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From Hell's Heart

"From Hell's Heart..." is an editorial column written by the team. Every other month or so we pick a metal-related topic and share our thoughts, feelings and ideas on it.

Check out past editorials

Album cover art: Judging a book by it's cover (April 2001)

Album cover art: Judging a book by it's cover
By Rick

Are album covers important? I would think so. Have I ever looked at an album cover and judged the music inside on what picture was on the cover? Of course I have! The cover art should give a representation of what is on the inside of the sleeve. Pictures of Wizards etc. scream Powermetal to me as do bloody corpses call out Death Metal. When I first got into metal there was no internet to check out what CDs were out there so I had to go to the local record store and flip though the albums or cassettes till a name or a CD cover caught my eye. It was often the album art that made me decide to buy an album or not. One of the earliest album covers that caught my eye was Meatloaf’s "Bat Out Of Hell". Now that was one cool piece of artwork. I remember walking through Woolco at the tender age of 5 or 6 and seeing this amazing motorcycle flying from the grave and it blew my mind. The thing was at 6 years old I didn’t get to buy the album. My fascination with album art carried over as I spent almost as much time looking at albums as I did toys for the next few years. I remember that it was in the early 80s that I started listening to music and after a year or two of listening to the standard Bryan Adams, Rick Springfield top 40 stuff I started to get interested in heavier stuff.

The road down the dark path has begun. I remember seeing Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell around 80 or 81 and thinking how cool that it was with the angels smoking and playing cards!! Evil. The first cassette that I got was METAL HEALTH by Quiet Riot. Now I love that cover. It was simple. Guy in a mask and straight jacket. Very cool. Another of my favorites and one that I think perfectly fits the content inside is MASTER OF PUPPETS by Metallica. The rows of crosses with a puppet master from the sky pulling their strings is one of my favs. The cover was thought provoking as were many of the albums lyrics. I think that covers should have some thought put into their choosing cause they represent the band and their music to a certain extent. The cover art is the first thing that introduces a band to the public. A good first impression should always be their first thought and a cover that represents the music they play.



Album cover art: judging a book by it's cover
By Michael De Los Muertos

Album covers are one of my favorite things about metal. Where else can you see artwork that is at once horrifying, ugly, visceral, or bombastic, and yet often pleasing to the eye, usually at the same time? The kind of artists that paint things like the type of stuff that appears on Cannibal Corpse album covers aren't exactly easy to find out about, and you'd have to have a keen appreciation and understanding of underground art to find pieces like this outside of album covers. I find a cover often sets the mood for a listening experience, as well as serving as a potent communication device about the kind of music you'll find on the disc itself. Accomplishing mood-setting and communication functions while still being interesting and eye-catching is the mark of a good album cover.

With that philosophy statement out of the way, I'll just go off on some of my favorite (and least-favorite) album covers, and why I like (or dislike) them. The cover of Six Feet Under's MAXIMUM VIOLENCE is a great one. A raw, exposed skull being probed by a ring of painful-looking metallic pincers perfectly communicates the ugly, angry mood that awaits once you play the album. Similarly, Rhapsody's DAWN OF VICTORY, with desperate warriors slashing away with gigantic swords in the midst of a battle scene that's little more than a big crimson pandemonium, conveys the sense of epic glory-seeking that no one who listens to Rhapsody can deny is front and center in their style. Perhaps I have a thing for blindfolded ladies, but Rotting Christ's A DEAD POEM and Dimmu Borgir's SPIRITUAL BLACK DIMENSIONS convey a sense of beauty restrained by unspeakable darkness. The latter is, in my opinion, one of the best album covers of the late 1990s, and perfectly suited to Dimmu's style of atmospheric black metal.

Probably my favorite album cover is POWERPLANT by Gamma Ray. Derek Riggs is well known for his work on Iron Maiden, but he outdid even himself with this, one of the most fascinating album covers of all time. The skull-faced demon and the melding of themes from space and ancient Egypt, while exploding with color and power, actually make you very eager to experience Gamma Ray's space-age power metal.

I can't say I'm tremendously fond of clever or "story" type covers. I wonder if any of my fellow Metal-Rulesians will mention the well-known progression of Megadeth's Vic Rattlehead guises from the 1980s, including a real estate agent peddling nuclear wasteland property (PEACE SELLS…BUT WHO'S BUYING) and a participant at a high-level conference of politicians examining an alien body (RUST IN PEACE). Sometimes a cover can try to accomplish too much. Sure, the RUST IN PEACE cover tells you about the subject matter of one of the songs, but does it really convey anything about the brilliance of the metal on the album? Similarly, while I voted Dispatched's MOTHERWAR as the best album of 2000, it's cover painting of a futuristic tank battle didn't do much for me, while the illustration on its back cover - a line of skull-faced soldiers in greatcoats and Russian Army fur hats - seemed a far more appropriate choice.

Then there are the album covers that truly suck. Anyone familiar with the band Raise Hell should remember the ludicrous cover of HOLY TARGET, showing F-16s dive-bombing a burning cathedral. Great idea for a black/thrash album cover, but the painting itself is muddy and washed-out. (Incidentally you can read my review of Raise Hell's second album, NOT DEAD YET, for a dissertation on the failure of their next album cover). While I love Dismember, and the eerie Dan Seagrave painting on the cover of LIKE AN EVER FLOWING STREAM has to be one of the greatest pieces of metal art ever created, most of the rest of their album covers are completely laughable, from the "menacing" hunk of junk on MASSIVE KILLING CAPACITY, to a boring coat of arms on DEATH METAL, and little more than a flaming skull face on HATE CAMPAIGN. The dumbest album cover in recent memory, however, has got to be Pantera's REINVENTING THE STEEL, hands-down. I actually laughed out loud when I saw it. A guy in his boxer shorts jumping through fire? What's up with that? Not only is it completely lame, it's nonsensical. Painful as it is to look at, at least you get the point of the cover of VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER.

I greatly enjoy looking at metal album covers, and I'm always interested to see the next cover from a band I really like. Enjoying the artwork is one of the most fun things about metal, and, disappointing as it is when a good band comes up with a terrible cover, even a terrible band has an equal chance at creating an album cover masterpiece.






Album cover art: judging a book by its cover
By EvilG

Can you judge the quality of an album based on it's cover? I have been trying to think of a CD I love that has poor album cover artwork, or conversely an album that I hate which has an excellent album cover. 

An album that comes to mind as one that has excellent content within but has a boring album cover is Armageddon's CROSSING THE RUBICON. The music is astounding yet the artwork, although "spacey", is very plain and boring. An album cover that blows is Ratt's INVASION OF YOUR PRIVACY (yes old Ratt is a guilty pleasure of deal with it). This is an example of where the album cover is crap but the music is great. On a related note, I was recently informed that the chick on that album cover apparently has turned up online on some porn site...go figure. Another example of "bad cover / good music" is Black Sabbath's SABOTAGE. Sure, that picture makes for a funny look at the band and their "clothing", but it should of been an inside picture, NOT the cover! On the other hand sometimes the cover reflects what's inside. This is the case with Megadeth. They have been known for excellent cover art like RUST IN PEACE and PEACE SELLS... However, with RISK both the album cover art and the music left left a very bad taste in my mouth!!

If there is one thing that even many non-metal fans realize about metal, it is that the artwork for the CD's is amazing. How can we talk about album cover artwork without mentioning Iron Maiden and the talented Derek Riggs? Just about ALL the Maiden covers are excellent. Some of my favorites being SOMEWHERE IN TIME and SEVENTH SON... In terms of style I prefer painted album covers over any photographic ones. Yngwie Malmsteen has had a few album covers like that but his covers for TRILOGY and WAR TO END ALL WARS make up for much of it. Slayer have always had interesting album cover art and HELL AWAITS is no exception. Some might think the art for this album is "sick" but I've always found it funny. The expressions on the faces of the people/demons in that painting are hilarious! I love it!! I could ramble on about how awesome some covers are or how the covers perfectly depict the album's storyline (ie. Rhapsody).

To conclude, you cannot judge an album by it's cover but it's typical that if a band puts a lot of effort into their lyrics and music you can be sure that in most cases that the album cover art will get the same treatment. 

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Album cover art: judging a book by its cover
By Nathan

Well I already touched on this subject last month. So instead of philosophizing about the importance or non-importance of album cover artwork, allow me to throw out some personal opinions. First of all, I mostly appreciate hand drawn artwork over and kind of photographic or computer-generated artwork. I’ve always thought the human element gives the artwork a warmer feeling. The same goes for drafting and technical drawings in architecture and civil engineering. Although in these cases hand drawings are pretty much obsolete thanks to AutoCad. But I’ve always preferred the look of hand drawings to anything else. Artists like Dan Seagrave, Andreas Marshall, and Kristian Wahlin (Necrolord) do more for me than Travis Smith and Dave McKean. Don’t get me wrong, Travis and Dave are phenomenal artists, and I love their work. I just prefer the others.

That said, allow me to list some of my favorite album covers: Gorguts THE EROSION OF SANITY, Asphyx CRUSH THE CENOTAPH, Slayer REIGN IN BLOOD, Hypocrisy PENETRALIA (I don’t even own this one), Cynic FOCUS, Diabolique THE BLACK FLOWER and BUTTERFLIES, Dismember PIECES, Iron Maiden POWERSLAVE and SOMEWHERE IN TIME, Kreator CAUSE FOR CONFLICT, Obituary CAUSE OF DEATH, October Tide GREY DAWN, Opeth BLACKWATER PARK, and Sacrosanct RECESSES FOR THE DEPRAVED.

On the other hand, here’s some album covers that annoy me: Black Sabbath SABOTAGE (just for Bill Ward’s red tights), Deteriorate (I don’t know the album title, but it’s the one with the melting skull), Nokturnel (again, don’t know the title, but it’s the one with the band members hanging on chains), Carbonized SCREAMING MACHINES, Comecon FABLE FROLIC, Dream Theater A CHANGE OF SEASONS (just for the kid), Entombed SAME DIFFERENCE, Flotsam and Jetsam WHEN THE STORM COMES DOWN, Judas Priest TURBO, SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE, and DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH, Loudblast/Agressor split LICENSED TO THRASH LP, and Metal Church HANGING IN THE BALANCE.


Joe's RANT!

Well, I’ve been mulling this topic for the past five days and I still have no idea what to write... Can you really judge the quality of the music on an album by how the well cover art is done? Hmmm... Obviously artwork can tip you off as to what style of music to expect from an unfamiliar artist since certain types of artwork are associated with certain genres of music (Can you imagine an "Eddie-like" character gracing the covers of Britney Spears’albums?), but can it actually reflect the quality of the music on the CD? Actually... Now that I think about it, it probably does. I know if I were in a recording band and had put in all the necessary thought, work, and money into making a good quality album, I wouldn’t want some lame-assed, piece of crap art on the cover...

Nowadays, cover art may not be quite as important for grabbing record buyer’s attention with the advent of pre-sampling music both in stores and on the internet, but it is somewhat disappointing (for me, at least) when an artist/band writes and records a good quality CD only to put little or no effort into acquiring a decent piece of art for the cover (Jacob’s Dream - s/t comes to mind). But fortunately, most artists that take any sort of pride in their music also take some pride in what appears on the fronts of their CD’s. And personally, I think all albums should have decent quality artwork on the covers because when a person buys a CD, they’re not just buying the songs, but the "whole package". Good artwork on a good CD is like the "icing on the cake", so to speak... And if artwork wasn’t important to me, I’d probably be one of those people that’s loathed by Lars Ulrich et al.

Well... Looks like I had something to say on the subject after all... :-)


Album Covers: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!!!
By Jesse

Talk about a genre of music havin' a monopoly on awesome album cover art!!! I mean, no other genre even comes close!!! I've seen a few clunkers in my time, but metal album covers are almost always stimulating in one way or another!!! Now I'm not gonna sit here and philosophize with you guys...'cause I think y'all know why metal has consistently held the position of dominance in this area (hint: METAL RULES)!!!

So, if you don't mind, I'm just gonna break down the good, the bad and the ugly for you (in my opinion):

THE GOOD: Iron Maiden, KILLERS. Let me revise that, how 'bout the freaking best album cover ever!!! Talk about a horrific cover to end all horrific covers. Eddie is definitely at his most brutal!!! His punk hairstyle has given way to a more metallized version...the Eddie we all know and love!!! Plus, just look at the freaking blood drenched hatchet and the grasping hands and the menacing look and the...don't get me started!!! It fucking slays, period.

THE BAD: Ozzy, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL. Let's face it, this is a bad cover. It's so fuckin' bad in fact, that I love it!!! This is like a B movie in an album cover sense!!! Who could have possibly pitched this idea??? What did it cost to put together...two bucks??? I mean just look at it!!! Nice freaking grape jelly!!! The Ozzy discography, however, is full of bad album covers (and few awesome ones!!!). BARK AT THE MOON is a stinker (although again, I love it for the pure cheese factor) and what the hell was was Ozzy thinkin' when he agreed to the OZZMOSIS cover??? Then again, Ozzy was never known for his good judgment!!!

THE UGLY: Poison, LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN. I actually like this album!!! It freakin' burns the whole way through!!! The cover, on the other hand, is one of the most hideous monstrosities ever forced upon the human race!!! Simply hideous...



The Good

The Bad

The Ugly


Album cover art: judging a book by its cover
By Keith

I think if you take the time to put together a good booklet for your CD it's worth it's weight in gold. Cool artwork will grab a customer's attention, and even if that person does NOT buy it I'm sure it will a topic of discussion when he/she gets together with his/her friends. That will create a buzz, and as any musician knows, any way you can get a buzz working is great. Looking at the artwork of Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction disc, I saw some cool artwork. There was a story behind the cover also. If you remember, the name of the album came from a piece of art called Appetite For Destruction. It was a picture of a futuristic monster attacked a half-naked women. Now, as you may have guessed, this caused some problems for the band. Many people, mostly women's organizations, felt that the cover was inappropriate. This helped create some much needed publicity for the unknown, at the time, band. Upon caving into requests to change the cover art, the band decided to use a tattoo that Axl had gotten after the band had formed. Besides the fact that it was the cross bearing skeleton figures of the band (very cool!!!), it created another story for the band. Even before you opened the package to listen to the music, which is probably one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time, the band had created quite a story just off of their artwork.

You gotta take what you can get when you're trying to make it in the music business.




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Album cover art: judging a book by its cover
By Skyklad

This is one of those situations where at times you actually CAN judge a book by it´s cover, not all the time of course, but a good majority of it. I say this out of personal experience. I´m talking about situations before there was internet, soundfiles and other metallers to actually converse with. My main method of discovering new bands was to go into the local shops and peruse through their miniscule metal sections (if there even WAS a metal section) and see what albums "looked" cool.  I´d look at the logo, layout, songtitles and such and thus found many cool bands in this manner.  It is definitely been a large factor in the discovery of new bands. Certainly it cannot be said that I didn´t occasionally hit some really bad bands who happen to have cool artwork though so in a contradictory sense you can´t always judge a book by it´s cover. LOL.

When it comes to the artwork  it seems that no other forms of music can transcend the ingenuity, artistry and expressionalism that metal captures on album covers. It is something that can even distinguish bands by genre. For example: Power Metal albums generally have a very majestic scene or fantasy oriented layout and Death Metal albums usually have very morbid or disgusting scenes going on. All in all I think that the cover art does play a big role in the metal world and it is often utilized by many a metalhead to pick out something different to explore.

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