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Return of the Awful Heavy Metal Album Covers!

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.

Exodus, "Force of Habit" (1992)

Exodus, "Force of Habit" (1992)

Third time's the charm?

Welcome once again to Awful Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Album Covers! Just when you thought the bottom of the barrel couldn't be scraped any further, your humble narrator has dug even deeper into the mega-vaults to present yet another heap of misguided artistic monstrosities that were foisted upon unsuspecting record buyers in the name of Metal. Here you'll find some bad artwork choices from big name bands, as well as some obscurities that have stayed deservedly obscure.

As always, management assumes no responsibility for potential damage to your eyesight or sanity that may occur while viewing this article. Please make sure the safety belt is firmly tightened across your lap when the car begins to roll, and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times... because some of these album covers really bite, if you know what I mean.

Left: Digger, "Stronger Than Ever;" right: Pantera, "Metal Magic"

Left: Digger, "Stronger Than Ever;" right: Pantera, "Metal Magic"

Digger - "Stronger Than Ever" (1987)

Germany's Grave Digger had already released three speed/thrash metal albums before suddenly making the controversial decision to drop the "Grave" from their name and pursue a more "commercial" hard rock sound. 1987's Stronger Than Ever was the one and only album released under the shortened "Digger" moniker and to signify their brave new musical direction, the band chose to put a robotic duck on the front cover, flexing his metallic muscle. Perhaps they were hoping to land a tie-in with the "Howard the Duck" movie that was current at the time? If so, the effort was a dismal failure; reviews were savage, fans fled in droves and the band split up shortly after Stronger Than Ever's release. When the band decided to give it another go in the early 1990s they wisely chose to revert to the original "Grave Digger" name and sound, and they continue to release albums to this very day. I'd be willing to bet that not many songs from this album make it into their current live set lists.

Pantera - "Metal Magic" (1983)

Here's something a lot of Pantera fans don't know (or don't want to admit that they know): before 1990's breakthrough major label "debut" Cowboys From Hell, Pantera already had four albums under their belt, released on their own home-brewed "Metal Magic" label. The four discs are a far cry from the tough guy shred-o-rama that the Texans took to the bank throughout the 1990s, sporting a sound akin to hair-rockers like '80s KISS, DLR-era Van Halen and Keel. Some of the material on these albums is actually pretty good if you like that sort of thing, and if you can get past some of the album artwork. Trust me - if you've never seen them, the covers for Pantera's first four records are absolutely laughable, but 1983's debut, Metal Magic, is the worst out of a bad batch. This pic of a knife-wielding catlike creature was probably intended to look menacing, but the Day-Glo colors and childish execution looks more like a bad example of 1970s "van art" produced by a stoner who'd been huffing too many of his own spray-paint fumes. Pantera did a pretty decent job of sweeping these four early releases under the rug during their ascent to '90s aggro-metal supremacy, and after looking at this cover I can't say I blame them.

Left: Fates Warning, "Night On Brocken," right: Zion, "Thrillseeker"

Left: Fates Warning, "Night On Brocken," right: Zion, "Thrillseeker"

Fates Warning - "Night on Brocken" (1984)

Progressive Metal titans Fates Warning had humble beginnings, as evidenced by the deceptively bright, pastel-colored cover to their 1984 debut album, which appears to have been ripped from a kids' coloring book entitled "My First Witch Burning." Fates Warning must've really had trouble deciding on artwork for this album, because it's been released with two other covers over the years - one of a witch being burned at the stake, and finally one with a simple, generic photo of a full moon. I guess by the time the version with the "moon" photo appeared, the band simply said, "Screw it, we give up."

Zion - "Thrillseeker" (2009)

Zion's Thrillseeker is a primo example of an album cover that doesn't match the music on the album at all. Zion was a fairly lightweight Christian rock band whose sound falls squarely in the Def Leppard/Bon Jovi pop-metal area, but the band apparently believes that their music is bad-ass enough to be represented by a screaming, Medusa-like woman's face being pierced by huge daggers on the cover of this compilation album. Talk about false advertising!! Although to be honest, even if this cover was on the front of an album by a harsh, screaming metal-core combo or an extreme death metal band, it would still suck. Seriously, it's just... just... yuck.

Left: Secret Sphere "Sweet Blood Theory," right: Steel Attack, "Where Mankind Falls"

Left: Secret Sphere "Sweet Blood Theory," right: Steel Attack, "Where Mankind Falls"

Secret Sphere - "Sweet Blood Theory" (2009)

Secret Sphere is an Italian prog/power metal band who've always walked a fine line between pretentiousness and self parody. Guess which side of the line this 2009 album cover falls on. Was this cover the result of an online "Send Us Your Skankiest Photo" fan contest? Did the photographer show up late for the cover shoot and have to use the only two models who hadn't gone home already? Was the cartoonish background meant to evoke Ralph Bakshi's failed live action/animation film Cool World? (Am I the only person who even remembers Ralph Bakshi's Cool World?) So many questions, and no answers!!

Steel Attack - "Where Mankind Falls" (1999)

A more appropriate title for this album would be "When Album Cover Artists Fail." Power Metal album covers fall into two categories - classy depictions of swords 'n' sorcery/fantasy realms (see: Blind Guardian's Somewhere Far Beyond or Manowar's Louder Than Hell), or comic book style cheez (see: virtually every other power metal album cover). These young Germans obviously didn't have a big enough budget to get a big name fantasy artist like Ken Kelly, Frank Frazetta, or Boris Vallejo, so they made do with one of their cheaper, non-union equivalents. The band photo inside Where Mankind Falls, is even more hilarious than the front cover -- the band members (each with bandanas tied around their heads) show off their tough guy expressions while posing with dollar-store plastic swords, looking like a chapter of the local Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cosplay club!

Left: Dokken, "Long Way Home," right: Britny Fox, "Springhead Motorshark"

Left: Dokken, "Long Way Home," right: Britny Fox, "Springhead Motorshark"

Dokken - "Long Way Home" (2002)

Dokken's had some pretty cool album covers over the years (check out the artwork on 1987's classic Back For The Attack, or their Dream Warriors single) but the cover of 2002's Long Way Home - featuring a tattooed, naked angel in a stocking cap, surrounded by feathers falling from her wings certainly isn't one of them. I'm not sure if the angel's expression is supposed to evoke a Mona Lisa-style smirk of mysterious satisfaction, or distress at the fact that she's shedding feathers all over. I've never seen it but supposedly there is an "alternate" version of this cover out there which features "a special lighting effect" around the angel's body, presumably to placate skittish retailers by obscuring her side-boob.

Britny Fox - "Springhead Motorshark" (2004)

A suit of armor with grinning shark's teeth? What the hell? In case you missed this gem when it first appeared in 2004 (a group that would include just about everybody, I think), Springhead Motorshark was a reunion album by a band that nobody really wanted to see reunite, saddled with a title that nobody understood (what the hell *is* a Springhead Motorshark anyway?), and adorned with a cover that nobody liked. That's three strikes, Britny Fox... yerrrrr out! (And in case you're wondering... yes, the music contained within the CD was almost as bad as the cover art.)

Left: Impellitteri, 'Pedal to the Metal," right: Anthrax, "State of Euphoria"

Left: Impellitteri, 'Pedal to the Metal," right: Anthrax, "State of Euphoria"

Impellitteri - "Pedal to the Metal" (2004)

Led by underground guitar hero Chris Impellitteri, this shred-metal band's eighth album hinted at a more "modern" rock direction that irritated long time fans, and the album cover certainly didn't help matters. Amazingly, the ugly-as-hell digital artwork on the album's cover is credited to the legendary Derek Riggs, who's renowned throughout metaldom for the dozens of classic "Eddie" images he's created for Iron Maiden over the past quarter century. None of that legend is in evidence on Pedal to the Metal, which looks like ol' Derek took the band's money, hacked this thing out on a Mac during his lunch break and then went back to drawing Eddies.

Anthrax - "State of Euphoria" (1988)

Don Brautigam created the cover for Metallica's Master of Puppets, which naturally made him a "go-to" metal album cover artist for a brief period in the late '80s. Unfortunately, aside from M.O.P., most of his work for other bands was bland at best (see: Metal Church's The Dark), and blah at worst. State Of Euphoria was one of several covers Brautigam did for Anthrax (his work can also be found on their Among the Living and Persistence of Time LPs) and it's without a doubt the most ho-hum. To this day I wonder if the angry headbanger face (which certainly doesn't look "Euphoric" to me) spiraling down into a yellow unknown was intended to resemble Anthrax's then-vocalist Joey Belladonna, or if it was just coincidence.

Left: Krokus, "Pay It In Metal," right: Exciter, "Unveiling the Wicked"

Left: Krokus, "Pay It In Metal," right: Exciter, "Unveiling the Wicked"

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Krokus - "Pay It In Metal" (1978)

Swiss hard rockers Krokus have never been known for their innovative album covers, but this one in particular has always been a head scratcher. The album title is Pay It In Metal, and for some reason it's represented by a banana being peeled away to reveal that the "fruit" inside is actually a stack of coins. Uh...yeah, OK. That makes sense. Interestingly enough, our friends at Wikipedia inform me that this album has been released with a grand total of five (!) different covers (and at least one alternate title, Painkiller) over the years. I'm willing to bet none of the other four covers are any better than this one.

Exciter - "Unveiling the Wicked" (1986)

On the cover of the fourth album by these Canadian speed metalists, a woman peels off half of her face to reveal the "real" lizard-like being beneath. Mind you, this image followed their Violence and Force debut, in which a woman's bloodied hands were shown fighting off an attacker trying to break into her apartment, and Long Live the Loud, in which a naked chick knelt at the feet of a sword wielding Conan the Barbarian type dude. Hmmmm, got some issues with the ladies there, huh Exciter?? As for the comically awesome Unveiling the Wicked, the only thing I can guess is that someone in the band's camp must've been a fan of the then-current sci-fi TV series "V." I'm surprised that Warner Bros. television didn't hit the band with a lawsuit when this one hit record stores.

Had Enough? Me Too!

I think I've scarred your tender eyeballs with enough album cover disasters for this time out, so that ends this round, but remember, headbangers - though you may be safe for now, I may return at any time with another installment of Awful Heavy Metal Album Covers. BEWARE!!

© 2012 Keith Abt


Michelle Dee from Charlotte, NC on May 18, 2015:

It was the alcohol and dope smoking that did it! I love reading your hubs on these hidious album covers. The very first one may have been drawn by someone on LSD.

Fox Music on May 17, 2015:

FatFreddysCat you have done it again another round of bad album covers - some true Hall of Shame winners -- What were they thinking ??

Craig Hartranft from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 27, 2012:

There's a lot to be said for silly album art, or not said. The Digger album is not as bad as the music within and the direction they thought they were taking. Yuck! As for the Secret Sphere: they must have been drunk off their asses to choose that or to allow the label to do so. Awful.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 25, 2012:

Thanx Keith... glad you enjoyed!!

Keith Ham from Niagara Falls, Ontario on September 25, 2012:

Hey, I love metal! I actually like the Exodus one. Some people love the chaotic insanity style... Sadly, most of these are just a product of the times and the money available to the artist. I love these though, keep it up!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 25, 2012:

Killen could be a whole other article all by themselves, Brian...!

Brian Marshall on September 25, 2012:

One word. Killen.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 25, 2012:

Thanx for your comments, all - glad you're diggin' this series. Believe me weestro, there is enough material out there for dozens more!!

Pete Fanning from Virginia on September 25, 2012:

Wow, I thought the awful covers were reserved for the seventies and eighties, but they still seem to be around! Love this series!

FreedomMetal from Somewhere In Time on September 25, 2012:

Awesome!!! I remember when that Exciter album came out - we all made the same V jokes back then!

Pete Fry on September 25, 2012:

I'm pretty sure I saw the armor on the BF release for sale at one of those pseudo-antique shops around South Street in Philly several years back if I'm not mistaken.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 24, 2012:

Thanx Georgie. I'll take your suggestion under advisement, but I'm not sure I want to look at Phil Anselmo in spandex either...

Georgie Lowery from North Florida on September 24, 2012:

I kinda dig the Zion one. I know, I'm weird.

You should totally do an expose on hardcore badasses who used to be glam and post photos of Phil Anselmo in spandex, only I can't look at them.

Waiting for the next installment! :)

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 24, 2012:

Oooh, the Rods... there's another candidate for the next gallery, for sure (writing that one down...) Thanx Shawn!

Shawn Dudley from Los Angeles, California on September 24, 2012:

Nice one. The Krokus cover looks like it was done by the same "artist" that did "Let Them Eat Metal" by The Rods.

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