Non-Metal Albums With Very Metal Album Artwork
From heavy metal’s outset, album art has been inextricably linked to the music we love. Black Sabbath’s haunted mill is seared onto our minds, likewise the antics of Iron Maiden’s Eddie, Metallica’s graveyard and electric chair, and Slayer’s strange nightmare collages. They’re tucked into our stacks of LPs, folded into our t-shirt drawers and pinned up on bedroom walls.
Every so often, though, a non-metal act dares trespass into metal territory: whether with tongue in cheek, looking to garner some extra underground cred or simply overlapping down to utter randomness. We thought we’d take a look at ten of the most downright deceptive album covers in popular music, have a go at deconstructing how they came about, and run our patented metal detector over the music itself to find out whether they actually share any heavy musical DNA.
10. EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER – BRAIN SALAD SUGERY
The none-darker prog-rock of seventies legends ELP’s fourth studio album has arguably gone on to inform the more outlandish whims of many of the metal fraternity. The album artwork, however – by legendary Swiss artist HR Giger – is pure unadulterated steel. The same man who delivered album art for Celtic Frost, Carcass, Triptykon, Danzig and Atrocity, as well as designing Korn frontman Jonathan Davis’ iconic mic-stand (and the Xenomorphs from Alien), could hardly help himself with his meld of disembodied skull and feminine beauty.
METAL DETECTOR: 6/10
9. DMX – FLESH OF MY FLESH, BLOOD OF MY BLOOD
(Def Jam, 1998)
Drenched head-to-toe in blood, with hands clenched in virtual metal-claw mode and his name displayed in strikingly spiked font, the cover of New York rap legend DMX’s second album is basically pure metal. Operating in the hardcore hip-hop horrorcore subgenre, this was long before X’s mainstream breakout (X Gon’ Give It To Ya, anyone?) and there are moments of genuine unease throughout tracks like the trippy Ain’t No Way, aggro nugget We Don’t Give A Fuck and Marilyn Manson-featuring highlight The Omen. Not many guitars here, obviously, but shedloads of righteous fury.
METAL DETECTOR: 6/10
8. LADY GAGA – BORN THIS WAY
Wearing her love of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on her bejewelled sleeve – and having infamously collaborated with Metallica – Lady Gaga makes no secret of her own metal fandom. That’s presumably why the cover to her (frankly superb) sophomore LP looks like something out of a Rob Halford fever dream. Vaguely reminiscent of Priest’s own Painkiller cover (and definitely evocative of the two-wheeler the Brummie legends feature on-stage every night) the avant-garde depiction of Gaga as an actual motorbike is a work of typically twisted brilliance. Track titles like Judas, Bloody Mary and, er, Heavy Metal Lover further disguise what’s actually a banging dance-pop masterpiece.
METAL DETECTOR: 4/10
7. FEVER RAY – PLUNGE
Seriously, if we didn’t know better, we could genuinely have mistaken this cover for the second LP from Fever Ray (experimental electropop alter ego of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer) as something from the recent blackgaze resurgence. The brainchild of Swedish designer Martin Falck, he’s alluded that he wanted to capture the shamelessness, bravery and unhinged energy of Dreijer’s music. They were values he felt held common-ground with the monsters of classic metal, though the downright odd (albeit quality) Scandi synth work doesn’t really plunge too far into the Northern Darkness.
METAL DETECTOR: 3/10
6. MEAT LOAF - BAT OUT OF HELL
This is a controversial choice in that many would argue the music of Meat Loaf and uber-composer Jim Steinman is an integral part of the early evolution of heavy metal. While acknowledging that Bat Out Of Hell is one of the greatest albums of all time, we would counter that the piano-led blend of blue-collar seventies pop, blues, jazz and glam-rock coursing through tracks like You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad is simply too broad-ranging to be considered truly metal. The album cover – depicting a long-haired man riding a demon-motorbike out of the grave – remains utterly untouchable though.
METAL DETECTOR: 10/10
5. TAYLOR SWIFT - REPUTATION
(Big Machine, 2017)
Perhaps not ‘metal’ in the narrowest sense, the use of tough-looking monochrome imagery and a bastardised version of the Engraver’s Old English font on the cover for Taylor Swift’s sixth studio definitely owes something to the edgy, urban iconography of modern hardcore. That said, tracks like Don’t Blame Me and Look What You Made Me Do could hardly be further from the metal (or punk) genealogy. Even still, we can dream of bumping into Tay Sway doing the Doc Marten Stomp through the pit the next time Madball roll through town.
METAL DETECTOR: 1/10
4. NECRO – THE PRE-FIX FOR DEATH
The similarities to Megadeth’s Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying and Death’s Leprosy on the cover of this third LP from Brooklyn horrorcore king Necro is absolutely not accidental. This is the guy who named a rap record (The Circle Of Tyrants) after a Celtic Frost classic. Featuring a slew of horror-movie samples, recorded cuts of infamous cult leader Charles Manson and contributions from Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, Obituary’s John Tardy, Nuclear Assault’s Dan Liker and Slipknot’s Sid Wilson, this manages honorary metal status without featuring a single guitar riff or drum struck in anger.
METAL DETECTOR: 9/10
3. GRIMES – VISIONS
Looking like something that could’ve been dropped by an underground Asian grindcore outfit, the cover of this third LP from Canadian dream-pop singer/songwriter Grimes could hardly be more misleading. That said, we’re not sure that we could come up with anything to better fit the none-more-out-there likes of Infinite Love Without Fulfilment and Oblivion: compositions that seem to owe equal amounts to proto-punk songstress Debbie Harry, Greek electro icon Vangelis and a Windows XP laptop mid-crash – while still sitting at pop’s absolute cutting-edge. It really is something.
METAL DETECTOR: 3/10
2. THE LOUVIN BROTHERS – SATAN IS REAL
The cover of this gospel outing from Alabama country music legends The Louvin Brothers is utterly incredible. Ostensibly intended as a genuinely pious warning against the encroaching spiritual perils of modernity and hip-swinging rock’n’roll (sample lyric: ‘Tell them that satan is real… you can hear him in songs that give praise to idols and the sinful things of this world…’), it now looks (and sounds) like the brilliant result of a Tenacious D time-travel mission. That said, the gleeful expressions on the white-clad duo’s faces as they join the fallen one in his burning wasteland is enough to make 99 per cent of today’s supposed ‘metallers’ look like fucking posers. FUN FACT: German thrash greats Kreator reference this with their own Satan Is Real on 2017’s Gods of Violence LP. We’re not sure what the Louvins would’ve made of that one…
METAL DETECTOR: 0/10
1. OH SEES – ORC
(Castle Face, 2017)
Wildcard San Franciscan psych-garage outfit Thee Oh Sees (a moniker that’s somehow evolved from 1997’s original name Okinawa Crash Suite) have serious form for attaching metal-as-fuck artwork to non-metal LPs. 2016’s An Odd Entrances (featuring a nasty-looking centipede penetrating someone’s ear canal) and this year’s Smote Reverser (showing a demon destroying a city) could also legitimately contend for a spot on this list, but the brilliantly retrofied cover of Orc has to be our favourite. Featuring one of the eponymous red-eyed beasts peeking out contains both strange, hallucinatory threat and a splash of hilariously drugged-out humour. Sounding like Led Zeppelin on a mega-cataclysmic acid trip, songs like Nite Expo, Animated Violence and Cadaver Dog are pretty banging, too.
METAL DETECTOR: 5/10
Words: Sam Law