In early 2004, Virginia metal marauders Lamb of God were recording Ashes of the Wake, their third full-length and best-selling album to date. The United States had invaded Iraq just a year earlier, and the war was on everyone's mind. Knowing that the bandmates had written politically minded lyrics, Ashes cover artist K3n Adams came up with the idea of a swarm of skeletal peace doves swooping toward Earth with bullets instead of olive branches in their beaks, hand-drawing the 11-x-17-inch piece in pen and ink over the course of a month, then adding color.
"The black strip you see [diagonally] across the center was actually done with spray paint, and it's supposed to represent the blackened earth," Adams explains. "I did the birds' skeletons next, in a woodcut-meets-tattoo kind of style, and then I did a second overlay of the feathers in gold, which gave the birds kind of a ghostly quality. The third layer is the scene in red at the bottom—it's supposed to represent hell and the human rat race. You can see the mindless drones toiling, hauling their own body parts around while the birds of war come down from heaven, which was definitely a commentary on the 'holy war' mentality of the fighting in Iraq."
Adams had already done the covers for Lamb of God's two previous discs—2000's New American Gospel and 2003's As the Palaces Burn—as well as their 2003 Terror and Hubris DVD and the self-titled debut of the band's previous incarnation, Burn the Priest. He would go on to do the art for all of LoG's subsequent releases, as well as the 2005 Burn the Priest reissue on Epic. But Ashes remains a standout effort.
"It's a really sophisticated piece," notes LoG guitarist Mark Morton. "I remember K3n being particularly excited about the level of direct social commentary involved in the cover. As opposed to some of our other projects, this wasn't just something that we hoped would look 'cool' as a cover. It was very much derived from the lyrical content and related directly to the album."
The artwork evolved over time—Adams' initial sketch didn't include rats and depicted the people at the bottom carrying crosses. But the skeletal birds were obvious keepers and have since become synonymous with Lamb of God. "I love the war birds," Morton enthuses. "They've kind of become an icon for the band. We see tattoos of them all the time. They've taken on a life of their own."