As a musician and music lover as well as a designer, I decided that my first ‘Alphablog’ article would pay tribute to the artwork of my favourite album covers. A while ago I posted a blog on my top ten rock and metal band logos (see the articles here and here) and this article will follow a similar vein, with my top ten rock/metal album covers.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having been massively influenced by the designs displayed on the CDs I listen to; I am yet to be sold on the mp3 revolution, preferring the tactile piece of artwork in my hands with the CD. And I’m sure that a huge number of today’s working designers were originally inspired to take up their profession with the intention of working on record sleeves every day! Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out like that but that doesn’t stop us dreaming.
The parameters for my search revolve around the rock and metal genres that provide the bulk of the music that I own. Renowned album covers by the likes of The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Sex Pistols (Never Mind the B****cks), and The Clash (London Calling) don’t fit the genre so won’t feature. And of course, personal taste will play a big part. I’m not a big fan of the ornate horror/sci-fi artwork style, so albums by the likes of Iron Maiden and Def Leppard also miss out. But I’ll stop making excuses before I start, here’s my top ten!
No. 10. Riot! by Paramore (Released 2007)
The title, ‘RIOT!’ is scrawled aggressively like a doodle in a school book, over and over again, appropriately conveying the element of teen angst that appeals to many of Paramore’s fans. I love the hand rendered feel, drawing on the punk influence (and more than a hint of No Doubt’s Rock Steady artwork) and contrasting with Paramore’s other, more photographic, approaches to album artwork.
No. 9. The Truth by Bleeding Through (Released 2006)
A macabre, bloody and very graphic photograph adorns the front of this album, suitably reflecting the brutal metallic sound of the music and the band’s name, but artfully so in a high contrast black and white style. Designed by Washington based studio Invisible Creature (set up by Don & Ryan Clark, musicians in the band Demon Hunter), the inlay features further images from the same series, expertly retouched and edited to feature the band members with horrific looking injuries and missing limbs.
Whilst not to everybody’s taste (and I admit it still slightly sickens me to look at!), the execution of the retouching leaves me in awe and it finds it’s way into the top ten!
No. 8. Vulgar Display of Power by Pantera (Released 1992)
More gratuitous violence I’m afraid, but an album of this title and bone crushing content needed artwork to match its intensity. And what a blunt statement it portrays, the moment of impact as a punch is landed on the cheek of its target.
The album itself took Pantera, and heavy metal, to a brutal new level in the early ‘90s, and in one image the artwork sums up it’s impact. Impressive stuff.
No. 7. Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park (Released 2000)
Hybrid Theory, the band’s debut album, features a street art inspired piece of design by Linkin Park vocalist Mike Shinoda. The soldier with dragonfly wings is said to represent the combination of hard and soft elements to the music and is rendered in the style of a piece of stencil graffiti.
With Shinoda having been working as a graphic designer prior to going full time with the band, it’s hardly surprising that the composition, idea and execution are all excellent and the sleeve is, in my opinion, already quite a modern classic.
Subsequent albums Reanimation, Meteora and Jay-Z collaboration Collision Course also featured a similar street art/graffiti effect.
No. 6. Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses (Released 1987)
A substitute album cover following the banning of the original, offensive artwork, the band are represented by caricatured, mulletted skulls upon an art-deco style cross with banners above and below in the style of a tattoo. The design has become iconic as a tee shirt print, but my only gripe is the quality of illustration.
I can only imagine how unbelievably awesome this design would be if completed by, for example, skull expert Joshua Smith of Hydro 74!
No. 5. Orchestra of Wolves by Gallows (Released 2006)
Gallows are a British punk/hardcore band who absolutely hold nothing back with their live show. Their original release of this, their debut, featured a much rougher, scrawling illustration of a pack of demented looking wolves with broken instruments. Taken and reworked spectacularly by Dan Mumford for the re-release in 1997, the new version truly blows me away!
Spooky gnarled trees and green mist provide the backdrop to the wolves, redrawn in similar poses but with more finesse, and only gleaming eyes and hungry mouths visible out of silhouetted bodies that blend with the background.
I love Mumfords illustrations, particularly another one for Gallows (unfortunately for a single rather than an album, hence it’s lack of inclusion in it’s own right) called In the Belly of a Shark which features insanely detailed, nightmarish images of, um, zombie sharks of course!
No. 4. Rage Against the Machine by Rage Against the Machine (Released 1992)
Without a doubt, one of the most controversial album covers ever, Rage Against the Machine’s debut self-titled album features a black and white photograph of a Vietnamese monk burning himself to death in a protest against oppression of the Buddhist religion by his country’s government.
The photograph was taken by American journalist Malcom Browne, who won awards for a similar photograph of the same incident, and provides a visual metaphor for their aggressive anti-establishment political agendas and devastating rap-metal music.
No. 3. 10,000 Days by Tool (Released 2006)
Arty prog rock/metallers Tool released 10,000 Days in style! The CD was contained in a wonderfully tactile digipack decorated with a bizarre and gloomy tribal painting of a head with many faces, and complete with a overlapping flap featuring a pair of stereoscopic eyeglasses. Through these eyeglasses you can view a series of accompanying illustrations and artworks in 3D produced specifically by artist Alex Grey.
It’s a stunning and original piece of artwork (art directed by the band’s guitarist, Adam Jones) and even won a Grammy award in its year of release for Best Recording Package.
No. 2. Metallica by Metallica (Released 1991)
With a humerous nod to Spinal Tap’s “…none more black” Smell the Glove album cover and a wink towards The Beatles White Album, the artwork to Metallica’s self-titled album gave it it’s more common moniker, the Black Album. In certain light it is just that, a plain black sleeve, but at other angles you can just about make out the weathered Metallica logo in the top left corner and coiled snake emblem in the bottom right.
The ‘plain’ look could be seen as representing a change in direction by the band, musically as well as artistically, as the thrash style of their previous albums (with more elaborately depicted artworks) softened slightly to a more commercial, accessible metal sound. In any case, it’s a thing of beauty and I bet every other metal band wishes they could have an album with even half the success of this one and a plain black cover.
No. 1. Nevermind by Nirvana (Released 1991)
Such a famous image: the naked baby boy, submerged and apparently chasing after a dollar bill on the end of a fishing line. The idea was Kurt Cobain’s, inspired by a tv programme about water births, and was created on a shoestring budget (paying $200 to the friend of the photographer who allowed their young child to be photographed).
Cobain had a low estimation of society and the concept of ‘chasing the dollar’ was abhorrent to him. The use of this image made a bold statement highlighting his beliefs of how humans behaved. As we know, the album sold millions, far more than expected, giving the sleeve an irony that has ultimately made it an icon.