chance is a concerning misstep on the part of any band who might fumble this step. Here are some of our favorite album artworks of 2019 from bands that put their best foot forward and gave us some stunning eye enticement (bonus: the music kicks ass too, of course).

-- Ted Nubel

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Duel -- Valley of Shadows
Album artwork artist: Jaime Zuverza

Duel thrives on powerful and clear imagery. Their first album art was a cloaked skeleton, rendered in a simple three-color design -- somehow, that fit their retro heavy metal sound just right, along with the straightforward logo serving as the only text to grace the cover. Then, on Valley of Shadows, they came back with this red-hued fantasyscape right out of a fever dream (or a 1990s math textbook). Duel's first two albums were solid stoner rock with some hard rock thrown in, and their album covers reflect that. High-contrast, limited color -- a classic approach you can't go wrong with. It immediately bookmarked the album for me mentally, unforgettably promising an impending volume of bitchin' riffs. And indeed, the album sounds how it looks: white-hot guitar action superheated in a scorching biome near to the point of liquefying, allowing the themselves to squeeze into every crack of your psyche.

-- Ted Nubel

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Car Bomb -- Mordial
Album artwork artist: Greg Kubacki

Well, what else is there to say here other than, "yeah, that's Car Bomb." This band's music is decidedly radical: it churns and lunges about with a vivid intensity quite unlike any other mathcore (or whatever the hell it is) out there. It makes sense their album artwork has always been equally radical… and totally fractal. Produced in-house by founding member Greg Kubacki, it just goes to show what a creative force Car Bomb really is. I mean, even their fucking logo is simplisticaly perfect, and all told, it's a shame how underappreciated these New Yorkers are. I said the following in my year-end list for 2019 (which included Mordial, duh): "Mordial is a modern art painting that punches you in the fucking face." Turns out, I was right.

-- Andrew Rothmund

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Obed Marsh -- Dunwich
Album artwork artist: Mark Cooper

It stands to reason that a Lovecraft-themed band writing Lovecraft-themed albums ought to have some sort of outlandish art, but Dunwich's album art packs more madness into its spiralling complexities than a two-dimensional work should logically allow for. Besides the obvious face that the "terrain" seems to be growing from, there's faces, teeth (so many teeth), and eyes all nestled into the vine-like growths. Put on the record, let the snail's pace doom envelop you for long enough while you gaze into the art, and I find it fairly likely the eyes begin to stare back. Dunwich seems like the product of a slightly inhuman effort: the choked howls that pierce the murky production sound like noises made by a creature part way through developing gills.

-- Ted Nubel

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Xoth -- Interdimensional Invocations
Album artwork artist: Mark Richards

High art? More like, "oh shit, I'm high… art!" And so it is with the album cover for Xoth's Interdimensional Invocations, tech-death that sets a real bar for an overworn genre. If your eyeballs aren't noodling around in your head from the striking visual depiction of whatever the fuck is going on there, the music on this album will take care of that for you. I just love all-out, no-shits-given heavy metal artwork, and this piece ranks very high on my list of favorites. It helps that the album rules, too, of course, but sometimes you just want to sit and stare and stay baffled at how such bonkers imagery can even be realized.

-- Andrew Rothmund

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Funereal Presence -- Achatius
Album artwork artist: ???

When I reach for black metal, it's almost always first- or second-wave oriented material, stuffed with as many classic, ripping riffs, and weird aesthetic decisions as possible. So early in the year, along came Funereal Presence with Achatius, and boy are the aesthetics here unusual. The album art is crazy enough to pique my interest: a crash-test-dummy-esque creature appears to be using a snake to take down an even larger snake, in much the same way you might hit your friend with a pool noodle. It's done with vivid, contrasting colors set inside a unnerving green frame that give it an antique religious appearance, almost like a relic of an ancient sect. The music itself is also from another time, taking heavy inspiration from Bathory, Mortuary Drape, and other non-contemporary acts, working in heavy metal along with its vein of black metal -- plus, a little cowbell.

-- Ted Nubel

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Kaleikr -- Heart of Lead
Album artwork artist: METASTAZIS

I have to include this one, because visually, this album cover actually gives me the spins. I love the twirling, hyper-fine detail of this one, and the color palette is an equally bold choice. Heart of Lead is damn solid black metal, and yes, it's a mind-bendy type of black metal as you might imagine. I think the band's goal here was disorientation -- certainly the music has that effect -- and achieve it they do without any apparent effort. I love both the fact that this is atypical for the genre but also that it's just nearly impossible to look at for longer than five seconds. Usually you avert your eyes from something hideous; here, you avert your eyes because your brain can't fully decode this one.

-- Andrew Rothmund

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