There are plenty of bands, but very few ICONS. Revolver's ICON Series pays tribute to the heavy-music titans that have created a legacy of iconic imagery that defines our music, our culture, our lifestyle. For each ICON merchandise collection, the Revolver team has curated quintessential pieces that represent watershed albums, songs and events that define the metal experience. All ICON merchandise is officially licensed and of the highest quality.
The debut collection in our ICON Series is from one of the biggest and baddest metal bands to ever roam the earth: Metallica. The Metallica ICON Series features 17 epic tees spanning the band's legendary career. Explore the collection now, and read on for the story behind Metallica's "Four Horsemen" shirt, designed by Baroness' John Dyer Baizley.
It seems fitting that John Dyer Baizley — a man who splits his time between making music with his sludge-prog outfit Baroness and creating paintings, illustrations and graphic designs for the likes of Pig Destroyer, Kylesa, Darkest Hour and, of course, his own band — was first turned onto heavy music by the visual arts, specifically the striking images on the Metallica T-shirts of his older high-school classmates. "That was the golden age of Pushead [artist Brian Schroeder], when every Metallica shirt was better than the last and I felt an almost religious reverence for the shirts I saw on the older kids in my school," he says, adding, "I wanted something rawer, something that was a big middle finger to my community. That was the art that impacted me at that time."
From there, he discovered the other groups in the "Big 4" of thrash: Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. "All four of those bands were essentially some of the first bands on my radar," he enthuses. "They've been part of my record collection going on 15 or 20 years now." So, he says, it was a very big deal for him, when, in 2010, Baroness got to tour Australia and New Zealand with Metallica.
Considering his connection with the Big 4, it's no wonder that Baizley jumped at the chance to illustrate the cover of Revolver's 2011 special collector's issue dedicated to the thrash titans and their historic run of shows together. The theme for the artwork came quickly to him, he says. "Everybody will get the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. That's sort of what everyone thinks of anyway," Baizley explains. "I just wanted to create an image that stuck to these bands and their preexisting imagery as much as possible."
After coming up with the initial concept, which began as a pencil sketch, the artist assigned each band to a Horseman. The one on the white horse represents Conquest and is typically portrayed in the lead, which seemed to fit Metallica best, he says. "Then there's the red horse, which stood for War. That seemed so blatantly Slayer," Baizley explains. Anthrax was given the black rider, Famine, because of the disease the band is named after. Finally, the pale horse represents Death, a clear connection to Megadeth's moniker. He then built up the sketch with pen and ink and digitally colored it. "There's some little things hidden in [the illustration, too] that are more oblique reference points that maybe somebody will pick out and maybe not," the artist says. "I like to hide literary references throughout my artwork. It's there for the discerning mind."
In the end, the artist hoped that his Big 4 issue artwork would have the same power that those Metallica tees had over him as a young boy. "I tried to step back to myself as a 12-year-old, wide-eyed kid who had never heard anything that loud or fast before," he recalls. "[The illustration] should evoke the spirit of the music" — which, he adds, is "still potent and powerful."
Baizley's artwork did powerfully resonate with at least one wide-eyed, if not exactly 12-year-old, metal fan — a guy named James Hetfield. The Metallica frontman loved the piece so much when he saw it that he wanted not only to use the artwork for his band's merch but also to buy the original drawing for himself personally. It was a jaw-dropping and very gratifying turn of events for the artist. "The real surprise came when the band wanted to license the image for use on a Metallica shirt, commemorating some of their classic material, which I had obviously referenced in the drawing," Baizley recalls. "But the biggest shock I got was when James Hetfield very humbly, and with perhaps the nicest request to purchase artwork I've ever received, asked if he could buy the original. Of course, I would let James have it."
For the Metallica shirt, Baizley reworked the piece a bit, most notably giving it a completely new color job — something he had wanted to do for a while. He was "way overextended" when he first created the artwork for the Big 4 issue, and as result, he says, "I felt the piece I did was unfinished. I submitted it anyway, with that nagging voice in my head reminding me it 'wasn't done.'" Metallica's interest gave him an excuse to finally finish it.
With the final completed piece emblazoned on the shirt — which has since proven to be a fan favorite — Baizley has seen a childhood dream come improbably true. "When I was a teenager," he says, "I would have killed someone in broad daylight to get my art on a Metallica shirt." Murder averted.
You can get your own "Four Horsemen" shirt here. Below, watch Metallica tear through "Seek and Destroy" live at the 2013 Revolver Golden Gods: