I’m going to admit something here. This is a safe space, right? No judgement, no derision, no pointing and laughing? OK, here goes: I bought my first record when I was 6, and it was Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. I always try to pass it off that it was something like Maiden’s Somewhere in Time or some AC/DC record, so I can try to look cool, but there you go. I was caught up in hair metal (bad, New Jersey pop hair metal, at that), and I spent my barely earned cash on some bullshit. Now, I’d eventually pick up albums like the ones I mention above (the next one I bought was Metallica’s Kill ‘em All, I swear), and still regularly visit my local record purveyors to drop chunks of a paycheque that would be better off clothing and feeding my kids. I do this because, at my age, I still get giddy at that gorgeous album art. The better a record looks, the more likely I am to buy it. I mean, who wants to pull out a 12” square of blotchy bullshit you can’t even stand the sight of, and then listen to the music which the artwork purports to represent?
So, in the spirit of album art, I thought I’d share my top 5 fantasy album covers of all time. I’m steering clear of mascots, so don’t expect any ‘Maiden or Megadeth on here. Another prerequisite is that I have to love the music as much as the cover, so that actually eliminates a lot of cool stuff, too (Roger Dean’s work on Ye and Asia records is second to none).
- High on Fire, Death Is This Communion
I love every cover for every HoF record, but Arik Roper just kills it here. I’d argue that no other cover captures Matt Pike’s obsession with fantasy and ancient lore like this one. The dystopia, the death, the cultism… it’s all there. Never mind that the entire record is laid out like a scroll. The whole thing sets this nerd foaming at the mouth.
- Mastodon, Leviathan
In 2002, when I heard Mastodon’s first full-length, Remission, I had pretty much written off metal. Can you blame me? I was still trying to get over Nu Metal. Remission got my attention, got me curious about the genre again; but the first record to get me back on the horse for good was Leviathan. I mean, just look at that cover! A concept album about Moby Dick that goes balls-out on the artwork, it deserves all its accolades and more. Paul Romano outdid himself on the artwork, which even includes an interpretation of the Pharos of Alexandria on later booklets.
- The Sword, Warp Riders
Pretty much all of The Sword’s first 3 record covers could fit here (I said I had to love the music, so that puts the last two way out of contention). Age of Winters has an intimate feel to it, and I like it so much that I own a hoodie with the design of the fairy on the front. Gods of the Earth is basically the spirit of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (at that time, a fairly obscure reference). But Warp Riders stands alone, and also signifies a bit of a departure for the band’s obsession with medieval type settings. The album’s all about space, and I can’t think of a better visual than a shuttle in a nebula (red space) emerging from between two asteroids on its way to a distant planet. Just typing that made me play out a movie in my mind.
- 3 Inches of Blood, Advance and Vanquish
OK, I’ll admit this one isn’t the most beautiful cover out there. The art is pretty cool, but it lacks a bit of polish to it. But that’s what’s great. I was introduced to this band when a friend told me: “they have a song called ‘Destroy the Orcs.’” And what else could those guys on the cover possibly be doing? There’s some orcs over there. Let’s go fuck ‘em up. Hell, yes.
Arik Roper does it again. Who is this old green man? Why is he wearing a mask? Is that his face? Why is he falling? What is he falling into? None of these questions are answered by arguably the best output by either of these now-legendary stoner rock bands.
Honorable mention: Dio Holy Diver
It’s Dio, OK? Some things are still sacred. – JP