Nu-metal is known for many things. Musically, there's the downtuned guitars, the bouncy riffs, the funky basslines, the hip-hop-inflected vocals and beats. Fashion-wise, there's the big pants, the dreadlocks and braided beards, the makeup and masks, and, of course, the backwards red basecall caps.
And then there's the album covers, which were also a big part of the whole package. There's the spooky ones, and the goofy ones, the graffiti-inspired ones, and the politically charges ones. In their own ways, each played a part in defining the nu-metal movement, and whether good or bad or so bad they're good, here are 11 of the most unforgettable and iconic.
You can either look at the cover of Crazy Town's debut as lowbrow schlock designed to grab the eye of horny teenagers flipping through the CD rack, or brilliantly eccentric pop art that deserves a place in the Louvre. The longer you stare into the eyes of the "butterfly sugar baby" herself, the more credibility the latter achieves. The color contrast of this piece is incredible, the text has the regal glow of a fine Mercedes Benz dashboard, and the detail — from the "town" knuckle tats and the shimmer of her jewelry, to the hyper-realism of her pose — is simply superb. Sadly, the music, not so much.
Every Deftones album cover is visually compelling, but the strange allure of 1997's Around the Fur makes it arguably their most striking. The fisheye lens shot of a bikini-clad woman looking a little zooted perfectly encapsulates the hazy sexuality of Deftones' music, and the fact that it was a random candid taken by Jackass' Rick Kosick at a late-night Jacuzzi party gives it that lightning-in-a-bottle sheen. Still, it's a fucking weird image — from the photographer's pasty man-feet to her left, to the somewhat sophomoric "Look! Tits!" vibe, a contrast to Deftones' increasingly high-brow visuals. Oddness and all, it makes for an unforgettable cover.
What the hell is the bizarre image depicting? Frontman David Draiman has reportedly described it as showing the birth of a ferocious monster emerging from a woman's vagina — perhaps a physical manifestation of "the sickness" itself. However, many fans have interpreted it, at first glance, as a man being physically restrained in a full-body straightjacket, or even a photo of Draiman himself slithering up from the swampy depths. We'll go with Draiman's answer — for pure, unlookawayable ickiness.
Musically, Incubus' S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is unlike any other nu-metal album of its time, and visually, it's unlike any heavy rock album before or after. Nothing about its construction makes sense. The majority of the image is a panorama shot of an arctic desert, but the onlooker's eye is caught in a tug-of-war between the faded periodic table of elements and the glowing noggin of a mustachioed gentleman giving a cheeky smirk. Believe it or not, the mystery fella is Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd's father Chuck — a former Marlboro Man — but why the hell is he slapped disembodied on this album cover? The mystery is part of the fun.
While many nu-metal album covers play up the fun, quirky elements of the music, Korn's first record visually expresses its most frightening aspects. Across the LP's 12 cuts, frontman Jonathan Davis unloads the pent-up demons he'd been carrying since his traumatic childhood, and the artwork — which pictures a young girl on the brink of losing her innocence to a foreboding beast of a man — perfectly complements the album's harrowing tellings of abuse and emotional torment. Before you even hear a note, you're already letting out an uneasy gulp.
So much of what makes Limp Bizkit who they are is the imagery. The cartoonish music videos, Fred Durst's hyperbolic frat-boy swagger, and their album covers — which have always been as absurd and in-your-face as Bizkit themselves. The one for 1999's Significant Other is their most recognizable, featuring a hooded microphone assassin donning Fred Durst's notorious red Yankees cap and striking a mean pose. The drawing fully embraced the streetwear art style of the time, looking way more like an ad for a basketball clothing brand than a metal album — just one of many subversive moves the band built their legacy on.
On their first album cover, Slipknot look like a gang of escaped mental patients who showed up at your doorstep to wreak untold havoc. All of the violence, psychological instability and fuck-the-world energy of the band's early days is captured in this shot. Their masks are creepy as hell, and the fact that the image is just dark enough that it makes it hard to see details make them look even spookier. The way they're standing is menacing and viscerally confrontational — but the position of Chris Fehn's dicknose mask in Corey Taylor's crotch shows they have a mischievous sense of humor, as well. This is Slipknot.
What's more nu-metal than a snarling boxer who just wants to play ball (and maybe chomp your finger off in the process)? Snot's Get Some cover would've been memorable even if it wasn't tinged with the tragedy: Frontman Lynn Strait died a little over a year after the album's release in a car crash alongside his loyal pal, Dobbs, the doggie de resistance. On a nerdier level, the showcase of their canine mascot draws a direct comparison to Lou Dog, the Dalmation owned by the late Sublime singer Bradley Nowell — that band was clearly an influence on the reggae-inflected, Cali-punk-adjacent nu-metal that Snot excelled in.
Static-X went all-in with their electric-current aesthetic. The band name, frontman Wayne Static's finger-in-a-socket hairdo, the electric jolt of their industrialized nu-metal — and the dude getting toasted with 11,000 volts on the cover of their essential debut, Wisconsin Death Trip. You can tell exactly what the music is going to sound like just by looking at that image, and once you actually hear frenzied bangers like "Push It" and "I'm With Stupid," there's no better visual representation than a man being zapped in the electric chair.
Every System of a Down album cover is a statement — the Hollywood perversion of Toxicity, the DIY instruction to pirate Steal This Album!, the eerie artiness of Mezmerize and Hypnotize. But the image on the face of their self-titled debut is such a succinct and bracing embodiment of their urgent, grab-you-by-the-throat musical approach. Being the political savants that they are, the outstretched hand originates from a World War II-era anti-fascist poster called "Five Fingers Have the Hand," designed by visual artist John Heartfield for the Communist Party of Germany. So many nu-metal bands went garish and over the top with their covers — the simplicity of this one makes it such a standout.