Dark Art for Dark Souls, Featuring Josh Thieler of Slaves BC, ‘Esoteric Art – Waiting for the Light, Waiting for the Dark’
Open-minded individuals are blessed with intelligence. It is the capacity for the recognition that many ideologies are quite sound given the frame of mind that puts its vision into kinetic action. Furthermore, individuals who not only tolerate cultural and ideological differences but set out to learn and not discriminate against people of various cultures and religions presents as the sort of individual with limitless potential. Amongst those lucky to suffuse meaning with artistic symbolism is Josh Thieler of Christian hardcore/metal band Slaves BC. Josh is responsible for all but one of the band’s cover art thus far. I purchased their digital discography on bandcamp and I noticed this fact, so what better a means to inquire about their beautiful, meaningful cover artworks than interview Josh Thieler for fans of Cvlt Nation and the band. This is what he had to say about each cover art sample the band has allowed us to show in this feature, followed by an interview about Josh’s influences and future projects in art and music.
Art is not ideology, but when empowered by it like wind in its sails; it helps add purpose and meaning to the pencil sketches, the lines of ink and the smudges of black and white shade on the media. Josh Thieler of Slaves BC loves to depict his Christian ideology through art. His illustrations are quite unique and it is obvious with a look at them that his work is important to him. Not a bible thumper, largely a faithful active practitioner of his religious beliefs, Josh is the sort of artist/musician that breaks convention in his use of his craft in lieu of gimmickry. Read on about these cover art samples he’s used for his band, Slaves BC.
I used this for Slaves BC free demo single “144000”. The artwork depicts multiple references to imagery found in the book of Revelation, including an angel blowing a trumpet, the sun being blacked out, blood mixed with hail, the 144,000 followers of God that congregate at the top of Mt Zion and other stuff.
This is part of the artwork for the back cover of our split 12″ with Grace and Thieves. It is a depiction of the tree and rope that Judas hung himself with.
This means nothing. I just saw the design in my head and used it for a shirt.
This was used for the insert of our side of the split 12″ with Grace and Thieves. It is my depiction of God pulling a heart to himself while a horde of hands is reaching to take the heart. Basically, me saying that there are many things that distract you or pull you down, and that I wanted to put my hope in God.
This is the album cover for Slaves BC’s forthcoming (and unannounced) 2017 full length record. The album is called “Lo, and I Am Burning.” The artwork depicts a burning figure (spoiler alert, it’s me) consumed with fire and being dragged into the pit of fire, while Satan and the angel of death oversee it. This will be the first time anyone has seen the new album cover of our album (even the other members of my band have not seen it).
This is a depiction of a story in the book of Revelation that talks about Lucifer being bound in a bottomless pit for 1000 years before being set free on the earth. This goes with a Slaves BC demo single called “Lucifer Bound”.
This is another unannounced and unreleased Slaves BC release. The artwork goes with the subject matter of the release. It is an EP based on the book of Job. The artwork depicts a ruined Job as he is caught in a game between God and the devil (the dove and the bat).
This artwork was for Slaves BC’s first full length record that came out early 2016. The album is a concept album about the book of Ecclesiastes. The imagery in the art is a reference to many common themes in Ecclesiastes. A man chasing after the wind. A man walking on the bones of the dead who died while chasing the same wind. The seasons passing, the sun rising and setting.
This was used for Slaves BC’s split 12″ with Grace and Thieves. It is a depiction of Judas hanging himself in the foreground while the hill in the background has Jesus and the two thieves’ crosses on it. Judas is hanging from a tree and holding a bag that contains 30 pieces of silver that are spilling out onto the ground.
This was for a release that never came to be. Two separate bands wanted it and both broke up before using it. So this artwork is cursed. The artwork depicts a man who is faced with the glory of God. There is a lot of imagery around the throne of God, with angels (seraphim) flying around Him. The 7 candles represent the seven early churches of 1st century followers of Christ. The front of God’s robe has Hebrew characters for “Y’HW’H” which is the name of God in the Bible.
This is part of the artwork for Veritas Vinyl’s Christmas compilation “The Punks Who Stole Christmas”. This is a depiction of the angels appearing to the shepherds to tell the birth of Jesus. Basically I tried to draw the song “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
This was artwork that I used for our digital 3 song EP “we mean nothing.” Basically, I had a heated argument with some former friends. They were stating that “missions work that provides food, shelter, clean water, medicine, etc.” to people in 3rd world countries is “satanic” because they are meeting temporary, physical and earthly needs rather than sharing the message of Jesus. I severed my long standing friendship with these friends over a multiple hour argument about this and immediately drew this artwork. The basic idea in the art was that there was a starving child reaching out for help and a hand is giving them a wooden cross.
These artworks are largely symbolic, but the meaning may come across as obscure to readers out there. What are your favorite works here and is there generally some ideological symbolism you reference in your artworks for Slaves BC? Please talk about them at some length.
I think my favorites that I have done are the ones that we have used for the full length album covers. The album cover for “All Is Dust and I Am Nothing” was a labor of love. The album was a concept album based on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes has long been one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is one of the “Books of Poetry” that is believed to be written by King Solomon: the “wisest man to ever live”. That book is very, very bleak and highly repetitive. The basic moral of the story is that everything in this life is utterly meaningless. No matter what you do you will die alone. You can’t take anything with you. No one will remember you. Everything you have seen or done has already been seen and already been done. Nothing is new under the sun. You are powerless against the current of time. You are a speck of dust in an infinite universe. It is a very nihilistic book to be included in the Bible. I tried to capture much of the repeated parts of the book in the artwork. That is why I drew a man chasing after the wind while running atop the bones of those that had chased that same wind before him. I tried to show the passing of time with the ascension of the sun and moon. This piece took me so long, and I am so happy with it even though I know that I’m still going to die, the record covers will be eaten by moths, no one will remember me or my work, that it’s all been done before, and everything is meaningless.
The other one that I am very excited about is the album artwork for Slaves BC’s sophomore full length “Lo, and I Am Burning”. I came up with the album title in 2012 and have had this image in my head since then. The album is largely about a lot of the darkness in my own mind. The lyrics discuss a lot of my own personal struggles and doubts. The album cover is essentially the way I viewed my mind and soul in different periods of my life. I occasionally “lean on my own understanding” or crawl from under the shadow of God’s wings and into the shadow of death. In those times I know fear and hopelessness. The album discusses the moments (or years) when I run away from the God I claim to believe in, and I tried my best to put a visual representation of that. This album cover is one of six different art pieces I have been working on for that album that will be out in late 2017.
For artists and fans of art, would you share with us what media you use for these covers. Do you plan to divert from this style at some point? Do you create art in other media besides what you use here that you have not shown the public?
I primarily use ink pens to do my art. I use 005 Micron pens. The point on those pens is .2 millimeters, so I love the detail and texture I can get with them. That is also why some of my art takes me countless hours because I get lost in detail that doesn’t even end up getting captured when scanned and reproduced.
Some of the earlier stuff I did for Slaves BC, I experimented using a drawing pad with my laptop. I never got used to it, so I went back to ink on paper very quickly. The very first art I did for Slaves BC is the Girl with the gun in her mouth. I did that with a fat black sharpie on lined notebook paper.
I have been experimenting with doing watercolor over my ink. I am very inexperienced with color, and I have little interest in using color. However, watercolor seems fun and interesting. If I ever get functional at watercolor and a particular piece feels like it needs it, I will incorporate color in my art. For now, I’m sticking to black ink on white paper or white on black.
Who is your greatest influence as an artist? Are you largely self-taught and explorative when it comes to creating art, or did you learn from a school of art that influenced you a great deal?
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Albrecht Dürer, Gustave Doré have all been huge influences on me since I was a kid. The woodcut style is my favorite, and all of those artists were commissioned to do Biblical art pieces between 1400 AD and 1800 AD. Each artist beautifully interpreted the rich imagery of each Bible story they did. Definitely my favorite works are by Albrecht Dürer. He did “The Apocalypse” which was a series of 15 woodcuts inspired by the Book of Revelation. He did these in the 1400s and they are still (in my opinion) the best attempt at artistically capturing the madness of Revelation. I actually have a couple of his pieces tattooed on me.
I also have been a huge comic book fan since I was a kid. The influence of those artists on me is also present in my art. X-Men was my favorite, so I loved artists like Jim Lee and Alan Silvestri. I think my art is an attempt to do the kind of art that the classical artists offered with their woodcuts, but I unconsciously mix it with that 90s pop comic art style. At least I try, haha. All artists that I mention are infinitely better than I am. This actually makes me think of a story from when I was about 10 or 11. I was manning the merch booth at one of my parents’ concerts. I was working on drawing one of my own comic book series at the time. A guy walked up to me and asked to see what I was doing. I showed and him and said that he liked what I was doing. At the time, it was a dream of mine to be a comic book artist (and a touring metal musician). The guy said he like what I was doing, and he said he also liked comic books. He said he would like if I sent him comic books as I worked on them and he would critique them. He said, if I was really interested in getting into comics, he could help. He gave me his business card and walked away. When I looked at his business card, I realized that I had been talking to the current artist for Batman comics. Sadly, my parents did not like the idea of me having mail correspondence with a “stranger” and “there is no money in art anyway”, so I never was allowed to contact him. My obedience in that situation is one of the biggest regrets of my life.
I took a single drawing class in college when I was 15. The medium used was mostly charcoal which was a lot of fun for me. I used to go to lunch and all my classes with charcoal all over my face and arms. I was called “crazy art-boy” by more than a couple young ladies at that college. The biggest thing that I took from that class was confidence in my art. I realized that art didn’t have to be perfect. I just had to do what I could do. The teacher of that class tried to take me to New York to show some of my pieces and got commissions for me to do. But my parents thought she was trying to exploit me (read, they didn’t like another adult influence in my life other than them), so I was not allowed to pursue the world of opportunity that teacher gave me.
Do you plan to branch out and do artwork for other bands as well? Which bands do you find exciting to collaborate with in regards to cover art and design?
I have done artwork for other bands. That “Valley of Vision” artwork was commissioned for a band that broke up. Another band was going to use it then, but they also broke up. I’m serious; that art piece is cursed. I did a shirt design for “Blue-Collar Metal” band Once Nothing. I have done art for some other bands that I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about yet. I’m currently working on album artwork for the band Old Thunder which I am very excited about. I love Dustin of O.T. and we are on exactly the same page for the artwork. When that piece is done, it will be one of my favorite ones that I have ever done. Look for that release not too far into 2017.
I would do more art for bands, but most people that reach out to me are asking me to do something I don’t want to do, in a style that isn’t mine, for free, and with two days’ notice. I am not a real artist, so it is hard for me to draw something I am not passionate about. Passion is all I have in my art, if I try to draw without passion, it looks like complete shit. Also, I’m using black ink. Ink is permanent. If a band decides halfway through the art that they want this one little thing changed, I have to start over. If I put 60 hours of work into something and a band changes their mind, I want to put my face through glass. If it is a band that I like and they like my style, then I will be thrilled to work with them.
There are a bunch of bands I would love to do art for. If some of the bands I’m thinking of actually reached out to me, I would probably panic and recommend they reach out to Zeb Love, Stephen Wilson (unknown relic), or Chris Smith (Grey Aria Design Studio). There are certain bands I would drop everything for and feel confident I could do the art to their liking. I would definitely drop everything to do work for Zao. Art, studio drums, vocals or drums emergency fill in? I’m there.
This art is largely Christian conceptually, which is quite a divergence from most bands’ general use of negative energy and ideology to adorn the covers of their metal albums. How do you find this essential difference in retrospect? Do you find that rebellion in terms of metal’s rebellion against establishment and pop culture is similar to your choice of depicting your music in the form of artwork that largely differs from most of metal?
This is something I could write an 18 page paper on and wouldn’t say all I would want to about this. Christianity has always gone hand in hand with metal for me. I got Tourniquet’s “Stop the Bleeding” and Vengeance Rising’s “Once Dead” on cassette when I was three years old. Both albums I still jam to this day and both have blatantly Christian lyrics. From those bands to bands like Zao and The Chariot in my early teens to more recent bands like Hesychast and Vials of Wrath I have always had strong Christian influence coming from metal bands I loved. I guess it also helps that I was born into a Christian band that still goes to this day. I was constantly inundated with Jesus and music, and they were both mixed together for me more often than not.
As far as rebellion in metal, a lot of the themes of the Bible are perfectly suited to metal. There is a lot of violence in the Bible. Hell, death, war, suicide, murder, torture, the apocalypse are all in the Bible. There is a lot of emotion in the Bible. There are stories of loss, heartache, hatred. There are books in there written by people dealing with depression. As far as rebellion against the “establishment”, large portions of the Bible are written by people who were living in prison, in a nation in captivity, or in exile at the time they were written. It inspires rebellion against the norm, against injustice, against hatred and prejudice. It inspires rebellion against one’s own nature and the nature of the world we live in. The entire New Testament of the Bible is basically a how-to guide to rebelling against religion. You hate Christianity because you feel it’s just a money making scheme that preys on weak minded people leaving them poor and discouraged? Cool. Then Jesus agrees with you. You think racism and misogyny is bad? Cool. So did the writers of the Bible and the God they were writing about. I honestly challenge you to find subject matter that is more metal than the Book of Ecclesiastes or the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
I think the Bible’s “metalness” is further reinforced by the amount of bands that use Biblical artwork for their album covers or T-shirt designs. Look at any of the Biblical works by Doré or Dürer and you will find a hundred bands who have used their art for their merch. The most notable I can think of is Emperor’s “Wrath of the Tyrant” re-release artwork that features Gustave Doré’s depiction of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
What are your plans for art and Slaves BC in the near future?
I have a ton of art that I’m working on for Slaves BC currently. We are doing a lot of things that need art in 2017 (interpret that however you wish). Two of the pieces of artwork at the top are being used for two different Slaves BC releases in 2017. As I’ve already mentioned, we will have a full length out this year called “Lo, and I Am Burning”. This will take go further down the paths we travelled in 2016’s “All Is Dust and I Am Nothing”. I cannot wait to get this release out. I feel like we are getting better at writing what we want to write. I say this every time we release something, but I have never been more excited to be a part of something than I am for this new album. Anyone who liked the scarier more black metal influenced parts of AIDAIAN I think will love this new record.
Thank you, Josh, for speaking to the Cvlt Nation audience about your unique artwork. More power to you and Slaves BC!
Thank you, Mr. Necro for this wonderful opportunity. I read Cvlt Nation daily, and I am humbled that you asked to interview me.
Josh Thieler has been a fan of the extreme metal community since he was a small child. He does everything he can to contribute to that community. He started Slaves BC in 2010 and does the lyrics, vocals, drums, and art for the band. He was added on as the drummer of Twilight Fauna in 2016. He has toured as a drummer and done studio drums for several other bands. He is a part owner of Veritas Vinyl and is in the process of starting another label for extreme metal bands. He does PR for metal and hardcore bands through Cursed Breath PR. He is on staff as a writer for Nine Circles and has contributed articles to the likes of Noisey, Inhale the Heavy, Xtapolapometal and others. He is a regular reporter for Metal Minute Podcast from Skull Toaster. He is also a member of Lavirra Productions.
Contact for artwork, PR representation, and studio drums/vocals: