Before the days of streaming, rock and metal fans would flip through the racks at their local vinyl dealers and often buy an album based on its cover art. How many musicians have enthusiastically revealed that they got into Iron Maiden primarily based on Derek Riggs' paintings of Eddie?
But sometimes, bands get it wrong. This examination of the worst rock and metal album covers is not a comment on the music contained within, but more of a dry heave, a wince or a toe-curling cringe at some creative misfires which were designed, printed and placed in shops before anyone stopped for a moment to realise how awful the art was.
Brace yourselves for what could be considered a crime in the art world.
Wehrmacht – Shark Attack
Despite their highly problematic name, this Oregon crossover thrash band are all about the beer. Maybe a crate was imbibed when they came up with the brief for this absolute car crash of an album cover. There are many questions to be raised here: are they in a sewer? Are the sharks willing participants? Who signed it off?
Black Sabbath – Born Again
When drummer Bill Ward saw the artwork for Black Sabbath's 11th studio album, he "hated it". Ian Gillan, the vocalist at the time, was physically sick. It's not great, is it?
Predator – Easy Prey
Looking past the many red flags on display, we're not sure if the boot cut jeans are the most offensive things on this sleeve. Maybe the masked man is simply looking for someone to mend his shredded shirt.
Destruction – Release From Agony
Is this a nightmare or a misinterpreted artistic brief? It's a hellish vision, sure, but one that says what exactly is fucking going on with this poor bastard's medical care? We didn't clap on our doorsteps every Thursday for this.
Snatch - If There's A Party In Your Mouth....We're Comin'
There is no party in our mouth, lads. Take your bag of cans and go home, straight to bed. We've all had a long day.
Abril - Testamento
One minute, you're pretending to be 1987-era Red Hot Chili Peppers and playing your Strat in the nude and a winged demon swoops in and starts taking the piss. Give the lad a break. We've all done it. Right?
Druid – Vampire Cult
Word on the street is that those two petrifying goths in your science class have been hanging around the local graveyard again. That heady smell of incense and hairspray really wrestles the nostrils of those in this world and the next, but come the morning, all that will remain are empty cider cans and a velvet blazer.
Kratos – Iron Beast
This defunct Ohio power metal trio truly captured a vision of the future where law and order were a distant memory; a swole beast in a silver helmet and matching singlet roams the highways with one purpose – to fuck shit up. Job done.
Artillery – Terror Squad
There's a lot going on here on the artwork adorning the second album by Danish thrashers Artillery. The piece looks like a hardcore album imagined by a child, with a wobbly use of perspective. There's cops, a man brandishing a gun and a surgeon enthusiastically injecting a rat in the arse. Are they goading the rodent to attack or apprehending it? Is it a metaphor for a police state? Is it a comment on vivisection? That's the thing about art; it makes you question like, life.
Manowar – Hail to England
This must be how every Britain First supporter sees themselves when they leave the house to shout at visitors to this island or buy a carbonara for one from the corner shop.
Whiplash - Insult to Injury
This guy is not having the best of times, all told. The coroner's inquest notes will surely point towards the amateurish bandaging on the patient's leg being a primary cause of death on the railway line. While health workers are angels who walk among us, long hours and pressure often mean mistakes will be made.
Area Disaster – Walhalla
Did you look at the UFO first? Thought not. Now there's a Nordic warrior who's put some serious time in at the gym. Imagine having the body confidence to stride out of your front door with your Viking junk fluttering in the breeze like Odin's wind sock. It's an enduring image, we'll give them that.
Marauder – Sense of Metal
Greek metallers Marauder saw fit to have Godzilla-Steve Vai hybrid stomping around a metropolis on the cover of this 1997 release. Despite this guitar hero's overwhelming size, there's a sense of melancholy captured in his face as he is burdened by his own power. Fun fact: there's a song called Faster Than Thunder, which would be just over 1088 feet per second. Pretty fast.
Fireaxe – Victory or Death
Death, please. Didn't give it more than a moment's thought.
Overdrive – Swords and Axes
"Yeah, hi. Can you airbrush a Viking who looks like they're part balloon animal and have them chopping the world in half? Yeah, in space. You know what the human body looks like? A week turnaround alright? Great."
Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Trilogy
Let's be honest, this dragon is absolutely wrecking the action on the Stockholm-born maestro's guitar. Time to dust off the spare, probably.
Aeternus – Shadows of Old
The artwork which adorns this 1999 black metal release is exactly like the leaflets which would fall out of any rock or metal magazine at the time. So, if you want a black vest or some fancy metal finery, give Aeternus a shout. Some stock may be fire-damaged.
Slayer – Show No Mercy
This is what happens when rural metal fans think it'll be a laugh to dress their goat in a cape, black swimming trunks and give them a sword. One minute, it's adorable, the next, your livestock is going fucking mental.
Pantera – Projects in the Jungle
We've all seen the Metal Magic album sleeve but this is scientifically worse. Had this been created on an AI app, the prompt would be: Mötley Crüe play a concert on a pair of oversized demon hands. The venue? Any Center Parcs resort.
Manilla Road – Spiral Castle
It's like metal bands are obsessed with getting a muscular male torso completely wrong or something. Lads, if you're going to insist on painting this sort of thing, pop your t-shirt off, have a flex and simply paint what you see. It can't be that hard.
Ace Lane – See You in Heaven
If you want a NWOBHM album sleeve with an impossibly shredded torso, pink budgie smugglers and a glowing skull, today is your lucky day. If you don't, then we can't help you. The album was released with a different, but equally bad sleeve. Two bites of a rotten apple.
Darkthrone – Diabolus Interium
If there was a look that said, 'Don't look at my nipples, I've just had a shower', then this is it. We'd be more concerned with the rodent-like tail buried in that gaping stomach hole, really. Best get it looked at.
Metalucifer – Heavy Metal Chainsaw
In this fast-paced world, there's no room for ambiguity. You can't fault Metalucifer for describing exactly what's happening on the sleeve of this otherwise forgettable release. Note to would-be DIY enthusiasts: don't operate a chainsaw while being engulfed in flames.
Venom – Cast In Stone
"How, pet. Wor Conrad's got a new album oot. Looks like his mates have been to South Shields beach and got buried in the sand by some bairns. Nee wonder he looks like he's aboot to gan radgie."
Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
The sheer torment of being sustaining a head injury then losing your keys in a field is perfectly captured on this album sleeve by US black metallers Havohej.
Raven – The Pack is Back
The pack is also going to earn a lifetime ban from the local leisure centre at this rate.
Megadeth – Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good
When setting out his stall as the leader of 'The World's State Of The Art Speed Metal Band', Dave Mustaine might have chosen something more sinister than a skull decorated in shades and a handful of curtain hooks. No wonder the sleeve was updated for the 2002 reissue.
Kick Axe – Vices
This looks like something from a Camden stall that sells ornaments using old parts from a car engine. Either that, or a CBBC cartoon about a woodwork class.
Nuclear Assault – Something Wicked
Nuclear Assault's run of classic thrash albums in the 80s had some iconic covers, all depicting some form of apocalyptic scene involving hazmat suits, toxic spills and general nuclear shithousery. This looks like something a Juggalo might leave behind at a campsite.
W.A.S.P. – Inside the Electric Circus
Roll up, roll up! Come see the middle-aged man in a tiger onesie! It's hard to tell if those are his legs if you stare at the sleeve long enough.
Dangerous Toys – The R*tist 4*merly Known as Dangerous Toys
It's clearly a parody of Prince's Lovesexy album cover, but this is a crime against design. White figure against a white background? You're going to art jail, mate.
Scorpions – Fly to the Rainbow
Despite their success, Scorpions have played fast and loose with what constitutes a decent album cover. That milk carton helmet would provide no protection when you're flying around with bin lids for feet. But that's Scorpions for you. Visionaries when it comes to unorthodox footwear.
Pantera – I Am The Night
We've been up late and that is definitely not 'the night', no matter how many Black Tooth Grins were imbibed during the ideas meeting for this... whatever this is.
Riot – Restless Breed
Over the course of their first few albums, Riot had a dandelion-headed mascot named Tior appear on their album artwork. This appears to be some sort of origin story where we see Tior's transformation from student to seal against the backdrop of New York City's iconic skyline. Tior! It's an anagram of Riot. Just got it.
Rok Bergade – The Attack Is On
Great, a child's drawing of a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger has come to life and it's running amok through... Sheffield? You know, just off London Road.
Misantropical Painforest – Winds Saturate with Inhumane Longing
Oh, mate. Do you want to talk? I know, she's not coming back. She's moved on. I think she might have found you a bit too much. Plenty more fish in the sea. What, the fish are dead and floating in the eternal void? Maybe you should get some sleep.
Mortal Sin – Mayhemic Destruction
Idea for Hollywood blockbuster: a shredded demon does lunges over Sydney, which erupts into chaos. Russell Crowe to star as a world-weary demon negotiator.
Rod Sacred – Rod Sacred
Do any of our readers remember the computer game Horace Goes Skiing for the Spectrum? This is him now. Feel old yet?
Type O Negative - The Origin of the Feces
If we have to see a close up of Pete Steel's anus, then you must too. Imagine carrying this record home on the bus. Absolute scenes.
Kane Roberts – Kane Roberts
The only muscular male to feature in this list with a well-proportioned torso, Alice Cooper's former guitarist is seen here navigating a city in chaos, armed with a flame-throwing, machine gun-shaped guitar. This lad is getting home in time for his dinner, no question about that.
Anvil – Strength of Steel
Over Anvil's long and arduous career, their name has given the Canadian metallers license to play around with visual puns based on their name. Of all the releases featuring an iron block – a sort of Eddie, for blacksmiths – this one just might just be the cheesiest. Which is saying something. But if you like polystyrene sprayed black and waved around by a total lad, you'd be compelled to purchase this record.
Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes – Call of the Wild
Is this a kite floating gently over a gentle suburban street in Michigan? This tiger is barely snarling and instead doing one of those awkward smiles you'd see in any school portrait portfolio.
Torch – Torch
You should have worn a coat but were reluctant to pay the cloakroom fee in each club on your night out. But this is Middlesbrough in the dead of winter and you're not having a great time waiting in the queue for the taxi.
ZnoWhite – Act of God
Aping the iconic Motörhead logo doesn't stop this from looking like a poorly photographed grandma threatening the viewer with a pool ball on a deserted beach. It doesn't so much say a moment of divine intervention, rather a pub game which has gone awry.
Acid Reign – The Fear
First things first. This is a great thrash album. But this charcoal rendering is the sort of artwork which you might see in a school art class, closely followed by a quiet word at the school gate. Who'd have thought angry bin bags were such a threat to our elderly angels?
Rogue Male – First Visit
We're not sure what's the most unsettling. The auburn Dog the Bounty Hunter hairstyle or the fact that this space-age lothario's face has peeled off to reveal a android skull. It's the hair, isn't it?
Dementia – Recuperate From Reality
When it came to obsessing over nuclear disasters, no genre came close to thrash. And here we see some poor wretch being absolutely pulverised by gigantic ladles of toxic waste. If you squint, those cooling towers look like the ones when you get the train to Donington.
Freedom Call – Master of Light
Two words: shredded Jesus.
Hydra Vein – Rather Death Than False of Faith
For their 1988 debut, UK thrashers Hydra Vein conjured up every metal fan's worst nightmare for their cover art to Rather Death Than False of Faith: a Gamorrean guard from Star Wars crossed with a Medusa-like head causing merry hell while a city burns in the background. The velvet cloak: model's own.
Whiplash – Power and Pain
The second appearance on this list by Whiplash, but it's worth a mention. The brief? A robot from the future visits the UK to punish Ross Kemp. No specific reason.