The roots of hard metal rock stretch to way back in the late 1960s. The first generation was marked by shit-kicking rockers like Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. But first wholly heavy-metal album was the ‘Black Sabbath’, from a band going by the same name. It had mastered the sound of the genre now known as heavy metal.
You will find some of the most stunning, outrageous and sometimes grotesque album cover arts in the hard metal genre. Hard metal bands put a lot of work into creating the perfect album covers. Their goal is to create the appropriate art to convey the message inside their music.
The typography on the album art designs is bold and messy. The imagery and style seem like something you’d find in a horror movie. But it’s this unique flair and hyper-masculine might that has given this genre a voice of its own. Fans of the genre follow it with a cult-like loyalty. As if they are ready to fight for it to the death.
The greatest metal album designs of all time have been able to represent this unruly culture to the letter. To design good album art, you must combine the three major elements of design: color, typography, and imagery.
So, let’s break down these elements and show you how you can manipulate them to design your own album cover.
There’s a widespread use of black and white palettes in most hard metal album cover art. Monochromatic colors are used to integrate dark and light in a haunting measure.
Dark shadows are also used to make it unsettling to outsiders and connect to the horror hound inside hard metal fans. Modern times have seen the use of many colors such as in Our Raw Heart by Yob.
If you study most metal album covers, you’ll notice that there’s a pattern in the typography used. There’s repeated use of Gothic elements and monochromatic symmetry. At times, the text is almost unreadable.
The use of Gothic text has been borrowed from bands such as Black Sabbath, whose 1973 album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, brought about the trend.
See this album cover: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Since then, the use of Black letter has become an established visual trope in heavy metal. Bands with Satanic Leanings have embraced it.
In an attempt to reflect the music that doesn’t welcome outsiders, the logos on hard metal album covers are illegible to a layman. The letters are usually hidden in there somewhere. Metal heads revere this deliberate symbolism.
Hard metal is known for its ghastly album cover designs. It’s this aesthetic extremism that thrills teenage heavy-metal fans and sends shivers down their parents’ spines. Rock music has always embraced dark art. Consider, the album cover art on Reign in Blood by Slayers.
A goat-like figure is carried on a chair by three figures. One with wings, one darning a bishop’s miter and the third one with horns sticking out of his head. This toxic scene full of bodies pierced by spikes is so well done, that every corner draws attention to itself. It reeks of nothing but death and all evil that one could imagine. You would have to work very hard to extract a laugh from these album art designs.
In general, the most notable features in hard metal cover art are the strong use of vivid colors. Black and white still dominate in black metal. One should also note the high attention to detail in the satanic imagery that dominates this genre. Skeletons, demons, inverted pentagrams, and bold messy fonts are prevalent.
To most, black metal seems like an anti-christian genre, but its defenders claim the music is a show of independence, pride, and free will. The visual motifs on hard metal album art are the foundation that shows the chaos in the music.