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About Album Covers


Take a few seconds and think of your favourite Iron Maiden album cover. It's a hard choice, isn't it? The pure malice of Killers, the intricate detail of Powerslave, the complexity and symbolism of Somewhere In Time... they just seem to reach out and grab your imagination. So what do these paintings have in common that make them excellent?What characteristics do all great album covers have?

  • They grab the viewer's attention
  • They set the mood of the album

These functions are extremely important, and judging from the profusion of horrible album covers, are commonly ignored. An album cover is the album's first and most important advertisement. It will be seen by virtually every person who likes music, no matter what their tastes in music are. The importance of this first impression cannot be overstated. Great album covers will lure people to try the album who might otherwise never hear the band's music. Probably your very first impression of Iron Maiden was an album cover – mine certainly was. The exquisite detail of Powerslave and Somewhere In Time are well known, but there exist many other sub-themes which are repeated from album to album, such as the grim reaper and the cat with the halo, which appear on many album and single pictures. These tiny details give character and make the paintings a special treat. I get almost as much enjoyment from studying these pictures as I do from hearing the music.

Setting the album's mood is the other important function of the album cover. Often one can sense that an album will be excellent simply by absorbing the mood of the painting. An idealist might insist that the cover picture is irrelevant and that only the music really matters. But there really does seem to be some relationship between a cover picture and the way you hear the music. Try to imagine Powerslave with the Load album cover... there's no question that it would have blunted the power of the music. Experiencing an album is not only done with the ears, but also with the eyes and imagination. A perfect album cover such as Powerslave triggers the imagination and perfectly sets the mood of the album. If Powerslave had Load's cover, there would be no mood or imagination whatsoever, and the musical experience would be affected. In a very real sense, if you put puke on the cover then the music will tend to sound like puke.

Now I'm getting to the point of what this rant is about. Iron Maiden's album covers have been classics – perfect in virtually every way. Their detail and complexity exactly matches Iron Maiden's intelligent and complex songwriting. This is due to the talent, creativity, and genius of one man, the 6th member of the band, Derek Riggs. I mean it literally – Derek Riggs is a genius! Without his masterful paintings Iron Maiden's story might be very different. In the previous two decades many bands have tried similar strategies, but none have come close to Riggs's intricate detail and sweeping symbolism.

But as you all know, during the last few years an unfortunate trend has begun to take shape – the master, Derek Riggs, has been shunted aside on the majority of new releases by the band. Now I have a great deal of respect for Melvyn Grant who created pictures for Fear Of The Dark and Virtual XI. They are good pictures, even though they may lack something intangible. But I've been very disturbed by the recent use of Ed Hunter pictures on Futureal and The Angel And The Gambler. I'm fighting to be objective here, but I really can't say anything except how I feel – the Ed Hunter pictures suck. They look just like what they are, cheesy computer graphics. Sure they may be decent by today's graphic standards. But the pace of computer technology changes so rapidly that within a few short years they will appear ridiculously primitive. By comparison, master Riggs's paintings will never diminish and will always retain their compelling power and imagination. For a vivid illustration, compare the Ed Hunter cover of Futureal with Riggs's Futureal painting. True to form, Riggs's painting is a masterpiece, perfectly linking the ancient context of Powerslave with an exquisitely crafted futuristic technological mood. It's pure genius, the sort of painting that one can gaze at for hours. It's not only good enough for the Futureal single, it should have been the Virtual XI album cover! But what was chosen for the Futureal single instead? A ridiculous computer graphic from a game that will be obsolete before it even hits the shelves, completely devoid of character and imagination.

As for Ed Hunter itself, I'll reserve judgement until I actually play it. But even if it's the next Doom, it will be quickly challenged and replaced by newer and better games. Something so transitory should not be placed on a single or album cover where it will remain forever.

I'm not trying to tell Iron Maiden what to do, but I'd really be interested in hearing an explanation. The quality of the two pictures is as different as night and day! What were they thinking??? If I was Iron Maiden, I'd get the best imaginable contract for Derek Riggs and then double it. Keep him happy and creative, and take advantage of his unique genius to capture the imagination of a new generation of fans. These fans have grown up with computer games, and won't be impressed by graphical gimmicks. But no one can remain unmoved by a Riggs painting.

So, where should Maiden get their cover pictures? My vote goes for the master, Derek Riggs.

15th December 1998



    I'm not suggesting that Load sounds like puke only because it has puke on its cover. Puke inside any cover is still puke. But all music is perceived through the mood and imagination that it creates in the listener, and you never get a second chance to make that first impression.

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