Blake Armstrong has been making visual art for In Flames for the past seven years, but the Swedish metal veterans presented their biggest challenge for him just months ago. That's when they tasked him with reimagining the iconic cover art to their watershed 2000 LP, Clayman — which centers around one of the most iconic images ever, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man — for the album's 20th anniversary edition. The just-announced deluxe reissue boasts remastered tracks, four re-recorded songs and a new instrumental cut, and among its collectible variants, there's a Revolver-exclusive 2LP white vinyl trifold featuring a 16-page booklet and a bonus 10-inch — strictly limited to 250 copies, it's available for pre-order now.
"This was probably the most nervous I've been creating art for this band," Armstrong says of creating the art for the 20th anniversary edition. "Seriously."
A TV and movie poster designer who has worked on blockbusters such as Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Stranger Things and Sonic the Hedgehog, he continues, "When you think of Clayman, you see that original art in your mind's eye. It's like thinking of Marty McFly looking at his watch when you think of Back to the Future. It's iconic. I really had to look at it through the lens of a fan and do something that celebrated what I loved about the record, but that also took it to a new place. It was intimidating, but incredibly fun and rewarding to try and solve."
His solution? Reincarnate Clayman's Vitruvian Man as a Golem-esque stone badass surrounded by rays of fiery light, In Flames' logo emblazoned on his chest, superhero-style. To bring his vision to life, Armstrong enlisted one of his coworkers, Suren Galadjian, to sculpt a stunning 3D model that dramatically launches Clayman both into its 20th year and into the year 2020. In the interview below, the artist breaks down the new artwork, from conceptualization to execution, and shares work-in-progress images that vividly illuminate the creative process.
HOW DID YOU FIRST START WORKING WITH IN FLAMES?
BLAKE ARMSTRONG It's a very "L.A." story — my professional art career actually began with In Flames! Many years ago, I attended an In Flames signing in West Hollywood — I'd brought some of my fan art to share and have signed. They'd been my favorite band for years, and I thought it would be nice to let them know how much their work inspired me," Armstrong recalls. "I guess it paid off because I received an email from their management a few weeks later asking if I'd like to do even more artwork. I ended up creating and illustrating their comic book, The Jester's Curse, which led to doing album art for [2014's] Siren Charms, and then the ball just kept rolling.
Since then, I've worked with In Flames on their subsequent releases, [2016's] Battles and [2019's] I, The Mask. I was even asked to produce one of their music videos, "Call My Name," in 2019.
GOING INTO THIS LATEST PROJECT, WERE YOU ALREADY A BIG FAN OF THE CLAYMAN ALBUM, SPECIFICALLY?
Absolutely. … It's incredibly surreal because I vividly remember playing Clayman for my friends back in the day and yelling about how much I loved it. It is still in my regular playlist rotation.
HOW DID YOU APPROACH REINVENTING THE ARTWORK? WHAT DID YOU WANT TO KEEP OR CHANGE FROM THE ORIGINAL?
The thought process for this album was a bit different — because it's one thing to create new art for a record, but another to re-interpret something that exists and is beloved. It's much more pressure — like trying to cover a hit song. You have to do it complete justice, but also bring something fresh and interesting to it — otherwise, why bother? My take was, "If this album was verbally pitched to me, how would I tackle it in 2020 using the resources that I have?" We're celebrating a watershed record that has inspired people for two decades! It definitely required some finesse and forethought to get right. I knew, without a doubt, that we had to keep the Vitruvian Man. I briefly played with one or two cover concepts without it, and it just didn't work. So I opted to try to make the coolest, most In Flames Vitruvian Man possible for 2020.
HOW INVOLVED WAS THE BAND IN THE PROCESS?
Nine times out of 10, Anders [Fridén, vocals] and Bjorn [Gelotte, guitar] are very involved — I absolutely love working with those guys. I'll listen to a song and we will go over rough sketches and talk it out and then I'll go off and make it and we work it out together. With Clayman, I was told about the project several months before the band was even set to record or start working — on top of that they were also touring. So I had a nice head start and was able to work in a bit of a vacuum. With that time, I was able to conceive and mock up the cover and literally print it out full size. This way I could hand them a physical finished product in person. As soon as they saw it, they just said, "Yes!"
TAKE ME THROUGH THE CREATIVE PROCESS. WHAT MEDIUM DID YOU USE? HOW LONG DID IT ALL TAKE?
The cover was created three-fold: It was first conceived and sketched out, then sculpted in Z-brush — a 3D modeling/sculpting program — and finally painted and detailed digitally. All in all, it took maybe a few weeks start to finish from the initial conception, sculpting and finally painting.
HOW WAS SUREN INVOLVED? WALK US THROUGH HIS CONTRIBUTION?
My day job is actually designing movie posters. And one of the posters my agency produced was the key art for Alien Covenant. It has this amazing stone relief concept with cool lighting and I knew that was the level this cover had to be — and Suren was the guy that initially sculpted the figures on that poster, and he was just two floors down! So I humbly asked him if he could sculpt a 3D model of the Vitruvian Man based on some sketches I'd done to update the original concept from 2000. Thankfully, he said yes and absolutely knocked it out of the park. He was the linchpin on this cover — his talent floors me.
WHAT ROLE, IF ANY, DID THE ACTUAL MUSIC OF THE ALBUM PLAY IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS? DID YOU LISTEN TO CLAYMAN WHILE WORKING ON THE ART?
I love to have the album playing when I'm making art. It helps me see if what I'm creating actually suits what I'm hearing and often inspires new ideas. For me, album art should be a visual companion to what you're hearing and elevate the whole experience. That's something I've always appreciated, especially in heavy-metal artwork — it creates a bold world. I really wanted to nail the "world" of this record.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE END RESULT? WHAT SORT OF FEEDBACK HAVE YOU GOTTEN SO FAR?
I'm very proud of the final result and I'm beyond excited for the fans to see it. The work feels unique from previous efforts and really celebrates what Clayman is — a classic, iconic metal record. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, which is so gratifying. We're all excited to share this album with everyone. I truly hope it lives up to the fans' expectations because it is absolutely for them.