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Five of the Most Controversial Heavy Metal Album Covers

Over the years, metal bands have come up with some interesting and controversial album covers, both as intentional, and sometimes unintentional, ways to garner publicity. Some bands, like the Scorpions, would pretty much create some sort of stir with every album they released in the mid-late ’70s through to the mid 1980s. Other bands would simply see how much attention they could get with lewd or shocking artwork. So here are five of the most controversial metal album covers from records that actually sold more than 50,000 copies.

Scorpions – Virgin Killer (1976)

Controversy has dogged this Scorpions record until just recently, after the FBI launched an investigation to determine if the young, naked girl on the original cover violated U.S. child pornography laws. The image was also blocked by many United Kingdom ISPs. However, the block has been lifted because of technical problems occurring as a result of the blocking mechanisms and due to the already “wide availability” of the cover image. The way the 10-year-old girl is posed and the title of the record also fueled the flames. The cover shows the girl’s vaginal area blocked by a crack in the camera lens. Of course the album was banned in the U.S. upon its release. Interestingly, the German arm of RCA Records fully supported the controversial cover art. Over time, several band members have publicly expressed regret over the artwork. Despite the controversy, the record failed to sell anywhere except Japan. Many Scorpions album covers have been controversial, including LovedriveAnimal Magnetism and Love at First Sting.

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Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite for Destruction(1987)

The iconic logo artwork on Guns ‘N Roses debut Appetite for Destruction is not what the band originally intended to grace the cover. They wanted to use the infamous robotic rape scene painted by Robert Williams that wound up on the inner sleeve on the original vinyl release. But some retailers refused to put the record on their shelves, so Geffen Records forced the gunners to go with an alternate. It should be noted Axl Rose wanted to use a photo of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, but was talked out of it by Geffen, who thought it wasn’t in good taste. The band settled on the now famous celtic cross with skulls showing the five band members. It was designed by Billy White Jr. and originally meant to be a tattoo. Even in 2008, with Appetite about to get released again on vinyl using the rape scene cover, the label balked at the last minute and went with the cross cover.

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Mötley Crüe – Shout at the Devil (1983)

In a move to reap some publicity in 1983, Mötley Crüe decided to put a massive pentagram on their breakthrough Shout at the Devilcover. Naturally back in 1983, church groups and Christians were wrongly led to believe the satanic icon would lead unknowing listeners down the path of evil to devil worship. Naturally band leader Nikki Sixx spent every interview reminding folks his band don’t worship Satan, and the title is shout AT the devil, not shout with the devil. Certainly the cover helped the Crüe get some extra attention to what was a very, very good album back then.

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Janes Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual (1990)

No strangers to controversial artwork, Jane’s Addiction’s second big-label album, Ritual de lo Habitual saw the original cover rejected by several retailers because it depicted nudity and the idea of a threesome. “Ritual de lo Habitual” featured a photograph of a diorama with singer Perry Farrell in a menage a trois with two women. The cover was actually a representation of the song “Three Days”. When some record stores refused to carry the album with the racy art, Farrell offered an alternative version of a plain white cover with the First Amendment printed on it.

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Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (1983)

Call it Metallica’s first example of selling out. The cover for Kill ‘Em All that we all know and love wasn’t what the band had originally intended, neither was the title. Metallica wanted to call their debut Metal Up Your Ass with the famous hand in a toilet bowl holding a knife upright as the cover (which became a very popular T-shirt). But nobody wanted to put that cover on their shelves, so Megaforce records urged the band to change the cover and the name. So former bassist Cliff Burton came up with “Kill ’em All” as a shot at the “timid record distributors”. The classic hammer and blood art came from the band, who made sure it still had some attention-grabbing value.

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