Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“War Pigs,” originally titled “Walpurgis” (defined as “Christmas for Satanists” by Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler), is the first track off Black Sabbath’s second studio album, 1970’s Paranoid, and is regarded by Guitar World magazine as the “greatest Heavy Metal song ever.”
The slow gravitational pulling power chord intro creates an atmosphere of an apocalyptic wasteland. The rolling darkness and muffled air-sirens continue until they are quickly halted with the most spine-tingling, D to E power chord transition in heavy metal history, not once, not twice, but thrice! Ozzy Osbourne gives us a piercing belt of “Generals gathered in their masses / just like witches at black masses,” and Toni Iommi continues the pattern after every Ozzy verse until Iommi’s power chords evolve into a wicked guitar riff. Bill Ward comes crashing in on drums, Geezer Buttler starts pounding his bass, and before you know it, you’ve bypassed “Luke’s Wall” (the song’s instrumental outro) and you’re riding shotgun with Lucifer on a thrill ride through hell.
Though the title “War Pigs” conjures up terrifying images of rabid, saber-tooth hell-hogs wreaking havoc in black steel WWII German Army helmets, the song is actually a platform Black Sabbath used to express their disgust and disapproval of the Vietnam War. The “War Pigs” Sabbath are referring to are the powers that be, responsible for waging these wars in their own best interest. The song paints a graphic bloody picture of the horrors of war and puts the blame squarely on the “Evil minds that plot destruction.” But never fear: Black Sabbath makes sure that Judgement Day comes to those “Treating people just like pawns in chess” where they find themselves “Begging mercy for their sins” while “Satan, laughing, spreads his wings.”
The angst and vitriol felt in “War Pigs,” along with the fact that the song was often misinterpreted as evil, is a true testament to Black Sabbath’s hatred and bewilderment of the Vietnam War. “War Pigs,” similar to Edwin Starr’s all-powerful “War” (which also came out in 1970), were antiwar anthems that utilized different angles to convey their message. Rather than focusing on the world embracing peace and love, these songs focused on exposing the seedy underbelly of these wars and the tragedy that’s left in their wake. Ironically, these two “nonviolent” protest songs tend to make a listener want to run through a brick wall while his hair is on fire.
The magnitude of the influence “War Pigs” has had on heavy metal, as well as all music in general, is as long and vast as the River Thames. This means that covers of “War Pigs” come in copious forms, from numerous inspired artists, representing various genres. These covers frequently occur live, as set openers, closers, or encores. It would be unwise to haphazardly utilize the sheer power of “War Pigs” in any other way. If you’re lucky enough to attend one of these shows, buckle up, because it’s going to be a hell of a night. “Oh lord, yeah!”
Cake – War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
Cake wisely chose to do their live cover of “War Pigs” as an encore. Featuring a sinister funky keyboard and relentless shredding guitar throughout, Cake’s version brings down the house. Adding their trademark strong, somber horns during “Luke’s Wall” is the icing on the cake.
Ween – War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
The rabid crowd knows exactly what’s brewing as this 1998 live cover slowly builds. When the cover is blown off, Gener and the entire audience are singing in unison as Deaner is destroying “War Pigs” in a raunchy speed metal fashion. Gener remembers the words to about forty percent of the song, but he amazingly doesn’t miss a step, using the overwhelming support from the audience.
Bonerama – War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
New Orleans’ Bonerama brings their heavy metal brass attack straight from the bayou. This instrumental cover, live from New York is a razor sharp funk powerhouse. Bonerama’s “War Pigs” doesn’t miss a beat, masterfully and most impressively navigating its way through “Luke’s Wall.”
Faith No More – War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
Faith No More’s live cover is a muscular carbon copy of the original. Mike Patton can’t help but inject his larger-than-life personality, as his wacky and inspired vocals eventually give way to incoherent mumbles and screams until he becomes the voice of Satan himself.
Hayseed Dixie – War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
The notorious bluegrass cover assassins known as Hayseed Dixie set their sights on the vicious and deadly “War Pigs,” pickin’ and grinnin’ them into submission with this blast of a metalgrass jam.
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