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Revenge of the Awful Rock & 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.

"Hot Metal Summer III" compilation album, 1990: Cold as Ice?

"Hot Metal Summer III" compilation album, 1990: Cold as Ice?

They're Baaaaaaa-aaaaaack!!

Greetings and welcome to the latest installment of Awful Heavy Metal Album Covers. Once again our research team of diehard headbangers has scoured their record collections, leafed through stacks of moldy old metal magazines and mail-order catalogs, and surfed countless Internet sites to come up with yet another gallery of the worst artistic eyesores ever foisted upon headbangers in the name of Metal. As usual, we've tried to compile our assortment with a healthy balance of big name Metal Gods and underground obscurities, so that everyone gets picked on equally. Be warned, the management assumes no responsibility for potential retinal damage or digestive difficulties caused by the viewing of any of the following images. This series of Hubs is intended to serve as a lesson to heavy metal bands everywhere: don't let an Awful Album Cover happen to YOU!

Left: Overkill, "I Hear Black," right: Helloween, "Rabbit Don't Come Easy"

Left: Overkill, "I Hear Black," right: Helloween, "Rabbit Don't Come Easy"

Overkill - "I Hear Black" (1993)

Overkill may hear black, but I see orange. Lots and LOTS of orange, and...deer antlers? If nothing else, this album cover should've been a hint to Overkill that the honeymoon was over with their then-label, Atlantic Records. According to frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, the picture that the band intended to use for this album cover was actually hiding underneath the tangle of deer horns that overpower the foreground. Designed by Ellsworth's then-wife, it apparently depicted a horde of frolicking demons and trolls. However, the antlers were added to the image by the label's art department without the band's knowledge or approval. We can only assume that Atlantic Records decided that Mrs. Ellsworth's artwork sucked and they tried to "improve" it by obscuring as much of the image as possible.

Helloween - "Rabbit Don't Come Easy" (2003)

German power metal stalwarts Helloween have always had an odd sense of humor and this album cover illustrates yet another strange "inside" joke that probably knocked'em dead in Deutschland but didn't make a lick of sense anywhere else. The album's unwieldy title refers to a rough period of lineup changes and other troubles that the band had endured prior to making this record, and it's meant to signify that finally completing the album was like "pulling a rabbit out of a hat." There is, however, no explanation as to why the magician pulling said rabbit out of said hat has a robotic hand (?), or why the bunny in question looks so pissed off about the whole thing.

Left: Raven, "Glow," right: "Black N Blue"

Left: Raven, "Glow," right: "Black N Blue"

Raven - "Glow" (1994)

An old guy in his jammies and nightcap conjures up some sort of mysterious mystical energy force on the cover to this 1994 album by the NWOBHM legends. Ummmm....OK! Raven's one of my favorite bands ever but even a fanboy like me has to admit that they've had more bad album covers than good ones. Glow may be particularly "WTF," but hey, there's a kick-ass cover version of Thin Lizzy's classic "The Rocker" on this album, which is as good a reason as any to ignore the goofy artwork and throw this one on your stereo every now 'n' again.

"Black 'N Blue" (1984)

Black 'N Blue was the first hard rock band signed to the then-new Geffen Records label, for all the good it did them. Nowadays they're best remembered (if they're remembered at all) as an early gig for Tommy Thayer, who now "plays" Ace Frehley in the current incarnation of KISS. The cover to their debut album isn't so much bad as it is puzzling. At first glance, it appears to be just another glossy promo shot of a bunch of pretty boys trying to look tough. However, upon closer inspection (it helps if you have a vinyl copy) you'll see there's an artist's signature in the corner, which means this image is actually a painting of the band. I'm not much of an artist, but I would assume that the guy who painted this cover would've needed to refer to a photo of the band for reference while he worked... so WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST USE A PHOTO FOR THE COVER IN THE FIRST PLACE??? Why go to all that extra trouble? Yes, these are the kinds of things that metal heads wonder about when they lie awake in the middle of the night.

Left: Messiah, "Final Warning," right: Black Sabbath, "Forbidden"

Left: Messiah, "Final Warning," right: Black Sabbath, "Forbidden"

Messiah - "Final Warning" (1984)

Some folks have told me that I've been too hard on Christian metal bands in this series of columns, but I gotta be honest, the religious rock scene has provided WAY too much irresistible material! Take Final Warning, the 1984 debut by the little-known Messiah, f'rinstance. The cover art and band logo both look like they were drafted by a Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed seventh grader on the back of his Math notebook. Do ya think any of those Dragon heads snuck a peek up the angel's skirt? Useless trivia: due to its extremely tiny print run, original vinyl copies of this album are highly collectible nowadays among metal geeks, regularly going for three-figure sums on eBay and other auction sites... so if you happen to stumble across this one at a yard sale or thrift store, be sure to snap it up once you're done laughing at the cover.

Black Sabbath - "Forbidden" (1995)

Someone at an online metal forum I frequent summed up this album thusly: "You know an album is in trouble when even the Grim Reaper on the cover looks bored." That pretty much says it all. Forbidden was released at the tail end of a rough period for The Mighty Sab. Guitar God Tony Iommi was the only original member left in Sabbath at this point, and he'd been keeping the machine going by himself for over a decade with a revolving door of ever-changing band members. In other words, he was tired of the grind, and it showed. You can almost picture Tony signing off on this cover with a dismissive wave of his hand, like "Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's fine, bloody whatever. Damn, I miss Ozzy."

Left: Executioner, "In the Name of Metal," right: Saint, "Time's End"

Left: Executioner, "In the Name of Metal," right: Saint, "Time's End"

Executioner - "In the Name of Metal" (1986)

The comic-book style cover to this thrash band's debut record deserves points for enthusiasm, if nothing else. I imagine that the planning session for their album design went something like this:

Band: "Dooooood! Our band's called Executioner, right? So we gotta have, like, a BIG HONKIN' AXE in the middle of our album cover!"

Label Guy: "No problem."

Band: "And make sure there's a big pile of BLOODY SEVERED HEADS all around it! Put some of 'em on SPIKES! Severed heads are, like, totally METAL 'n' stuff!"

Label Guy: "No problem."

Band: "Also, we're, like, totally broke, so we can only afford to pay the art dude in Busch Light. So get the BEST artist you can for that price, OK dude?"

Label Guy: "Um...THAT might be a problem."

Saint - "Time's End" (1986)

More unintentionally funny Christian metal goodness! Saint's TIME'S END is actually a pretty decent LP in the Judas Priest vein. In keeping with the band's apocalyptic outlook, the back cover sports a verse from the book of Revelations which reads in part, "I stood upon the sand and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns." The front cover is obviously supposed to be a representation of the creatures in that verse, but instead of the terrifying end-of-the-world monsters the band intended, these critters resemble a mutant horde of angry, reptilian kitty cats instead. Thus, the message seems to be "Hey kids, make sure you get right with God before the Invasion of the Satanic Felines!"

Left: "California Metal," right: Love/Hate, "Blackout in the Red Room"

Left: "California Metal," right: Love/Hate, "Blackout in the Red Room"

Various Artists - "California Metal" (1987)

Various-artist compilation albums like these were always an interesting listen that introduced you to some cool bands you'd never heard before... but they were also usually produced on the cheap without giving much thought to cover artwork..which gave rise to unintentionally funny monstrosities like this one. Fear the feather haired giant guitar playing man who rises from the sea and turns palm trees to solid steel with the power of Metal!

Love/Hate - "Blackout in the Red Room" (1990)

Love/Hate was one of many sleaze/rock bands out of L.A. that were signed to major label deals in the wake of Guns 'N' Roses. What set them apart from the pack was that unlike GNR, who preferred to sing about Night Train wine and Mister Brownstone, Love/Hate loved their weed. I mean, really, REALLY loved it. Tracks like "Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?" and "Mary Jane" would've been right at home on the soundtrack to a Cheech & Chong movie. The cover to their 1990 debut (painted by bassist "Skid," apparently with his fingers from the looks of it) is supposed to be a highly stylized rendition of the band members takin' hits off of a ridiculously huge bong, but it looks more like someone threw up a bunch of spaghetti and meatballs all over the album cover. Blackout in the Red Room was one of my favorite CDs of the '90s, yet I still can't look directly at the cover. Ugh!

"My eyes! They BURN!"

You've probably suffered enough by now, so that'll do it for this installment of Awful Heavy Metal Album Covers. As always, everyone out there in Readerland is welcome to suggest album covers for future installments in this series... so if you know of a monstrosity that has yet to be honored, feel free to name it in the "comments" section below. Till next time, keep it heavy, keep it real, and keep your vinyl out of direct sunlight!

© 2013 Keith Abt


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 21, 2014:

It's on the list, Joe!!

Joe Cogan on January 21, 2014:

Still pulling for Uriah Heep's "Abominog" for the next edition.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 21, 2013:

I'll keep that one in mind. Anything Thor related is comedy gold.

Resident Weevil on August 21, 2013:

This is, indeed, a rich field to mine. Might I suggest Thor's classic "Keep the Dogs Away" cover for any future editions.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 21, 2013:

Ya learn something new every day. Thanks for the factoid, Shawn!

Shawn Dudley from Los Angeles, California on January 21, 2013:

I can't find a large picture, but the front cover of Forbidden is actually only about 1/3 of the full artwork.


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 21, 2013:

Thanx Georgie -- there will be more, I assure you. Just when you think it's safe to go into the record store, the Awful Album Covers will rise again... (mwahahahahaha)

Georgie Lowery from North Florida on January 21, 2013:

As always, you get the gold star for the day! Oddly enough, I just had a discussion with my best friend the other day about awful book covers - a lot of folks don't realize the impact that the cover actually has. Thanks for the rundown, I'm waiting for #7. :)

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