Covers are the bane of nearly every band trying to get some exposure. And we're not talking about album covers
, or the cover charges
in drinking establishments - We're talking about cover songs
. More often than not, a band won't be able to play a bar gig if they can't cover a wide variety of material, especially if they're just starting out. At that point, they've become a cover band
, a label that makes most musicians shudder.
And yet, so many good bands started out as just that - Cover bands. Some of these same bands have tried their hands at a cover or two when in the studio. Even less bands become widely known to take another artist's song and perform it with such passion and sincerity that they make it their own. Thinking deeply, only two artists come to mind who have mastered the art of the cover song - Tori Amos, and Metallica.
Yes, I just said Tori Amos and Metallica in the same sentence. But one only need look at the history of Metallica's covers, listen to them, and that person will agree that despite their shortcomings, despite their silly stance on the mp3 debate, Metallica is just plain incredible at covering songs.
It started early in their career, when they were just getting into the music scene. They lined their sets with songs from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or to those familiar with it, the NWOBHM. Lars Ulrich's collection of vinyl and bootlegged NWOBHM is what inspired himself and James Hetfield to form Metallica, and as a result, is where they drew much of their influence. Prior to a tour to promote their upcoming album, Ride the Lightning, they decided to release a single from the album to get some buzz going. When the single for Creeping Death hit UK record stores, it featured two covers by NWOBHM'ers Budgie and Blitzkrieg on the B-side.
Metallica didn't do much in the years following Kill 'em All regarding covers. They put out two more studio albums each progressively better than its predecessor, culminating with the essential metal enthusiast’s disc Master of Puppets. While on tour in Europe, a bus accident claimed bassist Cliff Burton's life. The members of Metallica were crushed. With tour dates to fill, they regrouped, and plucked promising bassist Jason Newsted from Flotsam and Jetsam. Rather than put pressure onto Newsted, already having the difficult job of filling in for one of the greatest bassists to pick up a four-string, under the pressure of going straight to new material, Metallica returned to their roots - Covers.
Inside Ulrich's shag carpet soundproofed garage, Metallica practiced for a month, finally heading into the studios and laying down 5 tracks in a mere 6 days. The choice of material was diverse, to say the least. The requisite NWOBHM was included, featuring "Helpless" by Diamond Head, "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" by Budgie, and Holocaust's "The Small Hours." Less typical was the cover of the post-punk band Killing Joke's "The Wait." The final track on the 5 song EP was "Last Caress/Green Hell," a two-song medley of tunes by the oft-campy hardcore band the Misfits. This track became a live favorite, one which they often opened their concerts with. Having witnessed one such event, I can say there are few things as incredible as seeing Hetfield run on stage, illuminated by pyros, and scream, "I've got something to say - I killed your baby today!"
Entitled The $5.98 EP - Garage Days Re-Revisited, it was a huge seller, and became a fan bootleg favorite after it went out of print. But Metallica didn't stop there. Following their critically acclaimed masterpiece, ...And Justice For All, Metallica released the single to "Harvester of Sorrow," which, on the B-side, contained two covers taken from the ...And Justice recording sessions. The songs, more Budgie and Diamond Head, were, respectively, "Breadfan" and "the Prince." Breadfan quickly became a radio favorite, and in some markets, sees as much airplay as anything else from Metallica's early days.
In 1990, Elektra Entertainment Group put together a 40th anniversary album of their current artist roster covering songs by older artists on their roster. Though the overall compilation yielded somewhat mixed results, there were a few gems on the album, one of them being (you guessed it) a Metallica cover. The band updated Queen's frenzied "Stone Cold Crazy," making the vocals significantly more menacing than any Freddie Mercury could hope to sing. Aside from that, it wasn't changed much, since Queen's version was remarkably heavy-sounding, despite the 1974 original release date.
1991 saw the release of the eponymous "Black" album, and the single for "the Unforgiven." On the UK edition of the single, Metallica included two Black-session studio outtakes, "So What" and "Killing Time." The former was essentially one big "fuck you" in musical form, and was original penned by the proudly revolting Anti-Nowhere League. The latter song was done by yet another NWOBHM band, the short-lived Sweet Savage.
Rounding out the Metallica cover orgy were four songs recorded live at a celebration for Motörhead's Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, who'd turned 50. Metallica released them as B-sides after the Load CD, when the UK "Hero of the Day" single hit shelves. The followed that with ReLoad roughly a year after that.
So here was nearly 15 years worth of cover material, much of it totally unavailable to fans commercially, therefore not making Metallica any money and frustrating those who wanted to hear it someplace other than the radio. In lieu of new material, Metallica finally decided to compile all of their covers on one album.
Not one to fail to recognize a good marketing gimmick when they saw one, Metallica decided to do some "value adding" to the package, in the form of 11 brand spanking new cover songs. Spanning even more genres than their typical cover material did, this would be a cover album, well, of Metallica proportions.
The liner notes for the CD go into fascinating detail on what drove the decisions behind the 11 songs they chose, so I won't waste time here going into that. I'll just say this CD is fantastic.
No, more than fantastic. This is a must-buy for any metal lover worth their salt. There's the incredible cover of Black Sabbath's "Sabbra Cadabra," replete with a few verses from "A National Acrobat." There's a soulful, metal-edged re-imagining of Bob Seger's perennial hit, "Turn the Page." There's Nick Cave. Thin Lizzy. Blue Öyster Cult. A medley of songs by Mercyful Fate. And more. Each song possesses a distinct style, sometimes derivative of the original, but often different enough to sound new. The fact that a good half of the songs are well known (infinitely more so than most of the covers Metallica earlier) makes it even more unbelievable that they're able to make these songs sound theirs. A first time listener would have a hard time believing that Metallica's "Turn the Page" wasn't their own, just as many people went a long time thinking "Breadfan" was originally a Metallica song.
This album, despite the lack of true "new material," blows previous 90's efforts of Metallica's out of the water. There are several cases where the covers surpass the originals. Blue Öyster Cult's "Astronomy" was a striking mood piece, beginning with a soothing piano intro and moving into heaviness later. As beautiful as the original was, Metallica's version outshines it. In spite of the fact there's no one manning a keyboard, Metallica's instrumental intro sounds no less surreal. In fact, it sounds more so. Then there's the vocals - This song is a testament to the fact that, as much as some of us, myself included, hate to admit it, Hetfield has become a full-fledge vocalist, able to - dare I say it - sing! Metallica does their best on the heavy portions as well, and when played back to back, the BOC version sounds...weak. Castrated. Dull. Vanilla. Take your pick of words, it doesn't matter - This song has become a Metallica song.
The same can be said for their cover of "Turn the Page." There's more emotion in the first stanza of Metallica's version than exists in the whole of Seger's, and Metallica added an excellent guitar solo to boot. Where Seger’s version maintains the same vocal mode throughout the entire song, Metallica’s begins much like Seger’s, but begins to emit much more desperation as the lyrics tell the story of a musician under the pressure of touring. Truth be told, many of these covers surpass the originals, and it's not simply the better production. There's just something else there in each of the pieces, some touch, whether stylistic or musical, that puts it a cut above the rest.
I've little respect left for the members of Metallica as individuals after they came out against mp3s. But I'll be damned if they didn't deserve a name synonymous with the genre they represent, a genre they began in, and eventually, dominated. This CD is a evidence to their skills as musicians, and besides that, it's just plain good listening.
01...(2:35)..Free Speech for the Dumb
04...(6:06)..Turn the Page
05...(2:29)..Die, Die My Darling
09...(5:04)..Whiskey in the Jar
11...(4:48)..The More I See
02...(6:43)..The Small Hours
04...(3:10)..Crash Course in Brain Surgery
05...(3:29)..Last Caress/Green Hell
06...(7:50)..Am I Evil?*
10...(2:17)..Stone Cold Crazy
15...(4:51)..Stone Dead Forever
16...(3:12)..Too Late Too Late
Released November 24th, 1998 by Elektra Entertainment Group
Recorded and mixed at too many damn places to attempt to name and date
Total running time of 136 minutes, 22 seconds
Thanks goes to kmcardle for pointing out at least one minor error in the wu. I had originally listed the 1987 EP as "Garage Days Re-visited," instead of "Re-revisited." Thanks man!