Released: 2013, Sterling Publishing
There a number of Coffee Table Metal art collections on the market and they all have a slightly different style or theme and this is one of the more unique ones available today. FADE TO BLACK focuses on (as the subtitle tells us) ‘Hard Rock Cover Art Of The Vinyl Age’.
This big, bad hard cover is oversized book comes wrapped in a cool, textured cover and the 276 pages are all high-gloss, heavy paper. The bulk of FADE TO BLACK is divided into chapters based on five-year increments, starting in 1965 and ending in 1990. The highlight is that almost every single piece has a mini-essay describing the piece, trivia and quotes from the artist. These comments really brought the stories alive and pointed out detail and info that many of us would have never known or been aware of. All the big names are included, Hugh Syme (Rush) Ed Repka (Megadeth), Derek Riggs (Iron Maiden), Rodney Matthews (Diamond Head), Frank Frazetta (Nazareth) and the crew at Hipgnosis (UFO). There was one mildly annoying trait in that Popoff would mention certain features of an album cover in the notes but not show it in the art. For example, he discussed the uncensored art of IN TRANCE (Scorpions) but chose to depict the censored version. Why not show the cooler, more rare version?
The book is loaded with valuable and interesting bonus features. Popoff writes a long and heartfelt introduction, and Ioannis, the reknowned Greek, Power/Prog cover artist. In metal circles he is likely most known as the ‘go to’ guy for Metal Blade as he did covers for Fates Warning, Warlord, Liege Lord. He has over 170 album covers to his credit! Both he and Popoff include an appendix with their top 100 favourite album covers of all time. What a fun ‘chore’ that must have been. It must have been agonizing. I’ll bet there was lots of field research, ie. drinking beer, listening to albums and looking at the covers. Popoff added a number of useful features like an index of the bands, an index of the album titles and a list of the artists, so you can quickly reference any page if you have forgotten the name of the band or album.
At times I got the feeling that this was a bit of a vanity project, not necessarily in a negative way, but more of a love-letter to Martin’s favourite records and artists from a faded age. The title FADE TO BLACK makes more sense in this context, as he talks passionately about albums and album art that are…well maybe his favourite records, but maybe not such a magnificent piece of cover art. For example some of the album covers that consist of a simple photo of just the members of bands standing there (Badlands, Hanoi Rocks, Kiss, Runaways, Ramones, Ted Nugent) really were not all that striking or visually exciting. I can understand the elegant simplicity of a photo of Kiss (sans makeup) for LICK IT UP album cover, but some of the others could have been jettisoned in favour of other, more interesting covers. There are lots of his favourite bands, it is his book after all, so we see lots of covers of albums by Budgie, Blue Oyster Cult, Nazareth and ZZ Top.
I must admit I don’t own many of these albums in the book, maybe half of them. Of the first two chapters 1965-1969 and 1970-1976 there were very few covers I had seen before so it was interesting to look at them for the first time. In the later chapters, I was always a guy who bought cassettes so it was nice to see the art in big, bold, beautiful colour. Many of the choices were predictable (Slayer-ANGEL OF DEATH, Quiet Riot-METAL HEALTH, Metallica-MASTER OF PUPPETS etc) but those have to be included, if they were not someone would complain. The book does have, by design, a very classic feel, representing the golden age very nicely, but for a young music fan growing up in an age of iTunes and downloads, I could see how it might seem dated. Personally I like museums and art galleries this is a fantastic collection of antiquities!
One fact that saddened me in one sense, is that I always thought I enjoyed Metal cover art, but this book made me realize that, perhaps I don’t have the same appreciation as I thought I did. Popoff pointed out so many little bits and pieces of trivia or detail that I had just forgotten, ignored or likely never even noticed the first time. I must have looked at my cassette copy of PERMANENT WAVES by RUSH a hundred times and I never once noticed all the in-jokes until Popoff pointed them out. Maybe I was just too busy getting to the music. The advantage of cassettes is that you can be on the move listening in the car, or working out with your Walkman ™, doing chores, mowing the lawn, whatever. The disadvantage of vinyl is that you are chained to a stationary turntable and by default vinyl people would tend to sit and look at the album cover. I suppose, in hindsight I never really did that other than a very select few of my favourite bands. In that sense FADE TO BLACK is extremely valuable to me as it captures and details an age that I was only ever on the fringe of. For many people it will be an invaluable collection of memories. Either way FADE TO BLACK belongs on your bookshelf.