If you have a copy of Revolver's Spring 2020 issue or box set, then you've seen the incredible detailed Pantera-inspired artwork on the last page of the magazine. According to the man behind the piece, U.K. visual artist Adrian Baxter (best known for his collaborations with Suicide Silence, Cloak, Bell Witch and others), the original, commissioned art — created using archival ink with digital tones and colors — was inspired by Pantera's "raw, no-frills approach to metal." "No fancy decoration, no pretty colors," Baxter enthuses. "Just bones, skulls, snakes and a heavy slab of CFH."
Baxter's Pantera tribute is available via Revolver's shop as a badass, collectible four-color screenprint on French Manila Yellow Kraft paper. Limited to 250, the 18" x 24" poster was printed by Burlesque of North America and is hand-numbered. Shortly after the completion of the piece, we caught up with the artist to discuss the creative process — from conceptualization to execution — and his enduring Pantera fandom.
DO YOU MIND TAKING US THROUGH THE CREATIVE PROCESS?
ADRIAN BAXTER I often start with a loose digital sketch to get a basic idea of layout and content — this way I can iron out various ideas and see what works best overall. The next stage is to put together a more elaborate pencil sketch based on the digital layout. I can build up details and start to get a clear idea of how to approach the ink work [and] this will serve as the solid foundation for me to ink over. I use a light pad to trace over the pencil work on a separate sheet of paper with various sized micron pens. This helps eliminate any need to diminish the ink by erasing pencil lines and allows me to keep everything nice and clean. I then scan the ink work into Photoshop and begin to add the layers of color, texture and any necessary text.
PANTERA HAVE A LOT OF IMAGERY YOU PULLED INSPIRATION FROM. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THOSE REFERENCES WITHOUT IT BEING OVERWHELMING TO THE VIEWER?
It's certainly a balance that I've learned over time. I essentially see it as a table full of elements laid out to pick from, and it's a case of finding which parts work together and which may clash. Quite often in my personal work I'll have a number of ideas I want to work with but end up splitting them across two or three pieces to ensure I'm not forcing anything in. As much as I enjoy rich details, a piece needs space to let those details breathe.
Thankfully, I'm a sucker for skulls, bones, teeth, etc. so finding plenty of material to work with for this piece wasn't difficult.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE BALANCE OF CREATING ARTWORK THAT IS INSPIRED BY SOMEONE ELSE'S ART AND IMAGERY, BUT ALSO STANDS COMPLETELY ON ITS OWN AS YOUR PIECE?
I think the beautiful thing about hand-drawn artwork is that you could line up 10 different artists and illustrators and have them draw the same image, or subject, and you'd get 10 different approaches — linework, shading, composition, detail, etc. is all down to the choices each artist makes within their own process.
I started by listing anything that came to mind whilst blasting [the band's] back catalog and thinking about what their music meant to me as I grew up and first became a lover of metal music. Some elements represent ideas, others elements are purely aesthetic.
The idea of merging a human and animal skull together for the center was my starting point to build around. There's a nod to Pantera's heaviness in having the snakes hold the skulls and axes up. The two broken skulls up top were based on memories of waking up with a sore neck and head from nights out at metal gigs or night clubs. I always find it hard to resist framing my work, so I wanted to do something that would compliment without distracting.
One additional thought — after looking back at the whole piece, I noticed the two lower curled horns remind me of two middle fingers in the air — perhaps a subconscious nod to the no fucks given nature of metal in general ... or maybe lockdown has me overthinking it.
SPEAKING OF PANTERA'S IMAGERY, TODAY, IN 2021, A LOT OF IT — ESPECIALLY THEIR BRIGHT COLORS — WOULD BE "OUT OF FASHION." USUALLY YOU WORK WITH A MORE TONED-DOWN COLOR PALETTE. WAS THAT CHALLENGING OR HELPFUL?
My use of color is quite a new venture, so I'm still finding my feet with it. For this piece it made sense to keep my regular earthy palette and let the fire standout. I couldn't help have the Southern heat and sand in mind.
YOU'VE SAID THAT THE PIECE WAS INSPIRED BY PANTERA'S "RAW, NO-FRILLS APPROACH TO METAL." CAN YOU ELABORATE?
The band didn't need an image. They didn't need 200 different guitar effects. It was purely instruments and rough vocals that got the job done. That's why metal fans related to them as a band, as well as their music. Just four metalheads playing metal music. Don't get me wrong, I love over the top prog metal and strong visual aesthetics in metal generally, but I believe Pantera's appeal came from their bare-bones approach.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PANTERA ALBUM? DOES THAT RECORD STILL HOLD THE SAME FEELING FOR YOU TODAY AS WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD IT?
I have to say Cowboys From Hell purely because it was the soundtrack to my teens [and] early twenties as I discovered metal. From house parties to drawing in my bedroom, it was always on the playlist. If I remember correctly, they were one of the first real metal bands I discovered — after the usual gateway nu-metal bands, but we don't talk of those anymore — along with Metallica.
[In terms of specific songs] I can remember seeing a live video of "Primal Concrete Sledge" before I had ever been to a metal gig, and it blew my mind that that kind of show existed! The crowd, the lights, the volume — so that one always stands out for me.
"Cowboys From Hell" conjures memories of air-guitaring with my friends, so that's certainly up there. "Walk" was one of the first riffs I learned on guitar at 15 years old. My parents must have heard that song hundreds of times as I stumbled my way through it.
As I imagine for most of us metal fans, music is such a strong mental bookmark for various stages in life, so Pantera's music is all about nostalgia for me, and the fact I haven't grown out of enjoying their music as I have with many other bands is a testament to the strength of their songs.