Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Walls of Jericho pt.1 - The Cover

For those not about to scroll, I present to you again:

One of the stupidest Heavy Metal covers that I've ever seen. Really. But it'd take me a long while to understand why it's stupid. It's worth mentioning that I never thought this cover was cool, not even as a 12 year old. It looked too weird and plastic to be scary. The giant destroying the wall looked to me as if he were wearing a mask, that this wasn't his real face. Why else would he have human hands? 

I'm an artist now, I certainly wasn't at twelve, but there's things even a twelve year old sees from an aesthetic standpoint. They just take them at face value instead of criticizing them. It's supposed to look weird. For example, the broken parts of the bulwark that are flying about look like they're made from tinfoil or something. There's just too much highlight and liquidity to the forms, now I realize. I do like (and I liked as a child as well) the bits of storytelling to this cover. There's footsteps in the sand leading up to the scene, so this giant has traveled an epic journey to come smash these walls. And I do think the person flying off at top is kinetically well-done, I do believe he's screaming for his life wondering why his God wouldn't help him. Wait.

So...  yes. As I understand it, this cover, along with the name of the record are a reference (and an intro to “Ride the Sky”) to the biblical tale of the Israelites marching, their trumpets bringing down the walls and all that. I had no knowledge of this story when I got this record, and for some years after, actually. I read the Bible mostly for polemic reasons as a very angry fifteen year old or so. That aspect of this cover, now known to me, only serves to make this cover look even more silly. Helloween are telling us that this monster (which even at twelve I realized from my brother's Iron Maiden covers was an Eddie rip-off) is an agent of God of some sort? Well that's... nice. 12 year old Helm had no idea what white metal was at that point and just how many power metal bands (especially from the U.S). had a crypto-biblical message in their lyrics. Were Helloween a Christian band? Not very much, at this point. They would turn to even more positive Christian-lite apologetic sloganeering with age, and especially with their drastic lineup shifts. The jump from this, their debut to their 'Keeper of the Seven Keys' follow-up is very dramatic, though. This record's got a lot of bite to it, even the cover is violent, at least. 

Other things my 12 year old self noted and I still find funny about this cover: the muppetface spearman running towards us in the bottom right corner. The one chance for the cover artist to inject some human pathos into the situation and it turns out they can't draw faces to save their life. This must have been even worse in the original LP size. The way the artist gave up drawing proper masonry on the far wall, instead sticking to the Chris Achilleo patented solution of 'stick a sporadic brick texture in there and they'll buy it'. Less bad but still kind of funny is the airbrush sunset in the horizon. This technique, now very out of fashion is therefore very obviously dated. Some people have a soft spot of airbrushed Heavy Metal covers. I don't enjoy the muddy result even when I do enjoy the naive motifs.

Other things I liked and continue to like about this cover: There's a real sense of impact to the wall punch, I'll give the artist that. Good parallel action with closer people shocked at the event and further people running for cover. I guess that spear that the main defender is holding up against the monster is very sharply rendered and sticks out even at the tiny CD cover resolution, which is... good? The logo is ace. I love prespective logos and even from early on when I toyed with starting a band, a top priority was to draw its logo-to-be in various prespectives. Prespective rocks! More a problem with the logo is that the symmetry is off. The pumpkin is not in direct middle. And it's maddening because 'Hell' and 'Ween' are the same number of letters. The artist just had to make the two L's take a bit more space each and it'd been... well, something a twelve year old would have dissected less endlessly.

As a Greek I wasn't very aware of what Halloween was, so the pumpkin head in the logo (and other iconography by this band) was more a Helloween thing than a Halloween thing, if you get my meaning. That goes double for the - awful - pun in the name. It's like Halloween you say but it's hellish? It's like, for real, man? Terrible idea for a name, I'm sure the band, later in their success, agrees. I had no idea at twelve it was even a pun. Look, I get that Heavy Metal names have to be inversions. Iron Maiden. Black Sabbath. Judas Priest. I get it. But putting the Hell in Halloween is just kind of stupid and obvious. It's saved for me because Helloween the band are infinitely more important than Halloween the dressing-up american holiday ever came to be. To carry this point further, "Walls of Jericho" is far more important to me than the Walls of Jericho themselves are. In a more depressing note, that monster on the cover is probably more important to me than his daddy, Eddie is.

As to those strange words on the cover. What is a Mini-LP? I sure like how it's Extra-long playing  though! I have this one CD to listen to for a year, good that's there's a lot of sounds on it! I didn't even know that this CD includes the 'Helloween E.P', however. And the cover doesn't mention it either. When I redownloaded a better sounding rip of this than I had made on WMA on my very first personal computer, I was shocked to find that the record starts with "Walls of Jericho", not "Starlight" as I had been used to for a decade and a half. For me that just isn't right, so we're going to talk about the Helloween E.P. both as a part and at odds with the rest of this material, starting with the next post.

Does anybody really need 71:30 of Helloween all in one go? There's record label pressure for you. It would plague Helloween and Gamma Ray for a long time, Noise wanting them to make their next 70 minute opus. As a child I would never put on a record and listen to just half of it, so this was an endeavor to sit through. I still don't like to turn 
songs off, but I have grown a lot more lenient with skipping tracks altogether. That's a practice that dates as far back as my infatuation with this record because let's face it... there's a couple of bad tracks on here. But we'll get to them.

Things I realized about this cover later in life are obvious, I guess. Heavy Metal covers like to have monsters and violence on them, so Helloween half-heartedly followed suit. The monster is an aforementioned Eddie rip-off, because all Heavy Metal bands owe it to their fans to have a mascot to make merchandise of. Little did young Helloween know that their real mascot potential was in silly pumpkin-head comedic caricatures and not in Eddie-son here. Kai Hansen would keep this monster when he would leave Helloween to go start Gamma Ray, for good or worse. I also learned that '80s cover artists like to airbrush and they especially like to do highlights with white airbrush, which looks awful and unnatural. In the same vein I also learned that most of these covers must have been done in a real hurry and without much reference. The latter perhaps is a good thing to make this art individual-looking, the former never is for any art, ever.

Edda and Uwe Karczewski are credited in the booklet for this creation. The idea for the cover goes to guitarist M. Weikath. We are all much obliged.


  1. I really enjoyed the subject treatment of this post. I'm testing my own thoughts before replying further. My stream includes considering the role of the illustration and its relation to the music. Does the music program continue through jacket? How effective or not was this achieved?

    Seen through the experience of 12 year old as well as current Helm provokes a dialogue with my own experience and aesthetics.

  2. Specific to Helloween's Walls of Jericho album cover, I feel a little more should be said about the destroyers' muscular arm, the motion blurs at the fist and fallen, and also the seemingly illogical shadow behind the center bottom fallen figure.

  3. I would say that the music has little relation to the cover, actually. I am willing to return to this question mid-examination (when I'll talk about the inner sleeve images and other miscellainea) but I do not think there's really that much synergy between cover and music. Keeper of the Seven Keys pt.1 and pt.2, though I like them less, do a better job on this front.

    Good call on the muscular arms and motion blur. Really, the only aspect of real grit in this cover. The music itself is very taught and organic, obviously played without much studio wizardry to help it. It's a shame a more immediately powerful cover could not present it.

    The illogical shadow is the shadow of the top piece of debris, I think.

  4. Sure, I'd like to revisit the cover to music relationship later. I'm feeling this work of Helloween is embraced with muscular velocity as its root note.

  5. I started out as that guy Alex, at quite a younger age than 28. I am making progress in not being that guy, reevaluating what it means to be 'true' and not burning bridges. I hope by 30 that aspect of metaldom will be a nonissue for me. It's hard, still, sometimes, with some of the hipster cra- uh, the... product of questionable sincerity that passes for heavy metal these days, but I'll get there. If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill them.

    Linus, you'll be surprised just how much harmonic movement this otherwise 'speed metal' record has to offer. Much less muscular than say, Exciter!

  6. Razoring my ears
    Rearranged my years.

    To the bells.

    Happy hunting.