Best All Time Heavy Metal Sleeve Art

Our List of the 15 Greatest Album Cover Artwork!

15 – Kreator Live Kreation Kreator-Live-Kreation-2003

The cover painting for Kreator’s first live album was done by Andreas Marschall and it is one of the most brutal pieces of album cover art. There is no underlying story or concept behind it, other than what it really shows, a zombie-like creature making a cello out of a dead body, with his insides as the strings and playing it with the cut-off leg. It represents what Kreator does to its audience in their shows. Well not exactly that, but they are one of the most intense live acts out there, hence I deem this cover as beyond perfect for their live album.

14 – Annihilator Alice in Hell Annihilator-Alice-in-Hell-1989

The album has a song titled ‘Alison Hell’ which is based on the true story of a little girl who had the fear of the dark so to speak, the fear of seeing a bogeyman-type monster at night. This eventually made her go insane as her parents ignored her cries. The album cover depicts exactly that. The artwork is brilliant and comprehensive, making the average fan curious about what the music on the album is about, specially taking into consideration the fact that this was Annihilator’s debut effort and Jeff Waters being responsible for the cover art in addition to writing all the lyrics, playing guitar and mixing the album by himself.

13 – Megadeth The System Has Failed Megadeth-The-System-Has-Failed-2004

The lyrical content on the album obviously makes a mockery of the American ‘system’ as a whole, but it’s this cover that just drives the point home. The amount of detail that can be extracted from it is incredible. The cover shows famous (or notorious, however you may want to look at it) political figures. The briefcase labelled ‘Plan B’, the list of monetary fines for various criminal offences at the side of Vic’s table who holds a ‘not guilty’ verdict in one hand and money in the other, with the words ‘Unequal Injustice Under Law’ written on the famous building in the background suggest how the system allows criminals to escape. You can read even further into it if you want to. I have just one word for this. Epic.

12 – Anthrax Fistful of Metal Anthrax-Fistful-of-Metal-1984

This image focuses exactly on what the album title suggests, a fistful of metal. It’s a very expressive cover and much of it is reciprocated in the music which is old-school, in-your-face thrash metal at its finest. It doesn’t get any more THRASH than this!

11 – Judas Priest Screaming for Vengeance Judas-Priest-Screaming-for-Vengeance-1982

“From an unknown land and through distant skies came a winged warrior. Nothing remained sacred, no one was safe from the Hellion as it uttered its battle cry … Screaming for Vengeance” says the back cover of this album jacket, and when you flip it over, you see exactly that. One of the most memorable covers for one of the most memorable albums. This was their first double platinum-selling album in their glorious career.

10 – Slayer Reign in Blood Slayer-Reign-in-Blood-1986

Designed by Larry Carroll, this was one of the most controversial covers of the time, so much so that Columbia Records refused to carry the album and Geffen distributed it instead, but even they didn’t let it appear in their release schedule. A devilish, Satan like figure is on the center throne, with severed heads, blood and all sorts of stuff going on around it. Amazing imagination and creativity Larry put into this. We have seen similarly themed covers from them and from plenty of other bands, but in 1986 when this was first released, the mere sight of it must have been enough to flip anyone out of their minds. Two words, pure evil.

9 – Dio Holy Diver Dio-Holy-Diver-1983

The concept for this cover came from none other than Ronnie James Dio’s wife Wendy. But it was Gene Hunter who rendered it and even though the cover seems to depict a devil killing a priest, Dio himself denied it and said it can be interpreted in the exact opposite sense as well. When viewed upside down, the Dio logo spells the word ‘Devil’. Even though the claims that all this was done on purpose were immediately dismissed, this will always remain to be one of the most fascinating album covers ever made in the history of heavy metal music!

8 – Iron Maiden The Number of the BeastIron-Maiden-The-Number-of-the-Beast-1982

Brilliantly designed by the Legend, Derek Riggs but not for The Number of The Beast, it was originally intended for an earlier single, ‘Purgatory’, but the band felt the cover was too high caliber for just a single and a less complex image was used for the single instead. Quite a few of the greatest metal album covers have some sort of controversy behind them and this is a classic example of that. It wrongly projected the band members as Satan-worshipping lunatics. Contrary to the accusations of it being a satanic song, the title track was actually inspired by Steve Harris’ nightmare about being trapped in Hell, triggered after watching ‘Damien: Omen II’. The art speaks for itself, and is quite easily one of the most legendary covers ever designed.

7 – Metallica Master of Puppets Metallica-Master-of-Puppets-1986

No list on albums is ever complete without Metallica, and that’s not to say it’s being done here just for the sake of it. Some of their covers are great in their own unique way. This one neither has mythical characters nor does it depict any kind of gory violence. Yet it’s one of the most powerful and thought provoking pieces of art, done for what turned out to be one of the heaviest albums in metal.

6 – Iron Maiden Somewhere in Time Iron-Maiden-Somewhere-in-Time-1986

The cover displays a cyborg Eddie in a futuristic environment. This cover is unique in the sense that it holds a whole lot of references to earlier Iron Maiden albums and songs. The cover was originally intended for use as the cover to an authorized biography of the band, but we’re all glad it made it as an album cover instead! There is an extraordinary number of trivia questions that have been made out of the little details in this piece of jaw-dropping awesomeness. One of the visually richest pieces of art I’ve ever seen. For those fans who bought the giant wall poster, Derek let them know, in a nearly hidden backwards message, that he was bored to death with all the fine details that were going into the painting.

5 – Pantera Vulgar Display of Power Pantera-Vulgar-Display-of-Power-1992

The artist here is a not a painter or illustrator but a photographer by the name of Brad Guice. For that reason, I find this to be the most unconventional album cover and even though it wasn’t ‘designed’ in the traditional sense of the word, through Brad’s photograph the cover successfully represents the sheer unabated brute force with which the songs on this album knocked its listeners down flat. As the demon possessing Regan MacNeil in the movie ‘The Exorcist’ would say, “That’s too much vulgar a display of power”.

4 – Metallica …And Justice for All Metallica-And-Justice-for-All-1988

The concept was given by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich and based on that the cover was eventually made by Stephen Gorman. Lady justice is shown cracked, bound and having her scales filled with dollar bills, with the words of the title written in graffiti next to it. The band definitely stated their opinion on the injustice in the legal system in the strongest manner possible, by putting this piece of art out as an album cover that would come to be possessed by millions, in a way spreading their message. With lyrics such as “Halls of Justice Painted Green, Money Talking” and “Justice Is Lost, Justice Is Raped, Justice Is Gone”, the band also proved that the art concept and lyrical content went hand in hand all along.

3 – Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell Black-Sabbath-Heaven-and-Hell-1980

Hardcore Sabbath fans must be aware of the fact that this particular cover art was taken from a painting by artist Lynn Curlee, entitled “Smoking Angels”. Angels smoking cigarettes … what else can better describe the simultaneous existence of heaven and hell? One can have more than one interpretation. One of the angels is in fact a perfect likeness of the artist. This is a True Metal Classic in every sense of the word!

2 – Iron Maiden Killers Iron-Maiden-Killers-1981

Killers Eddie at his most menacing was difficult to place at number two on this list. Not much needs to be said of this cover art, the imagery speaks for itself! Derek Riggs literally KILLED IT with this painting.

1 – Iron Maiden Powerslave Iron-Maiden-Powerslave-1998

It had to be Iron Maiden’s Powerslave at the top of the list. Derek Riggs outdid even his own previous work with this one. Making music based on Egyptian themes is one thing, but creating a cover on that theme is a whole other task. The meticulous level of detail that this cover left fans starring for hours, months, years! Powerslave is the richest, most powerful and awe-inspiring album cover in the history of heavy metal. We would say more but of course we’re at a ‘Losfer words’.

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