Metal has always been strongly drawn to the dark side of existence, and that's reflected in album art every bit as much as in the music itself. In honor of Halloween, we've dug through our archives and unearthed 15 of the creepiest, most unsettling album covers ever released—by Roadrunner artists or, frankly, anybody.
Sepultura's breakthrough album, 1993's Chaos A.D., came wrapped in a cover featuring dark sci-fi imagery that was fairly typical of metal at the time, but there's something about it that's more disturbing than other similar depictions. Why is that guy all mummified? What's that machine he's being fed into? Whose hands are those coming up from the bottom of the image? So many questions...so few happy answers.
Malevolent Creation's 1991 debut album, The Ten Commandments, turns the title phrase on its head. Yes, there are commandments being delivered, but they're the commandments of Satan, being delivered to demons and the damned. And imagining what those commandments might entail is a prospect few would probably like to consider for any length of time.
Gorguts' 1991 debut, Considered Dead, was heralded by this sleeve painting of a skeleton either emerging from or sinking into the stone of a long-abandoned tomb...meanwhile, some sort of hideous, vaguely spider-like creature floats in from the side, whether to harvest the remains or just stand watch over them, it's hard to say. The whole image, from its ancient temple setting to the otherworldly beast itself, is strongly reminiscent of the work of horror pioneer H.P. Lovecraft. Weird, disturbing stuff.
Suffocation's 1995 release Pierced From Within displays another dark fantasy setting, not unlike the Sepultura cover above. In this case, the album title is realized through the image of a man hanging suspended from chains in midair, with multiple spears jabbing through his flesh. Not a nice way to spend an afternoon...never mind eternity.
Mercyful Fate's debut album, 1983's Melissa, depicts a howling demon on its cover, charging forward with the fires of Hell roaring from its mouth and eyes. You can practically hear the crackling flames as this monster flies toward its intended victim.
Deicide's third album, 1995's Once Upon the Cross, comes shrouded (pun intended) in a surprisingly subtle image—not a painting of Jesus being actively tormented, but of his corpse after it had been taken down from the cross and was lying on the ground. Still every bit as anti-Christian as the rest of Glen Benton's monomaniacal discography, but oddly emotionally affecting at the same time.
Sepultura appears on this list a second time with the surreal monster from the cover of 1991's Arise. Am I the only one who looks at this creature and thinks of John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing?
1-800-Vindication, the 2004 release by Danish death metallers Illdisposed, offered a cover image that looked like a scene from one of the Saw movies. Is this one guy freaking out in a chair? Or is he Siamese twins attempting to tear loose of each other? It's an unpleasant image either way.
The covers to the single- and double-disc versions of Jerry Cantrell's Degradation Trip were different, but equally disturbing. Each version offers imagery reminiscent of the "body horror" of filmmaker David Cronenberg. You really don't want to picture Cantrell (that's his arm on the single-disc cover) yanking those strings out of his skin...but when you see the double-disc cover, you really wish he would pull his hand out from under the skin of his back. Yeesh.
Mercyful Fate returns to our list with the cover of 1984's Don't Break the Oath, in which Satan himself rises out of the flames of Hell to point the finger directly at the viewer. The album title is a command, it seems—one the Fate fan would do well to obey.
Not all horror is in the realm of fantasy. Nailbomb, the short-lived collaboration between Sepultura's Max Cavalera and Fudge Tunnel's Alex Newport, chose to depict real-world nightmares on their album covers, beginning with a soldier's rifle pressed to a Vietnamese woman's head on 1994's Point Blank and following that up with an image of corpses from the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana on the 1995 live disc Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide.
Proving that grotesque and horrifying album art wasn't left behind in the 1980s and 1990s, Machine Head upped the stakes in 2011, at least for those of us with a thing about bugs. The half-man/half-insect monstrosity on the cover of Unto the Locust almost certainly made some fans recoil.
There could be only one champion all-time creepy album cover to end this list, of course...and it's Brujeria's 1993 debut, Matando Güeros (translation: "Killing White People"). That's a real severed head, held by a Latin American drug gangster. Again, as with Nailbomb, sometimes real life is more horrifying than any fantasy.