Metal Meltdowns – Very Heavy, Very Horrible Album Covers

A collection of heavy metal LPs where the artwork failed to live up to the ambition of the band.

In the world of the terrible LP cover, no genre quite hits the depths of atrocious artwork, wildly tasteless concepts and blissfully clueless band portraits as heavy metal. The sheer awfulness of awful metal covers eclipses just about everything else with ease.

Ironically, the reason for this is because metal bands have more ambition than pretty much anyone else. Inspired by the legendary, classic illustrated covers that have graced many of the most beloved albums in the genre, they feel the need to do the same, creating artwork that matches the dramatic nature of the music. Unfortunately, many of them – especially those on small labels or self-releasing albums – just don’t have the talent available to match their ambition, and instead, seem to end up relying on their mate who fancies himself an artist or – more recently – a Photoshop wiz. The result often feels like the work of an excitable child rather than a professional artist.

We should also never underestimate the collision of giant egos and a staggering lack of aesthetic taste that afflicts performers of all types, allowing for some truly atrocious covers featuring band members trying to look hard, cool or sexy. That many of them appear to be the exact opposite – because the chances of every member of your band cutting the mustard visually is pretty slim, let’s face it – is the sort of thing that someone, somewhere should’ve gently pointed out. But these covers seem to either be vanity projects that had no quality control taking place or else somehow slipped past management, art directors and label bosses – never underestimate the debilitating effects of excessive cocaine consumption and a collective lack of taste in the music industry.

Obviously, metal bands are not the only offenders in the eye-popping album cover universe – Christian LPs, as we’ve seen already, are more often than not an explosion of cluelessness, and every genre has its appalling cliches that don’t age well – though with pop, indie and alternative acts, it’s often the fashions, the haircuts and the self-importance, quietly hilarious even at the time, that stand out as eyesores and embarrassments (and we’ll come back to embarrassing band press shots another time). Most other genres produce terrible covers that are simply dull – and that’s not remotely interesting. Whatever else we might say about the artwork below, bland it isn’t.

It goes without saying that the examples below are being judged entirely on the sleeve art and not the music, which may or may not transcend expectations. And we’re leaving out the sleeves featuring outrageously lecherous and leering images of semi-naked rock chicks – that, too, is a whole ‘nother article, frankly.

We’ve actually been pretty selective in putting this collection together – this is, most likely, the tip of the iceberg. Of course, as ever we welcome additional submissions.

Update: thanks to Sir Darklust and Peter Antonioni for additional suggestions.

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  1. The Torment cover has it all. Mentally overwhelming logo. Heavy metal moustache. Skin tight black leather vest squeezing out a rock paunch like a bicycle inner-tube. Unsuspecting bovine. Perfection.
    I always thought Slayer’s ‘Show No Mercy’ cover was pretty awful, but compared with this lot….
    Why no Manowar?

    1. Manowar are just too easy and I suspect that their ludicrousness was, at least in some odd way, intentional. And to be fair, they at least looked the part, unlike some of the swaggering buffoons who think that they look tough/sexy but just look comical.

  2. Excuse me, but, that Satyricon cover?! Art by world renowned artist Edvard Munch? Nothing cheesy or bad about it either way.

    There are some others that I object to, actually, but that’s by much more subjective criteria.

    1. As we said, the problem with mainstream bands is that they don’t try as hard to begin with so can’t fail quite as spectacularly. But yes, there are eye-popping examples out there. Don’t for a minute think that we’ve finished with bizarre album covers…

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