Exodus has been a fixture in the Bay Area Thrash Metal (and later, Jock Metal) scene since their formation in 1980. They are legends in the genre, and although I haven't been much of a fan of their work since they kicked out original singer Paul Baloff, I do have to admit that there's one thing that sets them apart from any other Metal band: the consistent awfulness of their cover art. I really can't think of any other band, Metal or otherwise, who has managed to offend the visual sensibilities of the public so often and so blatantly. So here's a quick rundown (in chronological order) of all of Exodus' cover art (that I know of), from their 1985 debut to their most recent release in 2008. That's 23 YEARS of shitty artwork without a mis-step, an achievement I believe is not only noteworthy but also commendable. Great job!
First off, we have the classic album Bonded By Blood (above). While I share the common belief that this is a true milestone in Metal history, I've got to question the reasoning behind this particular choice of imagery. I mean, what's up with the Devil-baby's haircut? And its abdomen, is that supposed to be a six-pack or a ribcage? The baby-blue blankets that were chosen as a backdrop? Do babies even belong on a Heavy Metal album cover? Baffling indeed, although Exodus' tendency to indulge in the "nose-drugs" might have played a part here.
The alternate version (above, right) would seem compatible with this theory. Perhaps Exodus sobered up for a minute, realized their mistake, a re-released the album with this drab, primary-colored piece of ambivalence as a kind of apology. We may never know for sure.
They followed up Bonded By Blood with 1987's Pleasures of the Flesh (left),which featured, of all things, a BAND PHOTO on the COVER. This is a cardinal sin in the world of Metal, akin to wearing your own band's shirt at a photo shoot. No one is allowed to put a fucking band photo on their album cover, with Manowar being the exception that proves the rule. In addition, they seem to be in some sort of tiki lounge (not Metal), and the human skulls, which would be cool on another cover, just seem to be sort of an afterthought here.
Right: I came accross this, an alternate version of the Pleasures cover, in the research phase for this post. While it is a bit more palatable than the original (cannibals are always a welcome sight), Exodus couldn't help but put themselves on the cover of this one too, this time as cartoons. And while cartoon renderings are less of an offense than actual band photos, they are still unwelcome on Heavy Metal album covers (with D.R.I. being the exception that proves the rule).
Carrying on under the mistaken assumption that band photos are totally the way to go for cover art, Exodus did it again on 1989's Fabulous Disaster (left). The catch? This time, they were depicted not in a tiki lounge, but in the living room, WATCHING TV! Classic Thrash Metal humor, to be sure, but it still makes for one Hell of a boring picture.
I'm assuming Exodus were using the nose-drugs again, heavily, when they conceived THIS, the cover of 1990's Impact Is Imminent (right). The band, of course, is again pictured on the cover, this time racing down a highway pursued by a large mirrored orb of some kind. This is the kind of idea that could only sound cool to someone REALLY high on blow, kind of like Howard The Duck or the comedy of Bobcat Goldthwait.
Below: 1991 live album Good Friendly Violent Fun. Dude looks like a rejected Garbage Pail Kid.
Below: Ironically, this is probably the worst one of all, 1992's Force of Habit, drawn by the usually-reliable Ralph Steadman (of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas fame). Even Ralph stooped to sub-Exodus levels on this piece of garbage, creating something that could've been coughed up by a dog. And the way he wrote the name of the album, again and again, all over the place? Wow.
I dunno, maybe he just had too much Cardinal Zin or something.
Left: Just when you thought Exodus was taking a break from the whole "band photo as album cover" thing, BAM! Along comes the 1992 greatest hits collection A Lesson In Violence. This time they used the classic purple-and-yellow color theme, obviously an ahead-of-its-time nod to 80's retro art. Or maybe their minds were just still stuck in the 80's. Either way, another dismal failure.
Right: After a much-needed 5-year absence, Exodus burst back onto the crappy covert art scene with yet another live album, titled Another Lesson In Violence. Evoking images of both moldy fruit and diarrhea, the muddy brownish-green imagery is both a haunting tribute to utter uselessness and a daunting exercise in superfluous tastelessness. Drawn in crayon.
Left: Another conceptual swing-and-a-miss, 2004's Tempo of the Damned. Terrible album, terrible album title, terrible cover art. Exactly WHO is this semi-ghoulish character and WHY should we care about him playing a piano in front of a bunch of douchebags? I'm sorry, FOUR pianos (look closely). This was another Exodus "comeback" album, released after a 7 year absence. It effectively showed that Exodus had completely lost their musical chops, although luckily their penchant for awful artwork had remained intact. At least they didn't put themselves on the cover again.
Right: Much like the re-release of Bonded By Blood, the fellas realized they fucked up on this one and printed a new cover, with absolutely no artwork at all. Which, I have to admit, was probably a good decision on their part.
In 2005, Exodus released what is probably their worst album (which ironically had their best cover art), 2005's Shovel-Headed Kill Machine. When I say best, though, I still only mean about a 2 out of 10, as opposed to their usual 0/10. Dismember's biomech warrior from Massive Killing Capacity could kick the shit out of The Kill Machine, as could the post-apocalyptic robot from Suffocation's Effigy of the Forgotten. Easily. I'm just saying.
In 2007, Exodus decided to go all Century Media/metalcore style with the cover of their new album (left), which was titled The Exhibits of the Atrocity Exhibition, Exhibiting Exhibit A or something like that. Honestly, I would have taken another band photo over this newfangled piece of dogshit anyday. Just consider it visual confirmation that Exodus has moved on, deciding to cater to the Hot Topic Jock Metallers rather than the loyal dirtbag fanbase that got them where they are. Nice.
Right: The usual, another "alternate" cover. There is something overtly phallic going on here that I don't appreciate.
And finally: Exodus brings it full circle in 2008 by re-recording and re-releasing their debut album, this time calling it Let There Be Blood (below). Same basic concept as the original, but with that unmistakable Nu-School metalcore feel to it. I guess it was meant to be a "re-imagining" of sorts, but the end result is just foulness on top of foulness, kind of like a urinal cake covered in a fine layer of whiskey vomit. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.