If you've got any of these albums covers on a t-shirt, chances are you're not wearing it to the airport. Over the 50-year history of heavy metal, numerous controversies have been stirred over violent, sacrilegious or immoral album covers, further adding to the lore of these bands.
From pissing off religious groups, getting investigated by international governments, and getting pulled off shelves (in some cases for years), these are 10 of the biggest album cover controversies in metal.
Slayer – Christ Illusion
Slayer's 2006 album Christ Illusion features a stoned, half-dismembered Jesus Christ in a bloody war field. Various Christian groups took exception to the artwork, especially the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, who issued a memorandum to the Mumbai police commissioner. EMI India ended up recalling and destroying every copy of Christ Illusion throughout the country. No copies were destroyed in America, but a censored version of Christ Illusion was the edition that hit many shelves.
Scorpions – Virgin Killer
Scorpions actually had nothing to do with this album cover. Instead, their record label in West Germany decided to make the controversial (and frankly disgusting) decision to place a nude 10-year-old girl with her genitalia barely obscured on the cover of 1976's Virgin Killer. Of course, we're sharing a censored version of the artwork for this article. Various countries obscured the artwork, and in subsequent years, Internet watchdog groups have argued the legality of the album cover. In 2015, a Swedish court ruled the image as a piece of child abuse material.
Burzum – Aske
As the churches were burning in 1990s Norway, Burzum included the charred remains of Fantoft Stave Church as the cover of the 1993 EP Aske. Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes is suspected of burning the church down himself and some believe Vikernes was also the man behind the camera, though that subject is still debated to this day. Vikernes was later found guilty of several church arsons, though he was never convicted for Fantoft Stave Church.
Mayhem – Dawn of the Black Hearts
Though Mayhem's live Dawn of the Black Hearts album is a bootleg, it was still given a release in South America by Warmaster Records in 1995. Label founder Mauricio 'Bullmetal' Montoya had received a photo of Mayhem vocalist Per 'Dead' Ohlin's body from the scene of his self-inflicted death (taken by guitarist Euronymous) and chose to use it as the cover for Dawn of the Black Hearts. It's become another piece of Mayhem lore in the decades since, and is arguably the most controversial album cover in extreme metal history.
Type O Negative – Slow, Deep and Hard
How do you get an image of sex onto record store shelves around the world? Extreme close-up! The green-tinted, fuzzed out image of a penis entering a vagina was taken from a porno mag. Of course, Type O Negative didn't get clearance for the image, but thankfully, there's never been a lawsuit reported. Type O kept the XXX theme going for their second album, The Origin of the Feces, thanks to Peter Steele's spread butt cheeks.
Black Label Society – Sonic Brew
Black Label Society's Sonic Brew isn't much to be offended by, but it stirred up controversy thanks to a cease-and-desist order sent by Johnnie Walker. The Sonic Brew cover looked a little too similar to the iconic whisky company's branding, so instead of facing a potential lawsuit, Black Label Society simply reissued the album with a new cover.
Steel Panther – Balls Out
Steel Panther banned in the UK? Say it ain't so! Steel Panther's sophomore album, Balls Out, caused a little stir across the pond, thanks to two silver balls dangling from the crotch area of a scantily-clad lady. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the Balls Out art was "overtly sexual," so posters advertising the album were removed to prevent children from seeing the unsuitable image.
Ministry – Dark Side of the Spoon
Ministry's drug-fueled Dark Side of the Spoon wasn't banned from Kmart for its references to illicit substances. Instead, the big box retailer refused to stock the record due to its album cover depicting a nude, obese woman facing a blackboard that repeatedly reads, "I will be god." It's really not that bad… just a bit of butt crack… but it was banned nonetheless.
Witchfinder General – Death Penalty and Friends of Hell
Believe it or not, the controversy stirred up by Witchfinder General's Death Penalty and Friends of Hell albums actually contributed to the breakup of the band. Both records feature women in various states of undress being accosted by men from Medieval and Renaissance time periods. It was just too much for the UK in the early ‘80s… the albums rule, though.
Cannibal Corpse – Pretty Much All of Them
From being name-dropped by U.S. presidential candidates, to censored album covers in Australia, to outright bans of their music in Germany, Cannibal Corpse are the kings of album cover controversies. German fans couldn't even legally buy Cannibal Corpse albums until 2006 — that's how crazy the outrage was. The hyper-violent and/or sexually graphic covers are pretty extreme, especially when it comes to Tomb of the Mutilated and The Wretched Spawn, but in the end, it's all just fantasy.