Metastazis is a design studio from Paris, France, founded by Valnoir. Even if you haven’t heard of the studio’s name you’ve definitely seen his work. Metastazis has created various artworks for a who’s who of Metal and beyond – among them are Alcest, Morbid Angel, Anathema, As I Lay Dying, The Black Dahlia Murder, Black Anvil (as seen previously on Symmetal), Glorior Belli, Immolation, Paradise Lost, Nachtmystium and a lot more.
Metastazis is also known for unconventional projects like the Watain poster printed with blood or – for the cover artwork of his own band Glaciation – Metal patches sewed to his guitarist’s back: “It’s a nostalgic project about my teenage-hood, when I had an iron faith into black-metal and I was showing it on my metalhead patched jacket. I had that in my flesh. So I wanted to pay a tribute to this age.” (source).
I had the chance to ask Valnoir a few questions about his work. Here’s the interview:
Symmetal: Most artists (especially in Metal) specialize on one style and try to perfect it. What’s outstanding about your work is the wide range of different styles. Tell us about your background, where did you learn that versatility?
Valnoir: I studied communication design during five years in Paris, from scratch. This program pushed me to adapt my answers to the identity of the client. And I realized how much I liked to experiment, to taste as much different things as I could. Having one style is a vicious and comfortable trap in which you can lay your whole life without asking yourself any questions, and I consider stagnation to be the death of art.
Symmetal: Art Nouveau references can be found in several of your artworks (like in the Alcest – Les voyages de l’âme booklet, Der Blutharsch and the infinite church of the leading hand’s cover or Lutomysl‘s artwork). Do you have a special connection to that style? Perhaps because of your hometown Paris?
Valnoir: I’ve been a bit trapped by art-nouveau. I had a period when I did those few experimentations and people became crazy about it and request never stopped, until now. I try now to get rid of this. The same thing happened 5-ish year ago when I was obsessively practicing totalitarian art influenced design. I’m not an art-nouveau designer, Mucha was better at this than I am, and I fucking hate being filed in a category. I love jumping from one world to another.
But you’re right to suggest that it may come from where I belong. I’ve always considered that it was smarter and stronger to dig the garden of my own culture to reach elements that were close to me, and thus, were easier to control because I’ve been filled with those references since I was born. When Japanese people try to make old-Europe-like design, it looks clumsy and ridiculous to European eyes, when French people try to design mangas, it’s most of the time pathetically hilarious, especially for Japanese people who are used to see good quality mangas around them everyday. I’m French and I like when people claim that my work looks French.
Symmetal: Your artworks often seem to be inspired by art-historical patterns, symbols and styles. Where do you get your inspiration and how do you decide which style fits to a band?
Valnoir: Looking to the past is for me the best and only way to create a future filled with substance. Everything in art is a reaction to the past, whether it be avant-garde or conservatist bourgeois art. My decisions are made upon the universe of the band, what they have to say (even if they often have nothing personal to say), and what I feel in it. There was no obvious nor objective reasons for me to use Vienna Sessession-inspired design for Soror Dolorosa’s artwork, but the key-words that were summing up the band’s essence had a lot in common to my eyes to the ones describing this austrian artistic scene.
Symmetal: You’re using a lot of symmetric elements and compositions. What does symmetry mean to you?
Valnoir: A fight against nature. Symmetry does not exist in nature, it’s an invention of mankind. It’s an echo of the culture above nature. However, I always break this symmetry with at least one minor detail to avoid a sterile systematic aspect.
Symmetal: The final print production of your artworks adds a lot to its charm. Like the choice of the paper, the golden illustrations for Alcest or the embossing and colors for Blut aus Nord or Morbid Angel. As these printing processes usually are much more expensive than regular printings, how much freedom do you get to suggest such things?
Valnoir: I’ve been quickly sick of using quadricolour because of its lack of intensity and flatness. So as soon as I could I started using special printing processes, such as embossing, pantone colour, hotfoil and any other thing that the modern printing industry offers. Of course it’s way more expensive than generic quadricolour on generic paper. The only freedom I have is to suggest the best option to the label, and the label makes the decision. Strangely, it’s sometimes the small structures, such as Debemur Morti, that are keen on producing premium items, more than major structures that are in search for profitability. The next step is to use production processes that, by themselves, fit the band’s universe. Such as printing with a human blood-based ink for Watain.
Symmetal: You’ve been working with a who’s who of the Metal scene. Tell us about the usual process of developing and finishing the artwork. Is there a big difference to daily business clients?
Valnoir: I don’t have any “daily business clients”anymore, I try to dedicate all my time to Metastazis. But the process is fairly different, as you can see on the Metastazis manifesto page. It’s difficult to shout “It’s my way or the highway” in the face of a corporate client that pays you $700 a day during a month (yes, I can behave like an overpriced escort girl but I’m not a ghetto hooker). The band describes the concept of the album, gives me keys, and I answer by interpreting it. If they don’t like what I did, I can give a second direction. If it still does not work, I throw in the towel. I usually refuse any kind of formal modifications, because metalheads have no taste, no culture and every time I tried listening to their suggestions, even recently, it lead to a catastrophic result. You see, you don’t explain to your butcher how to chop meat even if you think “it’s better that way”, you trust him and let him do, especially when you have tasted his meat before and liked the result, and you want the same. If it was good, it was because he has a perfect knowledge of how to chop meat, without anyone ignorant trying to interfere with his process. I like to trust my butcher.
Symmetal: What was the last Metal artwork that deeply impressed you and why?
Valnoir: Pure metal-wise, last time I’ve been struck by an artwork, as far as I remember, was a long time ago. It was in a graphic design magazine that was featuring the visual of the album “The Truth” by Bleeding Through. I’ve never listened to it, neither to any other release of that band, but the treatment of the photos, the typographic choices and the harmony between both were of unusual quality, for a metal album (even if the speech beneath was the usual gory primitive bullshit). Anyway, I’ve never been really influenced by other metal covers. Amateurism and mediocrity lead the game there, mostly due to the ignorance and lack of culture of metalheads in general. Loyal scene but primitive minds.