A PRIME reason for heavy metal’s success is that it is a culture unto itself. Fads come and go, but a culture has staying power. It comes with its own dress code, etiquette and idolatry. A small but important part of that culture is the album cover – the visual representation of the music, the heart of the heavy metal universe. If you’re a metal band, it’s imperative you get this facet right. So, let’s tour through some metal covers from the 1980s, a time when heavy metal was king, and learn from their successes and failures.
LESSON 1: THE 6 REQUIREMENTS
This album more than meets the requirements of a proper heavy metal album cover. Sure, its execution is amateur and there’s a man in a bikini bottom, but they’ve got it right nonetheless. Proper heavy metal album covers should feature at least two of the following: (1) Satan and/or his minions, (2) a hot chick in sparse clothing, (3) a death-dealing badass preferably with battleax, (4) a cool Teutonic font, (5) a picture of the band looking serious and hardcore, and/or (6) miscellaneous horror imagery sufficient enough to worry your parents about your mental wellbeing.
This next one fails on all counts…
A shame upon metal and its rich history. The ghost of Ronnie James Dio shall curse Tigertailz till the end of their dayz.
There were numerous reasons grunge dismantled heavy metal, a prime factor being that metal had turned to absolute garbage by decade’s end. The Los Angeles androgynous glam thing had turned silly and embarrassing. Bands like Tigertailz just looked like an absolute joke in the wake of Nirvana. Looking at this cover now, you can see how far mainstream metal had degenerated by ’87 - a cotton candy version of metal’s origins in Sabbath and Priest.
From that same year is a band who still remembered what a heavy metal album cover is supposed to look like. Want a dirty wench being felt up by a perverted necromancer? You got it. All it takes is a quick glance and I can tell this is definitely not a Streisand or Duran Duran album – indeed, The Metal is strong with this one.
And The Metal is very weak with the next….
Not only does this not contain a necromancer feeling up a dirty wench, it fulfills none of the six heavy metal obligations. The Bangles looked more metal than these girls; yet, here they are proclaiming their “metalness”. In place of the obligatory Teutonic font is lettering that would be fine on a Punky Brewster colouring book, not a metal album.
LESSON 2: HAVING FUN WITH THE OBJECTIFICATION OF WOMEN
Yeah, heavy metal could get pretty misogynistic (the Scorpions covers perhaps being the prime culprits). There aren’t many tender love songs in metal, and the deflowering of groupies is a critical part of the metal business. (If there’s no groupie deflowering, you may as well be Rush or The Counting Crows.) The Mentors cover above is basically the same as Kiss’ Love Gun album – tramps falling at the feet of the Metal Gods.
Now we come to a very important lesson in our quest for metal knowledge: how to handle the Power Ballad. By 1985, heavy metal was fully afflicted with this scourge, which left metal bands in a quandary: the ballads themselves were decisively un-metal yet they were extreme money makers. American and European audiences alike gobbled them up like candy. What to do? Stay true to your metal roots or lay down a saccharine power ballad for some quick cash?
If you do opt for the cash grab, the album cover will have to be adjusted accordingly. Take for instance, Lizzy Borden’s “Love You To Pieces”:
The standard six metal tropes no longer apply. Satan and perverted necromancers have no place in the world of power ballads. Instead, you’ll need to go with something sexy. True, there’s not much to differentiate you from a Rod Stewart album, but such is the price of selling out.
But let’s not get carried away and presume the presence of a hot mama “de-metalizes” a cover. I present to you, Exhibit A…
Granted, this could be improved by a Grim Reaper looming in the background, or perhaps a smattering of pentagrams. But, overall, I can’t complain – the banana/vibrator is a splendid touch. The Rods illustrate an important point: If you’re going to feature a solitary chick on your metal cover, it’s not enough just to be slutty. Let the world know, this isn’t a Terence Trent D’arby album, this is nasty, filthy mayhem. Let them eat metal!
LESSON 3: FEATURING THE BAND IS OFTEN A BAD IDEA
But what if you just want to feature a photo of your band? Nothing inherently wrong with that – even Sabbath did the same. However, you’ll need to make sure your band doesn’t look like transvestite clowns.
Really, unless your band looks objectively filthy, you’re probably better off not going with a cover shot. Le Mans, for instance, has a nice metal font and then ruins it with their sissy group photo. They look like Flesh for Lulu, or Wang Chung or Kajagoogoo, or ….whatever - clearly, they do not look metal. For God’s sakes, the lead singer has the same haircut as David Bowie in Labyrinth.
But if you’re dead set on featuring your sissy looking band on the cover, at least have the decency to strike a metal pose. Even better, take a cue from Axe Victims and include a hot chick with a battleax.
But what is a “metal pose” exactly?
Tokyo Blade illustrates for us exactly what a metal pose is not. It is not what those two bandmates are doing on the left. A metal pose is a posture of confrontation and belligerence – it does not involve cradling your guitarist while he dry humps your leg.
LESSON 4: DON’T FORGET THE BACK COVER
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the back cover. Obviously, it’s not as important as the front, but still has its role. Take for instance, this S.A.D.O. cover. The front is woefully lacking in metal elements. But all is forgiven due to the gloriously tacky back cover….
So, I hope this lesson has been helpful, and I wish you much success on your new metal album. Just remember that lustful necromancers are always a good thing, don’t dry hump your bandmate’s leg on the cover photo, and always keep things filthy. Good luck!