Many claims can be made for the first traditional black metal album cover. Of course you have Venom’s Black Metal from 82 featuring the now timeless goats head/horns/pentagram combo:
And then you have Merciful Fate’s 84 gem Don’t Break The Oath which took all of those elements and added some fire for good measure:
Around the same time, the underappreciated Hellhammer added a goth flair to the mix by sticking those horns and pentagrams onto a bat, while viking rock pioneers Bathory took an effective minimalist approach with just the goat over a black background:
Now, the year may be 2020 and The Stones may no longer have the ability to shock the mass populace, but the ol’ boys continue to show an admirable flair for subversion. This year they put out a much-needed reissue of one of their most underrated records, 1973’s Goats Head Soup which has long had a bad rap for the lone sin of arriving directly after undisputed classic Exile On Main Street. Goats Head was just a different beast than the junkie jammy splendorous sprawl of Exile, ten polished tracks bearing absolutely none of the underdog grit displayed on the predecessor. But that wasn’t the point of Goats Head. Here it was all about songwriting, compression, condensed hooks, and it yielded some of the absolute greatest Stones bangers of all time. Skip straight to Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) if you don’t believe me, a riveting (and super, super catchy) hellride through ’70s NYC where horror and street hassle fear are palpable in both Mick Jagger’s vocals and the insistent horns. “Dancing With Mr. D'” may be cheesy but it contains one of Keef’s sleaziest riffs. Speaking of sleazy, “Starfucker” just about takes the trophy for ’70s rock star hedonism, with Jagger dissing Jimmy Page, shouting out vegetable sex tricks, and dripping enough groupie disdain to rival Zeppelin’s “Sick Again”. But the real selling point here is the ballads, with “Angie” and “Winter” ranking among The Stones lovelorn best, “100 Years From Now” coming on like a ’66 folk ballad straight off of Flowers, and in “Coming Down Again” one of Keef’s most realized and effective songs, a drugs ballad devoid of outlaw swagger or punchlines (well, there is the line about dipping your finger in someone else’s pie but I digress), all sighing, swooning pain that goes far beyond mere love/flesh/blood. GHS has long been wrongly put-down for the lone sin of following a double album classic, and hopefully this reissue goes a long way toward upping the appreciation factor.
But the best thing about this reissue? The Stones were fantastic enough to finally unleash the scrapped original cover to Goat’s Head Soup, nothing less than a a yellow-eyed severed goats head boiling in a satanic gumbo, complete with the prerequisite red and black color schemes, thereby marking the very first black metal album cover a good decade before Venom.