Pantera's 1992 masterpiece Vulgar Display of Power is one of the hardest-hitting, most no-holds-barred albums ever made, and it has a title and the cover art to match. The title was snagged by frontman and noted horror-movie fanatic Philip Anselmo from a fittingly hair-raising source: The Exorcist. "The phrase Vulgar Display of Power jumped out at me, and where it came from didn't hit me until later," the singer told Revolver in 2012. "And then I was like, 'Oh, it's from The Exorcist!' Nice line there, William Peter Blatty [who wrote the 1971 novel and the screenplay to the 1973 film]."
As for the album's iconic pugilistic cover image, much mythology and misinformation has hovered around it, due in part to the band members themselves. Late Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul repeated a widely spread story that a fan was paid a nominal sum (in Paul's telling, $10) to actually get punched in the face some 30 times (in some versions of the tale, by Anselmo himself) for the cover photo. The truth, it turns out, is much less violent.
The Vulgar Display of Power cover photo was captured was photographer Brad Guice, who had also shot the cover of 1990's Cowboys From Hell. "So they called me again," he told Revolver in 2012, "and said, 'We want you to do this incredibly powerful album cover of a fist hitting a face.' I was like, 'What?!' but I knew I had to pull it off. We looked for a longhaired male model to play the part of the guy being hit. We ended up using this guy from L.A., Sean Cross, and he's still a friend of mine. We got a real strong hand to be the guy punching and we did it all in studio, straight shot. We had a red light behind his hair because they were originally going to run it in color. So I thought the red was powerful and the motion of the hair was really interesting. We had the fist move in slow motion and then Sean moved his head to get it to look right. And then this rumor started about this guy having to get hit in the face over and over until we got the shot right. That's not true at all. It was a controlled situation. No one ever got hit."
Cross was a novice at the time, while the puncher was a pro. "I had never done any modeling before that," he recalled. "I owned restaurants and a consultant company and my wife was an actress. A friend of hers told me [Brad] needed someone who fit my description and I should go up for it. The guy who did the punch was a professional hand model. He would put his fist up against my face and I would push against his fist so my face would mush up against it, and that's how we would start the shot. And then he'd move so that my hair would move. After that shoot, I dabbled around with modeling, but then I went back to my consulting company working with different Wall Street firms."
Though Guice has come to appreciate the impact of the final, gritty Vulgar Display of Power image, he was bummed out when he first saw his photo on the album cover. "I was actually surprised when I saw the final cover in black and white," he revealed. "I did not think it looked anywhere as good as the red background. In fact, I was very disappointed in how it came out. The color version was superior by far. I was surprised at the record company changing it." In 2012, Revolver tried in vain to track down the original red shots. Sadly, like many great rock & roll artifacts, they appear to be long lost.