Remember this name: Manowar. No, this doesn’t refer to a ship but rather an obscure heavy metal band from the ‘80s best known for it’s campy, over-the-top Conan the Barbarian-inspired album covers: muscle bound men, lightning bolts in the background, and titles such as “Kings of Metal” and “Louder than Hell.” One can only imagine what the music actually sounds like.
Manowar isn’t the only heavy metal band to sport weird album covers. The genre has been to known to sport the most imaginative, sometimes garish and ghoulish, artwork than any other genre in music. That’s what’s part of the fun of the book Heavy Metal Thunder, which contains what the authors regards as the best- metal album covers around. It spans from Black Sabbath, the first heavy metal band, to modern day heroes such as Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana (although the latter two would hardly be regarded as metal). Skeletons, monsters, wagging tongue and big hair are the common visual symbols found on the covers.
Not surprisingly the author mentions the popular metal bands known for their art work like Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Judas Priest, as well as some long-forgotten (i.e. Accept’s “Balls to the Wall,” which makes the rare homoerotic statement in a macho-heavy genre). Even notorious glam metal act Motley Crue gets into the act with a couple of their albums getting mentions.
And yet, alongside the well-known bands are many unknown obscure acts with the weirdest covers, some mundane and laughable (i.e. Oral’s Sex) while others are truly gruesome and disturbing (Be warned: Some of the images are not for the faint at heart).
With any ranking of this sort, one is bound to find glaring omissions, and there are some: Def Leppard (“Pyromania,” “Hysteria”), Europe, (The Final Countdown”), Blue Oyster Cult (any, i.e. “Agents of Fortune”), Led Zeppelin (“Houses of the Holy”), and T. Rex (“Electric Warrior”).
Ironically what makes Heavy Metal Thunder an attractively guilty read is that for most of it, there is no text. The authors just let the covers speak for themselves, allowing us to either admire the ingenuity of the artists or to gasp with a barf bag. It also makes one realize that in the age of the compact disc why this is almost a lost art. The cover of Pantera’s “Vulgar Display of Power” (1992), showing a man getting punched in the face, is representative of what makes a heavy metal album cover stand out: hard-hitting and no-holds barred.