Perhaps there’s no greater love letter to our sweaty, hedonistic subculture than the heavy metal cover song. Metal kids grow up playing along to their favorite albums, they form bands and, shocker, those bands still love playing the influential tunes from their formative days. It’s the ultimate rallying cry, the be-all and end-all of acknowledging head nods. Everyone, from the stadium filling elites of Metallica, established genre champs like Dimmu Borgir, and raucous upstarts like Noisem, love cranking out covers of their favorite metal anthems.
Of course not all cover jams are created equal. Some bands go out of their way to mimic the original recordings down to the smallest detail, others end up butchering beloved classics and end up pissing everyone off. Then, there are those artists who manage to not only capture the spirit of the original, but breathe new life into the track by putting their own unique stamp on the song. These are the covers we’ll be highlighting in this list. The ones that sound like both bands, rocking out in unison.
A few ground rules before we proceed.
1. Only one entry per band being covered.
2. Only one entry per band doing the covers.
3. Covered material should be ‘metal’ related.
That means Megadeth doing “These Boots” and Napalm Death doing Dead Kennedys will have to wait for a different list [although some exceptions might be made].
TLDR: this list is a compendium of the raddest metal covers around. Enjoy.
Metallica – “The Prince” (Diamond Head)
The biggest band in the universe loves them some cover songs. The Metallicats [Garage Inc. humor anyone?] have always worn their influences on their sleeve and have generously shared some of the rockstar limelight with their musical heroes throughout their career. Check their supercharged rendition of “The Prince” for proof. Recorded during the And Justice For All… sessions, Hetfield’s voice and right hand are on fire here, while Lars lays down one of his tightest drum performances, ever. This cover takes the rockin’ vibe of the original and launches it into the stratosphere.
More covers on the next page…
Slayer & Ice-T – “Disorder” (The Exploited medley)
It’s 1993. Ice-T was hot off the heels of Body Count’s debut album and was generally regarded as a cop killing antichrist by Middle America. His teaming with Slayer, the Nazi affiliated, Ed Gein lovers from hell; must have seemed like Armageddon back in the day [the long hairs and rappers are in cahoots!]. Ice-T’s tough guy bark complements Araya’s criminally insane delivery remarkably well. Their updated lyrics from The Exploited’s “UK82” made perfect sense following the LA riots, and the thrash break in the final section illustrates the punk genomes in Slayer’s DNA. This is also Paul Bostaph’s first recording with the band. Go figure.
[NOTE: The Exploited aren't metal, but this cover rules too hard to ignore, plus Slayer's version of "Dissident Aggressor" was disqualified so…]
Sleep – “Snowblind” (Black Sabbath)
It all goes back to Sabbath. That’s the great universal truth of the metal world. Forty years later, and Tony Iommi’s god sized riffs have spawned a veritable headbanging religion. There are millions of Sabbath tributes to weed through online, but Sleep’s cover of “Snowblind” proves that Matt Pike is not only ordained in Iommi’s guitar ministry, but he just might be an heir to the throne for future generations. Sleep make this already lumbering Sabbath anthem feel even more massive while Al Cisneros’ voice feels closer in spirit to classic Ozzy than Mr. Osbourne has in decades.
Converge – “Wolverine Blues” (Entombed)
Kurt Ballou, Converge guitarist, producer and mad scientist, has been doing more for Entombed over the past few years than both current iterations of the band have been. Ballou’s God City Studios has basically kept the “Entombedcore” genre afloat and helped teach a new generation of metal fiends about the wonders of Swedish death metal. Fitting that his band Converge would knock their cover of “Wolverine Blues” out of the park. It’s tighter and heavier than the original and features punishing vocals from members of Converge, Doomriders, All Pigs Must Die, Isis and At The Gates!
Obituary – “Circle of Tyrants” (Celtic Frost)
Celtic Frost were renowned for their monster riffs and incendiary guitar tone. Obituary inject this tune with their own pulverizing brand of heavy, as well as John Tardy’s legendary death metal roar. No disrespect to Tom G. Warrior, but if anyone else can sing over this jam and make it their own, it’s John Tardy. Recorded for the band’s landmark Cause of Death album, Obituary’s successful cover of “Circle of Tyrants” owes a great deal to Scott Burn’s legendary Morrisound production. It’s creates a huge wall of “UGGHHH” and helps cement Obituary’s sound all over this classic.
Marduk- "Into The Crypts of Rays"
Zyklon – “Pull The Plug” (Death)
Before he transformed Death into a tech metal marvel, Chuck Schuldiner was a veritable death metal riff factory. Zyklon pay tribute to the gory days of Death with their strangely refined version of “Pull the Plug.” The song’s gargantuan main riff remains as spirit crushingly heavy [eh eh?] as before but this cover is played with a finesse and fluidity missing from the original. We all know Trym could launch the bpms into the stratosphere if desired, but instead he and rest of the band just lock in and play the shit out of this old school death metal staple. It’s how I imagine Human-era Death would have done it.
Susperia- "Lack of Comprehension"
1349 – “Rapture” (Morbid Angel)
Swamp fried, Florida death metal by way of Norwegian aural hellfire. Surprisingly, this Morbid Angel standard fits 1349’s black metal aesthetic rather well. The song’s whirlwind tremolo guitars and hyper active double bass drumming is familiar territory to these corpse painted lads. Frost and Archaon keep the slime encrusted spirit of Pete and Trey’s music, while Ravn’s blackened vocals creates an interesting contrast to David Vincent’s original guttural performance.
Death – “Painkiller” (Judas Priest)
Chuck sings Halford and the world is better for it. The musical virtuosos in later era-Death pay tribute to the original mechanized metal assault squad, Judas Priest, and crank out an extreme metal certified copy of “Painkiller” in the process. When it comes to metal singers, there’s only one Rob Halford, but Chuck Schuldiner showcases his own unique vocal range [coming a long way from the Scream Bloody Gore days] and even does serious justice to KK Downing and Glenn Tipton’s twin guitar attack.
Strapping Young Lad- "Exciter"
Sabaton – “Twilight of the Thunder God” (Amon Amarth)
The Viking heshers in Amon Amarth have always had a thing for epic songs, but the soaring operatic rendition of “Twilight of the Thunder God” concocted by power metal heroes Sabaton takes things to a whole other level. The music is damn near spot on with the original, especially those double bass drums, but the addition of Joakim Broden’s keyboards and clean singing raises the song’s already infectious melodies to near saccharin levels. Sabaton’s over the top power metal styling’s fit Amon Amarth’s equally over the top Viking marauder shtick remarkably well.
Kalmah – “This Mortal Coil” (Carcass)
This Carcass cover stands out amongst the legions of more “faithful” grind and death metal renditions because it’s so left field. Kalmah have increased Heartwork-era Carcass’ epic melodies to staggering new heights while simultaneously punching through the song’s heavier moments with increased speed and precision. The refined guitar work, the playfully creepy atmosphere wrought by the keyboards, and the song’s classic Maiden-esque gallop is bookended with pummeling double bass drums. Jeff Walker’s trademark snarl is even expanded upon and upgraded to a totally indecipherable rasp. It’s like Carcass took steroids and joined the circus.
The Black Dahlia Murder- "This Mortal Coil"
Vader – “Silent Scream” (Slayer)
Vader are one of those heavy metal tribute machines that have covered tons of extreme metal classics over the years, but it’s their rendition of Slayer’s seminal thrash-terpiece “Raining Blood” that they’ve become synonymous with. While still a great cover, Vader’s version [say that three times fast] is still a pretty straight forward take on the song, with Peter’s death-y vocals and Doc’s booming kick drums [RIP] in the forefront. Instead, I’ve opted to include their version of South of Heaven’s fastest lil’ number, “Silent Scream.” Why? Because this tune has more breathing room for the band’s Vader-ism’s to shine through.
Dissection- "The Antichrist"
Aborted – “Arise” (Sepultura)
Aborted and Revocation seemingly cover every band in every genre of metal. When they’re not touring, they probably do metal karaoke…in their sleep. All that practice does them good it seems, as Aborted’s beefed up version of this Sepultura classic embodies the spirit of this list to a T. The band’s tech death chops inject a lively dose of speed and heft into this already raging song. Speedy double bass runs and surgical blast beats propels the tempo like a bullet train. The down tuned thrash riffs feel like charging rhinos, and although not as tortured as Max Cavalera’s patented howl, the growling on display fits well with the whole modern day re-imaging motif. Max Cavalera himself approved of the cover.
Rotten Sound – “Suffer The Children” (Napalm Death)
Ready for some hot and heavy, grind on grind action? Rotten Sound’s boner for the old school has been well documented with their prior choice of covers, but their aptly titled 2010 EP, Napalm [guess which band they covered?], sealed their love of Birmingham’s legendary grinders in stone. Rotten Sound replace the gloriously sludgy groove that Napalm perfected on Harmony Corruption, with an uber distorted, frenzied low-fi attack. It almost feels like an entirely different song at times, until that trademark Celtic Frost worship riff comes into play. Like Napalm before them, Rotten Sound know when to milk a good riff when they hear one.
Dying Fetus- "Unchallenged Hate"
Whitechapel – “Strength Beyond Strength” (Pantera)
There’s no denying it, most bands that attempt to cover the Cowboys From Hell, come off as mere Cowboys From Heck. Whitechapel’s tribute succeeds because the band doesn’t try to do the impossible and ape that iconic Lone Star State sound, instead they latch onto the portion of Pantera’s aesthetic that influenced them the most and just run with it. Yeah, the intro thrash break isn’t all that innovative, but Whitechapel ride the breakdown at the 1:10 mark like true mosh pit champions. They turn one of Pantera’s heaviest moments into a down tuned, cybernetic funeral dirge from some dystopian sci-fi flick.
Battlecross- "Fucking Hostile"
Revocation – “Surprise You’re Dead” (Faith No More)
Revocation’s Death and Metallica tributes were super close to making this list’s final cut, but their updated version of The Real Thing’s wildest head banger takes the cake. David Davidson’s manic, serial killer diction is eerily Patton-esque [“…it’s not over yeeeeeeeet!”], while the rest of Revocation’s extreme metal pedigree bring the song’s latent thrash tendencies to the forefront. The stops and starts are more pronounced, Jim Martin’s riffs are fleshed out with force and then there’s that wonderful Faith No More double bass drum facelift thrown in for good measure.
Pig Destroyer – “In The Meantime” (Helmet)
These raucous grind legends also know how to rock. Their oh so filthy version of Helmet’s MTV era classic isn’t as precise or lock step as the original, but Scott Hull’s wall of distortion makes Page Hamilton’s iconic riff feel spry and new again. This tune also showcases the loose swing in Brain Harvey’s drumming and the band’s old “no bass player needed” groove method. J.R. Hayes’ pants shitting scream puts the official Pig Destroyer stamp on this one.
Isis – “Streetcleaner” (Godflesh)
The bleak and dismal soundscape of Godflesh’s debut album is masterfully reconstructed by these post-metal noise mongers. The song’s original heavy industrial element gives way to a more organic but equally lumbering vibe. The guitars scratch and wail like rabid animals clawing a chalk board, while the booming rhythm section is reminiscent of a Ewok drum circle…on acid. Aaron Turner’s grizzly vocal delivery adds to the whole night terror, mind fuck thing in spades, making for one astounding and kind of terrifying cover song.
Killswitch Engage – “Holy Diver” (Dio)
Metalcore champions Killswitch Engage seemingly did the impossible with their cover of “Holy Diver.” Not only did they do justice to the legendary Ronnie James Dio’s iconic voice, but they rejuvenated a staple of traditional old-school heavy metal for the 21st century [without dub stepping the shit out of it]. Howard Jones’ vocals are powerful, Adam D’s pinch harmonics are playful, and the whole affair is just fun and over the top. Ride the tiger.
Testament – “Powerslave” (Iron Maiden)
Chuck Billy and co. manage to recreate the larger than life magic of golden age Maiden, but with a modern and slightly more aggressive edge. Amazing when you consider that Testament have been thrashing around for over thirty years themselves! Recorded during the Dark Roots of Earth sessions, Testament’s cover highlight the talents of their new megastar drummer Gene Hoglan, who keeps Nicko McBrain’s pulsating rhythms alive and well, and the mighty Alex Skolnick who nails Adrian Smith’s solo like the genuine guitar hero that he is. Add Chuck Billy’s haunting vocals to the mix and you’ve got one of the best Maiden covers, ever.
Cradle of Filth- "Hallowed Be They Name"
Between The Buried and Me – “Blackened” (Metallica)
Anyone can rip through the opening notes of Master of Puppets and bathe in head nods and high fives till the cows come home, but Justice-era Metallica was a different beast entirely. The fellas in BTBAM did the smart thing and didn’t try to emulate Metallica’s timeless sound [nothing will ever be gnarlier than James Hetfield circa 87’-88’], instead they play The Four Horsemen’s wickedest album opener like it was one of their own. The guitar harmonies and solos are given the full prog treatment, the foot stomping mid-section has a newly pronounced groove thanks to that ol’ bass guitar, while Tommy Roger’s growl adds new emphasis on certain lyrics [“NEVEEEEER”]. Blake Richardson is the real star of this cover though, adding one foot blasts and ya know, in the pocket drumming to Metallica’s music…it’s kind of amazing.
Cannibal Corpse- "No Remorse"
That's the list folks. What metal covers do you dig the most? Let us know in the comments!