H.R. Giger: A Look at 11 Album Covers by the Swiss Surrealist Mastermind
With the sad news of H.R. Giger passing away, we’re resurfacing this feature (originally published on October 9, 2011) to pay tribute to this legendary artist.
H.R. Giger‘s biomechanical bestiaries and nightmare landscapes have become iconic to put it mildly. If designing one of the greatest cinematic monsters ever: The Alien (from 1979’s Alien), wasn’t enough, the 72-year-old native of Chur, Switzerland has put an indelible artistic bruise on the face of all things heavy (and a few things not so heavy).
Korn’s Jonathan Davis’ signature mic stand was designed and sculpted by Giger. Giger’s designs have become tattooing standards – just ask renowned tattooist Paul Booth. With Alien‘s “prequel” Prometheus hitting Blu-ray and DVD, Noisecreep decided to run down the surrealist’s litany and legacy of album artwork.
Giger’s first-ever album cover was done for the Swiss psychedelic band, The Shiver. Their rise to Krautrock cult stature can be tied, in part, to the album’s disturbing imagery.
Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson Lake & Palmer (1973)
The album was originally supposed to be titled Whip Some Skull on Ya, – shorthand for fellatio. And what a better combination than lips, penis and skulls? Already an ELP fan at the time, Giger jumped at the opportunity to work with his musical heroes. When the record company saw the artwork, they demanded a penis that featured prominently on the cover be toned down and now resembles a shaft of light. Fun fact: credit for the artwork was snagged by a designer that had long worked with the band. Oddly, the freebooter was killed in a car crash shortly afterwards.
Attahk, Magma (1978)
If ever there were a perfect visual accompaniment to the French progsters’ music it would be the work of HR Giger. Magma sang in its own invented language. This painting featuring two bloated demonic babies speaks a language its own as well.
Koo Koo, Debbie Harry (1981)
Debbie Harry’s breakaway album from Blondie might have been a strange combination at the time but it’s also one of Giger’s best-known commercial works. The two met on Giger’s stopover in New York after he picked up the Oscar for Alien. What inspired this hauntingly beautiful work? While the four needles piercing Ms. Harry’s face represent the four natural elements, the idea for painting itself came from Giger’s recent trip to the acupuncturist. This and Emerson Lake & Palmer’s covers have been recognized as two of the top 100 album covers by Rolling Stone magazine.
Frankenchrist, The Dead Kennedys (1985)
The shit hit the fan on this one. While the cover depicted a gaggle of Shriners driving miniature convertibles, the poster included inside was a Giger painting entitled “Penis Landscape.” This won the Dead Kennedy‘s a stint in court on charges of distributing materials harmful to minors. While the band was never convicted on the obscenity charges, mainman Jello Biafra‘s Alternative Tentacles label was left nearly bankrupt due to legal expenses.
To Mega Therion, Celtic Frost (1985)
The artist gave the hugely influential Swiss band his paintings “Victory III” and “Satan I” for the album’s front cover and interior for free. Celtic Frost mainman Thomas Gabriel Fischer (ne Warrior) has remained a friend and collaborator ever since, occasionally even moonlighting as Giger’s assistant.
Atomic Playboys, Steve Stevens (1989)
Hallucinations, Atrocity (1990)
The German death metal squad utilized “Hommage an S Becket I” to give this brutal semi-classic an eerier visage. Lyrically, the album itself is driven by themes of dementia and drug addiction. Makes sense, right?
How the Gods Kill, Danzig (1992)
This was the unholy union that had to happen. The album’s cover is an adaptation of 1976 painting called “Meister und Margeritha” (“Master and Margarita”). The Evil Elvis had begun to step into his own sonic shadow-land, self-producing after two albums under the tutelage of producer supremo Rick Rubin. Giger’s artwork (which substitutes a dagger for an erect penis) embodies the album’s more foreboding tones. What’s this with record companies and male anatomy?
Heartwork, Carcass (1993)
For the Brit gore-grinder’s “breakout” album (and one-night stand with major-labeldom with Columbia Records), the artist switched mediums from his usual airbrush work to sculpture. Actually Giger has stopped painting and has been working primarily as a sculptor since 1990.
Eparistera Daimones, Triptykon (2010)
Thirty years after To Mega Therion, the Giger/Tom Warrior partnership picks up again. Giger’s 1975 painting “Vlad Tepes” emblazons the cover of the former Celtic Frost mainman’s latest foray into the aural abyss. The album also features art from Vincent Castiglia, the noted American artist who paints exclusively in human blood.