Visual Violence: Artist Ken Coleman On Envisioning Morbid Angel’s “Kingdoms”

The current issue of Decibel features an in-depth look at the reconfiguration of Morbid Angel and the band’s triumphant return to death metal, Kingdoms Disdained. Whittling down the piece for print was an embarrassment of riches situation and our short, fun chat with the visual artist behind the album’s striking artwork, Ken Coleman, didn’t make the cut. 

Here, in his own words, Coleman describes what it was like to be tapped to collaborate with one of his favorite bands… 

I was 16 here in Ireland when I was first introduced to death metal as a genre. I already liked thrash. There was little outlet in 1996 to find this kind of stuff and very little access to the Internet. My friend Derek and I would copy tapes from older metalheads and buy second-hand Cannibal Corpse, Cradle o Filth and Emperor T-shirts and re-dye them jet black—good as new!

The imagery and iconography of Morbid Angel definitely stood out from most other bands for me as a teenager. I remember eagerly reading an “art issue” of UK-based metal mag Terrorizer in 2000 which featured Dan Seagrave, who did the classic covers for Altars of Madness and Gateways to Annihilation.

It’s funny how things work out—I’ve been doing the CD covers for Terrorizer since 2014 and now Morbid Angel.

I worked previously with [Morbid Angel vocalist/bassist] Steve [Tucker] on Warfather and he asked me originally how I would feel about doing a Morbid Angel T-shirt. Of course, I was excited, but it evolved before I knew it.

For the Kingdoms Disdained album artwork I was given a vague brief and the title. I started creating concepts early in 2017. Under advisement, I looked at ancient cultures and how their power and arrogance became their demise. This was my starting point. I liked the idea of a society’s power and corruption awaking and underlying evil…

I looked at a range of ancient cultures and civilizations. I incorporated the common elements of corruption, arrogance, greed, and decay. It is great because the vision and character now tie into some of the lyrics really well.

I actually started by building a miniature tower with boards and old model kit parts which I photographed on green screen…It wasn’t working as well as hoped but the model does end up used in many spots in the final artwork. From there, I jumped into mixing 3D with photography, digital painting, etcetera.

[The collaboration] is still surreal. I’m curious to see the overall reaction when people have the physical copies.

Death metal is deeply rooted in my being. There is no removing it. I often find it to be a form of meditation to listen to while I’m working or walking.. Especially when trying to mentally conceptualize something.