I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Greetings, and welcome once again to "Veterinarian's Hospital," the continuing story of a quack who's gone to the dogs... oh, wait, sorry, wrong column. Seriously, greetings and welcome to the second installment of Awful Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Album Covers. Once again, we'll be taking a tour through some of the ugliest, the goofiest, and the just plain worst examples of heavy metal album art ever unleashed upon the world's unsuspecting record buyers. You'll see some well known pieces by the genre's heavy hitters, as well as some minor league obscurities that have stayed deservedly obscure. Some of these picks were suggested by readers of our last installment so if you see yours on this list, consider yourself officially patted on the back and given the title of Friend of the Column. I'm sure you're all dyin' to see what horrors await us in our Gallery of Metal Badness so in the words of "This is Spinal Tap" director Marty DiBergi, "Enough of my yackin', let's boogie!"
Iron Maiden - "Dance of Death" (2003)
Iron Maiden's Dance of Death, released in 2003, is a decent album that is unfortunately saddled with a monstrosity of a cover. Maiden apparently had a falling out with artist Derek Riggs, who'd been producing "Eddie" artwork for them for the bulk of their career, and thus they were forced to give other artists a whack at portraying the metal icon. For Dance of Death they tapped British fantasy artist Dave Patchett, who was best known in metal circles for some of the truly bizarro covers he'd produced for cult UK doom metal overlords Cathedral. With Patchett on board and a title like "Dance of Death," you'd expect the accompanying artwork to be dark, surreal and creepy. Unfortunately, this computer-generated vision of Eddie as a Grim Reaper, surrounded by half-naked "dancers" in Mardi Gras style party masks, looks more like a scene from Leather Fetish Night at the local roller rink. Apparently the band approved this image before it was fully completed (there are numerous glaring errors in perspective and anatomy amongst the characters, if you look closely), which angered Patchett to the point that he declined to be credited for the artwork in the album's liner notes. Considering the reaction from the Maiden faithful to this cover (i.e. "It sucks!"), this was probably a smart move on his part.
Barren Cross - "Rattle Your Cage" (1994)
When the Christian metal soldiers of Barren Cross returned with a new album in 1994 after a five year layoff, God-fearing headbangers rejoiced worldwide. The album itself isn't bad at all but the cover - a stylized green "BC" logo that resembles a pair of islands, set against a spacey, tropical computer generated background - looks like it was done in an hour on a demo version of Microsoft Paint. This image would've been more suitable as a logo for a smooth-jazz radio station, not a hard 'n' heavy rock band. Looking at it now, I can almost hear a laid-back disc jockey voice intoning "Heyyyy, baby, you're listening to BC101, your source for the smooooo-thest sounds in the San Fernando Valley. Groovy, man. Now here's the latest platter by Kenny G..."
Megadeth- "Cryptic Writings" (1997)
1997's Cryptic Writings was one of Megadeth's most laid-back, radio friendly efforts and it actually managed to hit #10 on the Billboard charts, despite the most boring album artwork of their long and storied career. At least the band had a good reason for half-assing this one -- the album's original title was supposed to be Needles and Pins, and a photo was shot for the cover featuring a model holding a pin covered voodoo doll. Megadeth mainman Dave Mustaine was unsatisfied with that image (he described it in an interview as looking like "Bjork holding a f**kin' piece of chicken!"), necessitating a last minute title and artwork change. I still wonder how bad the "Bjork" photo could've possibly been, considering that this replacement looks like it was drawn in Crayola by a fourth grader during recess.
Exodus - "Impact Is Imminent" (1990)
I'll be honest, in my book, Bay Area Thrash legends Exodus never really had any great album covers (though the "Demon Baby Siamese Twins" cover of their Bonded By Blood debut has its juvenile charms), but 1990's Impact Is Imminent is definitely the worst of a bad batch. After three successful underground releases on independent labels, Impact was the band's big-deal major label debut on Capitol Records, and apparently one of the marketing geniuses at their new home decided that it would be cool to portray the band racing down the freeway in a convertible, pursued by a giant pinball. Um... yeah, great idea fellas! From the cover, you'd think that Exodus were a goofy, humorous lite-thrash band, rather than the frenzied, mosh-pit inducing killing machine that they truly were. This cover was further proof that no one at the major labels understood thrash metal.
Riot - "Narita" (1979)
Riot was a New York based band that were expected to be the Next Big Thing out of the Big Apple. Though they amassed a frenzied cult following (particularly in Europe and Japan) on the backs of seminal early '80s LPs like Fire Down Under, Restless Breed, and Born In America, they never broke through in a major way. Many of their early LPs sported a seal-like mascot creature on the covers who was apparently known as either "Tior" or "Johnny the Seal," depending on which source you consult. On the 1979 album Narita, Tior/Johnny's head appears on a sumo wrestler's body, wielding an axe amidst a field of cartoony looking skulls. If this picture wasn't already strange enough, an airplane is coming in for a kamikaze attack behind Johnny/Tior while Mount Fuji watches placidly from the background. In one fell swoop, Riot managed to make an album cover that is weird, disturbing, and potentially insulting to their loyal Japanese audience. Nice work, guys!!
Squealer - "The Prophecy" (1999)
The German speed metallers in Squealer have a recording history that dates back to the late 1980s but to the best of my knowledge, this is their only album that was released in the U.S. Looking at the cover, it's not hard to see why this one didn't fly off of store shelves. Everything about this cover - from the band's logo to the poorly drawn artwork - a melted candle with a face, whose wisps of smoke reveal a skull and a woman who appears to be saying "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope!" - absolutely screams "pure cheddar." The Prophecy is apparently a concept album of some kind, but don't ask me to try to explain its storyline because there are no lyrics on the inner sleeve of the CD, just this mysterious almost-English quotation: "...some people lose their faith because Heaven revealed them too little... but how many people lose their faith because Heaven revealed them too much?" Uh... yeah, OK! Thanks, Squealer, that really clears things up.
Manowar - "Anthology"(1997)
If you're a metal fan, you've gotta love Manowar and their stalwart dedication to playin' nothing but the loudest, most anthemic, sword swingin'est, over the top fantasy-inspired Power Metal out there. Depending on which headbanger you talk to, Manowar is either one of the greatest bands ever to exist, or a prime example of why Heavy Metal has such a bad rap amongst mainstream audiences. I'll be honest, just about any of Manowar's album covers could've easily made it into my Hall of Shame, but this best-of collection from 1997 is perhaps the worst of them all. Nothin' screams "METAL!" like a shot of muscular oil-covered dudes wearing furry loin cloths and other "Conan the Barbarian"-esque acoutrements. If the Village People had cut a metal album, its cover would probably have looked like this. Mind you, I actually like and own many of Manowar's albums, but I refuse to allow this one into my house simply because the cover looks like the front of a gay porn video. Perhaps a more appropriate title would've been "ManOporN?"
Grim Reaper - "Fear No Evil" (1985)
The British metallers in Grim Reaper were compatriots of Iron Maiden during their struggling UK club days, but while Maiden quickly rose to well deserved superstardom, Grim Reaper didn't snag a record deal till long after the New Wave of British Heavy Metal ship had sailed. Today they're best remembered for the verbal thrashing that their "See You In Hell" video received from "Beavis and Butt-Head." Fear No Evil was their second album and the awesomely bad cover depicting the Grim Reaper crashin' a Harley through a church's stained glass window was not only already dated as hell by 1985, it also appears to have been crafted in colored pencils and pastels. If you've never heard this record, suffice to say that it contains songs called "Rock and Roll Tonight," "Lay It On The Line" and "Lord of Darkness." Oh yeah, originality abounds here.
"Wet Animal" (2005)
Wet Animal was an obscure side project featuring bassist Ron Holzner and guitarist Rick Wartell of the much-beloved doom metal band Trouble, who were broken up at the time that this album was released. Wet Animal's album is actually pretty good; perhaps they wouldn't have remained so "obscure" if their album cover hadn't featured a model that looks like a pre-Jenny Craig Kirstie Alley, walking barefoot in wet sand against a sick looking purple background. Somehow I doubt that this dreary image attracted many potential record store customers.
Raven - "MAD" (1986)
Raven tends to make a lot of "Worst Album Cover" lists like these thanks to 1986's The Pack Is Back, an ill fated experiment in jock-themed pop metal in which the band were depicted crashing their way out of a locker room wearing football pads and other sports equipment. That cover is indeed terrible (so's the album!) but this EP, released mere months after The Pack Is Back crashed and burned in what I assume was intended to showcase the band's return to speed metal form, is no great shakes either. OK, so they've just released an album that alienated their entire fan base; what does Raven do for an encore? Slap a huge close-up picture of guitarist Mark Gallagher's grinning, sweaty mug on the follow up. Oy. Don't get me wrong, Mark is a great guitarist but he's no Jon Bon Jovi in the looks department, so this EP didn't exactly scream "BUY ME!"
"My Eyes! My Eyes!"
Had enough yet? It's time to bring this installment of "Awful Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album Covers" to a merciful end, but fear not, headbangers, I am still stockpiling candidates for future entries in this series, so if you haven't seen your favorite travesty in this column yet, keep on reading, because it may appear in Volume 3, coming soon to a web browser near you!!
Thanks to everyone who suggested bad album covers for this article, and feel free to keep the nominations coming in the Comments section below. Till next time, in the immortal words of former MTV doofus Riki Rachtman, "Keep one foot in the gutter and one fist in the gold," and may all your animals be wet, your writings be cryptic, your cages be rattled, and your heavy metal album covers be BAD!!
© 2012 Keith Abt
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 27, 2013:
Hi Joe - that's some good information there!! (I still say it looks like a seal, though...)
Joe Cogan on August 27, 2013:
I used to be in a band with a former member of Riot, who said their mascot was actually a ferret.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 10, 2012:
Ahhh, is that it? I was never sure if that last word was "goal" or "gold," and couldn't find a reference that would tell me for sure either way. Thanks for the correction.
Witchfinder on September 10, 2012:
Freddy, Riki Rachtman signed off with, "Keep one foot in the gutter and one fist in the GOLD," which makes a bit more sense.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 28, 2012:
Haha, it does remind me of the "Blue Oyster" from the Police Academy movies now that you mention it... :)
cryptid from USA on August 28, 2012:
How come when I look at that Manowar cover I get this feeling like I just walked into the wrong bar?
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 28, 2012:
Thanx for your comments, Brian and FreedomMetal... and thanx for the additional info, F.M. You are truly the authority when it comes to useless Iron Maiden trivia! :)
FreedomMetal from Somewhere In Time on August 28, 2012:
Awesome!!! Can't wait for Part III!!!!!!!! BTW - the mardi gras people were added to the Maiden cover after the artist submitted his work. Someone in the Maiden camp decided the art work needed "more" - the original was just the Grim Eddie. Fortunately, the band just used Grim Eddie for the live concert backdrop and left off the rest of the weird, computer generate folk.
Brian Marshall on August 28, 2012:
I like the Impact Is Imminent cover personally. It's probably the band's best. You can do an entire rant on Exodus covers alone.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 27, 2012:
You may be right about the airplane now that I look more closely at it, Shawn... but either way, it's still ugly as hell!
Thanks for stoppin' by as always.
Shawn Dudley from Los Angeles, California on August 27, 2012:
re: The Riot Cover. I don't think that is supposed to be a fighter jet, I think it's intended to be a commercial airliner. "Narita" was the primary international airport in Japan in 1979 when the album was released.
It's still a stupid cover.
Nice thread, thanks for including those wankers "Manowar" finally.