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10 Awful Hard Rock & Metal Album Covers
A Gallery of the Grotesque!
An album's cover is its calling card to potential buyers. If you've got a cool image on the front of your LP, cassette, or CD, then you're grabbing the customer before they've even heard a note of the music contained inside. As we all know, however, occasionally the art of the album cover goes horribly wrong, as evidenced by the huge number of web sites and blogs devoted to displaying collections of the worst, the weirdest, the ugliest, the strangest, and all around most bizarre album covers ever conceived by the minds of the record industry's art departments. I love looking at "bad album cover" sites but as a long time headbanger, I'm often dismayed by the lack of metal albums in such lists. Lord knows there are more than enough bad heavy metal and hard rock covers out there to fill several web sites all by themselves!! Between the poofed-out group shots of the hair metal realm to the goofy 'n' gory nonsense peddled by death metal bands and the sword swinging, manly-man heroics of the power metal scene, metal album covers can provide an endless stream of hilarity if you know where to look. In this Hub I'm presenting a selection of some of my favorite "bad" hard rock/heavy metal album covers. This only scratches the surface, of course, there are far more out there! Please note that my criteria for a "bad" album cover excludes artwork that is meant to shock and offend (i.e. gory or gross stuff that's made "bad" on purpose), or covers that are technically well done, even if the subject looks ridiculous (i.e. the Cinderella cover shown at the top of this paragraph - yeah, the band looks silly, but isn't it a great looking photo?). I consider the covers shown below to be "bad" simply because they're amateurish, ugly, pretentious, or cause me to scratch my head and say "WTF were they thinking?" With that in mind, welcome to my gallery of Metal Art Gone Bad...
Anthrax, "Fistful of Metal" (1984)
The idea behind the cover of Anthrax's debut album is solid enough (if a bit juvenile) - it's the klutzy execution that kills it. The band is comparing the sound of their music to being hit in the face by a spiked fist. So far, so good. Unfortunately, somewhere between the idea stage and the design phase, somebody dropped the ball. I've owned this album since it was a new release and I swear that it was several years before I finally realized that the fist was punching the hapless poser on the cover, not erupting out of his face Alien-style. (it didn't dawn on me till I noticed the attacker's other hand is at the top of the picture, holding the poor guy in place by the hair.) Even Anthrax main man Scott Ian apparently hates this cover because in the liner notes of a 2004 Fistful reissue he comments, "Now if we could just re-do the cover art..."
Metal Church - "Hanging in the Balance" (1993)
This one is widely considered to be the Big Kahuna of bad metal album covers. If you go to any internet forum that caters to metalheads and ask, "What's the worst metal album cover ever?" someone is virtually guaranteed to respond with this monstrosity. There's just so much wrong with Hanging In the Balance that I barely know where to begin. The hot pink background, the cartoon drawing of a Mohawked and armored fat woman about to step out onto a high wire, wearing fishnet stockings that are failing miserably to contain the cellulite within... all of it combines into one of the most WTF-worthy album covers in the history of metal, if not recorded music in general. Tragically, legend has it that the members of Metal Church had no idea what the album cover was going to look like until finished copies of the CDs were in their hands. Naturally, they were less than thrilled but by then, of course, it was too late to do anything about it. The band split up shortly after this album was released.
"Iced Earth" (1990)
The debut album by U.S. power metal titans Iced Earth is another example of screamingly bad amateur-night artwork. In what I assume is supposed to be a dramatic scene, an angel falls from the skies towards a frozen wasteland, wrapped up in ... something pink and stringy. What is that stuff? The severed tentacles of a flying octopus? Intestines? Some sort of evil, carnivorous snake like creature? Or did the angel just have an accident while trying to tear off an extra long strip of Bubble Tape? Whatever it is, the angel doesn't look very happy about it, because he appears to be shaking his fist and yelling at it while he plummets towards certain doom. Thankfully, once Iced Earth started to gain some muscle in the worldwide power metal scene, this album was reissued with a much better piece of artwork on the front.
Helloween - "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" (1991)
Prior to the release of their fourth full length album, Pink Bubbles Go Ape, power metal stalwarts Helloween were recovering from some lineup changes and a nasty legal battle with their former record label that had tied them up in court for a couple of years. Some bands would get angry at their situation and channel that anger into a seriously heavy, intense album, but these Germans decided to get seriously weird instead. If the odd album title and songs like "Heavy Metal Hamsters" and "I'm Doin' Fine Crazy Man" weren't enough to warn record buyers that something was awry in the Helloween camp, the artsy album cover depicting a woman in a fancy dress preparing to deep-throat a fish (while a flamingo and a half naked guy in a hospital bed look on from down a long hallway) served to seal the deal. The strangeness continued onto the back cover, where a photo shows the band members with fried eggs over their eyes. Maybe this was some sort of weird German practical joke that didn't translate well to English? Whatever it is, record buyers didn't go "ape" for the band's new direction and the album tanked.
Iron Maiden - "Virtual XI" (1998)
Iron Maiden's mascot "Eddie" is one of the most beloved symbols in all of metaldom. He's appeared on every Maiden album cover, and nearly every single, tour program, t-shirt,and piece of merchandise the band has ever produced, in an ever-changing variety of situations. Eddie has been portrayed as a WWII fighter pilot ("Aces High"), an Egyptian god ("Powerslave"), a futuristic assassin ("Somewhere In Time") and countless other high-risk occupations. So it's truly a head-scratcher when you look at the surprisingly blah cover art for 1998's less than impressive Virtual XI (the second and last studio album to feature ill-fitting replacement vocalist Blaze Bayley) and see Eddie... sneaking up on a kid who's playing a virtual-reality soccer game. Um...what? It's well documented that the Maiden members are all rabid football fans, but this attempt to shoehorn the mighty Eddie the 'Ead into the sporting world simply feels forced.
Kick Axe - "Vices" (1984)
Kick Axe was a Canadian hard-rock band who were discovered by then-hot Quiet Riot producer Spencer Proffer. He was probably hoping to cash in with another pop-metal hit, but the band never really caught on. Vices actually isn't a bad disc, so I wonder if the ridiculous album cover scared potential buyers away. Their "Vicehead" character (note the collared shirt, and the eyeballs at the ends of its turn handle!) was apparently intended to become the band's mascot ala Iron Maiden's "Eddie," but it failed miserably. Kick Axe even brought Vicehead to life in the hilariously cheesy video for their single "On the Road To Rock," in which he drops in on a bunch of classical musicians (frilly cuffs, powdered wigs and all) during a writing session, dismisses them all as "wimps" and then gets turned on to the power of Kick Axe via a passing janitor, who's listening to the band on his Walkman. Seriously! Look it up on YouTube. You can't make this stuff up.
Dokken - "Shadowlife" (1997)
'80s hair rockers Dokken seemed to be on their way towards a legitimate comeback in the mid 90s thanks to a solid reunion album, 1995's Dysfunctional. Unfortunately, that comeback crashed into a brick wall with 1997's follow up Shadowlife, a morose,down-tuned affair that found the band attempting (unsuccessfully) to jump on the Seattle grunge bandwagon. Fans were up in arms about the sudden directional shift, but you can't say that the godawful ugly album cover - a seemingly meaningless, dreary collage of people in 19th century dress surrounded by fog, with a hand holding a diagram of a human heart in the foreground - didn't give them fair warning that this was not the Dokken they remembered. Even the traditional "Dokken" logo was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, the band realized they'd made a horrible mistake and quickly returned to their "old" style on their next album.
Nuclear Assault - "Something Wicked" (1993)
New Jersey thrashers Nuclear Assault were a socially aware, politically minded band, so their previous album covers tended to show cities devastated by nuclear war, nuclear reactors going up in smoke, etc. Therefore it's a mystery where the inspiration for this mess came from. Something Wicked was Nuclear Assault's final album before their mid 90s breakup and from the looks of it, their fortunes had slipped so far that they couldn't even afford a cool font for their name at the top of the cover, settling for plain old Helvetica Black over an image that looks like it was made with an early version of Microsoft Paint. Memo to the band: Clowns don't thrash. Even evil clowns.
Stryper - "Reborn" (2006)
Reborn was the first new album by Christian hard rockers Stryper in fifteen years, and from the looks of this cover, the band celebrated this momentous reunion by bathing in French's yellow mustard and motor oil. Judging from the pained looks on their faces, some of that goop must've gotten into their eyes or somethin'. Seriously, this is one ugly looking cover. So ugly, in fact, that their record label provided Christian book and music stores with an alternate cover for fear that the more conservative members of their fan base would be offended by the yellow-and-black bukkake version. I'm a long time Stryper fan and I wish I could say that the music on Reborn was better than the cover suggests, but unfortunately, it wasn't.
Sacred Warrior - "Wicked Generation" (1990)
Sacred Warrior was a Christian metal band from Chicago that peddled a powerful, progressive sound akin to Iron Maiden and Queensryche. They're widely considered to be one of the better bands to come out of the late '80s Christian metal scene and their third album, 1990's Wicked Generation, is a semi-conceptual piece that can best be described as a Christian answer to Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime. The songs are great and the concept - abused kids and runaways find salvation from the streets through Christian heavy metal music - is fine by me, but the album cover has had me scratching my head for over 20 years now. Is this transvestite-lookin' person on the cover supposed to be the main character of the story? If so, is it a guy or a girl? Nobody seems to know! It's a mystery! Whoever it's supposed to be, those pursed lips and piercing eyes have been haunting my nightmares for two decades. The horror, the horror!
Well, that was awful...
Here ends the first installment of "Awful Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Album Covers," I hope you've had as much fun gasping in horror at some of these monstrosities as I did compiling them. Feel free to suggest your favorite bad metal album cover(s) in the Comments section. Thanks for looking, and till next time may all your generations be wicked, your Earth be Iced, your Maidens be Iron and your fists be full of Metal!!
© 2012 Keith Abt