Few album covers encapsulate a sound better than the sleeve for A Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera's quite-literally hard-hitting sixth album.
Building on the sound of groove-metal masterpiece Cowboys from Hell (1990), A Vulgar Display of Power was a musical onslaught that put the group firmly at the front of a new metal revolution alongside acts like Metallica and Slayer. "Mouth for War," "This Love," "Walk" and "Fucking Hostile" remain archetypal '90s hard rock tunes thanks in part to the brilliant interplay of brothers and founding members Vinnie Paul and Darrell Abbott (the latter of whom would change nicknames from "Diamond" to "Dimebag" shortly after recording) on drums and guitar.
When it came time to title and release the album, Pantera took inspiration from a line uttered by the demon possessing Linda Blair's character in the horror classic The Exorcist. And they wanted a cover to match. "We told our label we wanted something vulgar, like a dude getting punched in the face," Vinnie Paul told Revolver in 2010. But they found the original cover mock-up lacking, in part because the shot had been set up with a man hit by a fist in a boxing glove.
Brad Guice, who'd shot the photos of the band in a Western-style saloon that ended up on the cover of Cowboys from Hell, was called in to make the shot. Paul claimed that a label exec said the punch was real - the model was paid $10 per hit and got hit about 30 times - but Guice and model Sean Cross refuted that claim.
"Nobody actually got hit," Guice assured Revolver. "It was a controlled situation." Cross, a restaurant owner by trade who took the call at the suggestion of his wife, an actress, concurred. "The guy who did the punch was a professional hand model," he later revealed. "He would put his fist up against my face, and I would push against his fist so my face would mush against it. And then he'd move back so that my hair would move."
Trickery aside, the shot sure looks real - and it's a tantalizing teaser for the in-your-face music that still resonates on A Vulgar Display of Power, some three decades later.