One of the things I love the most about the new generation of iPods is the way they allow you to browse your music collection by album cover. At the risk of sounding like a luddite, I had been worried that album cover art would continue in its slow decline as it moved from vinyl to compact disc to digital format. Fortunately, album art seems to be making a comeback. With that in mind, I’d like to pay tribute to some of the scariest album covers of all time. Last Halloween I offered my list of albums that are guaranteed to make your holiday a little more frightening. This year, I offer my list of album covers that are likely to make the other albums in your iPod albums skip a beat, or even refuse to play out of sheer fright and bewilderment. While I think all of the following album covers are really creepy, feel free to leave a comment if there’s an album cover not on this list that you think is particularly nasty or scary.
For most of the 80s and early 90s, preachers, pundits, and politicians warned that heavy metal music would corrupt the souls of young America, and would likely bring about a devastating apocalypse of fire, brimstone, and divine retribution. I can almost understand that argument whenever I see this album cover. But it’s actually a pleasing and calm aesthetic experience compared to onslaught of raw screaming and relentless speed guitar that is the music of Cannibal Corpse.
I bought my first Iron Maiden album for the cover art alone. Created by the British artist Derek Riggs for their first album, “Eddie” soon became the official mascot for the band, and was used in nearly every subsequent album cover. Supposedly, Eddie was originally intended to symbolize the rebellious attitude of the 80s punk and metal movement. Riggs’ artwork becomes much more polished over time, but I really like the raw simplicity of this first version of Eddie. While not nearly as gory as the zombie in the previous Cannibal Corpse album, Eddie’s still a formidable ghoul reminiscent of the best b-films and pulp horror magazines.
I had a poster of this on my wall as a kid, as did most adolescent males in the late 70s. It’s the famous 1973 fantasy painting “Death Dealer” by Frank Frazetta. The painting inspired an entire industry of spin-offs, including D&D adventures, comic books, and novels. But it’ll always be the bad-ass album cover for the bad-ass southern rock group Molly Hatchet to me.
I didn’t discover Sonic Youth until their heyday in the 1990s with the albums Goo and Dirty. Their music was certainly experimental and challenging, but nothing as menacing as this particular album cover from their earlier work would suggest. Something about it reminds me of The Wicker Man (I mean the good one with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, not the remake with Nicholas Cage). Or maybe it’s the odd combination of pagan scarecrow, jack o’ lantern, and modern industrialization that makes this cover so scary.
I’ve never listened to anything by Patrick Wolf. And I don’t think I ever will, because, honestly, this album cover scares me in ways I didn’t think possible.
Warning: Do not try to make sense of this album cover; do not try to make sense of the name of this album; do not try to make sense of the name of this band. Actually, I own this album, and I listen to its best song, “Human Cannonball,” at least once every month or so. The clowns on the album cover are scary, and I’m very suspicious of what they’re doing with that dog, but it’s a decent album, even though I know I’ll never fully understand these freaked-out, psychedelic pranksters from San Antonio.
Having an album cover this shocking and grotesque is really just a drop in the bucket for a band that’s been accused of aggressive racism, sexism, sadism, terrorism, and even the glorification of cannibalism. Their theatrics make Marilyn Manson look like Pat Boone. I’m not really a Ramstein fan, but I have to admire their commitment to that level of pure spectacle.
As with most of ELP’s albums, Brain Salad Surgery is epic, theatrical, and sometimes hard to fathom. The song “Jerusalem” is based on the work of William Blake, one of the original poets of the apocalypse, and “Toccata” was used as the theme song for the Creature Double Feature, a syndicated horror show from the 70s and 80s. H.R. Giger’s album art surrealism is perfect for their progressive, experimental sound. It’s also a perfect example of what has made Giger so famous: the inscrutable mingling of human flesh, machinery, and spirit.
Before Ozzie was the star of his own reality show, he made one of the most intentionally diabolical albums ever produced. Released on Friday the 13th, it features the song “Black Sabbath” on the album Black Sabbath by the band Black Sabbath. The eponymous song is, of course, about the devil, but other songs draw their inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft, Lord of the Rings, and other infernal sources. The album cover is a classic work of horror art with its gothic farmhouse, grainy texture, and mysterious figure in black. The band has always denied claims that they practiced in the occult, as such claims have always been specious and silly, but I think this album cover alone gives Ozzie the right to be called the Prince of Darkness.
With lyrics such as “It’s time to send off your mind on a trip into the land of dreams and mist” and a voice that wavers between low growl and high falsetto, King Diamond is emblematic of the kind of heavy metal pomp and bathos that Spinal Tap and Tenacious D have parodied so well. Still, I have to hand it to them for having one of the scariest album covers I’ve ever seen. The kid in this picture reminds me of the ghosts in The Shining. And I’m really freaked out by the combination of all that blood, the evil look on her face, and the cute, girlish way she’s holding out her hands.