Wasn’t so long ago that we had a pair of posts about cover songs (Andy’s special Synn Report on covers and my musings about the pros and cons of covers, prompted by Anachronaeon‘s cover of Iron Maiden). We followed that in short order with news of an awesome-looking cover album by Dying Fetus (here). Seems to be the season for covers, because late yesterday we got word about an EP by Atlanta’s From Exile that we’ve been waiting for, which is devoted to covers of four songs by Nine Inch Nails. It’s called Just Like You Imagined and it’s now available for free download in mp3 or FLAC. We wasted no time listening last night.
So, let’s first review what we discussed in those previous posts and in the accompanying comments about covers: (1) they fail more often than they succeed; (2) there’s no terribly good reason to listen to a cover if it’s just a re-tread of the original, except perhaps for a novelty factor when the normal musical styles of the original and the cover band are poles apart; and (3) the best covers turn the original songs into something new and different, re-sculpting them into new works that stand on their own through variation of the original — but without completely losing connection with the source.
All four of From Exile’s covers succeed, in spades. In both subtle and dramatic ways, depending on the song, they’ve creatively re-shaped the NIN songs, producing music that’s more guitar-driven and more metal. They’ve preserved the spirit of the originals, yet succeeded in adding something of their own, and the results are wonderfully appealing. After the jump, we’ll explore the changes in a bit more detail and juxtapose the originals and the covers for your listening pleasure.
We latched onto From Exile more than a year ago when they debuted their first, self-released album, Monolith. We wrote one of the more glowing reviews we’ve ever published at NCS (here), calling it “a 32-minute treatise on guitar metal.” And then we posted about them again last November. Even if we weren’t already high on From Exile, we would have listened to this EP anyway just because of the cover art by Jorden Haley.
The band is joined once again by Kevin Talley, the very talented drummer from Daath, and one of Daath’s resident guitar wizards, Emil Werstler, also contributes a guest solo that’s mind-blowing.
For this new EP, From Exile picked four songs from NIN’s extensive discography. The original version of the first song, “The Great Below”, is a moody and sometimes uncomfortable piece of music that builds like a threatening storm — but it’s a storm that never fully breaks. For their largely faithful cover, From Exile has trimmed the length of the song and made the guitar parts more active, while vocally matching Trent Reznor’s three-octave climb in intensity. (Speaking of the vocals on this EP, they’re uniformly fantastic.)
In the original, “Ruiner” merges a dance-beat with scratching, pulses of electronic noise, and emphatic melodic keyboards. Reznor’s vocals shift from subdued clean song to distorted shrieking and back to clean vocals in a higher register. The song collapses in the middle, the pace down-shifted and the melody executed by a spastic, distorted guitar lead, and that’s followed by a chunky industrial march and strung-out synthesizer craziness.
In their cover, From Exile preserves the beat and the vocal stylings of the original, but again employ the guitars to drive the melody in place of synthesizers. In that collapsed mid-section, the band features a duet between the bass and a layered, psychedelic guitar. The result is less industrial, less weird, but just as intense.
NIN’s rendition of “Sin” jumps and jerks with a pneumatic beat, Reznor’s snarling vocals only barely humanizing the mechanical precision of the instrumental tracks. It’s a classic piece of dance-floor industrial rock. What has From Exile done with this one? Their version again reduces the presence of inhuman synthesizers and substitutes hammering riffage and Kevin Talley’s rock-style drumming in its place. The cover also injects a squalling, screaming, multi-tracked guitar solo that’s hotter than molten steel.
Instrumental track “A Warm Place”, in the original, is otherworldly, ephemeral, beautiful, anchored only by the low, muffled thrum of the bass line, the keys rising and falling, isolated notes revealing a haunting melody. It’s a mesmerizing, dreamlike song.
From Exile’s take on the song magnifies the rush and power of the sound, and a more flowing, reverberating guitar lead/solo by Emil Werstler replaces the isolated keyboard notes of the original. Werstler’s contribution is a superb and all-too-brief piece of instrumental extravagance, thankfully reprised again near the song’s end. Of all the tracks on the EP, this one made the deepest impression. On this song, the cover exceeds the original.
This widget will allow you to stream all four tracks on the EP. But if you’ve got the time, we’ve got another way to listen to these songs further below.
Whenever you’re ready to download Just Like You Imagined, THIS is the link that will take you to the From Exile page where you can get that done. Unfortunately, if you’re a CD-hound like me, the only way you can get a hard copy of the record is by attending the band’s CD release show at 9 pm on May 14th at the Earl in Atlanta, Georgia. You pay your $8 to get in, and you get the CD free at the door.
One more piece of From Exile news: They’ve finished filming a video for their magnificent version of “A Warm Place”; those photos up above are stills from the video.
Now, if you’re ready to invest some more time in this covers phenomenon — and you may especially appreciate this if you’re a Nine Inch Nails fan — here’s what we’re gonna do: Down below we’re going through the EP track by track, and preceding each track we’ll have the original NIN song, followed by the From Exile cover. It will give you an even more precise appreciation for what From Exile has done with the songs.
THE GREAT BELOW
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/12-The-Great-Below.mp3|titles=NIN – The Great Below]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/01-The-Great-Below.mp3|titles=From Exile – The Great Below]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/06-Ruiner.mp3|titles=NIN – Ruiner]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/02-Ruiner.mp3|titles=From Exile – Ruiner]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/07-Sin.mp3|titles=NIN – Sin]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/03-Sin.mp3|titles=From Exile – Sin]
A WARM PLACE
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/10-A-Warm-Place.mp3|titles=NIN – A Warm Place]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/04-A-Warm-Place.mp3|titles=From Exile – A Warm Place]