The Best of Thrash Metal Cover Art

It's time to pay tribute to a genre that has more great album artwork than it has deliriously fast songs about the most evilest shit a stoned, teen-aged mind can conjure. The genre was epitomized in the early eighties when a handful of drunk virtuosos in skinny black jeans and high-tops decided to call themselves Metallica and play the lean essentials of heavy metal at really, really fast tempos. Other dark lords of the thrash universe include Exodus, Anthrax, Venom, Kreator, Overkill, and macabre masterminds Slayer. Here are the seven best thrash metal record covers of all time.

Motörhead, Iron Fist

Forget thrash, this is one of the best record covers in any genre. Turns out the pummeling, cold fist of death is sheer eye candy. Who made that thing? Did it fall out of someone's nightmare? If you want a couple more reaons to love them, Motörhead frontman Lemmy hoped his band would be "the dirtiest rock n' roll band in the world" and once said that if "Motörhead moved in next to you, your lawn would die."

Metal Church, Metal Church

Um, it's a cruciform Gibson Explorer, zombified in the graveyard of Metal Church. Gnarly. Did they shoot this photo on the set of the Thriller video? Same year. Just sayin'.

Venom, Possessed

I like this cover because it defies the genre. No overwrought Iron Maiden-esque oil paintings, no overt Satanism, zero cheese factor. If anything, you would expect this fucked-up photocopied negative from a punk rock band. The androgynous demon children immediately remind me of Richard D. James and the Aphex Twin video for 'Come To Daddy' (directed by Chris Cunningham). Genuinely creepy.

Vio-lence, Eternal Nightmare

Oh no, it's your worst nightmare: you're tucked into bed, wearing your nice clean starched white pajamas because you are a total dickweed poser, and you wake up to discover that you are TUMBLING DOWN A NEVERENDING VAMPIRE MOUTH 'TIL THE END OF TIME! The essential theme of thrash metal is that each generation of bands has to try and out-evil the last. Eternal Nightmare epitomizes the losers of the evil arms race (hey, not everybody can be Slayer). The boys of Vio-lence failed miserably in their attempt to be insidious and foul; looking at this cover is about as scary as tickling a leprechaun. And that's why it rules.

Metallica, Kill 'Em All

The record is a masterpiece and so is the cover. No wonder they've had carte blanche ever since. It's got the unfuckwithable red-black-white color combination, the photograph is beautifully lit, and the blood puddle has a great Rorschach thing going on. This record almost got called 'Metal Up Your Ass' as a goof; thankfully they decided otherwise. Now if only they'd hang up the guitars (and the midlife crises) once and for all. Photo by Gary Lee Heard.

Death, Leprosy

Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner was clearly no fan of subtlety. This cover creeps me out because somehow I feel like maybe you could get leprosy just from looking at it. The real star of this show is the Death logo. Logo design requires boiling a concept down to its distilled essence, but not for Schuldiner, who designed and re-designed this logo himself throughout the band's career. This incarnation features a spider dangling from its web, a bloody scythe (which is not incorporated into any of the letterforms for some reason), a flaming inverted crucifix, and a shrunken demon skull head thing. Only someone who doesn't know the rules can break them all and produce something this exuberant. Oh, also check out that sweet nuclear sunset. Artwork by Ed Repka.

Slayer, Reign In Blood

Much like the music it represents, the cover of Slayer's 1986 major label debut made everything that preceded it look like sugar-coated sunshine in comparison. Illustrator and artist Larry Carroll provided the band with a grim cover illustration of Satan-as-goat reigning over a medieval, Bosch-ian vision of Hell. What else would befit an album with a song called 'Raining Blood' that opens with the sound of blood rain? I heard this dude Gaahl (from notorious Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth) explain the meaning of the 'Satan as a goat' symbol during an episode of the VBS tv (Vice's online video channel) series 'True Norwegian Black Metal'; he claimed that the goat represents beings motivated by free will, as opposed the rest of us, who are sheep. Being a sheep is lame: you're a slave to the masses, shackled by ideology and oppressed by tradition. I guess the one cool thing about it is that, um, you don't have to rot in Hell for eternity.

That shit is so fascinating to me. When it comes to mythological grandiosity, few other genres can fuck with metal.

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