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Black Sabbath: Album Covers Ranked

in which i rank the album artwork of Black Sabbath's STUDIO discography according to my extremely subjective tastes in visual art/design
19Black Sabbath
Born Again

High on my list for least appealing album cover of all time, this garish piece of art seems designed by an unholy crossing of Andy Warhol and some whacked-out hippie on LSD. There’s clearly some intent here, but it misses wildly. Rather than menacing, it’s laughable. Rather than shocking, it’s cringe. People who defend this cover are as wrong as those that defend the album. 2/10
18Black Sabbath

The next generation of fucking terrible, Black Sabbath’s penultimate album looks like it was designed in the minimal pixel-art style of contemporary video games before being upscaled to all hell with no detail added in between. Strange bodies and shapes along the edge of the frame imply an eerie formlessness that simply isn’t present otherwise. The grim reaper has had a lot of bad looks, but he’s never looked less threatening than he does here. (2/10)
17Black Sabbath
Seventh Star

Hardly the first album cover to defy notions of “what a Black Sabbath album should look like,” Seventh Star has a laughable charm to it. The frame's strangely edgy font and textures are almost completely at odds with a pleasant picture of a very high Tony Iommi at dusk. It’s too easy to imagine the record label slapping that border on the cover once they decided Iommi’s would-be debut solo record would be just another Sabbath release. (4/10)
16Black Sabbath
Cross Purposes

It might initially seem nice in an Evanescence way, but ultimately it’s so ridiculous it’s nearly parodic. The woman, the fire, her wings, all seem to be lazily slapped together in whatever the precursor to photoshop was. I wish Hot Topic was around when this album came out. (5/10)
15Black Sabbath

A flaming number 13 propped up in a darkened forest. It's alright. Ok, moving on. (5/10)
14Black Sabbath

I’m sure they had a great laugh about this one, but come on guys. The outfits suck, the framing sucks, the shit mirror gag sucks. There’s a HUGE camp factor to it which boosts its ranking incredibly, but to like this cover unironically, I guess you’d have to have been there. (5/10)
13Black Sabbath
Headless Cross

It’s a bit plain, but this cover art gets surprising mileage from its limited subjects. Its simple art style conveys a real sense of atmosphere and foreboding, even beyond the hulking grave at the center. (6/10)
12Black Sabbath
The Eternal Idol

Apparently the two models who posed for this cover were hospitalized due to the toxicity of the bronze paint—all because Black Sabbath couldn’t secure permission to use a photo of the actual statue. Anyway, it’s a neat cover, sealed in ambiguity and timelessness in a unique way for the band. I also like the little band logo. (6/10)
11Black Sabbath

Like most of the Tony Martin-era covers, Tyr is highly atmospheric, with an especially ritualistic/pagan feel this time around. Unfortunately, it’s a cover with no subject, a frame with no painting. But what a gorgeous frame! (6/10)
10Black Sabbath
Technical Ecstasy

I know there are some people who HATE this cover, but I like its modern art style, with bright colors and sharp lines yet a completely ambiguous meaning. It’s a startling shift for their art up until this point, and I’m sure it caused people to have their guard up against this album before even starting it. That being said, it’s eye-catching and memorable! (7/10)
9Black Sabbath
Mob Rules

A pretty stark contrast to their previous Dio album, with loose scribbled lines and a grimy color palate. The light abstraction of the art helps to boost apprehension towards these bizarre, threatening hooded figures. It’s creepy, sort of unpleasant, but not necessarily ugly—a good mix for Black Sabbath. (7/10)
8Black Sabbath
Never Say Die!

No idea what the thought behind this one was, but like Tech Ext (also designed by Hipgnosis), I find its bright randomness charming. It’s a good picture, vibrant colors clashing against the muted sky and airplane, and I just love how the seriousness of their stance clashes with the ridiculousness of their headgear. It makes me want one. (7/10)
7Black Sabbath
Master of Reality

This one gets bonus points just for being a classic. Still, considering it's just bi-colored blocky lettering with a wavy effect applied, it’s a good cover. It’s rightfully iconic, largely because of how strangely inviting and basic it is. (7/10)
6Black Sabbath

On one hand I think the campy, B-movie art-style of this cover feels like a clear rip of similar metal covers at the time (in a way that sticks out like a sore thumb against their discography). On the other, its ridiculousness doesn’t stop it from being an energetic metal image with great detail and striking elements (love the towering walls, the purple robe, the bizarre cyborg components). (7/10)
5Black Sabbath
Heaven and Hell

Depicting angels lounging around, smoking and playing cards against a black backdrop, Heaven and Hell’s cover might be less immediately striking and loud as their previous covers with Ozzy, but it’s no less subversive than their earlier works. The art’s style switch-up of course mirrored Dio ascending to the vocalist throne, and also managed to be nearly as strong and iconic as the vocalist’s tenure itself. (8/10)
4Black Sabbath

Well, the studio demanding an album title change from “War Pigs” to “Paranoid” might’ve fudged the meaning up. “What the fuck does a bloke dressed as a pig with a sword in his hand got to do with being paranoid, I don't know,” Ozzy himself said, but it makes the artwork no less iconic. It’s an uneasy blend of surreal colors and absolutely ridiculous design that dares you to laugh at it and demands you immediately play the album. (8/10)
3Black Sabbath
Vol. 4

While it might be my least favorite album of the classic era, Vol. 4 sports some absolutely iconic artwork. It’s nearly as simple and blocky as its predecessor’s cover, but that image of the Prince of Darkness lording over all combines with the lettering to become 100% perfectly t-shirt ready. (8/10)
2Black Sabbath
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

As sprawling, colorful, and complex as its music, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath features the best-designed and certainly the most underrated artwork of their career. Blood reds and sunset oranges blend into a sick tableau of a man being attacked by demons on his bed, while the frame is twisted by a satanic presence. It’s at once gorgeous and violent, and I wish I saw it on more t-shirts. (9/10)
1Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath

More pure, haunting, and standard than any of their other artworks, Black Sabbath couldn’t have found a better image to announce their debut. With the slightly-off color scheme and unidentifiable subject (which made a great mystery in of itself) the image feels otherworldly and escapist—just as the music must’ve transported first-time listeners in 1970. The font is a bit bizarre, but for what it is—an incredibly cheap album cover—the framing and coloring couldn’t be better. (9/10)
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