Anyone who has followed Metallica over the past 20 years of the band's career is no doubt familiar, whether they know it or not, with the imagery of Squindo. Since the turn of the millennium, the visual artist's work has appeared on countless 'Tallica T-shirts and posters, not to mention tour passes, bobbleheads, comics and even their official Monopoly game.
Now, for the first time ever, an original Squindo — rendered, like most of his work, in ink and pen — is even gracing the body of an ESP LTD electric guitar. Which, according to the artist, is something of a perfect pairing. "It doesn't get more heavy metal or rock & roll than having your shit on a guitar," he says with a laugh.
Indeed, it doesn't. And now that guitar, with a one-of-a-kind design from the same brand that is home to both James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett's signature six-strings, is offered as a giveaway to celebrate the new Batch 106 of Metallica's award-winning Blackened American Whiskey.
As we've chronicled on Revolver before, Blackened is far from your average whiskey. The bourbon and rye blend is aged roughly eight years in white American oak barrels and then finished in black brandy casks that are, essentially, pummeled with the low-hertz frequencies of Metallica's music in a sonic-enhancement process that has been dubbed BLACK NOISETM.
"If you've ever been to a concert and walked in front of the speakers and felt that vibrating motion in your chest, that's exactly what we are controlling and applying to the whiskey inside the barrel," explains Blackened Master Distiller/Blender Rob Dietrich.
The "sonic enhancement" for each new Blackened expression comes courtesy of individually curated Metallica playlists from the band members (Kirk Hammett's BLACK NOISETM playlist, not surprisingly, was heavy on long guitar solos). For Batch 100, Dietrich himself even took a turn at putting together a song lineup.
But the new Batch 106 playlist might be the most special yet, having been culled from the track list of the recently released S&M2 live album, which captured the band onstage last year during their two-night collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony to open San Francisco's Chase Center arena. Which is why the centerpiece of Squindo's artwork for the ESP guitar features not a guitarist, bassist or a drummer, but rather an orchestra conductor.
As for who — or what — he's conducting?
Whiskey barrels, of course.
"We wanted to do something to connect the whiskey and the S&M2 show," Squindo explains. "So I was like, 'Well, have him conduct the barrels.' It plays off the 'BLACK NOISETM' concept and the idea of the music churning the whiskey. We set it up a few different ways and this one filled out the guitar pretty sweet."
If the tusked, horned, mohawked conductor himself looks familiar, that's because he's become something of a Metallica mascot, appearing in numerous Squindo pieces over the years.
"He's Metallica's 'scary guy,'" Squindo says with a laugh. "That's what he's always been known as. I think Hetfield drew him first, back around 'The Black Album.' It started off very simple, like a marker kind of character. His arms were crossed and he would give middle fingers. And it progressed from there."
Squindo's same 'scary guy' conductor artwork also graces the outside of the commemorative BLACKENED x S&M2 box that celebrates the use of the S&M2 playlist — which features 17 songs from the two-night event, including symphonic versions of "Master of Puppets," "One," "The Call of Ktulu," "Enter Sandman" and others — in the sonic enhancement process. The set is available online and in stores. Additionally, Batch 106 will also be available, for the first time in Blackened production history, in a Cask Strength version. For more info on where to buy, visit blackenedwhiskey.com.
"When you talk to any whiskey aficionado, they're always clamoring for a cask strength version of the whiskey they already love," Dietrich says. "So that was something we were anxious to do with Blackened as soon as we had the capability of doing so. There's a lot of excitement around it."
As there is for Batch 106. "To be able to infuse the S&M2 experience and music with this batch has been really amazing," Dietrich says. "There's actual science behind it. So every batch is just a little bit different and I really do feel that that has something to do with the playlist."
Similar to S&M2, when it comes to Batch 106, Dietrich says, "you're experiencing Metallica on a whole different level."