(I swear this was a coincidence. I wrote a post that went up earlier today on metal covers based on a single by Anachronaeon we received yesterday, and then our UK contributor Andy Synn delivered this special edition of THE SYNN REPORT about . . . covers. This is the kind of occurrence that sends me back to the dictionary once again to figure out the difference between synchronicity and serenditpity. Or maybe it’s both.)
Covers are a strange breed of song – they’re the equivalent of a parallel universe, an alternate history, a What If? Comic, an adaptation of your favourite book starring an unexpected actor, a Shakespeare play set in an average American high school…
Seriously though, they have a huge amount of potential, both to be intriguingly inventive and woefully horrendous. Their success (or lack thereof) depends on many factors, but mainly on the song-choice itself – is it a natural fit for the band? Do they have the intelligence to re-work it in a distinctive manner? Or is it simply enough to tear through it in their own inimitable style, making few changes, but relying on sheer power to see them through?
I have chosen 15 artists who have produced some of my own personal favourite covers, showcasing a variety of approaches, some fully traditional takes on the original, others totally reworked variations. If there’s one thing that these covers show however, it is the subtle threads that inter-link all different sub-genres of rock and metal, which allow bands to re-work them organically. (more after the jump . . .)
Faster, Louder, Better
Aborted – Slaughtered (Pantera cover)
As with many of the songs on here, Aborted clearly recognised the potential of this song as being already close enough to their own genre that it only really requires a few tweaks to push it over the edge into death metal territory. An utterly monstrous guitar tone also helps.
Shadows Fall – December (Only Living Witness cover)
Okay, the vocals may be a little over-produced (hell, Jonah Jenkins has a great voice, difficult to live up to) but this slightly more metallic take on an under-rated melodic hardcore classic ducks and weaves like a fucking prize-fighter in his prime. Crunchy and powerful. Love the ending breakdown too.
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Blinded By Fear (At The Gates cover)
Take a melodic death metal classic, play it faithfully, but speed it up, blast the shit out of it and growl it into dust. Perfect.
Moonsorrow – For Whom The Bell Tolls (Metallica cover)
The most unusual of the thrash covers on here (all the rest are essentially unchanged, just re-flavoured, if you will) Moonsorrow have deconstructed and expanded the Metallica classic by over 2 and half minutes, adding layers of wind-swept keyboards, unexpected folk moments, clean guitar breaks and particularly Finnish harmonies to almost complete re-imagine the song as a grandiose, epic vision.
The Absence – Into The Pit (Testament cover)
When is “Into The Pit” not “Into The Pit”? When it’s “Laid To Rest”… I kid, I kid. Still, this version definitely IS “Into The Pit”, albeit a version which pushes the speed up a couple of notches, almost tripping up over its own feet in its youthful energy. You can almost see the band playing it with big, ear-to-ear grins and feel the love they have for this classic track. The drum work is fantastically tight too, and the vocal work gives it a slight sense of divergence from the original.
Now three songs originally by Slayer… perhaps one of the most covered bands in metal history.
The thing is, I don’t really like Slayer, but I do like a lot of Slayer songs and riffs.
It’s just the guitar work of Kerry King and the vocals of Tom Araya stick in my craw for some reason, which is why it’s nice to hear the bands below take songs I SHOULD like and perform them in a manner that I DO like..
Dark Funeral – Dead Skin Mask (Slayer cover)
Just… darker. Sharp, yet rusty guitar tone and tortured vocals, but otherwise pretty much unchanged from the original. The band clearly recognised that this song was already teetering on the edge of being a black metal/thrash song anyway and have simply given it a tiny nudge over that edge.
As I Lay Dying – War Ensemble (Slayer cover)
The most recent cover on here, it just allows As I Lay Dying to let rip with some welcome aggression. The momentum and structure of the song suit them so well and I really hope they continue to positively benefit from their recent shot of metal.
Vader – Raining Blood (Slayer cover)
Controversial statement of the day… this is better than the original. It’s a little faster, with a tougher, nastier guitar tone and more extreme drumming. Plus Piotr Wiwczarek is a better vocalist than Tom Araya – even though both are pretty simple and restricted in their approach! Of course it has the benefit of more modern production and years of thought and hindsight, but since Vader are effectively the death metal Slayer I think a death metal version of the song is only to be welcomed.
Paying Tribute To The Old-School
Chthonic – Painkiller (Judas Priest cover)
The song’s structure may be largely unchanged, but all the extra elements really help imagine this Priest classic and show it in a totally new light. Very much from an alternate universe where Priest are a Taiwanese black metal band… with a much hotter bassist. No offence to Ian Hill.
The Agony Scene – Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones cover)
Ok, this song has been covered A LOT. But I still love this version. Mike Williams’ voice is a perfect fit, both for the (on this version minimal) clean singing parts and for the throat-tearing screaming sections the band have included. It’s still got a rock and roll groove and swagger to it, but is just sharper and nastier. Like a serial killer’s holiday. Fucked up and nasty. Also has one of the rare occasions where a marching/martial drum beat section *doesn’t* kill the song for me.
Dimmu Borgir – Burn In Hell (Twisted Sister cover)
Utterly demented, but brilliant for it. Great vocal performance by both Shagrath, who adds a bit of nastiness to the song’s up-tempo swing, and by Vortex, who fully embraces the sheer insanity of Dimmu covering this song. The band are clearly having tremendous fun here. The devil continues to have all the best tunes.
Ulver – Solitude (Black Sabbath cover)
Almost utterly unrecognisable at first, this slow burner from “Shadows Of The Sun” is simply a brilliant song that happens to be a cover. It wins on its own merits, rather than some good will from the original. Although totally different in style and context, the familiar Sabbath-y bass-line and lyrical couplets still pay tribute to the original.
Pink Floyd Covers
Kittie – Run Like Hell (Pink Floyd cover)
Utterly, utterly crushing. Slow and ponderous stabs of anvil-heavy guitars and punchy flurries of aggressive drumming all underlying Morgan Landers effortless shifts between sweet, seductive crooning and demonically possessed screams. Maddening, frenzied slide guitar solo at the end too. This lunatic reimagining really fits the song’s origins well.
1349 – Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (Pink Floyd cover)
Bearing all the filthy, grinding hallmarks of Tom G. Warrior’s prodigious influence, this cover by 1349 has been twisted and mutated into a hellish, warped thing. For a long time it seems as though not much is happening, yet somehow the layers of pitch black nothing evoke an almost metaphysical sense of horror and unbeing. This re-working of the track is a relentlessly disturbing, waking nightmare of a song.
Heaven Shall Burn
To finish I’ve chosen two songs by the remarkably cover-happy band Heaven Shall Burn. Both these tracks epitomise how I feel covers should work. The band clearly knows and loves the originals of both, but has obviously when listening to them been humming along their own variations, sat there going “you know what, if I had written this song it would be a little different…”
Which is exactly how these things should work. It’s not just the band playing the song of another band, but a window into what would have happened if HSB had been the original architects of each track.
HSB – Whatever That Hurts (Tiamat cover)
Dark, gothic and bone-crushingly heavy, this new take welds a massive megaton of metallic might onto the original’s core, re-imagining the violent emotional turmoil of the original in blistering fashion. The moody bits of semi-clean vocals also show HSB adding some new touches to their own style, influenced by their choice of cover. Wheels within wheels people.
HSB – Black Tears (Edge Of Sanity cover)
More intense than the original’s proggy, cleanly sung version, HSB also released this as a single, with an accompanying video (see below). The song bites and snarls with extra aggression not found in the original – a simple but effective change – while the video cleverly splices together several different conventions and plays with a nice little sub-text to the entire affair.