Scary Album Covers

Our music writers share their all-time spookiest album covers.

multiple writers
20th November 2020

Gather round dear readers and cower in fear as our writers show us the spookiest cover art to be found in this dimension. Keep reading, if you dare...

Rum, Sodomy & the Lash - The Pogues
Rum Sodomy & the Lash - Wikipedia

The Pogues are my favourite band, and this is a brilliant album. Many argue it’s The Pogues at their best, and while I’ve always preferred If I Should Fall From Grace With God, the slightly weirder younger brother, it’s certainly a fantastic album, and the example of the classic Pogues sound which changed the face of Irish Music.

However, it’s only Shane MacGowan’s unique brand of drunken pseudo-intellectualism which allows them to get away with this creepy album cover. It’s an horrific French Romantic Oil Painting from the early 19th-century, picturing a real-life shipwreck, where the survivors eventually turned to Cannibalism. This is made more haunting by the dreadful editing, which places the faces Pogues bandmembers on top of the anguished castaways, including Shane MacGowan in a pair of sunglasses. The icing on the cake is the jarring red front at the top, spelling out the albums bolshie name. The whole thing is deeply weird, slightly unnerving, and…well, scary.

Alex Walker

Kid A - Radiohead
Kid A - Wikipedia

Although not overtly scary, Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ provokes such alienation that immediately imposes an extra-terrestrial and claustrophobic atmosphere onto the listener. I could wax lyrical about Stanley Donwood’s stunning work designing album covers for the band, and ‘Kid A’ truly is the jewel in an incredibly weighty crown that encompasses (amongst others) ‘The Bend’s’ grinning mannequin, and the floating embryo of ‘In Rainbows’. The dystopian nature of ‘Kid A’, comprised entirely of experimental electronic tracks favouring mood over meaning, is matched by the infamous peaks which Donwood created by lashing at a canvas with knives. Photoshopping pictures of the ensuing chaos helped to communicate “cataclysmic power” and perfectly mirror the albums unhinged mentality. With tracks such as ‘Idioteque’ and ‘How to disappear completely’, the project represented a stylistic left turn for the band, and it’s hard not to see how the intimidating peaks are a metaphor for Thom Yorke’s depression and burnout following ‘OK Computer’. Even 20 years post-release, Kid A remains terrifyingly unfamiliar and invokes a melancholic dread, married by Donwood’s iconic artwork.

Thomas Wrath

The Weeknd - After Hours
After Hours (The Weeknd album) - Wikipedia

Is he the monster or the victim? This is a question constantly pondered in The Weeknd’s fourth studio album, “After Hours”, described by the singer as a “brain melting psychotic chapter”.

The dark, disturbingly bloody shot of the singer evokes a villainous facade to the album’s visuals, with Abel’s grinning expression suggesting he enjoys the pain evoked from his failed relationships, self-loathing and over-indulgence, themes all explored in the album.

“After Hours” is the perfect mix of the gloomy melodrama evoked in the Weeknd’s early EPs and his 2018 release, “My Dear Melancholy”, with Abel constantly switching from blaming himself in songs such as “Hardest to Love”, before returning to his destructive, indifferent self in “Heartless”. It is clear the singer is having a battle with his inner demons.

Hiding dark topics such as self-harm in “Snowchild” behind the lively synch-pop of “Blinding Lights”, “After Hours” may not initially strike you as a stereotypically “scary” album, but the ominous visuals and the fact the songs bleed into each other, creates an album in which Abel suggests that the inner devil is yourself.

Lyndsey Sleator

Social Cues - Cage the Elephant
Social Cues - Wikipedia

There is something off about Cage the Elephant’s latest album cover; the blow-up, sex doll-esque figure, sporting a cowboy hat, chains, and a garish red latex morph suit is like something you’d see in a cursed image or your worst fever dream. Released in 2019, the American band blessed the indie-rock scene with this fantastic 13 song collection (especially ‘Broken Boy’, which is an absolute banger), tackling different elements that plague today’s society, fame, and the influence ‘Social Cues’ have on us. And I think the album cover art represents exactly that - the way in which ‘Social Cues’ can affect and form our identities, with a lot of focus on the underbelly of celebrity culture. So, it would make sense that the album cover art would dip into the uncanny valley as the record itself deals with some darker themes.

Amelia Thorpe

Tearless - Amnesia Scanner
Tearless - Wikipedia

The cover of Finnish duo Amnesia Scanner’s sophomore album is less what you might call ‘spooky and scary fun’ and more ‘hideous and disturbing nightmare fuel’. What kind of album could possibly justify this visual abomination? Tearless, released June of this year, fuses Amnesia Scanner’s dark brand of experimental electronic with tinges of hardcore, Latin, deconstructed club and industrial; the result is an audacious, apocalyptic, labyrinthine listening experience. Vocals are processed to the point of sounding inhuman, even demonic, as Amnesia Scanner, both depressed and manic, scream into the void that is 2020. We have Berlin-based design studio PWR to thank for the freakish creature, with its flaming skull, demented eyes, blistering skin, and safety pin smile. But why must this grotesque face exist; just to make eyes bleed? It is humanity’s collective terror personified, perhaps, as well as the face of mankind, deformed and dehumanized by late capitalism and the Anthropocene era. 

Daisy Costello

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