LOUDER FEATURES: The Best of the 'Blacklist'
‘The Black Album’, and indeed Metallica are not just significant to how the genre of metal sounds today, but to how music has developed over the course of the last 30 years. This was an album which made its musicians some of the biggest stars in the world and in doing so showed how music could be forceful and commanding and still make a difference. Indeed, while not everything on the newly released Blacklist – comprised of a lot of covers of songs from the self-titled record by other artists - will be to everyone’s tastes, if nothing else the playlist is successful in showing the impact this act has made in how artists from a range of genres and styles from Weezer to Chase & Status came forward to record a cover. I’m not going to pretend that I see everything across this mammoth collection as great and you will have to sift through to find the versions of these songs which resonate with you. However, for the purposes of perhaps providing a starting place for those overwhelmed by the choice The Blacklist provides, I’ve presented some of my favourites. Just as some addendums however, while there are often multiple versions of the same song here I’ll be picking one cover per song. Secondly, ‘Of Wolf and Man’ does not appear on this list. Only one artist – Goodnight, Texas – covered this and I personally do not care for their take. With that said, let’s see which artists captured or even reinvigorated these classics!
Rina Sawayama – Enter Sandman
Managing to capture both that signature dynamism which defines some of Sawayama’s most impressive songs and the menacing snarl of the original, this transcends the many covers of this track. That’s quite a task as well – through that splicing guitar tone, the wailing solo, the growl in Hetfield’s voice as he warns of the ‘beasts under your bed, this song has terrified and excited in equal measure. By keeping many of the defining aspects intact while adding villainous strut, given life by excellent production, imperious percussive work, and fiery performances, this stands as a lofty contender for the greatest cover version of this piece!
St. Vincent – Sad But True
Ever wondered what Sad but True would sound like as a haunting industrial-tinged pop track? Well, here you are and it’s great! This strips away the gigantic, marching sound of the original for something more reserved and threatening. Although that might sound risky, the ominous thud of the bass and the ethereal presence of the synths makes for a version that’s almost as striking as the original, just in a different way. Finally, St. Vincent’s lead guitar work is well-revered, and while it’s sparer here, that means that the solo eventually exploding into life only adds to the unique yet haunting feel.
Biffy Clyro – Holier Than Thou
This one grew on me massively. I had great covers by OFF! and PUP to choose from on this one. Biffy Clyro’s seemed the strangest and least enraged of all of these which initially alienated me, but upon repeat listens, the slow burning feel of this song, underpinned by the eerie use of synthesisers, erratic changes in tempo, guttural guitar tones and almost chorale-like vocals make this an experimental yet intriguing take that definitely warranted revisiting!
Moses Sumney – The Unforgiven
Opting for evocative and melancholy minimalism over the originals sweeping majesty, this soulful take forces the listener to become drawn into the storytelling and message of the song. About halfway through the main guitar line surfaces before Sumney’s mournful harmonies coalesce into a beautiful and solemn crescendo. Many understandably have a sentimental attachment to this one and may have a hard time, at least initially, finding that in a version that is so different, Still, to me, the emotional depth, honesty and sorrow that was conveyed by Metallica, is brilliantly recaptured here.
Jon Pardi – Wherever I May Roam
Leaning firmly into the folk side that was already present on this song through powerful use of slide guitar, violins and harmonica, while appreciating that this is a metal song, this may be one of the finest pieces across this entire collection. Still, it’s also one which deserves accolades for taking the ideas that Hetfield and co. honed 30 years ago and bravely and unashamedly committing to the idea. It’s a tough call but ‘Wherever I May Roam’ may be my favourite song on the original album, and while I was naturally concerned about the track being altered, Jon Pardi has firmly laid my fears to rest.
Volbeat – Don’t Tread on Me
Volbeat’s only change here is to add a more melodic style to this song through more detailed guitar work and a different vocal tone, and while this may provoke controversy, these changes improve on the song immeasurably. I know that without the groundwork laid by Metallica, this band would most likely not exist but on plays of the Black Album proper, ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ tends to be one song I lose interest for, as its chest-beating ‘call to war’ style doesn’t intrigue me. So, while suggesting Volbeat did a Metallica song better than Metallica may seem strange, by significantly fleshing out the instrumentation and melodies, to me they have made the piece a far more interesting and engaging listen.
The HU – Through the Never
Mongolian folk is a genre that’s endlessly fascinating due to the combination of deep ‘throat singing’ with strong emphasis on drums, strings and woodwind instruments. The HU have been brilliantly combining the style with metal since 2018, and due to the uniqueness of their sound that makes this the most challenging song review to write by far! The interpretation has all the forcefulness and viscerality of the original, maybe more as the chanting, mixed with the rush of bows against strings make for a uniquely harrowing experience. Metal hadn’t come this far when Metallica wrote this song all those years ago. It’s partly due to their legacy and cultural reach as an act that there is now an excellent Mongolian-folk metal act reinventing their work!
Miley Cyrus & Elton John – Nothing Else Matters
There are many covers of the exultant power ballad on this collection. I eventually narrowed my contenders for this slot to three – Phoebe Bridger’s vulnerable and intimate acoustic version, Dave Gahan’s startlingly moving minimalist electronic cover, and what I eventually ended up choosing - the sweeping and adventurous cover by Miley Cyrus featuring Sir Elton John on piano, who recently called this ‘one of the greatest pieces of music ever written’, reducing the Metallica frontman to tears. Its testament to how true that statement is that you can take away all the epic and ambitious aspects of this song and still feel affected. You can equally, as this version did, give the piece a neoclassical setting adding ever more soaring atmospherics and grander arrangements and still comprehend its beauty. That’s how fantastic this song is and why it’s a classic!
IDLES – The God That Failed
Brilliantly chaotic perfectly describes Idles and their interpretation of this pulsating and effervescent anthem. By exaggerating the distortion, introducing the signature sonic bedlam that Joe Talbot and co. bring to their sound, and giving the vocals a sarcastic snarl, this piece gives new life to this deep cut and stresses the anthems status as a piece of social commentary. Interestingly, listening to Kill ‘em All by Metallica, Persistence of Time by Anthrax or Peace Sells… by Megadeth, you quickly discover that Thrash Metal and Hardcore Punk share a lot of musical DNA. In that sense, this cover makes a lot more sense than you initially realise.
Kamasi Washington – My Friend of Misery
While there are no shortage of orchestral versions of Metallica songs, few Jazz Fusion artists have seen the potential in their giant sound. That is except Kamasi Washington. Keys eloquently interest with horns, bass and drums on this song to create a serene if sinister atmosphere. Many of the sections originally performed on guitar are reinterpreted for these instruments which works excellently to carry the soaring, dystopian feel of the original track while lending a unique atmosphere to the song that’s alive with both the spirit of Jazz and metal alike!
Rodrigo y Gabriella – The Struggle Within
This incredibly skilful Spanish guitar duo have mastered the art of acoustic instrumental covers of Metallica songs. From their versions of ‘One’ to ‘Orion’, they always excel. It’s no surprise that they are on this collection, not least as the sole artist covering the closing song. The work would feel strangely incomplete without their unique playing style, strange time signatures and sense of wit that comes from comprehending something so different and bold. I guess that’s what Metallica aimed to achieve with this completion overall. Every artist who contributed lent their unique voice to this song and in doing so showed what these songs mean to them, and how significant they are to music. Let that be the Black Albums defining legacy!
The Deluxe version of 'The Black Album' featuring the 'Blacklist' is avlaible for streaming and purchase now!