Bottom-10 Heavy Metal album covers
The heavy metal music genre is known for its fierce exterior, yet sometimes while going for a unique or terrifying look for their album covers, the people designing them just end up with plain terrible. These are in my view the 10 most unpleasant or just plain bad covers from different musical acts. The only rules here is that I’ve included only one cover per band and that I’m sticking to only their studio albums.
Beyond that, the order of the list is entirely arbitrary because I rather wanted to also use this list to highlight some of the often repeated tropes of cover-album designs. However, I do have a few honourable mentions which were up for consideration…
Firstly, let’s start with Paranoid by Black Sabbath. A thing to remember with all of these entries is that I’m not criticising the album itself, just the cover. Paranoid, the band’s second album, is actually pretty good. But this cover is quite awful. It’s just some schmuck in a brightly coloured leotard, running around the woods with a motorcycle helmet, a shield and scimitar. The blurring effect on it is the cherry atop the crap cake, as if the photographer believed it would mask the straight-up awfulness of this cover.
Metal bands also frequently fall victim to the “artsy fartsy”, as exemplified by Sabbath’s late-70s cover for Technical Ecstasy. Honestly, I don’t think the cover is even that bad (it’s quite pleasant actually), but it certainly doesn’t convey well that this is supposed to be a metal album. However, I spared both from these lists since there is one other Black Sabbath cover which is unquestionably worse than either of these.
And while looking for a Scorpions cover to put up on here, I ran across this gem from their early days. Not only is this another victim of the artsy fartsy, but it’s also just plain unpleasant to look at. The brightness of the rainbow coloured title clashes so badly with the dark, mucky browns of the rest of the album it’s difficult to even look at.
But anyway. Let’s now get on with the list…
Alright, while Def Leppard may not be a metal band through and through, their early material was certainly metal enough for me to warrant an entry for them on this list. Also, Leppard have a notorious history of super artsy fartsy cover designs, but to their credit, I think they actually look mostly good. However, their debut album cover is an object in lesson in “just because you have a lot of imagination and can envision it, doesn’t mean it belongs on a heavy metal album cover”.
Yes, I’m sure someone somewhere thought it was a brilliant idea to see a truck flying through space carrying a giant electric guitar. How is this supposed to promote the band itself is a question that is left completely unanswered. It looks like a half-baked joke and there isn’t much pay-off. For all it’s imagination it’s honestly a little bland. Yet, you can tell from the artwork that the person who made this was clearly trying hard.
Debut album covers, as a rule of thumb, tend to be terrible but I can usually let them slide since the record label probably just hasn’t quite keyed in on how to best represent the band’s style on the front of the albums. This however, just looks pretty damn goofy for something that was so professionally made.
In another classic example of artsy-fartsy is this Deep Purple cover which shows all the symptoms of a conceptual clusterfuck. It’s always refreshing to see a cool artistic take on an album. However, a secret about me is that I honestly just don’t care for medieval wood-carving style graphical design which is already one problem since that’s what the artist for this cover was going for. But that is the least of the album’s problems.
With every album cover, I always believe there should be a central visual element that catches your eye and makes the album easy and quick to identify when you look at it. As corny as the Def Leppard cover above is, I still think it adheres to this principle. You think of a flying truck and you have a picture of this album cover in your mind. What is the central visual element of Book of Taliesyn. There is none, because there’s a gazillion items littered all across it.
This one is particularly unpleasant to look at because your eye can’t really focus on anything. It’s a complete mess. Deep Purple isn’t the only band who has been guilty of the clusterfuck syndrome (I can definitely think of at least one Iron Maiden album cover that has this problem), but it’s easily one of the most scatterbrained album covers I’ve seen.
Another thing bands may decide to do when their struggling with what to put on the front of their cover is just get a famous piece of art and stick in on the front. It’s an admittedly lazy but also economic way to get an album cover with a lot of texture, but with as little effort as possible. Bruce Dickinson has resorted to this technique twice in his solo albums and the first time with The Chemical Wedding, I think he should have picked the Mona Lisa instead of this garbage.
So yes, I’m not really a fan of William Blake, but apparently Dickinson was so inspired by the man’s works that he plastered the inside and the outside of the Chemical Wedding album with Blake’s works. Similarly to his late Tyranny of Souls, I think I would have appreciated a more toned down approach. Not only are Blake’s paintings pretty pungent (but also admittedly very powerful) in abundance they kind of start to undermine the album itself (an album which took me a long time to really like).
Fierce exterior or not, The Ghost of the Imp is just an unpleasant painting to put on the front of your album cover. This is the kind of thing I would actively avoid in a music store and were it not for Dickinson’s name plastered atop it, I would have never given it the time of the day.
Since we’re on Bruce Dickinson, let’s move right along to his main-band Iron Maiden and what is easily their worst album cover. As much as I hate the album A Matter of Life & Death at least its cover is fairly distinct and well-drawn (generic, but well-drawn). No Prayer for the Dying is a really uneven album but the artwork for it is pretty kickass. Virtual-XI also suffers from the clusterfuck syndrome but at least has a central visual element to focus on and for that looks pretty okay (not great, but okay).
Dance of Death’s cover is just inexcusable. It looks like it wasn’t finished. That’s because it wasn’t. The story behind this one is that apparently Iron Maiden were presented with the work in progress version of the cover. Maiden, for whatever reason, liked it so much that they decided to make it their album cover. The artist was himself so embarrassed by the cover that he decided to go uncredited for his work.
When I got this album as a birthday present back in 2003, I really had to look long and hard at the cover because I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. The album itself, by the way, was brilliant – but the cover is really embarrassing. The only redeemable thing about it is Eddie as the Grim Reaper who actually looks pretty good. There must be a lesson here. Oh yeah: “Don’t f***ing release unfinished cover-art.”
As big of a fan as Iron Maiden seem to be of badly rendered CGI, I do have to tip my hat off to the German power-metal band Helloween who always seem to want to slip a bit of horrible computer generated imagery into their album covers and occasionally into their music videos as well.
A thing to note, bad CGI’s sinfulness correlates directly with how far back in time it’s being used. You can’t fault bands in the mid-90s for thinking that CG rendered covers looked awesome and futuristic, since they clearly lacked the foresight to see that the technology was going to keep getting better, to the point that from five-to-ten years later the “futuristic” CG would look hopelessly dated.
In that, there is no excuse for Gambling with the Devil which came out in 2007. Dance of Death looked awful, but you have to remember that it was an album cover that was never finished. Gambling with the Devil looks exactly the way it was envisioned: “god awful”. This is what the promotional render of a video-game would have looked like back in the mid-90s and it would be forgivable for its time. This however looks awful, not just for the horrid rendering but also because Helloween clearly thought they were sexing it up a bit by have a scantily clad lady in the background.
Minimalism can actually work well. Sometimes all you need is the logo for the album and its name. And although photographing the band can sometimes look a bit iffy, its at least an honest approach. Animalize by KISS demonstrates another form of presentation, photographing inanimate objects. KISS being a band that is known for inventive if a smidge self-indulgent cover artwork, Animalize is actually refreshing deviation from the norm. Regardless, it’s still just a bunch of furs photographed at an angle.
This is just a lazy album cover. This kind of crap could have been considered passable for a first album cover by a band, but this was from KISS’s 80s period, when they had already been famous, passé and famous again. This one can’t even be called artsy-fartsy because it’s just so childishly obvious: Animalize, animal furs.
You would think with an album title like Animalize, they could have come up with an album cover that had some energy and life to it. Now, just like the furs in the photograph, the album is stale and lifeless.
There’s clusterfuck and then there’s just not trying at all. Led Zeppelin were notorious for their tippy and unorthodox album covers (exemplified best by Led Zeppelin IV which didn’t even have a title). Led Zeppelin III comes very close to being considered a clusterfuck cover but there’s something quite different about it, if we compare it to the Deep Purple cover before.
Unlike The Book of Taliesyn, Led Zeppelin III actually does have a central visual element, which is the album title. However, much like with the Deep Purple cover, one of this cover’s unappealing qualities is the fact that it’s all on a white background. It makes the whole thing look surprisingly barren, unfinished even.
And what of the random pictures scattered across the cover. Honestly, the cover looks like a teenage girl’s scrap-book or more accurately a little girls sticker book. At least if you consider that almost none of the images are straight or the right-side up. This album cover is just horrible because clearly no-one put any effort into it. It’s a mess, but it’s not even a creative mess. It’s just lazy and hacky.
Manowar’s covers are easy to make fun of if you try. They all pretty much look the same and thus it’s kind of hard to even tell them apart. However, the art-style for most of them is consistent and good, so I’ll instead point to the band’s early work. Their second album, Into Glory Ride, shows what happens when a band wants to show their face and appear serious and threatening but the only problem is that none of them look serious or threatening.
Photographing the band is always risky but I can respect it when there’s some humour in it but also for the fact that it’s an honest approach to making an album cover. However, if you’re going to put costumes on the band-members and have them pose as barbaric warriors, then you should really at least give them something to work with: a dead boar, some fire, maybe a skeleton. Anything that doesn’t make the guys look as awkward as they must feel standing in a studio in a ridiculous geddup.
This cover is just embarrassing to look at. My favourite details include the lifeless background, the lead singers disturbingly prominent body-hair and that guy with the purple glove and the tiniest, most adorable morning star I’ve ever seen. Whoever was responsible for this photo shoot should have been fired on the spot.
There’s all kinds of wrong with Scorpions album covers but they tended to involve scantily clad women. However, Pure Instinct brings together so much god-awfulness it’s hard to list it all. But I shall try regardless. A.) The Templar-esque typeface used for album cover (and every other album cover from the early-to-mid 90s) B.) Under-age nudity, C.) nondescript and oddly off-centre background, D.) Obviously and awkwardly photoshopped animals.
In its awfulness, it’s actually hard to appreciate the concept of the album cover which is placing humans in cages in a zoo while the animals watch. A great idea, but absolutely horrible execution. There were so many ways that this could have been done better, most of them involving hiring a competent artist and either sketches or painting. This looks like the cover of a comedy album where the clashing photoshopping would have actually made everything seem intentionally funny, rather than awkward.
It’s true that art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I just wish that for an idea with this much subtext, Scorpions would have bothered to hire someone half-way competent to do the cover.
So yeah, the worst Heavy Metal album cover in history. Pretty much. I’m stunned. I can’t honestly even form words that would do justice to this abomination. It’s got so much wrong in it, it’s hard to even justify the existence of it without an explanation involving drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Bad photoshopping is one thing, but what’s been done here defies all logic and human decency.
This cover is just plain old crap.
It’s the photograph of a baby with the definition taken out, coloured red and then having nails, fangs, eyes and horns added to it to make it look like the spawn of Satan. Great idea, except I have no idea why anyone thought this would look passable. This looks like a trial run or the failed first attempt at a cover-art piece. But nope, this is it. This is the finished product of someone’s busy Monday.
Born Again isn’t number-1 because I think it’s unquestionably the worst of the covers here, but rather that because in its god awful badness, it’s actually sort of endearing. At least it’s simple and has a simple point of focus. It’s almost adorably bad. That doesn’t make it good and I can’t imagine anyone sane would have ever agreed on it. Sabbath either got their way on a really stupid request or someone got a fat payday for not even trying.
This is so worst it’s actually the best. Does that sentence make sense? No? Well neither does this cover.