This alarming development in the world of music is something that really should not work. Yet, for some strange reason, it does, often enough.
Why does it happen, though? Well, personally I suspect there's elements of musical elitism and tongue in cheek silliness about it in equal measure. Unless your entire experience of metal was that annoying, whining shyte that found itself all over MTV from 1997 to 2002 or so, you may be aware that a lot of metal requires no small instrumental prowess. Especially the more complex forms such as thrash, current-generation black metal, and prog/power, which prides itself on unconventional song structure, different layers of sound, and supersonic speeds - for some bands, 200bpm is a fairly slow segment on an album. In short, it's a rather involved and technical form of music. And metal bands do like to brag about this somewhat; Dark Angel's 1991 album "Time Does Not Heal" had a sticker on the CD box which promised "9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs!" - and believe you me... they were probably right. Or in the 2005 documentary film "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" one interviewer explained metal's appeal primarily amongst men because it was all about marvelling at the performers' ability to "use tools proficiently" (and whilst I question this, at least it explains the origin of the term "fretwanking".) So metal bands tend to lean towards highly complex music and like to show it; and the more indigestible it is and the more one has to actively listen to it, the better.
So what's at the other end of the scale? Probably dance pop. It's meaningless. It's danceable. It's light and fluffy and ultra-catchy. It's even, dare I say it, formulaic. The same themes crop up time and time again, in the same forms. Moreover, it's structurally simple and repetitive, and especially nowadays requires little to no creative input from the performers to generate, as a well-equipped modern studio would be more than capable of piling on enough effects on the singer's voice to turn even the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal into a veritable deva - and that's before we even get to the widespread practice of lip synching.
So with all this in mind, it's my theory that metal bands sometimes cover dance pop songs as a bit of musical snobbery. They are, in effect, calling out the meaninglessness and mediocrity of this brightly-coloured drivel and implicitly demeaning whatever labour, skill, or judgement was used to make it - after all, wouldn't you be put out if you'd spent time and money making a slick teen pop masterpiece and then a bunch of overweight, oversexed, overhaired, beer-swilling, quite-possibly-stoned louts managed to, on a whim, generate a version of it off the cuff that sounds noticeably better?
Not that I'm complaining, mind. For me, Hell is a Spice Girls concert, so...
"But I've never heard any of these metal covers of pop songs!"
Fair enough. I will, therefore, for your benefit, write a few lines about a few of of those that I have heard in my time.
1. Doro, "White Wedding"
Probably the earliest metal pop cover I can think of, dating from 2000 (I refuse to count Marilyn Manson as metal, so his ruination of "Tainted Love" is omitted.) It's fairly similar to the original, except sped up a bit, and on guitars rather than synths. It makes quite a difference from Doro's usual fare, such as "Kiss Me Like A Cobra," which sounds slightly obscene, and "Burn it Up," which is the only time I've ever encountered heavy metal cheerleaders ever.
2. Children of Bodom, "Oops I Did It Again"
This, which was recorded whilst this Finnish fivesome were piss-drunk in the studio (probably), was where the idea of covering pop songs really came from. They've got Alexi Laiho's trademark throaty screech belting out Britney's vocal lines, the occasional "Perkele!" thrown in for good measure, a bit of a solo, and a narrative bit in the middle which seems to be a discussion in Finnish of whose turn it is to get the beer. It's totally priceless and well recommended.
3. Cradle of Filth, "Temptation"
From 2006's album "Thornography," the Ipswich-based Spinal Tap successors couldn't resist mutilating Heaven 17's hit. Worth it just for the hilarity factor.
4. Cradle of Filth, "Stay"
You'd better hope and pray that you find the humour upon hearing this rework of Shakespeare's Sister's 1992 hit. They've got Sarah Jane Ferridge doing the short haired one's part and Dani Filth doing the other one's part. To be found on 2008's album "Harder Darker Faster."
5. Turisas, "Rasputin"
Released as a single in 2007. Oh, those Finns...
6. The Meads of Asphodel, "Wonderful World"
Not a cover per se, but this part stoner rock, part black metal, part Middle Eastern folk quintet did a slightly more cynical version of Louis Armstrong's number on their 2005 album "Damascus Steel."
7. Angtoria, "Confide in Me"
Sarah Jane Ferridge not only has a bigger arse than Kylie Minogue, but also a better voice. There's real emotion too behind this rendition, not some Stock, Aitken, and Waterman fluffiness. Get it off their 2006 album "God Has A Plan For Us All."
8. Firewind, "Maniac"
Probably the most recent metal pop cover, it's on 2008's album "The Premonition." Vocalist Apollo Papathanasio has the right sort of vocal range and likes to show it. A song for those people who would have preferred Jennifer Beals to have dressed in leather rather than spandex.
9. Type O Negative, "Summer Breeze"
(Thanks to Uberbanana and DejaMorgana)
Languid and stony and gothic, Type O Neg's cover of this Seals & Crofts number can be found on 1993's "Bloody Kisses" album. This one is definitely Pete Steele having a bit of a giggle; Type O Neg have never taken themselves seriously (viz. the songs "I Like Goils," "We Hate Everyone," and so forth.)
10. Lawnmower Deth, "Kids in America"
How could I have forgotten this gem? For those not in the know, Lawnmower Deth were a bit of a parody band themselves, with songs such as "Satan's Trampoline," "Watch Out Grandma, Here Comes A Lawnmower," and the evident Bolt Thrower parody "Sharp Fucka-Blades of Hades." But anyhow. In 1989 on their album "Ooh Crikey! It's Lawnmower Deth!" they covered Kim Wilde's song. Their version is faster, thrashier, and delivered in an exaggerated Northern accent. Highly recommended.
11. Graveworm, "Holding Out for a Hero"
Update - 11/9/2008 - Italian gothic black metal does Bonnie Tyler. Rather cool. Pity that the rest of the album it was on, "Collateral Defect" from 2007, blows like a goat.
12. The CNK, "Everybody Knows"
Update - 13/5/2009 - The CNK are politically incorrect industrial metal and they covered this number by Leonard Cohen. This is a big, shouty epic version of Leonard's angstfest. I can't say I'm too convinced but the CNK are just so ace in every other way that it makes up enough.
Well, I suppose that's about it for now. I'm sure there are other metal dance-pop covers, but I'll leave you to find them.
In closing, and if any metal bands are reading this, here follows some suggestions of what would generate maximum hilarity in this department.
A. Immortal, "Don't Cha Wish Ya Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me"
The humour in three large, hairy, leather-clad, corpse-painted Norwegians growling about being fun, raw, hot, freaks is so obvious it barely needs to be mentioned.
B. Rotting Christ, "Like a Prayer"
Think about it. Though I'll go without Sakis Tolis shagging Jesus.
C. Judas Priest, "I Want It That Way"
(Editor's note: Rob Halford is gay.)
Message to the earsling who softlinked "Things morons find hilarious" but didn't even have the gallantry to say it to my face - Chances are you're one of those annoying hipster types with their ripped jeans and sneering and ironic bollox whose appreciation of metal consists of little more than 90s Metallica and current Mastodon.