Now that Halloween’s over, we decided to shift the conversation away from cobwebs and costumes to an evergreen guide featuring eMusic’s most shocking albums; the kind of records that have caused riots and revolutions. Or at the very least, the “Well I never!” banning of album art so socially unacceptable you’d think it was designed to leave us all scarred for life.
Not just obvious nods, either, from blood-stained black metal and pulse-raising punk rock to gangsta rap and Guns N’ Roses. We’ve also included such leftfield LPs as Dylan gone electric, Willie Nelson gone pop and Miles Davis gone whatever-the-hell On the Corner is.
A slapdash followup to the phenomenally successful Appetite for Destruction, Lies paired the pre-Appetite EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide with four new tracks. "Patience" was the single, but it was "One in a Million" that drew the most (unwanted) attention, with Axl Rose dropping racist and homophobic slurs and attacking immigrants who "come to this country and think they do as they please." Considering that Lies' cover mimics a supermarket tabloid and Rose follows the most toxic epithet in "One in a Million" with a cocky "That's right," there's no question that the band meant to spark controversy, and dutifully reaped the rewards in record sales. - Sam Adams
As if Rob Halford's S&M-inspired outfits weren't shocking enough, the death-obsessed lyrics of Judas Priest's definitive NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) document earned them a day in court with a family who claimed their son attempted suicide after listening to "Better By You, Better Than Me." The Spooky Tooth cover supposedly featured a subliminal message to "do it"; "it" meaning the act of ending-it-all. The case was eventually thrown out, but the damage - Judas Priest's place in the pantheon of boo-scary metal bands - was already done. - Andrew Parks
The late Ronnie James Dio's first album with his eponymous band contains a couple of straight-up metal classics - the snarling title track, the wistful "Rainbow In The Dark" - but its cover art caused quite a stir, with a demon (actually the band's hellspawned mascot, Murray) attacking a cleric. Dio said in a later interview that the art could, however, be viewed the other way around, and that the man of the cloth in the painting might very well have been able to rise up and kill his tormentor. (Although it should be noted that this wasn't Murray's final appearance.) - Maura Johnston
Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music belongs in that weird pantheon of albums, like Trout Mask Replica and Skip Spence's Oar, that are heard about more than they are actually heard. At the time of its initial release in 1975, it was widely and almost immediately dismissed as a joke, punk cut-up Reed pulling a fast one on his label and getting them, on the heels of his huge pop success with "Walk on the Wild Side," to shell out for a record that was so unlistenable it would alienate the casual music fans who were doot-doot-dooting along with the "colored girls" in between back-to-back blocks of Uriah Heep and the J. Geils Band. You can almost imagine a gaunt Reed sucking on a cigarette and snidely chuckling, "Can you believe I actually got them to pay for this piece of shit?"
A funny thing, though: in the years since its release, Metal Machine Music has actually grown in stature. It's become a touchstone for bands like Sonic Youth and Nine Inch Nails, has been placed at the forefront of the fuck-you New York No Wave scene, and has been classified alongside musique concrete composers like Stockhausen. There are no lyrics to react to, no melodies to dismiss as pedestrian. It's just guitars placed in front of jacked-up amplifiers, so close that the resulting feedback vibrates the strings - thus causing the guitars to play themselves. Think of it as a kind of sonic Jackson Pollock: if order emerges from the chaos, it's haphazard, thus making its beauty that much more surprising and engaging. In truth, the way you feel about it may vary depending on the day you listen to it. Those feedback squalls are like straight, clean lines shooting up into the air, rigid as steel bamboo, tangling the higher they get towards heaven. Tones come and go, a deafening drill-like sound bores through the center then vanishes. The ear-splitting upper-register notes collect in a far corner then dissipate. You get lost inside these notes the same way you'd get lost inside a metal-pressing plant after midnight. It's four sides of the same basic thing, but each stray squiggle of sound - unplanned and unforced - adds a kind of character and distinction.
Or, it could just be really fucking aggravating.
Self-styled rock radicals the MC5 may have toned down their first album's call to "Kick out the jams, motherfucker," replacing it with the radio-friendly "brothers and sisters," but the group's enthusiastic embrace of armed revolution survived intact. On the lead-in to "Motor City Is Burning," singer Rob Tyner - a supporter of the White Panther Party with a giant faux Afro - denounces monied "honkies" and giddily recalls the snipers who kept firemen from putting out blazes during the Detroit riots of 1967. Like a lot of '60s rhetoric, it sounds hopelessly naive these days, but the fury of Wayne Kramer's guitar reduces the intervening years to rubble. - Sam Adams
The first of the thrash-metal titans' albums to have the input of then-Def Jam guru Rick Rubin, Reign In Blood is nasty and short; its songs make their point briefly enough that the whole thing's done in 29 minutes. The blistering opening track "Angel Of Death" details acts performed by Josef Mengele at Auschwitz in enough detail that the band had to alert people they weren't all that down with Nazism; the blood falling from the sky in the album closer "Raining Blood" comes from angels killed by a guy displeased about being stuck in purgatory. - Maura Johnston
Those wondering how this album made it onto our Shocking Albums list must have overlooked the band name, album title or unspeakable cover photo. Or the track listing, which boasts song titles so creatively vile that we find ourselves emotionally unable to retype them. (Just be warned that they inspire mental imagery that one cannot "unsee.") The Buffalo, New York, death-metal outfit Cannibal Corpse built a surprisingly endurable legacy on this kind of over-the-top depravity; through the years, they have shown a remarkable talent for seeking out the queasiest, most puerile scenario imaginable, and then vaulting several leagues underneath it. Tomb of the Mutilated, their third full-length album, was banned in several countries upon release, and was part of the campaign, led by Bob Dole, C. Dolores Tucker, and others, to clean up America's entertainment. In death metal, as in all of pop culture, you can get no more ringing endorsement than that. - Jayson Greene
Controversial records have come and gone, but perhaps no album has a rap sheet quite as long as this black-metal watershed from infernal Norwegians Mayhem. Murder, suicide, arson - all of these either occurred during, or were inspired by, the record's creation. Trying to make a record that was filthier, nastier and more unholy than anything that had preceded it, Mayhem commenced work on Mysteriis in 1987 with founding vocalist Dead - who was known to huff the fumes of a dead bird he carried around in a plastic bag before the band took the stage. Progress was halted when Dead shot himself in 1991, leaving a note that simply said, "Sorry about the mess" (his bandmates used bits of his skull to make a necklace and, allegedly, cooked pieces of his brain in a stew). Two years after that, the band's guitarist Euronymous was stabbed in his home - 23 times! - by Burzum's Varg Vikernes, who was serving as the group's bassist. When the album was finally completed in 1994, the band emblazoned its cover with a picture of the Nidaros Cathedral, which Euronymous and Vikenres had been planning to blow up before their friendship went sour. The choice of artwork was fiendishly calculated - in the early '90s, members of the black metal scene had been burning historic churches across Norway, arguing that Christianity was slowly eradicating the country's pagan roots, an act members of Mayhem publicly encouraged.
All of which says nothing at all about the music which is, to this day, genuinely chilling. Vocalist Attila Csihar's ungodly rasp - achieved by sucking air in while he was growling instead of letting it out - feels distinctly and unnervingly demonic, and the frigid guitars in songs like "Funeral Fog" and "Pagan Fears" scrape like frantic fingernails on the lid of a coffin. The lyrics range from impishly unholy ("I feed my hunger on living humans") to startlingly philosophical ("What will be left of me when I'm dead?/ There was nothing when I lived"), and the ruthlessness with which it clings to its brute minimalism and general misanthropy makes De Mysteriis feel like a manifesto for worldwide misery.
For metal fans, the most shocking thing about Far Beyond Driven might have been the way it reinvented Pantera's template in the wake of the breakthrough success of their 1992 full-length Vulgar Display Of Power; the album sounds like it's been mired in sludge, with Dimebag Darrell downtuning his guitar for maximum low-end effect. But there was controversy on the outside, too; the original album art had a drill bit making its way inside an upturned butt, an image that was deemed too much for record stores at the time. (The drill remained in the final album art, but the rear end was replaced by a head.) - Maura Johnston
If anyone's earned the right to wear his corpse paint with pride, it's King Diamond, the high note-hitting devil worshipper on the frontlines of Mercyful Fate. Surrounded by Maiden-like guitar melodies on one of the first - and by our estimation, the only - albums to be named after a human skull, the King inspired legions of black/power-metal bands with his highly theatrical look and lyrics. Even Metallica flipped their shit over Mercyful Fate's debut album in the early '80s, eventually melding four of its windswept songs into a medley for their Garage Inc. compilation. - Andrew Parks
This wasn't an album, it was a meteor. Straight Outta Compton hit so hard that we're still flinching from its impact 20 years later. The birth of gangsta-rap, an irrevocably changed sociopolitical and music-industry landscape, the gut-level horror of a nation of American parents - these were all gifts Straight Outta Compton left us. Like all profound cultural shocks, its details have acquired mythic resonance with the accumulation of time: the band of pissed-off kids that stormed the music industry and went double platinum without a second of radio airplay. Unlike most shocks, however, N.W.A.'s power to unsettle endures. If you don't believe us, try playing N.W.A. in mixed company sometime soon. - Jayson Greene
From 1988-92, Ice Cube enjoyed an uninterrupted, undisputed run as the most feared figure in pop music. Every time he opened his mouth, a shotgun blast came out: whether he was selling crack to buy diapers in "A Bird In the Hand," excoriating Korean store owners in the supremely uncomfortable "Black Korea," or screaming at white men not to hit on black women in "Horny Lil' Devil," Cube managed to scare the living crap out of nearly everybody. Lethal Injection, his fourth solo album, was comparatively laid-back, by which we mean he wasn't mowing down Klansmen with an AK-47 anymore. He took a hit of Dr. Dre's Chronic, reclined slightly in his creased khakis and low-rider, and racked up a series of mainstream hits. But he was still Ice Cube the invincible; the Ice Cube of Are We There Yet? lay light years away. - Jayson Greene
This Afrocentric slugfest was shocking like the Rodney King tapes, shocking like the riot scene in Do The Right Thing, shocking in a visceral way that says, "This is what's happening. Deal with it." At least three tracks - "Fight The Power," "911 Is A Joke" and "Welcome To The Terrordome" - became rap classics, and the album went down as a landmark for the Bomb Squad's kinetic production. Hip-hop had never been so ambitious; it rarely has been since. - Nick Marino
For anyone who came of age in the last decade and a half, it can be hard to imagine Eddie Murphy, the man who blessed the world with multiple Nutty Professor remakes, as a serious comedic force - let alone a controversial act. But when he broke through as a stand-up comic in the early 80s, he did so with jokes racy enough to make a grown man blush. "Old people who get offended easily? Y'all should just get the fuck out now," came his warning on Comedian's first track, followed by 50 minutes of relentless bits that don't so much skirt the borderlands of homophobia and misogyny as plow right in and set everything aflame. Even the infamously abrasive Richard Pryor, Murphy's own comedy hero, is said to have confessed that he thought Murphy often went too far. - Rachael Maddux
In which Sly nods contentedly through his heroin haze, denounces the likes of "I Want to Take You Higher" and tells his many Woodstock-rooted fans to fuck off. Which many of them (us) promptly did. In retrospect, there's no doubt it's an epochal (and prescient) work. But it's still hard to listen to unless you're in the mood for musical quicksand, and it doesn't help that Sly never made another satisfying album. - John Morthland
It seems almost quaint to think of Rage Against the Machine - one of the only rap-metal bands worth its weight in whammy bar riffs - as a force to be reckoned with, but they were lobbing smart bombs at the system right up until the very end of their recorded history. Take Michael Moore's "Sleep Now in the Fire" video, for instance. Filmed on the steps of the New York Stock Exchange more than a decade before the Occupy Wall Street protests kicked in, it caused a near riot and at least one commentator to call the group "anti-family and pro-terrorist." Righhhhhhhhht. - Andrew Parks
The melting pot of musical styles on the first studio album by Jane's Addiction - punk, funk, rock, reggae and so on - served as a backdrop for lyrics detailing Los Angeles life on the precipice, with songs about addiction ("Jane Says"), the relationship between pornography and violence ("Ted, Just Admit It") and disavowing God because of the squalor and pain in the world ("Had A Dad"). That the cover, a sculpture of conjoined twins who were both nude and befallen by flaming heads, was controversial enough to get brown-paper-bagged - or not stocked at all by record stores back in the day seems absolutely appropriate, given the subject matter within. - Maura Johnston
"Fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was 12." It was 1993, and Chicago's music scene was heavy on macho Husker Du worshippers. Enter Liz Phair who, even though she was blonde and skinny, had a perfectly ironic, deadpan voice. She took on Mick and Keith, but not with some Jerry Hall/Anita Pallenberg shit. "I wanna be mesmerizing, too," she sang. And she was. - Elizabeth Isadora Gold
Beginning with the sound of marching boots and ending with a Bronx cheer, the Sex Pistols' first album was designed to shock, and it did. Early singles "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen" left a turd in the punch bowl at Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, which, along with guitarist Steve Jones casually dropping several F-bombs on an evening chat show, properly scandalized the British public. Throw in casual references to concentration camps and a song on which Johnny Rotten adopts the perspective of an aborted fetus, and Never Mind the Bollocks still has the power to offend delicate sensibilities more than three decades later. - Sam Adams
If Public Image Ltd.'s First Edition was John Lydon's first post-Sex Pistols barrage, Metal Box (aka Second Edition on these shores) was the tactical nuclear missile fired squarely at the cliché punk had become. Jah Wobble's dub-bass worship was crucial to the mix; guitar avatar Keith Levene dragged synthesizers out of the realm of prog-rock millionaires for maximum intensity ("Careering"); and Lydon's vocal prowess ranged from sing-speak seething ("The Suit") to creepy narratives ("Poptones") to charged emotion ("Swan Lake"). This album remains the cornerstone of post-punk. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably still waiting in the cemetery for Sid Vicious's withered humerus to poke from out of his gravesite. - Jason Pettigrew
When Is This It was released in the U.S. in October 2001, it was almost immediately heralded as a new rock classic and The Strokes quickly proved to be the vanguard of a seemingly-endless wave of crunchy, fuzzy guitar bands. But the story could have easily been far more fraught. Though the cover most American fans saw was the crackled swirl of a massively-magnified view of particle collisions, the U.K. version of the LP, released the previous July, bore a tightly-cropped image of a black leather glove-sheathed hand resting upon a totally naked, milky white lady-ass. British retailers initially balked but ended up stocking it anyway, but the band was clearly feeling cautious about its reception stateside; in addition to the art switcheroo, the album's U.S. release date was delayed from September until October after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a track called "New York City Cops" (sample lyric: "New York City cops/ New York City cops/ New York city cops/ They ain't too smart") was replaced with a new song to avoid conferring insult on city law enforcement still reeling from massive tragedy. In the end, the U.S. version of Is This It was offensive only for its complete disregard for proper punctuation. - Rachael Maddux
The first of what's become numerous albums on which the supposed folk messiah flips the bird to audience expectations. Side One of the original LP was loud, stinging electrical music, with nary a (conventional) protest song to be heard. The flip was solo acoustic, but what good could the likes of "Mr. Tambourine Man" do the noble struggle for equal rights? To earnest folkies, words like "sellout" and "betrayal" barely began to describe the travesty. - John Morthland
Devotees of the Great American Songbook were appalled that the scruffy Outlaw country figurehead had the audacity to apply his quivering, monochromatic croak to these hallowed chestnuts (and he used the soul organist from Booker T and the MGs as his producer?). Willie's longtime fans scratched their heads because, hell's bells, this ain't even country. Nearly everyone else in America bought the thing, keeping it on the charts for several years. - John Morthland
Sure, Prince had posed naked on a Pegasus for the back cover of his second album in 1979 - what's wrong with a little fantasy? But his imagination went nuts on the follow-up: less coy, more direct, calculated in its outrageousness, with songs to justify it all. From the strapping funk bass propelling the steady-pumping "Head" to the throb that kicks off the title track to the 93-second incest tale "Sister" (she'll kick him out if he doesn't do what she says), Dirty Mind made even his more lubricious peers seem like doddering old men. - Michaelangelo Matos
Weird as his previous blues-rock albums had been, it was a time of weird music, so the Captain didn't seem that alien. But with this, it was virtually impossible to tell where he was coming from musically or what he was talking about with his lyrics. And nobody had ever experienced anything this flat-out abrasive. It was almost as if Don Van Vliet had purposely set out to make an album that was unlistenable. - John Morthland
"Horrorcore" has the sullied rep of a punchline genre now, but the hip-hop supergroup that spurred the movement were legitimately disturbing. An increasingly industry-embittered Prince Paul drew from his then-dormant sick-humor instincts to create a ruthlessly grim production template, all decayed soul-jazz and neck-snap breaks. And with the RZA, Stetsasonic's Frukwan and the late Poetic at their grimiest, the bleak comedy of cuts like "1-800-Suicide" and "Diary of a Madman" portrayed a diabolical descent into pulp-art psychosis. - Nate Patrin
Unlike Bitches Brew and other fusion albums, this fusion of funk and avant-garde musique concrete was so repetitive, and seemingly so otherwise structureless, that his recently converted, rock-oriented fans were as repelled by it as his traditional jazz audience. No melody, no harmony, no rhythmic variation - most of the time, no trumpet, even. Plus, just as in real life, this musical representation of urban street-life felt to many like pointed hostility rather than celebration. - John Morthland
A 1964 classic of free jazz, the American debut of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler incinerated the rules. There were no harmonies, no steady beats, and the melodies were rudimentary and quickly abandoned in favor of screaming, squawking, honking solos. The previous jazz revolutionary, Ornette Coleman, was nearly genteel in comparison. Spiritual Unity shocked jazz fans and musicians by threatening to make even the very definition of music obsolete. - Steve Holtje
While he's never served time in a maximum security prison like some of his church-burning, flesh-ripping Norwegian forefathers, Xasthur's sole member Malefic (real, not-so-evil name: Scott Conner) is still widely recognized as one of the leading KVLTer-than-thou lights in underground black-metal. And one of this country's most controversial, due to the slight crossover appeal of his beautifully damaged bedroom symphonies. Think: My Bloody Valentine, with an emphasis on "Bloody." - Andrew Parks
The Penis Landscape painting - an H.R. Giger piece meant to promote safe sex in its own perverse way - within the third Dead Kennedys album almost cost their highly vocal frontman (spoken word artist/recurring political candidate Jello Biafra) his Alternative Tentacles label due to mounting legal fees. While fans eventually bailed him out, some may have thought twice about their support after hearing Frankenchrist's songs - bold, broad brush strokes that rage against the man and the rather limiting sound of traditional hardcore punk music.
? Andrew Parks