Best Death Metal Album Covers

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Cannibal Corpse - 'Tomb Of The Mutilated' (1992)

Cannibal Corpse - Tomb Of The Mutilated
Cannibal Corpse - Tomb Of The Mutilated. Metal Blade Records

Memorable Cover Art From Death Metal Albums

Perhaps nowhere is a striking cover image more important than in death metal. Countless metal musicians say that what drew them to death metal – or what initially repelled them but piqued their curiosity - was the cover art for bands like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. Death metal bands are still trying to one-up each other with explicit and grisly images from slaughterhouses or crime scenes. Here are my picks for the top 10 best death metal album covers; death metal progenitors Cannibal Corpse (and by extension artist Vincent Locke) make the list twice. Some artwork is so twisted that it didn’t even make the actual cover – it’s included inside the album.

Illustrator Vincent Locke’s painting features two decomposing zombies engaged in an explicit sex act. It set the bar for all ensuing gross-out death metal album art. Even today the sight of a teenager wearing a Tomb shirt will cause people to shake their heads. Cannibal Corpse's albums up to Tomb Of The Mutilated were banned in Germany for years in part due to this cover.

The album is also sold with a censored cover. Locke continues to illustrate Cannibal albums but has toyed with the mainstream: the movie A History of Violence was based on an eponymous graphic novel he illustrated. The band decided to hire Locke because they were fans of his zombie apocalypse comic Dead World.

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Deicide - 'Once Upon The Cross' (1995)

Deicide - Once Upon The Cross
Deicide - Once Upon The Cross. Earache Records

Deicide’s Glenn Benton has always had a taste for the theatrical. He branded an upside-down cross on his forehead and named his son Daemon (as in Satan Spawn The Caco-Daemon). The artwork for Once Upon The Cross shows Jesus Christ after an autopsy.

The cover shows an image of a bloodstain and an outline of a body under a white sheet; you need to go inside the album to see the artwork. The image would likely cause Focus on the Family to give up and close shop.

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Impaled - 'Choice Cuts' (2001)

Impaled - Choice Cuts
Impaled - Choice Cuts. Deathvomit Records

Impaled bassist and vocalist Ross Sewage is an underground Renaissance man; he works as an artist and graphic designer and blogs. Choice Cuts was the cover that almost forced a Walgreen’s counter clerk to call law enforcement when Sewage brought it in for reproduction. Yup, that’s a hacksawed fetus.

Many websites refuse to carry the image of this album. Sewage once worked as a quality tester for Internet porn companies so he’s obviously seen enough depressing material to create disturbing images. Also check out the art of Impaled’s The Last Gasp, which features a woman vomiting up her own intestines.

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Regurgitate - 'Carnivorous Erection' (2000)

Regurgitate - Carnivorous Erection
Regurgitate - Carnivorous Erection. Relapse Records

Regurgitate is best qualified as gore-grind as but this album nonetheless makes the list. If the fictional censors were worried about the proposed cover of Spinal Tap’s Smell The Glove (a woman on a leash sniffing a glove) they should see this album.

The cover shows in graphic detail a female performing a sex act on a hideous human head implanted on an intimate male body part. What’s especially disturbing about the image is that the phallic face looks eerily like Andre Delambre ensnared in a spider’s web in the horror classic The Fly.

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Vital Remains - 'Icons Of Evil' (2007)

Vital Remains - Icons Of Evil
Vital Remains - Icons Of Evil. Century Media Records

Deicide’s Glenn Benton was among the first to approve of this album cover and it shows. If you buy the CD in a store chances are you will only see part of the artwork; if you buy it on iTunes you might think you’ve accidentally downloaded a Gospel record.

The full image shows Christ’s hands being nailed to the cross by a hammer with the number “666” on it.

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Necrophagia - 'Holocausto De La Morte' (1998)

Necrophagia - Holocausto De La Morte
Necrophagia - Holocausto De La Morte. Red Stream Records

This makes the list because it’s a shout-out to fans of Italian gore movies -– who are probably death metal fans as well. Each image on the album is taken from Italian gore maestro Lucio Fulci’s films.

Necrophagia also wrote a song based on Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 Italian mondo shocker Cannibal Holocaust.

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Cannibal Corpse - 'Butchered At Birth' (1991)

Cannibal Corpse - Butchered At Birth
Cannibal Corpse - Butchered At Birth. Metal Blade Records

Cannibal’s second album predated Tomb of the Mutilated by a few years but doesn’t hold back; the artwork shows zombies dissecting a pregnant woman and babies hanging on hooks and nooses. Butchered At Birth is another tee-shirt perennial and has lost none of its ability to shock almost 20 years later.

Record stores in Ontario, Canada were once warned by police not to sell the album to minors. The censored cover featured the band’s logo and album title in blood-red ink. Cannibal also sold jewelry of the small baby skeletons featured in the Butchered At Birth artwork. This is the album where Chris Barnes permanently switched to guttural vocals.

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Cryptopsy - 'None So Vile' (1996)

Cryptopsy - None So Vile
Cryptopsy - None So Vile. Century Media Records

This album would make any short list for best death metal albums. The striking classical painting, far more sophisticated and of greater artistic merit than the rest of the list, is Elisabetta Sirani’s Herodias With the Head of John The Baptist.

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Carcass - 'Reek Of Putrefaction' (1988)

Carcass - Reek Of Putrefaction
Carcass - Reek Of Putrefaction. Earache Records

Carcass recorded this album before their shift to melodic death metal. But the collage of medical autopsy photos is still a gut-wrenching classic and has been covered up for years. Even the Earache reissue from 2008 is packaged in a plastic bag.

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Severe Torture - 'Misanthropic Carnage' (2002)

Severe Torture - Misanthropic Carnage
Severe Torture - Misanthropic Carnage. Hammerhead Records

The image features a crazed assailant hoisting a bloody axe above a helpless victim and a display case full of heads. Not exactly original – hundreds if not thousands of death metal bands have similar sanguine offerings – but a strong representation of this style. The album is also sold in a censored version with a plain black cover.

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