Oct 282021

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10. My Morning Jacket – Nothing Else Matters

My Morning Jacket are more than capable of making a mighty Metallica-esque rumble, as evidenced by some of their heaviest original material (the overdriven industrial funk of “Highly Suspicious,” or the sludgy excess of “Holdin’ On To Black Metal.”) Here, though, they opt for a sweeter and milder strain, like some combination of The Mamas & the Papas and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Perhaps it was being in the company of twelve other covers of “Nothing Else Matters” on the recently-released The Metallica Blacklist that compelled the band to go so big-hearted and blissful, to make their version properly stand out amid a sea of dark thoughts. Frontman Jim James dons his rose-colored glasses from the jump, cutting the original’s plaintive guitar intro and putting his vocal melody solidly out front. The band shift things squarely to a major key too, building the track across a lean three minutes toward an instrumental play-off, with James busting some vocal riffs alongside a rad guitar solo. The whole take feels like a paean to the pleasures of being in old fashioned rock ’n’ roll band: the pure and grungy joy of puttering along from gig to gig, jamming in the back of a magic bus. – Ben Easton

9. Tomi Owó – Through the Never

Prior to her being asked to cover a track for the Metallica Blacklist tribute album singer Tomi Owó had never actually heard the Black Album. And while she was familiar with Metallica in, according to her, “a surface-y way”, she’d never actually dug into their discography, which makes her cover of “Through The Never” all the more impressive. In an interview on the band’s website, Owó stressed that she wanted her version to be “the best of both worlds,” feeling it was crucial to both retain the essence of Metallica as well as find a sonically accessible way to attract new fans who weren’t familiar with the band’s music. Mission accomplished. Owó’s cover is both a reinvention and a tribute, starting as a smoky sinewy indie R & B track before bowing to the metal gods in the coda. Want to hear a cool sidenote? That order of procession was intentional, with Owó and her producer making a point of “ending it on Metallica notes.” – Hope Silverman

8. Mike Dawes – One

I was watching the Grammys the night Metallica performed a phenomenal version of “One.” Afterward, host Billy Crystal cracked, “That song, of course, was written by Steve Allen.” A little later, we’d wonder if the anti-rock Allen was responsible for the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal judging, as Jethro Tull notoriously won the prize. Maybe the judges would have been a little more open if they could have heard Mike Dawes performing “One.” A two-time winner of Total Guitar’s “Best Acoustic Guitarist in the World Right Now” award, Dawes turns in an instrumental performance whose technical proficiency is surpassed only by its emotional power and release. – Patrick Robbins

7. Kamasi Washington – My Friend of Misery

Those familiar with jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s work know that, when he covers a track, he does not simply transform it into a jazz piece; he blasts it into a different cosmic universe. Such was the case with Washington’s multi-faceted makeover of “My Friend of Misery.” Washington’s cover blends hyper-frenetic percussion, with ethereal vocals by Patrice Quinn, then delivers explosive piano and sax solos. Listening to the song will leave you feeling disoriented. Each time you feel you’ve caught up, he moves the sound to a new place. – Curtis Zimmermann

6. Hellsongs – Blackened

No one does mellow metal covers quite like Swedish trio Hellsongs. They’ve tacked Ozzy and Dio, Sabbath and Slayer, Mötörhead and Megadeth. And Metallica – twice. Their “Seek & Destroy” is great too, but it’s hard to beat their jaunty folk-pop take on …And Justice for All song “Blackened.” – Ray Padgett

5. Tulia – Nothing Else Matters

Tulia, formerly a quartet, now a trio, first came to prominence in 2017 with a stunning cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”, which to date has garnered over five million views on YouTube. Tulia specialize in a traditional eastern European folk singing style known as “white voice” that accentuates straightforward intensity first and foremost. Put simply, it’s kind of a controlled choral yelling, strident and striking. While the group’s cover of “Nothing Else Matters” hasn’t hit the same astronomical viewing heights as their Depeche cover, it is every bit its equal in terms of emotional conviction and beauty. It is magical and majestic. And once the harmonizing hits the heights in the song’s closing minute, don’t be surprised to look down and find that your hand has involuntarily laid itself upon your heart. – Hope Silverman

4. Sam Fender – Sad But True

Sam Fender was not even born when The Black Album first hit the shelves, but the singer/songwriter earned a spot on The Metallica Blacklist tribute album with his stunning take on “Sad But True.” He reworks the thrash-powered foot stomper into a slow-moving piano and strings driven ballad. Fender is heavy on the emotion as he stretches out each word in the song’s final moments. – Curtis Zimmermann

3. Kendra Morris – Ride the Lightning

Some research tells me this is the “first song within which Metallica explored the misery of the criminal justice system.” Kendra Morris seizes the opportunity to find a little more actual drama, and adds to the arrangement. With a decidedly Winehouse tang to Morris’s delivery, the heavy machinery of the guitars are replaced by all manner of gentler fare, vibraphone, cooing brass. Whether the message goes with this morph, I am uncertain, but it certainly caught my attention. It comes from her 2013 album Mockingbird, which has an extraordinary range of covers, encapsulating not just this and Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” but also “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Walk on By,” showing she has no fear. – Seuras Og

2. Macy Gray – Nothing Else Matters

The sessions for Macy Gray’s “Nothing Else Matters,” as well as her 2016 record Stripped’s other nine tracks, were recorded in just two days. The cover’s crack quartet of veritable jazz “lifers” – among them, the nimble guitarist and bandleader Russell Malone, and the late trumpeter Wallace Roney – tracked in long, full takes, backing Gray together in the same vast Brooklyn recording space. Though these production details might seem incidental, they’re precisely the secret sauce that elevates this Metallica cover above the rest of the brood: a focus on the small moments, rather than a big or harried noise. Macy Gray’s resulting cover of “Nothing Else Matters” is a candid snapshot of the kind of transcendence that’s regularly shared among master musicians, fully in-step with each other and communing in real time. In a larger sense, her candid approach illuminates something more subliminal: a kind of innate spiritual approach that’s common to both jazz and metal musicians. Like the masters on Gray’s track, the members of Metallica share a near-ultimate commitment to their instruments — a devotion to noodling and exploring, to forging a fellowship in the weeds of complicated music above all else. Gray’s cover draws attention to the purity and commonality of this approach, showing that there’s not much difference between woodshedding jazz licks in a hushed studio and shredding metal riffs in an arena. – Ben Easton

1. Rodrigo y Gabriela – Battery

If you know anything about Rodrigo y Gabriella, it’s that they Mexican acoustic duo has some of the fastest hands in the guitar world. And if you know a second thing, it’s that they got their start in a thrash metal band, with Metallica as a huge influence on their style of music. They’ve done a number of excellent Metallica covers in their career, but “Battery” is an absolutely work of art, from the flamenco influenced opening, to the heavy “drum” beat laid down by Gabriela slapping her guitar, to the blistering solos of Rodrigo, this is a testament to musicianship. If you’ve never heard the duo before, this is a great introduction. The song is already hitting on all cylinders when Rodrigo adds the turbo at the 2-minute mark with a short solo. He absolutely wows again with his picking skills later on and Gabriela adds layers of accompaniment to his skills with her lightning fast rhythm guitar. This song just gets better with repeat listenings; do yourself a favor and just put it on repeat now. – Mike Misch

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Depeche Mode, Nirvana, The Rolling Stones, and more.

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