Since 1910 musicians have associated visual arts with their sonic output in the form of the almighty album cover. And since 1987, Roadrunner Records has been a source of some visually stunning and visually disturbing images in the wide world of album art, nevertheless honoring the tradition. Whether using an image to set the tone for what’s to follow on your speakers, or as a means of branding in forever associating a picture with a title, there is no question as to the power of the album cover — which is why the label took a look at every album released on Roadrunner Records U.S. to find the greatest covers in its celebrated history.
Voted on by the Roadrunner worldwide staff, showcasing the iconic vs. the blasphemous, the painted vs. the photographed, as well as the found art vs. the commissioned art, we give you the “Ten Greatest Album Covers in Roadrunner History” — one at a time.
Feast your eyes on #9 below, and check back at RoadrunnerRecords.com every day as the label counts down to number one.
#9: MACHINE HEAD – “The Blackening”
Holding the title of Metal Hammer’s “Album of the Decade,” this 2007 crusher from Bay Area heavyweights MACHINE HEAD received a bevy of critical acclaim for balancing memorable, thrashing riffage with angry, thought-provoking lyrics. Surpassing the bar set by their former body of work, the long-running band’s sixth full-length to date is a powerful statement for the timeless band — which is why frontman Robb Flynn went for a powerful, timeless image to represent it.
Says Flynn of the find, “I stumbled upon an old punk rock flyer I had from the late eighties that had a wood carving of this creepy looking dude with a huge knife in his hand, standing over the bed of some sleeping children. It was powerful, and disturbing. The fact that it was so crude looking gave it that much more impact. It got me interested about finding some wood carvings. I dug around on the Internet, found what-would-become the album, showed it to the dudes, and everyone dug it.”
Continues Flynn, “The fact that it was 500 years old, yet still so powerful, was impressive. The main elements: the skeleton king, his foot on the earth, the almost-empty sand in hour glass, and most importantly the mirror with the words etched on it ‘The Mirror Which Flatters Not’ — it all seemed to tie into the lyrics on the record.
“‘The Blackening’ was a harsh look at ourselves, our society, or choices we as a people were making. And there was a lot of bad going on in the world, and a lot of ugly truths being unearthed. Those words summed it up so powerfully.”
As for the reaction the band received to their dark imagery, Flynn explains, “The fans loved it. It was different, especially back then. It won album cover of the year in a few mags. Now a million metal bands have copied the idea, which is flattering. But honestly, we were just trying to get away from the cheesy photoshop thing that was going on back then.”
And for what he loves about it the most, Flynn contends, “Just that something so simple and crude could be so powerful. It’s like the old Gene Simmons motto, ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’”