Metallica “Hardwired” Cover Creator: “We hadn’t heard of Crowbar or seen the album”

When Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct dropped recently, it didn’t take long for astute metal fans to pick up on the similarities between its cover and the cover of Crowbar’s 1998 classic Odd Fellows Rest. Take four band dudes, superimpose their images into one hydra-like face, have the band dude on the left stick out his tongue, and there you have it: two very similar album covers.

But what really happened? Did those involved with Metallica’s album get influence from Crowbar’s album cover? Were they trying to get away with stealing the idea? Was it a subconscious influence? Or just a total coincidence? (Here’s another question: are we currently working on inducting Odd Fellows Rest into our Hall of Fame?)

The metal world’s been wondering, so we tracked down Dimitri Scheblanov of Herring & Herring, one of the Creative Directors and Photographers of Hardwired… To Self-Destruct‘s album cover, to find out.

Had you seen the Crowbar cover when you designed the Metallica one?

We had not. We hadn’t heard of Crowbar or seen the album, and it was kind of a surprise to us. I think the first comment we saw with the image was on Facebook. After seeing it, I can say that there is definitely a similarity, but it is definitely not an intentional one.

What did you think when you saw the Crowbar cover?

While the look might be somewhat similar, I think the intention behind it was probably pretty different for us and for Turner Duckworth, the design agency [who worked on the cover]. I guess I like the Crowbar cover (laughs), but, yeah, it was pretty shocking that there was such a similar looking thing. I had never heard of the band or the music so it was also interesting that it was another metal act. I still haven’t listened to the record, unfortunately.

I’ll tell you one funny thing: on Tuesday the album artwork came out and on Saturday we went to Minneapolis to see Metallica play because they were projecting the photos that we did on the stage [at the concert]. So afterwards when we were at the afterparty with the band, we were talking with management and with some of the guys from the band about all the different comments we’d gotten since the cover came out. Somebody brought up the Crowbar thing and everyone was like, “Who the fuck is Crowbar?” That made us feel a little bit better, because if other people within the community didn’t know about them either we felt that it wasn’t such a huge deal. Hearing that they were kind of a smaller act we felt better about not having seen the cover since it’d be pretty bad if people felt we were blatantly trying to rip somebody off.

So where did your idea for the cover come from?

We had done a couple of projects where we were creating these superimposed projection images.  We’d take a photograph of someone and then project it onto that same person or another person and then take a photo of that which serves as the final image. We did one of these photos for Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] for his wedding and at the shoot he thought that it was really interesting and would make an interesting album cover. About a year and a half later we went out and shot the band. The idea at first was to do multiple covers with of the guys projected on to one another. In the end the band was looking for a solution that had all four guys on one cover. Turner Duckworth actually were the ones that took the images from the shoot and combined them into the single monster head.

The face on the left has their tongue sticking out on both covers. What are the chances of that?

When we started working on the project and were making these covers in August, there were actually about nine different combinations presented to the band for the cover. You can see some of the other options on the vinyl cover and the deluxe vinyl cover. The band picked one out of those nine to be the actual cover, and that was the one. I think the similarities with the tongues are a pretty interesting coincidence. We gave 400 images to Turner Duckworth and they were probably just going for one of the more interesting silhouettes.

What do you have to say to the Crowbar guys?

That I really like their cover and I’ll try to listen to the album. If anything, hopefully people will also pay more attention to them, which is probably good, having the Metallica association. But we did not have their album as a reference for the cover.

Do you think you’d seen it at some point and it was just in your subconscious?

Never. I’d never heard of them or seen the cover. The thing is we come from such different worlds in terms of the work we do. We work very much in the commercial art world; fashion photography is kind of our base, as well as celebrity and entertainment work. We don’t typically do heavy metal album packaging. It’s not something we would have seen, unless it was a really iconic thing, which, to my understanding, it isn’t. I don’t know enough about the band; especially not having heard the music. I think it’s a really, really crazy coincidence that it happened. But it’s definitely interesting and it’s not something we had at all prepared ourselves for. We were preparing ourselves for comments, because Metallica fans are incredibly critical of the band, and everything associated with them, so we were prepared for people to like it or not like it but we definitely didn’t expect somebody to pop up with a really similar-looking image.