6) Metallica a.k.a. “The Black Album”
So after four albums with amazing artwork that fans would sit in their rooms and study in detail for the entire duration of the record, Metallica choose…nothing? Except it wasn’t completely nothing, was it. After most of us missed it at first glance, you can clearly see the classic band logo in the upper left-hand corner and the “Don’t Tread On Me” snake in the lower right, both outlined in grey. The band logo, no matter how hard you looked or what angle you held the cover at was always too dark to stand out, and while the Gadsden flag snake fit the lyrical theme of at least one song, it’s an image that hasn’t stood the test of time very well. (Dear Metallica, sorry the Tea Party stole the snake you stole from the Revolutionary War…) Still there is something to be said about the simplicity of this cover. While the band logo seems to be at an awkward angle and gives the feel of a last-minute addition, the coiled snake with no other indicators about it made for a compelling image. Remove the band logo altogether and this album cover could have easily cracked the top five on this list. Sometimes less is definitely more.
5) Death Magnetic
I may catch flak for putting this one as high as I did, but there’s something very appealing to the eye about this cover. The coffin itself is an admittedly overdone motif in metal imagery in general. But placed inside the coffin-shaped hole, and surrounded by symmetrical designs, there’s something there that takes it from potentially cheesy to potentially powerful. The line work surrounding the coffin/hole reminds me of the claw marks a couple dozen birds would leave in the dirt as they feasted on something left to rot. The beauty in this cover is that it has about a million different ways you can interpret it without losing the overall vision of what the artist was going for in the first place. The cover was designed by an ad agency called Turner Duckworth, who had previously done a branding campaign for Coca-Cola. (Insert corporate rock jokes here.) While few bands in metal would ever turn to an ad agency to design an album cover, in this instance it worked.
4) …And Justice For All
The last of the truly iconic album covers and one that, quite honestly, could rank anywhere from here right to the top of the list. The image of Lady Justice being toppled over with her scales tipped with money isn’t a completely original concept but artist Stephen Gorman nailed it. Out of all their albums, this cover may best represent the lyrical and musical content held within. The spray-painted album title adds to the 80s theme of inner cities crumbling under the weight of Trickle Down Economics, and the green-hued band logo is the perfect compliment to artwork that is devoid of any colors that are outside the grey scale.