Nachtmystium’s psychedelic black metal breakthrough Instinct: Decay was recently inducted into our Hall of Fame. While the band’s embrace of different sounds and styles is mentioned when talking about their best work you can’t discount their striking visual aesthetic. Chicago area artist Rebecca Clegg designed the unforgettable cover art for Instinct: Decay with fabric, watercolor, and stitching. Clegg later created the artwork for Nachtmystium’s Silencing Machine album and Blake Judd’s Hate Meditation project. She also worked with bands including Krieg and Plaguewielder. She shared her memories of creating the memorable I:D cover for our latest Hall Of Fame inductee.
How did you end up doing the artwork for Instinct: Decay?
I met Blake (Judd) in high school. We started dating before he was even doing Nachtmystium. I’ve always been a visual artist. We were young and would hang out all day. I would draw, and he’d be working on music. I think I started taking band pictures first and then started doing artwork. When Blake started working on Instinct: Decay, we lived together, and all we would talk about was my thoughts on art and his thoughts on music and what we were working on. I understood his viewpoints and what he was trying to get across, so it was easy for me to work on art.
Did you have any artistic training?
I’ve been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember. My Mom had me painting with watercolors when I was about two, and I just loved it. I took classes and also did art in college.
What did you think about Nachtmystium’s musical evolution from the earliest stuff to where they were around Instinct: Decay?
I knew what (Blake) was listening to growing up (before black metal), so that transition made perfect sense. In my mind, it was so easy and seamless. I could see if people didn’t know him that it would seem intentional. His family listened to rock, and I grew up with classical music. I was surprised at how much they were able to do with it. I would hear him working on riffs, and he’d tell me where they were going. By the time I heard the record I thought they really did more than what I heard initially – just pushed it further.
Did you get any feedback on the cover or any direction?
Album artwork is huge, and it’s so important that the visuals match what the music is doing. You need to give listeners an idea of what the music will offer. You used to go to the record store and wouldn’t have much to go on except for the cover. So we would talk about how the cover art should look.
I love the visual of vines creeping out of the brain…
He (Blake) wanted something like a person that has these crazy ideas and is isolated. I didn’t like the idea. I wanted to get into the symbolism of a struggling person but not draw it as a portrait. I try to leave things up to interpretation. Some people think the vines are coming into the brain, and some think of them coming out of the brain.
What materials did you use?
I wanted something very tactile. Everything in that time period was about computer art. Some people thought he (Blake) should get a well-known artist and do something digital. I wanted the opposite. I did the whole layout and made a booklet out of fabric. The illustration is ink and watercolor on stained fabric. I did needlepoint for the vines and stitched a whole book. I then scanned it so you could see the texture of the fabric. The skull is actually on one piece of fabric, and the background is on another piece of fabric. It looked really cool all put together.
At the time, many black metal covers had art that was dark or tried to be scary. Here you come with a cover that is so different from that…
I don’t remember too much feedback on it. It’s been so long. The band seemed very happy with it, and I was, too. I didn’t want something that was predictably silly or gory. I don’t think of black metal as silly. It didn’t seem like it needed to be over-the-top dark, and that approach would cheapen it.
What was it like to both hear the final album and see your work on it?
Every time I’ve done artwork for a band, it’s such a thrill and humbling to see my work and see that it matches what the music is doing. Seeing what you made over and over in different ways and different reproductions is also cool.
Are you still busy as an artist?
I still do work here and there if a band that appreciates my work contacts me. I don’t have a studio space, and I put my oil paints away when I had my first child. If a band needs something, I can draw or do other things.
Where is the original artwork for Instinct now?
(Laughs) I would love to know. The last I saw it was in Blake’s Chicago apartment. But he was homeless for a while, so I don’t know if he managed to take it with him. I don’t know who has it right now.