Now, love them or hate them for whatever reasons y’all elitist metal heads have (Personally bar a couple of tracks, I’m not a massive fan of Metallica, or their style of metal in general but that’s just me) you can’t deny the impact they’ve had on heavy music since day one. Their early discography helped lay the foundations for the evolution of metal into thrash and beyond, churning out some of the most important releases of the whole genre...until in 1991, when they released arguably THE most important; “The Black Album”.
Many OG fans felt like it was a bit of a departure from their raw origins, incorporating softer melodies and more clean vocals (James Hetfield has gone on record to say on this album he finally became a singer) and that while still Metallica, and as strong of an album it technically was, they had sold out. Sounds absurd right? “The Black Album”, already following “...And Justice For All” simply cemented them as THE biggest metal band on the planet, and in terms of the history of metal, it’s one of the foremost standard bearers. In 2021...that still holds true.
Thirty years after its release, it’s still talked about and revered for its influence and importance, and to celebrate the albums anniversary, Metallica have decided to cherry pick a plethora of artists from all walks of life, to highlight just how influential the album has been. The artists got to pick a song of their choosing from “The Black Album” and record a cover, for what is now known, as “The Blacklist”. SIXTY-SIX versions of the songs you all know and love...in one compilation. Let’s dive into this, black hole if you will, and highlight some the more, diverse recordings on offer.
Sticking with “Enter Sandman” we get some interesting variations...we get WEEZER dropping a version that wouldn’t be out of place on their own “The Teal Album” compilation...a pretty straightforward cover, bar a couple of guitar tweaks and a subtle nod to “Buddy Holly”. It’s fine. RINA SAWAYAMA then takes things up a notch with a surging, riff-heavy almost techno-inspired piece of production with bold, assertive vocals, becoming possibly one of the tracks better covers ever. Occultist theatrical rockers GHOST then drop arguably the most creative cover, as they ditch the iconic intro, and delve straight into a piano-led lyrical opening. They have their distinct style, and the holy-tones soon shift into gear as the guitars erupt, and it’s an interesting take on the classic.
Next up we have “Sad But True” and I have to say, the best version here by far comes courtesy of country artist JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT. The country/rockabilly twist with the twangy guitars gives the Alabama-born artist a unique take on the track and it really works. South Korean outfit YB offer a more up-tempo rock recording, which, while fine audibly, highlights the global reach Metallica have.
Back to more ballad-based territory we find ourselves at “The Unforgiven” and CAGE THE ELEPHANT kick us off with an incredibly stripped back, indie/acoustic cover and the hushed, smoky vocals allow for an even more intimate listening experience, which suit the song quite well really. DIET CIG keep the indie aesthetic going but the New York duo bring a brasher recording to the table and it works just as well. Some of the compilations better covers come here however, as we depart far from what you would perceive Metallica to be, courtesy of FLATBUSH ZOMBIES Feat. DJ SCRATCH. We get a proper old-school hip-hop beat laid in front of us with some classic flows layered around the soft melodic vocal chorus from James Hetfield. This works surprisingly well as a mash up to be fair, it’s impressive. This can also be said for HA*ASH, as the Louisiana-based duo deliver a wonderfully relaxed harmonic clean vocal cover with acoustic, Latin-pop aesthetics giving the track some extra flavour.
On the other end of the scale then, we get a cover I was myself personally looking forward to, courtesy of DEPECHE MODE vocalist DAVE GAHAN. His sombre rendition is practically haunting as he croons his way through the track, taking it to whole new levels of emotional torment, yet while undeniably sad, its equally undeniably beautiful; I love this. On a side note, it’s rare I highlight instrumentals but, German pianist IGOR LEVIT offers up a sincerely sweet solo piano rendition which could quite easily pass for a lullaby.
Naturally...there are over sixty tracks here, you must be thinking, surely there has to be some absolute crap littered throughout the compilation? I have to say, you would be absolutely correct. JUANES idea of “Enter Sandman” is like, he is first trying to learn THAT riff for the first ever time...it is SO jerky and dissected it detracts from the feeling of the song entirely. ROYAL BLOOD’s cover of “Sad But True” is no more than a straight-up cover with little additional character, which results in a pretty boring listen quite frankly. CHASE & STATUS with BACKROAD GEE drop this god-awful mumble-rap, grime-inspired take on “Wherever I May Roam”...I suggest you roam as far away from this as physically possible, and then defy physics and roam further. This is abysmal. Sadly, another disappointment comes courtesy of THE HU. The Mongolian throat-metal traditionalists deliver a cover of “Through The Never” in, I GUESS their native language, with some native instrumentation. It gives the track some interesting character with fresh sounds, but you lose all of the sing-along qualities here. This might be nit-picking but, it’s lacking in it’s own ways.
Overall, over the course of this, playlist essentially, there is a noticeably distinct lack of rock and metal, and really that’s probably by design. The artists that have contributed that have kept to these genres, haven’t really brought anything new to the table and those covers in question have been really quite run of the mill...it’s the diversity of artists that Metallica were looking to showcase and they have undeniably delivered on that front. A lot of these vocalists have injected fresh ideas into thirty-year-old classics by utilising their own inspirations, backgrounds, ideas and flavours, creating a genuinely creative cocktail menu with just twelve original songs to work with. Metallica fans might not appreciate this 100%, most still living in their tight stonewashed jeans, patch-laden battle jackets and downing warm cases of beer...a bit like GNAR KILL fans I guess, (James Hetfield is Hell Boy confirmed) but for anyone curious about the legacy of this album, and have nearly six hours to kill, it’s worth a listen...I guess?