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If you’re in Denver and your tastes lean towards music made by people who look like they use black magic to make ships crash, you should hit TRVE Brewing

Photos of bleak American landscapes line the walls on either side of the long Viking table that dominates the taproom’s main space. But it’s the view from the bar that’s the most striking—on either side of the taps hang a banner, each portraying a monk who seems to rise from the cracked earth. The monk on the left is a satanic goat bearing a lantern; the one on the right is a werewolf holding a beer growler. Between them is a pentagram made of five slavering wolves’ muzzles. All are drawn by Sam Turner.

“I met the owner, Nick [Nunns], through cycling,” says Sam from across the table at TRVE. “Because I’m a bike messenger. My buddy told me, ‘Hey, they want you to do a mural or something there.’ It’s right by my house, so I went by one night and Nick was there. They were still building everything. We just sat at the bar and shot the shit, and I said, ‘Instead of painting on the wall, why don’t I paint church banners?’ It’s great because whenever I suggest or sketch something, they let me do it. They’ve never been a pain in the ass.”

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Turner does all the art for TRVE—the shirts, the beer labels, the growlers. But even before this, he and his art were staples of the Denver metal scene. His work has graced the record sleeves of local heroes like Speedwolf, In The Company of Serpents and Khemmis, as well as albums by larger acts such as 3 Inches of Blood, Holy Grail, and Black Breath (the band logo on Sentenced to Life? That’s Turner). He’s also done work for cycling and biker institutions around town.

Turner isn’t an immediately recognizable name. He doesn’t have a custom website or a large production studio. Getting in contact with him involves questioning TRVE Brewing’s bartender and sending him a message on Instagram. When Sam shows up, he’s dressed for work—black cycling clothes, messenger bag, chain.

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But Denver metalheads know Sam. Drinking at TRVE with Turner is a little like that long shot from Goodfellas—within minutes, I’ve met the dudes from Primitive Man as well as Nunns (Turner does an art show at the brewery every year in June during its anniversary). Multiple people who pass us by stop to say hi to Sam; transcribing our interview later proves difficult due to the many tangents, jokes, and mid-question outside conversations that creep in.

For his part, the dude is good-natured and funny. He shows me a picture of a drawing he’s doing for the biker magazine Dice where he’s hidden a swinging dick on a satanic priest. He obviously enjoys his art, never for a second playing the artiste.

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It’s a little surprising that every metal band in the world doesn’t hire Sam Turner, given the quality of his work. His mixture of incredible detail, clean lines, and emotional character is unrivaled. No artist in rock and roll draws better wolves than he does. There’s an elegance to his art that doesn’t stifle how incredibly fucking metal it is.

“For vinyl art, I want to do all the detail, but for smaller pieces I like to do something cleaner,” he says while we discuss his cover for Speedwolf’s Ride With Death. “I didn’t know they were on a label, so I thought it would just be a CD. When I saw the vinyl, I thought, Fuck, you didn’t tell me it’d be a record!

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When we get into influences, the obvious name is Frank Frazetta. Turner’s work shares sense of muscular movement and stark black magic with Frazetta’s, as well a penchant for barely-covered butt crack.

Bernie Wrightson also comes up; one can see the famous horror comic illustrator’s influence in Turner’s images of multi-eyed goats and grotesque satanic cyclists.

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We talk about his art for 3 Inches of Blood’s Fire Up The Blades, and I tell him about walking around Germany my first summer out of college. Sam describes how the original cover had a halo of weapons surrounding an old helmet battered and torn on one side, but it got replaced with the goatrider shield he did for a different illustration. “I still have that shield floating around in a drawer somewhere,” he says.

Something I notice throughout the night is that Sam sticks to a small, 8-10 oz glass while we drink. When we end up talking beers, he casually mentions that he had gastric bypass surgery as a result of cancer. Later research shows that Speedwolf actually played a benefit show for Sam in last 2013. The urge to push forward and get the harrowing story of Sam’s battle with disease is at the forefront of my journalistic mind, hyenas that we reporters are. But like that, it’s gone—one minute, Sam mentions his surgery, and then next, it’s back to beer. “The stuff here is fine,” he says, “but I can’t drink stuff like canned Coors and all that.”

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We keep talking. The music gets louder; TRVE fills up with drinkers until the conversation becomes deafening. Sam tells me stories and shows me some King Diamond tribute art he’s done which I coo over like a regular fanboy. He brings out a bottle of Eastern Candle, one of TRVE’s high-alcohol Absu tribute beers, and it goes straight to my head. He cracks me up. Journalistic seriousness slowly deteriorates. Somewhere in the back of my hops-addled brain, I thank whatever gods may be that my editor has asked for “something more than just an interview.” There is no cohesive interview here. [He ain't just whistling dixie -Ed.]The reporter-subject barrier has broken down entirely, unleashing a flood of tipsy jokes and yelled-about influences.

Two hours later it’s dark outside. We both load up on our gear and lurch out into the cool air. Sam suddenly seems driven—“You’ve reminded me. I gotta go home and finish something.” He hops on his bike, says, goodbye, and he’s off. The walk home, I spend going over the questions I forgot to ask and quotes I forgot to get. At the end of the day, obviously, it doesn’t matter. You go drinking at a metal bar with Sam Turner, you can’t expect to leave with a typical interview. Walking home, I think of the various pieces I’d love to hire Sam to do, commissioned tattoos and vinyl single covers and Invisible Oranges shirts [Hmm. Now there’s a thought . . . -Ed.]. It’s good knowing he’s out there.

— Scab Casserole

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Follow Sam Turner on Instagram at @unioncorpsegrinder

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