- The whole idea with the cover was a story I had read somewhere, possibly a Christian theme or some ancient play, with the devil as the main figure in this nightly ceremonial scene, and with either corrupt members of the upper class or assorted creatures of the night surrounding the horned one, doing the deeds of darkness and evil.
- I seem to remember another similar story containing the daughters of the four winds being seduced by the beast and kneeling around him under the full moon. Not that I ever figured out what that might do to the world or the universal balance or anything, should the daughters of the four winds succumb to his charm and some time later bear him four fire eyed little things. But once we began to think about the cover shot, this story lead me to the conclusion that we were in need of four naked girls seated right next to the devil and.... well, the whole idea for a cover shot just sort of grew from there...
- And in addition to all this; in a book I saw this painting by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. This classic painting essentially visualized the whole nocturnal ceremony of The Beast-theme. And I realized how a shot based on that theme would look so good on the cover...
This classic painting from 1797, referred to as either The Great He-Goat or Witches Sabbath, by renowned Spanish artist Francisco de Goya 1746-1828, inspired to both an idea later used for the album cover shot and a working title for the new album. This working title, Nocturnal Obeisance, would however soon be changed to UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. In the last few minutes of recording the new album, the Nocturnal Obeisance working title would be adopted by the intro of the album. A story frequently repeated in BATHORY history oddly enough.
- But we soon realized, after calling around and hunting like lunatics for props, how it would be almost impossible to collect all the things we wanted in the shot, for we didn't want to use a painting. We knew of no artist in those days who could have painted that scene exactly the way we wanted it. There were tons of Swedish metal or hardrock albums popping up around this time, all featuring these painted comics looking goofy kind of covers that looked absolutely awful. We knew we'd kill the whole atmosphere by featuring one of those covers. So it had to be a shot, not a painting.
While the material for the album was being completed, Quorthon began to look around for all the props he wanted in the shot. A nocturnal scene not only meant that a lot of playing with lights was in good order, but a lot of not too convincing details could be shrouded in shadows. Hence it didn't seem like they would have to look for, and hire, very professional or expensive props in order to make a good shot, any kind of cheap school play type of props weren't totally out of the picture. But the hunt for props, was tiring and frustrating enough nevertheless.
- I called theaters, small local movie companies and commercial film producers, any place that had anything to do with either props, movies or stage acting. And yet, wherever I called and asked around for the correct props, i.e. rocks and bushes and stuff, things with which we could build ourselves a nocturnal nature scene, most of the people I talked to simply referred me to SVT, the Swedish Television.
- And once I called there, and although they did have the possibility to produce any kind of props I wanted, it was a quick light remark made by one of the SVT prop-masters that caught my attention. He had just visited the Royal Swedish Opera House the previous weekend to see a performance of "Carmen" playing at the Royal Swedish Opera House just then. He described the scene in Act II as a Disneyland of rocks and cliffs etcetera, and just sort of laughed lightly saying "-...sounds like you guys' could really use the set in Act II...". And although he might have thought he was just making a light joke, I was dead serious.
- So I bought a ticket and went to the Royal Swedish Opera House the following Saturday evening to have a look for myself. And when that curtain was divided for the second Act, and I see the whole stage filled with you know what from one end of that stage to the other, I just freaked out. I knew I had to have all of that on the cover of our new album.
- I called the Royal Swedish Opera House the next day. Got myself in touch with the stage chief and explained the situation to him. And when he didn't reply in a flash, but rather seemed to actually ponder about how to solve this, I knew I had him. Although I had said I wanted to hire the entire set for Act II, and he had replied how that was out of the question, he said he'd work something out.
- Most of that stuff was reportedly hand made in France and originated from the 1920's or something like that. And although I've learned since how that might not have been entirely true, it was nevertheless a very expensive set of props, and it would take a day for a number of experienced stage men just to carefully pack, transport, unpack, erect, strike and then repack the whole thing. And besides, the insurance cost was astronomical. I realized it really was out of the question that we'd be allowed to hire all of that for our cover shot. So the way things turned out, I couldn't have been more happy...and still to this day I can not believe how we actually managed to get that photo taken...
- And since I am a huge fan of Wagner, and thus have had reasons to visit the Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm on several occasions since, the memory of snapping the cover shot for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is still my most vivid memory of that place.
Quorthon in May 1987 posing for Kerrang! photographer Ray Palmer while in London during a promotion trip for the new album UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. While some people will bring with them mosquito spray and a parlor when traveling abroad, Quorthon frequently brought with him - among others things - a 10 pound ox-bone with rotten flesh still dangling from it. Actually this very bone is the one seen on the UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK cover. This procedure would sometimes cause Quorthon some delicate problems. Particularly when going through customs. And when traveling to the US West coast to promote UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK over there, the narc dogs at LAX airport got a sniff and went berserk. You can probably imagine yourselves the scene that followed. Apparently you are not allowed to bring food across some borders...
The way the shot would be arranged is a classic story in the history of BATHORY. And a story seldom believed when told. Not only because it all sounds too hard to believe, but because it has been believed for a decade and a half that the cover is a painting. But the whole story is actually true from beginning to end. And the cover is not a painting.
There was a brief moment when the stage was set, before the actors took to the stage, and before the curtain was pulled aside for the second Act, when the whole BATHORY entourage would be allowed on stage for a few seconds to get their shot. There was only time for a handful of shots at the most, so this would have to be a commando raid type of a snap-and-run thing.
- Not having to spent any more time chasing props, I was left with the somewhat easier task of finding somebody who could portray The Beast, and the daughters of the four winds. So I got in touch with four girls, two of them girlfriends of buddies of mine by the way, and asked them if they'd be interested. Once I had promised them that not only would their faces never show, but we would not put their names on the album, I actually did manage to talk them into exposing their breasts while kneeling halfnaked around The Beast. They were given wigs to disguise themselves, though.
- But the way things turned out, it wouldn't be possible to have the girls in the shot seated quite around The Beast anyway. Once Gunnar, the photographer, also the engineer for THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL, got to actually see the stage, about five seconds before we had to start snapping away, he realized there was not enough room for all five of them up there, and there was no time to rehearse an alternative set up. So the girls would quite simply be instructed to kneel down on stage in front of all that painted-fabric-on-frames and papier-manché mountain stuff. Leffe The Beast would be standing way up there posing and swinging that bone, and the girls would be huddling up, shy and bare-breasted in wigs, ten meter in front and away from him. From a esthetic point of view, it was a disaster. Gunnar simply couldn't get all of that into any one shot. So he focused on The Beast and the center section of the set.
- This of course produced not as good a shot as we had hoped for. The center of attention was of course The Beast, and he looked kind of small already in the midst of all that painted-fabric-on-frames and papier-manché mountain stuff. So in order to make him more noticeable, and for the shot to fit the 10 by 10 inches, or 30 by 30 centimeters, format of the LP cover, without The Beast being scaled down to ant size, we had to blow the center of the picture up and leave a vast portion of the stage out of the cover. And the girls never did end up on the cover anyway. We never did get their tits on the cover, just a portion of their wigs. But at least I got to gloat at them during that snap-and-run session...
- Thinking back, perhaps fate played a part in how the whole things turned out. It would actually have looked really horrible with those teenage girls, static as trash bins, in poor wigs, kneeling in front of a wall of Opera props, and somebody wearing a goat mask hardly visual way up there. It could have been a disaster, but it actualy turned out rather well. Having to leave out of the picture about 15%-20% of the mountains and rocks to the extreme left and right, was rather sad though.
Once the girls had been persuaded to do the job, next up was finding somebody who could portray The Beast.
Published for the first time anywhere, this is an unused shot from the run-and-snap photo session for the album cover. This is the last shot of only four shots taken in total, snapped only a second after the moment when the daughters of the four winds ran off stage, and only a few seconds before the entire ensemble of the Royal Swedish Opera house took to the stage for Act II of "Carmen". In order to make The Beast more noticeable on the album cover, the center piece of the shot had to be enlarged to quite such an extent vast parts of the set had to be left out of the album cover. But born was a classic story of how to create yourself a classic album cover.
A Swedish bodybuilder, Leif Ehrnborg, was asked to do the job. And apart from being asked to dress up in nothing more than a black leather loin piece, and to swing a gigantic ox-bone with decaying meat still on it, and shaking a rag of cats' fur though it can barely be made out on the actual album cover, Leif would also be asked to wear a goat mask made from papier-manché, rubber and leather. And all this while standing center stage at the Royal Swedish Opera House only seconds before Act II of "Carmen" commenced. Somehow Leif actually said "-Ok!".
The idea was for Leif to be standing in the center section of the stage set, and to swing that decaying meat around, looking like a force of nature. All while Gunnar would snap as many shots as he could before the whole entourage was all called off stage. Leif managed to keep himself aloft, balancing on what was essentially a very frail and narrow scaffolding hidden behind a painted fabric-on-frame mountain section.
- He was a trouper. It takes a lot of guts just to wear the things we asked him to wear, and then to walk onto the stage of the Royal Swedish Opera House, all oiled up and swinging that ox-bone. I can not remember how much we paid him for the job, but I think he must have enjoyed it. That and being more or less sexually harassed in the wings by Sweden's most famous female opera singer of all time being very interested in feeling all that oiled and naked chunks of muscles up... I believe he was even given her phone number before we left...
Now BATHORY had their much sought after shot for the album cover. It had all been very quick, not at all expensive, rather easy and great fun. And a legendary and absolutely true story was born.
Leffe - sans the Goat head mask and other paraphernalia - being cleaned from all that oil by a handy just after the snap-and-run photo session at the Royal Swedish Opera House. The sort of hidden scaffolding where Leffe would stand posing as The Beast, was intended to carry the weight of only a female opera singer and not no 250 pound bodybuilder, thus the posing for the cover shot was not only very brief but also very wobbly indeed.