Nov 132013

Sales of music CDs in the US are in a state of “terminal decline”, and are projected to continue dropping by an average annual rate of 13% from now through 2017 and will probably never see “any kind of sales increase again”. Ironically, as some believe, they could be saved from complete extinction only by consumers who come to see them as a “nostalgia niche product”.

Maybe a day will come, far off in the future, when history will repeat itself and CDs will experience the resurgence that vinyl sales have been experiencing recently. But even with vinyl sales growing, the total physical market for music in the US is already dwarfed by digital sales, and the disparity is only going to get worse. The same trends are happening globally as well.

As physical sales of music have dropped, some observers have worried that album art would also become less and less significant, both as an art form and as a draw for consumers. I used to be one of those people. But I’ve changed my mind. I don’t base my optimism on any hard data, just my own observations, and so maybe I’m guilty of wishful thinking. But at least in the world of metal, it sure seems that fans still care about quality album art, and that striking album art draws fans into music they would otherwise never discover — even if they’re only buying digital downloads.

Fewer and fewer people may feel the attraction of holding a physical release in their hands, but at least in metal (and I would guess far more than in any other music genre), most people still like to wear the artwork associated with the bands they love. Maybe that’s one reason I feel optimistic — people still like their band shirts and hoodies, and the artwork that adorns them.

I’m also seeing more and more bands and labels who are giving prominent credit to the artists who create their covers (though, perplexingly, I still see PR announcements of album-cover unveilings that never mention the artist’s name). Getting talented artists who have some name recognition to create eye-catching album art seems to be an increasing source of pride, both for labels and for bands. And to be clear, I’m not just talking about veterans such as Travis Smith, Dan Seagrave, and Necrolord. A lot of younger metal artists are making names for themselves, too. And in my book, that’s a very good thing.

I was thinking these thoughts last night because of the attention being given in the interhole to two album-art announcements by two of my favorite artists (and I have a shitload of favorites, as regular readers well know). In neither case did the announcements accompany the premiere of any music. In both cases, the albums’ release dates are still far off and no music is yet available for streaming. These are two more cases, in other words, where the artwork itself is being used to build interest in the music.

The first example is the one you saw at the top of this post. Let’s make it even bigger:

The artist is Paolo Girardi, and this killer creation will appear on the cover of the debut album by Articifial Brain, which is entitled Labyrinth Constellation. I believe this marks the Madman’s first album art for the Profound Lore label, who will be releasing Labyrinth Constellation in early 2014.

I’m especially happy to see this because Artificial Brain are a band I’ve been following for more than two years, writing about their first three-song EP, their first music videotheir latest two-song offering that appeared last spring, and finally their signing by PL. Seeing that PL has hooked up with the Madman for the album cover just makes this little Cinderella story all the more sweet.

Now let’s gaze upon the other piece of artwork that was unveiled late yesterday (and you can make the image even larger by clicking on it):

The creator in this case is Denver-based artist Ken Sarafin (Sarafin Concepts), and in my humble opinion this is one of the best things he’s ever done. The artwork will appear on the cover of the second album by Sacramento’s The Kennedy Veil, which is entitled Trinity of Falsehood. It will be released worldwide on January 21, 2014 by Unique Leader Records. We haven’t written about The Kennedy Veil as much at NCS as Artificial Brain, but our Sacramento-based writer DGR has been high on them for a while, and this album is definitely one we’re highly anticipating.

Okay, as much as I love good metal album art, I also hate to post anything on this site that doesn’t come with music to hear. So, I’ll wrap this up with a stream of Artificial Brain’s latest two-song release, Butchering Cosmic Giants, and the full-album stream of The Kennedy Veil’s first full-length, The Sentence of Their Conqueror.


  1. Of course the data doesn’t lie, CDs are eternally fucked because we as consumers are so spoilt for choice, but given that we are in a capitalistic society this shouldn’t be regarded as a negative. In any case, I think that the boutique metal labels, and even the bigger ones (CM, NB), will keep pressing CDs until it simply becomes illogical to do so. Interestingly, one head of an underground label (no names) told me that things couldn’t be better, and that he has a stream of new releases that he’s preparing to unleash. So clearly there is a demand, obviously PWC’s figures are based purely on figures from the monoliths who really are struggling to progress, so you can’t really generalise their data to the entire market (which is simply an impossible task).

    Anyway, point is that both those album covers are insanely eye-popping and it looks like 2014 is already going to be another monstrous year.

    • The PWC data is clearly industry-wide. I’d love to see segmented data and projections for metal only, but of course none of their paying customers care about this niche. It ain’t where the money is. Still, I suspect the big trends they report are generally true of metal, too.

  2. Another point. Not everything will be available digitally in the future. Inevitably, great albums will be buried in piles of CDs condemned for some far-away landfill and some bands will be forever lost in the annals of music history. Most of us won’t give a flying fuck, but there will always be those who do, me being one of them.

    • That’s a fair point. The same thing could be said of bands who will only release their music on tape or vinyl. There’s no assurance it will ever become accessible as a download.

  3. …And Tkv’s artwork becomes my new background. Huzzah.

  4. some of my all time favorite artwork has been on metal album covers, and i still find myself drawn to new bands simply because of cool album art. i’d be sad if digital downloads didn’t include the artwork but i don’t see that happening.
    that said, the artwork in this post is totally badass 🙂

    • I don’t see artwork disappearing from digital downloads either, or diminishing in quality. As I wrote above, I have no idea what fans of other kinds of music think, but I do believe metal fans have a strong appreciation for album art — as Doug writes below, the art is part of what defines the album. You think of an album title, and the cover comes to mind right along with the music.

  5. I love CDs. I have stacks and stacks around the house. Most people would be disgusted, and argue that is why this world needs to be all digital because the landfills are going to overflow.
    I think if apple or amazon offered lossless formats, for a reasonable price, I’d probably buy all digital. Some sites charge extra, like beatport or hdtracks. I understand hdtracks has higher resolution. I like that bandcamp offers the lossless formats, but not all artists want to put their stuff on there. I love bandcamp.
    If I can buy a CD I will, and the prices are sometimes $2 cheaper. Well, they were cheaper, until recently when everyone decided to jack up the price $2.
    I think that every place that a band promotes itself will have the same digital artwork that is in the album. An album cover defines that album. So Facebook, Twitter, and the Label’s website has the same artwork. I wish that I could get lyrics like we used to. Instead I have to use stupid lyric sites on the net that rely on people to supply the lyrics. Some usually wrong.
    I like how they thank everyone in the notes, and talk about stuff like what kind of picks or drumsticks they use. They don’t seem to put that kind of stuff on their websites.

    • I used to have mountainous piles of CDs around the house — until my wife finally got fed up and made me box them up and put them in storage. I don’t buy as many as I used to, mainly because I have access to so much music through promos for this site and because my hearing is so damaged that I usually can’t tell the difference in sound quality. I’m buying more vinyl these days than CDs — and the artwork has a lot to do with that.

      I do wish more bands would include PDFs of their lyrics in their Bandcamp downloads — at least if they think there’s something special to them about the lyrics. Many do, but most don’t in my experience.

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