A decade of shocking record sleeves...

11:16 23rd September 2009

Terrorist atrocities, drug-taking, nudity, gore and religion-bashing – this decade has seen an abundance of shocking and hard-hitting album covers rear their heads. Here Gigwise counts down the 40 most controversial of the 2000s. Be warned, some are quite disturbing...

  • 40. Manic Street Preachers: 'Journal For Plague Lovers' (2009) – Four major UK supermarkets censored the Manics' latest album upon its release after they deemed it too offensive for shoppers. The stores claimed that the red on the Jenny Saville painting looks like blood, despite the fact it's actually an image of a young girl with a birthmark. The band were angered by the decision, with singer James Dean Bradfield saying: "You can have lovely shiny buttocks and guns everywhere in the supermarket on covers of magazines and CD's, but you show a piece of art and people just freak out.” Fair point.

  • 39. Sebastien Tellier: 'Sexuality' (2008) - Just in case you didn't think laid back, cool Frenchmen were having lots of sex here's Sebastien Tellier to visualise his life by adventuring on a naked woman whilst riding a horse. With a nice sense of the absurd, Tellier judges the tone of a controversial album cover well by being cheeky and tongue in cheek but still hinting at debauchery and extra curricular pursuits. Pubic hair included. Nice one Sebastian.

  • 38. Ice T: 'Gangsta Rap' (2006) - Featuring the infamous buttocks of Ice's silicone-enhanced wife Coco, this naked cover for the 2006 album 'Gangsta Rap' is an eye grabbing affair. With a gun next to his bed and the blonde glamour model draped over him, T was seemingly desperate to gain some publicity ahead of the dire record's release. Unfortunately for him, the publicity didn't work and the album sunk without a trace titanic-style.

  • 37. Gong: 'Acid Motherhood' (2004) - Naked, pregnant female bodies with Jimmy Savile-esque faces, Gong's 'Acid Motherhood' is as twisted as you can possibly get. Released more than four decades into Gong's career, who says rockers mellow with old age? Plain wrong.

  • 36. Arctic Monkeys: 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' (2006) – Back on the other side of the millennium no-one would have batted an eyelid at th'Arctic Monkeys record sleeve. Not now. Featuring the band’s close friend and brother of The Reverend, Chris McClure, the Arctics landed into hot water after anti-smoking groups complained about the CIGARETTE in McClure’s mouth. NHS for Scotland said it hammers home the message that “smoking is okay” for young people, but the band's manager hilariously counteracted by saying: "You can see from the image smoking is not doing him the world of good". Two months after the record's release McClure quit smoking, not due to the detriment health effects but because he was broke!

  • 35. Crash Radio: 'Crash Radio' (2004) – Shortly after releasing this record five years ago Crash Radio disappeared into obscurity. The only remnant of the band left is this damn good album cover of a nonchalant young girl puffing away at a cigarette in front of her friend in a paddling pool – a sleeve that's easily more controversial than Arctic Monkeys' debut. We can only hope the cigarette is a talcum-powder fake one and not the real deal!

  • 34. Andrew W K: ‘I Get Wet’ (2001) – Mr W K’s debut was accused of endorsing cocaine usage thanks to the image of the singer with blood pouring from each nostril. Rather than snort ten grams of coke to get the Kate Moss effect, W K in fact smeared his face with the blood of an animal he bought from a butcher’s shop. A shame because a punch to the face for his shit music would have been much better!

  • 33. The Strokes: 'Is This It' (2001) – Ranked as one of the greatest album covers of all time by many, the image of a leather-clad hand pressed into a woman’s behind was banned from the US and had to be replaced with a photo of particle collisions in the Big European Bubble Chamber. Boring or what? The content was controversial too: ‘New York City Cops’ had to be replaced with ‘When It Started’ to avoid causing offence after 9/11.

  • 32. Megadeth: 'The System Has Failed' (2004) - This not-so-subtle image neatly portrays how many people felt about George Bush and the Iraq war. The image sees the Bush administration, including Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney, bribing a Satanic judge for 'Not Guilty' verdicts. Prices for a free pass include $2000 for a Holy War and $10,000 for 'Playing God'. It may not be understated but this controversial cover certainly makes its message clear.

  • 31. King Diamond: 'Give Me Your Soul... Please' (2007) - The deranged looking girl on the cover to King Diamond's latest release sends a shiver down your spine. Covered in blood and in front of an upturned crucifix, the sense of evil is all over this image from falsetto loving King Diamond. Very dark indeed.

  • 30. Megapuss: 'Surfing' (2008) – Devendra Banhart and Gregory Rogove's collaborative album features the naked, hairy pair fighting with knives on the front cover. Slightly risqué we're sure you'll agree. However, it's the back sleeve which grabbed the pair some headlines as it features full frontal nudity. Above is the censored version; sadly if you want to see the size of Devendra's pecker, you'll just have to buy the album.

  • 29. Marilyn Manson: ‘Holy Wood’ (2000) - The third instalment of Marilyn Manson’s concept album trilogy featured a rotting Christ-like figure from the torso-up. The corpse’s mutilated face showed Manson with his teeth bared in a typical display of gothic headline-grabbing. The album was especially controversial as it was released in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, of which Manson had been lazily and wrongly blamed by sections of the press and religious groups for inciting hatred in offenders Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold prior to their horrific crime.

  • 28. Regurgitate: 'Sickening Bliss' (2006) – Sickening by name, sickening by nature. Previous album covers have featured burnt corpses and cannibalistic erections, but for their fourth full length release the pioneering Swedish Goregrind band unleashed this macabre image. In stark juxtaposition to the sugary sweet wallpaper and smile on the woman's face, what's purportedly a baby is actually her intestines. An alternate censored cover was also issued which focuses on the woman's face.

  • 27. Dwarves: 'The Dwarves Must Die' (2004) - The problem with being controversial is that sometimes you just look a bit stupid. Typically daft, when Dwarves released this album in 2004 they adorned the cover with an image of a dwarf being crucified and surrounded by three naked women. Incredibly tacky, it's equally comical as it is shocking.

  • 26. Cattle Decapitation: 'The Harvest Floor' (2009) – The San Diego grindcore band have something of a forte for shocking album covers and their latest release is no exception. Designed by renowned heavy metal artist Wes Benscoter, the cover depicts members of the public being herded into a slaughterhouse to presumably be killed. Chillingly echoing a Nazi death camp, the band also unleashed a video to their song 'Regret and the Grave' featuring people being rounded up and taken to their death in a slaughterhouse.

  • 25. Cradle of Filth: 'Thornography' (2006) - Typically demonic work from Dani Filth et al here. Bathed in a sickly green light, a beheaded Jesus lookalike's cranium is cradled by a woman who looks longingly into the distance. As you look around the room depicted you can clearly see an array of coffins and crucifix's dotted around. What it all means is open to interpretation but it's undoubtedly shocking and gruesome.

  • 24. Nas: 'Untitled' (2008) A controversial album in every sense of the word, this artwork is appropriately attention grabbing. In a shocking and thought-provoking image Nas' back is adorned with huge scars depicting the letter 'N' conjuring images of slavery and violence. The rapper, of course, originally wanted to call the record 'Nigga' or 'Nigger', but this was withdrawn at the label's request.

  • 23. Xiu Xiu: 'A Promise' (2003) – There's something deeply disturbing about this album artwork. A stark naked man holding a baby doll upside down and near his genitals, weird is an understatement. Above is the censored version - don't worry we won't inflict his shrivelled manhood upon you.

  • 22. Cattle Decapitation: 'Humanure' (2004) – A twisted parody of Pink Floyd's seminal seventies record 'Atom Heart Mother', the beast on this record sleeve is instead situated in a bleak, toxic landscape and is excreting foul human remains. From a deathgrind band called Cattle Decapitation though what did we expect?!

  • 21. Carcass: Choice Cuts (2004) – The recently-reformed Liverpool extreme metal band issued this compilation album back in 2004. The band are infamous for their macabre lyrics and equally morbid album covers so it was only natural to feature an image of a man about the machete three unfortunate individuals as their 'greatest hits' sleeve. Incredibly, this cover is pretty tame in comparison to some of their previous grisly artwork, 1996 compilation album 'Wake Up and Smell the... Carcass' for one featured a photo of a murdered John F Kennedy on the autopsy slab.

  • 20. Z-Ro: 'Crack' (2008) - Crack is the first album in the Texan rapper's drug-based trilogy due to be followed by the imaginatively titled 'Heroin' and 'Meth'. Z-Ro has stated that the streets will be hooked on his music and with an album sleeve like this you can see why they might pay attention. Graphically depicting a figure smoking the deadly drug you can clearly see Z-Ro in the pipe, the flames and the smoke of the crack cocaine. The cover has since been replaced by a more commercially viable alternative, but this original remains both shocking and controversial.

  • 19. Slayer: ‘God Hates Us All’ (2001) The thrash metal outfit are notoriously not afraid of religious controversy in the slightest – the album title and anti-religious content gives that away - but they turned against this cover art for a different reason. The record company chose an image of the bible spiked with nails and covered in blood in an effort that, according to guitarist Kerry King, “looked liked a seventh-grader had defaced the bible.” An alternate sleeve was later issued.

  • 18. Deicide: 'Scars Of The Crucifix' (2004) – With a title like 'Scars of the Crucifix' you're guaranteed to get a shocking album cover. The US death metal band are famously anti-Christian, regularly berating religion with tracks like 'Fuck Your God' and 'Death To Jesus', so the image of a mutilated, finger-eating, demonic-like Christ comes as no shock.

  • 17. Rammstein: 'Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da' (2009) - The title of the German industrial-metallers' sixth studio album translates literally into 'Love Is There For Everyone'. For those of you expecting a nice twee album image to suit, just remember this is Rammstein we're talking about! Resembling a classic art piece, the cover depicts the band gathered around a naked girl with one member ominously holding a butcher's knife above her. As if that controversy isn't enough, we also get some phallic fruit in the foreground and some flesh eating plants at the back. Hmmmm.

  • 16. Pig Destroyer: 'Prowler in the Yard' (2001) - It seems that this grindcore band are not very good at DIY, as the blood shed and loose limbs on display here clearly shows. Gruesome and gory, the West Virginia band certainly know how to gain attention and indeed how to test it. The album itself is a massive twenty three tracks long and tells the tale of twisted love, obsession and – wait for it – GORE.

  • 15. Vital Remains: ‘Icons of Evil’ (2007) - As if the Jesus figure on the album cover didn’t have enough to worry about being nailed to the cross, a huge hand also slams a hammer into his chest on this vicious sleeve. Vital Remains’ lyrics deal almost exclusively with anti-religion, Satanism and blasphemy, so it’s no surprise that they opted for such a controversial cover on this release.

  • 14. James: 'Hey Ma' (2008) – Released when panic about gun crime was rife in the UK, James unleashed this poignant, hard-hitting and unforgettable record cover. Ahead of the album's release, a billboard promo campaign featuring the artwork was pulled after the powers-that-be deemed the image of a baby choosing between a gun and toys as offensive. Despite the still-standing ban, James refused to pull the Darren Hughes designed artwork.

  • 13. Cannibal Corpse: ‘The Wretched Spawn' (2004) Released 16-years into the death metal outfit's depraved career, this record categorically proved that Cannibal Corpse were not getting mellower or inoffensive in their later years. In a scene echoing Aliens, a woman gives birth to three demonic figures through three orifices. The sick bastards.

  • 12. Dream Theater: 'Live Scenes From New York' (2000) - In a cruel twist of fate Dream Theater somehow managed to foresee the September 11th terrorist attacks with this controversial album cover. Having previously released an album featuring artwork of a burning heart, the prog-metallers decided to incorporate the New York skyline into the image for their live album cover recorded in the Big Apple. This unfortunate incident was made worse by the fact that the album was released on the exact day of the terrorist attacks. All copies of the album were hastily recalled.

  • 11. Preschool Tea Party Massacre: 'Hardcore Died With Hitler' (2006) - Maybe in the heads of Preschool Tea Party Massacre this artwork means something, most likely a powerful message about the state of the hardcore music scene. However, to the untrained eye it just appears to be a photoshopped image of Hitler playing a guitar. A pretty tactless attempt at garnering controversy here from a band who seem desperate to shock in every possible sense.

  • 10. Slayer: ‘The Christ Illusion’ - Painted by artist Larry Carroll, the cover to Slayer’s 2006 album depicted a mutilated, stoned (in the biblical sense) Jesus Christ with decapitated heads strewn around him. The fact he has decapitated hands and a missing eye add to the controversy and makes it as sacrilegious as you can get. Unsurprisingly, Christian groups soon lobbied against the album and in some stores an alternate sleeve was issued.

  • 9. Liars: 'It Fit When I Was A Kid' (EP – 2005) – We're bending the rules a bit here by including this, but such was the controversy surrounding Liars' 2005 EP it had to be included. Basically a photo of a gay porn scene (we've edited out the erect phalluses) with the band members' comical faces superimposed on it's both amusing and controversial. Unsurprisingly a slip cover was issued upon the EP's release to censor the gay orgy cover.

  • 8. The Lost Children of Babylon: ‘The 911 Report - The Ultimate Conspiracy’ (2005) The ultra controversial concept album from the underground hip-hop outfit looked at 9/11 from every angle. As well as denouncing the terrorists who committed the atrocities, it slammed President Bush and his administration and looked at the various conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks. Duly, the artwork is just as hard-hitting as the music it contains.

  • 7. Leftover Crack: 'Fuck World Trade' (2004) - Another political entry, this time from ska punk metallers Leftover Crack. Anything featuring New York's Twin Towers is immediately shocking and Leftover Crack exploit this by implying that oil barons Halliburton aided and benefited from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Shocking and crass it may be, but the artwork and album title show that Leftover Crack are an angry band with something to say at least.

  • 6. Lividity: 'Used, Abused and Left For Dead' (2006) – The turgid metal outfit take their name from one of the stages of death when discolouration occurs shortly after rigor mortis and just before the body decomposes. Lovely. A truly horrible album cover from a band who clearly need their heads checking.

  • 5. Ministry: 'Rio Grande Blood' (2006) – The second of a trio of concept albums berating President George W Bush, 'Rio Grande Blood' upped the ante in every possible sense. Musically the Chicago industrial rockers lambasted the dimwitted ex-US leader in pertinently in tracks like 'Fear (Is A Big Business)' and 'LiesLiesLies', but perhaps the best bit about this record is its ultra-controversial cover. Featuring a mutilated George W Bush tied to an oil barrel crucifix with stealth bombers and industry in the background, it's politically loaded and simply awesome.

  • 4. KMD: 'Bl_ck B_st_rds' (2001) – Recorded in 1993, the New York hip-hop act's album never saw the light of day for eight years after Elektra Records deemed the cover too controversial. Also known as 'Black Bastards', the record cover depicts a 'Sambo caricature' being lynched in a game of hangman. Zev Love X from the group (the man who later became the iconic masked rapper MF Doom) was said to be disillusioned with the record industry after the record, which features Black nationalist lyrics, was shelved.

  • 3. The Coup: 'Party Music' (2001) - In an entirely coincidental faux-pas, The Coup planned to release ‘Party Music’ with a cover showing band members Pam the Funkstress and Riley standing in front of the World Trade Centre. Created in June 2001, Riley is shown pushing the button on his guitar tuner as the towers explode beneath them. The album’s release was planned for just a few weeks after the September 11 attacks took place, but was pushed understandably pushed back and the cover art changed.

  • 2. Most Precious Blood: 'Our Lady Of Annihilation' (2003) – The concept of the album cover was thought up by the hardcore punk band's guitarist Justin Brannan and made reality by Justin Boruki. A woman poses as the Virgin Mary was her hands held out like a deity – the major snag, she has a suicide bomb attached to her chest. An ultra-controversial, yet equally powerful image.

  • 1. Paris: 'Sonic Jihad' (2003) – The former Nation of Islam member has never shied away from controversy but Paris excelled himself with 'Sonic Jihad' six years ago. The San Francisco rapper's fifth studio album depicts a plane on a collision course with The White House, perhaps alluding to United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11 which is believed to have been heading for the building before its passengers fought back against the hijackers. The album pulled no punches musically too, with track 'What Would You Do?' accusing the US government of perpetrating the September 11 atrocities. Ouch.

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