In late 1992, Sepultura's vibe was centered in Wales, where the Brazilian death/thrash legends were recording their fifth CD, which was released the following year as Chaos A.D. Founding Sepultura guitarist/vocalist, and current Soulfly frontman, Max Cavalera sent rough mixes of tracks like "Refuse/Resist," "Slave New World" and "Biotech Is Godzilla" (which featured a guest shot from former Dead Kennedys mouthpiece Jello Biafra) to artist Michael Whelan, whose work had appeared on the covers of Sepultura's two previous albums, 1991's Arise and 1989's Beneath the Remains, as well as on the cover of many fantasy and horror novels.
"I first saw Michael's work when I was living in Brazil," Cavalera explains. "I came across one of his books, and the painting that really caught my eye eventually became the cover of Obituary's Cause of Death. So I gave his name to Roadrunner, and we got him to let us use his stuff for Arise and Beneath the Remains. But Chaos was really special because it was designed specifically for Sepultura."
"Max pretty much let me do whatever I wanted to do," Whelan recalls. "Whenever I proposed ideas to him, the only thing he'd usually say was, 'Can you make it more extreme?' That was always great feedback for me."
Whelan assembled the mixed-media piece — a combination of his initial sketch, photos, Xeroxes, and paint that he titled Cacophony — with inspiration from the mixes Cavalera sent. "The track 'Biotech Is Godzilla' was definitely inspiring for the cover," Whelan says. "It has kind of an anti-technology theme, and at the time, I was feeling overwhelmed by force-fed information. It would drive me nuts to go into a movie theater and be forced to listen to music that they were trying to sell you. The media in general treats people as vessels that they can fill up, and that's kind of what's happening, in a metaphorical way, on the album cover."
"Of all the Sepultura album covers, Chaos A.D. is my favorite," says Cavalera. "I like the detail, the coloring, the body bag — everything. It really captures the vibe we were going for."
"That cover means something different to everybody, but all the tubes and stuff make me think about slave society and manipulation — how society makes you a robot," Cavalera continues. "That was kind of my vibe for that record — especially with the song 'Slave New World' — and Michael hit it on the head. When we saw the upside-down body bag, we were like, 'Hell, yeah!'"
Sepultura eventually metastasized Whelan's vision into a huge three-dimensional body bag that was hung onstage in front of their backdrop on the Chaos tour. "I have no idea where that is right now," Cavalera says with a laugh. "Somebody probably has it in their living room."
Cavalera liked the Chaos cover so much that he hired Whelan do the artwork for Sepultura's 1996 follow-up, Roots, and Soulfly's 2005 disc, Dark Ages. "It's really a pleasure to work with Michael," he enthuses. "He's so creative, and he has no limitations. Even my son — he's 11 years old and learning to play guitar — he says, 'When I grow up, I'm gonna ask Michael Whelan to do my album cover!'"