This week, Chieftain colleague Douglas Brooks, who boasts a deep knowledge of metal both mainstream and avant garde, offers his 10 favorite metal covers, with yours truly adding in 2 (or more) cents.
Said Brooks, "The term 'metal' can be solidly debated forever, so my definition to be on this list is: If I hear the song, and the '80s me in my head says, 'That’s metal,' it qualifies. If I can’t turn the volume up loud enough, that is a good indicator as well."
Leo Moracchioli's cover of Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” Number one, no doubt, for many reasons. Leo’s cover is the other side of Sia’s coin. Where her lyrics carry the intensity of the song’s message in beautiful, powerful, and melodic vocals, Leo tears off that veneer and the strength is no longer veiled but in your face, like metal should be. Growling chorus pays tribute like only metal can. Made me a Sia and Leo fan all at once.
Jon: I don't know whether it's good or bad, but neither Moracchioli nor Sia are familiar names to me. I couldn't make it through Sia's whiny original, so by default, Moracchioli's turbo-charged version wins this faceoff. But it never makes my list. Instead, do yourself a favor and track down Anthrax's faithful replication of the Kansas standard, "Carry on Wayward Son," or the thrash legends' gut-punching retelling of Beastie Boys' "Looking Down the Barrel."
Disturbed's cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” Simon and Garfunkel wearing Kiss makeup: just picture it, and you’re welcome. What makes this cover “metal” is David Draiman’s vocals, and that is more than enough to qualify it. The lyrics are very metal as well, though. “Hello darkness, my old friend” is an opening as recognizable in American music as “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light” — yet comes from the loneliness that inspires so many metal artists. This is not the first cover of this song by any means, and certainly not the last, but it is my favorite cover of this song to date.
Jon: The biggest travesty of this isn't the bland, uninspired arrangement, and lack of harmony and heart, but the fact that far too many will associate one of the most poignant and melodious songs in history with this uber-repetitive quartet, which also managed to ruin Tears for Fears' "Shout." For something you can really sink your teeth into, check out The Melvins' version of "Goin' Blind," an already bizarre KISS tune that becomes a whole new sludge-filled, doom-laden monster.
Limp Bizkit's cover of George Michael’s “Faith.” I saw Limp Bizkit live at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, long ago, and it was because I heard this cover and wanted to hear what else they were doing. Limp Bizkit spiraled into obscurity but this song remains a great cover. The song is about having the strength and faith to leave an unfulfilling relationship. The change in venue from pop to metal fuels that strength and keeps it from being just an angry version of the original.
Jon: Sorry, no belief here. Another case of a perfectly fine number hacked to death by hollering, bashing and amateur performing. Instead, revisit Korn's masterful reworking of Ice Cube's "Wicked," with Chino Moreno of The Deftones on vocals. It's a forgotten masterpiece just waiting to be rediscovered: "Cos I'm the one with the fat mad skills; and I won't choke like the Buffalo Bills," indeed.
Sevendust cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler.)” I didn’t know this was a cover for longer than I want to admit. It would fit in on any Sevendust album and they deliver the soul of the original in an updated and justifiably angrier voice. Sadly, the problems of the inner city haven’t changed and the fact that this cover was originally a poem by Gil Scott-Heron, later recorded by Gaye, and then covered by Sevendust gives it a proud and uniquely American heritage.
Jon: This was a revolutionary revelation, and a welcome one at that. Somehow, Sevendust retained the heart of the original while infusing it with trademark grit, heaviness and industrial flavor. Where has this been all of my listening life? In a similar vein, I'll recommend Nonpoint's "Tribute," a nu-metal take on songs by Slick Rick, Busta Ryhmes and Method Man. Really.
Rage Against the Machine cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” You’ve done something right when the creator of the original embraces your cover to the point of re-recording it with your guitarist: in this case, Tom Morello. The message is as relevant today as ever, and both The Boss and Rage are socially conscious powerhouses that put passion and energy into performances. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is the epitome of this expression.
Jon: If it wasn't for Rage, this hidden folk gem from Springsteen's 1995 album of the same name likely would have been lost to history. Fortunately, thanks to Morello's sledgehammer riffing and Zach de la Rocha's primal scream, there will be no forgetting this anthem, ever. For my money, one of the most potent covers of all time.
Body Count's cover of Jimi Hendrix Experience's “Hey Joe.” So this isn’t Jimi’s song to start with, but his version is most certainly the one that put the song on the map, and definitely the one Body Count emulates. This cover is true to the original, scorching guitar solos included. And Ice-T even sings. I think this cover shows the artist behind the Ice-T persona because of the care taken. It could have been covered very differently, and “respectful” may not be the first thing you think of when you think of Ice-T, but here is a respectful cover that pays tribute to Jimi.
Jon: A respectable (pun intended) choice, but still a distant second to Body Count's cover of Slayer's immortal "Raining Blood/Postmortem," which, dare I say, nearly rivals the original and stands out as one of the strongest tributes out there.
Judas Priest's cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust.” A metal god sings a Joan Baez love song about Bob Dylan. I wouldn’t understand a list of metal covers without this song being on it. Rob Halford’s vocals are so much more interesting to experience than Joan’s on this song. Maybe the difference is Joan feels the song and its sadness, while Rob performs it. Hell of a performance though, and he doesn’t lose the haunting vibrato present throughout Joan’s original.
Jon: I'm torn between this and "Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)" — the obscure Fleetwood Mac track given a spectacular metal makeover by Halford and crew. Each has its particular charms and appeal, so I'm going to call it a toss-up.
Marilyn Manson's cover of The Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams.” This version opened the floodgates for covers of this particular song. Annie Lennox and Marilyn Manson are both very sophisticated people who challenge the norm and use gender bending imagery to great effect. And I have to believe Annie was an inspiration for Marilyn Manson. That's why this cover works so well. The iconic synth line moved over to painful guitar immediately sets the stage for what is to come. It is not your mother’s “Sweet Dreams,” but one you will love no less. Also Manson’s video fuels nightmares, not sweet dreams.
Jon: Eh, I'm kinda over this whole Marilyn Manson thing. It's telling that most of his career, with the exception of maybe "Beautiful People" and "The Dope Show," has been built on songs he didn't write: "Sweet Dreams," "Personal Jesus," "Tainted Love," "Like a Virgin," "1999" and now, the Johnny Cash staple "God's Gonna Cut You Down." In fact, Manson is "credited" with nearly 50 covers: none of which improve on the original. See instead Fear Factory's take on "Cars," with Gary Numan recreating his vocals behind a grinding industrial beat.
Metallica's cover of the Irish folk song “Whiskey in the Jar.” Metallica and whiskey, what’s more metal than that? Metallica is great at covers and although they may not be as metal as they once were, they were metal. I could also have “Stone Cold Crazy” here, but “Whiskey” is like the original cover. I have The Dubliners' version in my collection as well, and that is why it makes this list. It’s a story we can’t stop telling and the Metallica telling is awesome.
Jon: Having released discs with nothing but retreads, Metallica certainly knows its way around a cover. To my ears, though, the definitive version of "Whiskey in a Jar" belongs to Thin Lizzy. Much stronger and more memorable are Metallica's re-thrash of "Am I Evil" and "So What," by under-heard British bands Diamond Head and Anti-Nowhere League, respectively.
So far I have stayed away from suggesting a metal song covered in a metal style, but I will relent just this once.
Corey Taylor's cover of Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark.” Mr. Taylor has a great metal voice and although it is not Ronnie James' Dio, it does it justice and shows respect by not trying to remake it. I believe Satchel from Steel Panther does the guitar work for an added dose of metalness. When you first hear this cover, and are familiar with the original, you will slightly furrow your brow and turn your head to the side like a quizzical dog. No, it’s not Dio, but before you can begin to scream out, “Sacrilege!,” you’ll begin to enjoy it and by the end, you will respect what Corey Taylor and company have done.
Jon: Along with Killswitch Engage's take on "Holy Diver," this is a worthy tribute to the late, great Dio, and deserving of a spot on this list. See also Anthrax's version of Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell," which, of course, was one of Dio's many high points during his stint with the British masters.