Interview with Eliran Kantor | By Hutch
Eliran Kantor’s artwork is dark and complex. His apocalyptic landscapes and religious themed heretical visions are perfectly matched for the myriad metal covers he has illustrated. Thick colors and chaotic elements have been collected on his canvas for GWAR, Testament, Evile, Sodom, Hatebreed, Kataklysm, and Iced Earth. Kantor brings to life layered visuals that rival the dense, heavy music he illustrates.
What do you listen to when you draw?
I usually don’t listen to anything when I’m working on the earlier stages that require planning, arranging, and making decisions. I have no problem concentrating when there are distractions. I’m just so focused that whatever runs in the background will be selectively filtered by my brain. An entire record could go on repeat five times before I notice it, so why bother.
Later on, as I move into painting stages—which are more or less automatic and technical—I put on records. Tunes tend to be 50 percent the stuff I’ve always been a fan of and have been part of my collection for years, and 50% new releases that people try to turn me onto. I have a Spotify subscription. I get to hear most of my “to check out” list that way. If people recommend me new advanced singles that bands usually put up on YouTube, I’ll make a playlist out of that.
Favorite new records go into frequent rotation. This year, it has been mostly the new records from Prong, Triptykon, Devin Townsend, Menace, and above all, the new Kenn Nardi album, which is my album of year regardless of my participation in it. I still have the new Slough Feg, Mekong Delta, Abigor, and Godflesh albums lined up for a first listen, though.
Where is home?
I used to move a lot. It was that way for some years. At one point, I was doing my cover artwork while traveling around Europe, renting for a month at a time in different cities. “Home” these days is where my wife and my dog reside, which for the last six years has been in the same flat in Berlin, Germany. I did live in Israel for the most of my life. That’s the source of my mother’s tongue, all of my youth and formative years, the bulk of my personal history, and home to all of my family and most of my friends. I’d say both rightfully feel like home.
How do you get hired to do album covers? Do bands contact you?
In the early years, it was mostly me getting in touch with bands, managers, and labels, and offering to work together. After a while, I’ve been fortunate enough to become very much in demand. So, reaching out to clients is no longer needed. My schedule is always booked for months in advance. Now, I have to get picky with the offers I do agree to take on.
With that said, I am a big music fan. If an opportunity arises to get on board with a great record, I’ll still get active from time to time and ask my contacts for an introduction.
I illustrate music, and it’s extremely important to me to not only end up with a great painting, but to also take part in great records. I’m more of a music fanatic than of visual arts, actually.
How do you feel about social media? Which sites do you use? Do you see its impact?
I had a website up from day one, serving as the primary source for showcasing my work. In Israel, there was a limit to how many clients you could get if you relied on the word of mouth in that tiny local scene. I did maybe three local records before the focus shifted to my website and communication was only by email.
And if it weren’t for sites like Blabbermouth in the early years, it would have been extremely hard for me to build a portfolio. It was a good source for info on which bands were set to go to the studio. MySpace then played a good role in getting the word out there. [Now], I’m left with my Facebook artist page as my sole social network presence. I do know many [people] first found out about my work via social networks, so that tool has served me well so far.
You did the art for Testament’s Dark Roots Of Earth: did you come in with the idea? How closely do bands work with you? For Hatebreed’s Divinity Of Purpose, you gave credit to vocalist Jamey Jasta…
[Testament guitarist and vocalist] Eric Peterson was in England demoing riffs at [producer] Andy Sneap’s house [Backstage Studios], and came across a figure of the forest god Cernunnos at a local market. He then texted me the forest god’s name and the album title as a general starting point. I came up with the idea of having the forest god all huge coming out of the ground, with worshipers below, summoning him by the fire. I initially had in mind just five worshipers in hooded cloaks. Eric asked to have an entire “repenting scene” down there, with a lot of people praying and getting on their knees. He also came up with a lot of other details, like having the souls of the dead swirling in the clouds, the lightning, and the ram’s horns. Later on, after we were done with the cover, Eric sent me a picture of the figure. It didn’t look anything like our version, to be honest.
Hatebreed’s concept all came from Jamey Jasta. He gave me the album title and said, “I was thinking about having a figure with its soul—or the figure itself—being pulled upward towards the sky by an angelic looking figure, while being pulled downward by a black/dark figure towards hell with smoke and fire.”
It varies from one project to another. Sometimes I get just the title and a free hand, sometimes just the general theme. I might even come up with the album title myself, and sometimes it’s very detailed and hands on, like with the Iced Earth cover I did. [Founder] Jon [Schaffer] knew right from the start exactly what he wanted us to do.
On Enders Game’s What We’ve Lost, you based it on the lyrics. Is that a frequent process?
Yes, the cover to Enders Game’s What We’ve Lost was based around the album’s lyrics having many recurring themes of the process of dealing with grief. I did about eight extra pieces for that project’s booklet, with each one of them dealing with some kind of loss: death in the family, a failed marriage, losing someone in the war, etc.
Lyrics play a crucial part in my process, as I usually start with getting to know the basic topics and themes that will serve as general guidelines. All I need, concept-wise, is to go through a few titles or lyric sheets to understand the direction the album is headed towards, thematically. Music plays an even bigger role, as I always listen to the available material and make the motifs, style, and colors match it.
What did you draw as a teenager?
It was all about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” when I was in elementary school. I did “TMNT” “screenshots”—from an imaginary “Ninja Turtles” video game that doesn’t exist—on pages ripped from my notebooks; I probably did over a hundred of these. Then I moved on to mimicking [Israeli comic artist] Uri Fink’s popular cartoons, and some “Super Mario” and other Nintendo characters as well. Then, in my teen years, I got into metal album covers. My bedroom walls were filled with huge acrylic mural copies I painted of my favorite records [by] Iron Maiden, Merciful Fate, and King Diamond.
Did you have brown bag covers on your textbooks with band logos drawn all over them?
Sure! I think those are the only school notebooks I kept. They are in my parent’s basement somewhere. I would actually make up my own logos if my favorite bands didn’t have a proper one, like with Alice Cooper or Deep Purple. At age 13, I was really into “Beavis and Butthead.” Naturally, I also spray-painted band logos on public walls. I couldn’t stand the inaccuracy of the spray-can. I grew up in a small town. If you went into the single office supply shop we had and bought spray-cans, everyone would find out pretty quickly who did it the next day. My stint as a young vandal was very short lived.
Do you just happen to draw images that metal bands like, or did you intentionally embrace that style?
I guess growing up with album covers, TV, movies, and cartoons as [my] primary art and design fascination is responsible for me sharing similar taste with my clients. When you think about it, the most common themes in metal artwork are probably horror and fantasy, and I don’t really do either, at least in the classic ‘60s–‘80s sense, with horror being kinda campy and fantasy being very Tolkien and “D&D” inspired.
I would need a really inspired, original idea in order to get me excited about making a traditional horror, sci-fi, or fantasy piece.
I’m actually wrapping up the first-ever dragon themed piece I’ve ever painted, and I think it’s an original take on the subject. I love dinosaurs, folklore, and the occult, but can’t stand fantasy dragons. I gave it a fresh spin, based on a new [take] on the historical origins of the dragon myth.
Do you remember the first time you got paid for a piece?
When I was 5, I drew a puppy for my grandma. She paid me the equivalent of five dollars, but insisted I [should] never sell anything before signing and dating it. At 15, I did a few murals on my bedroom walls with acrylics. Then, I was asked to paint a couple of friends’ walls as well. [The] first record I did was Solitary’s Trail Of Omission.
What process did you use to create the cover for Dirges of Elysium by Incantation?
I love that record; [it’s] one of my personal 2014 favorites. Laurent [Merle] of Listenable Records got in touch with me to do it. The Incantation guys and I found common ground pretty quickly. [Drummer] Kyle [Severn] and I immediately started peppering the dry, business-focused emails with random “666!”s and “Hail!”s to lighten the mood. They sent me text explanations of their lyrics, dealing mainly with folklore and the occult. I came up with the cover concept. It’s a combination of Norse and Greek mythologies. Angrboða gives birth to Fenris, the wolf, and Jörmungandr, the serpent. She is squeezing her pregnant belly, and the pre-labor liquids and placenta form the rivers of Elysium. The color scheme, and Angrboða being covered in tar, both were derived from the way I perceive Incantation’s sound, rather than the actual concept.
Your personal works are a departure from the metal covers. Will you compare and contrast style of the images?
My personal work does tend to be simpler and less busy than my commissioned work. They are based more on fleshing out a single metaphor and creating symbolism, than on telling a complex story. I never do details just for the heck of it; to me, it’s a storytelling device, just a tool. If it’s a complex one, more details are required. When bands come to me and say upfront they love the effect my busier works give, I respect that, and add more to the story, so the extra details will still be logical and not just random.
Do you go to shows? How is the local scene?
In Israel, the local scene in the early 2000s revolved less around gigs, but [more] a closer community. Everyone knew each other, and I’d meet 50 of my friends at gigs. Now, in Berlin, it does look like less of a community thing. Maybe it’s just me, not really being socially involved as I was as a teen in Israel, looking to make friends. These days, I just go to gigs with my wife or an old friend, maybe meeting one of my clients at the gig. I do go to gigs quite often. We’re actually gearing up right now to go see Triptykon and At The Gates tonight.