On paper, it probably seems pretty easy to pull off a successful punk, hardcore or metal cover of a pop song. Just play it louder, faster, and with a lot less reverence, and soon enough you have something fun to introduce at the next gig — it’s worked for countless teenagers in their parents’ garages, after all.
But putting together an entire album’s worth of covers is considerably harder. It requires a more thoughtful balance of source material, and the innovation and cohesiveness to be able to make what’s ostensibly the same idea work 11 times (Or, in the case of Napalm Death, simply pulling off the most intense 10 minutes of music anyone’s ever heard). Here are 15 times when punk and metal bands managed to pull off an entire EP or album’s worth of covers without wearing out the novelty.
Metallica – The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Revisited
The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Revisited arrived at a period of transition for Metallica. Their first recording with bassist Jason Newstead, as well as their first release after the death of bassist Cliff Burton, it came about while vocalist James Hetfield was nursing a broken arm due to a skateboarding accident. He didn’t want to record any original material while his arm was on the mend, so instead the group went back to the archives of some of their favorite bands, tackling songs by the likes of British cult metal act Diamond Head, post-punk icons Killing Joke and horror punk ghouls The Misfits, each one given the razor sharp thrash metal treatment of the group’s first three albums.
As for the title, the band put the price in the name as a means of discouraging retailers from overcharging, the original cassette release featuring a sticker that read, “if they try to charge more, STEAL IT!” A little over a decade later, the emergence of Napster apparently gave them a change of heart on that one.
Ramones – Acid Eaters
Ramones’ early records frequently featured clever or kitschy covers, such as The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” or Joe Jones’ “California Sun,” further making the case that, beneath the distortion and call-and-response chants of “Hey, ho! Let’s go!”, Ramones really just made great bubblegum pop. Acid Eaters, the band’s 1994 all-covers album, specifically nods to their ‘60s rock and psychedelic influences, hence the title.
More than anything, though, Johnny, Joey, Marky and C.J. put forth an auditory argument that bands like The Who and The Troggs were punk before punk had a name. The highlight of the set is the band’s cover of Love’s “Seven and Seven Is,” a track that originally nailed punk rock as a sound back in 1967 but is given an added immediacy and intensity here.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Have a Ball
By the late ‘90s, pop-punk covers of pop hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s had become commonplace—even cliché. But if you’re going to commit to a gimmick, commit like hell. Which is how Me First and the Gimme Gimmes—a punk covers supergroup featuring members of Swingin’ Utters, NOFX, No Use for a Name and Lagwagon—turned the idea of punk covers of pop songs into something approaching high art.
The band’s first album Have A Ball is as tongue-in-cheek as it is spectacularly executed, injecting hit songs by Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and Elton John with all the snot and sneer of punk rock at its best. The gimmick proved good enough for the band to make five more variations on the same theme, all of them pretty strong in their own right, but Have a Ball is the original, the best K-Tel compilation you’ve ever heard, fitted with safety pins and liberty spikes.
Napalm Death – Leaders Not Followers
Napalm Death’s acrimony with former label Earache is the stuff of legend, and when they finally separated from the label at the end of the ‘90s, they opted to title their next album Enemy of the Music Business. But before that, however, they offered a much shorter auditory middle finger with the title Leaders Not Followers.
The British grindcore legends didn’t stray too far outside their familiar domain of death metal and hardcore punk, but their versions of tracks by Pentagram and Death are even faster and more blistering than their original counterparts. The best reason for hearing this EP, however, is their cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” which sticks it to fascists with extreme sonic terror.
Rage Against the Machine – Renegades
Rage Against the Machine had already broken up by the time their all-covers set Renegades was released. As parting gifts go, however, it’s an utterly badass study of the music—half of it hip-hop, half of it rock—that shaped the revolutionary rap-metal group. The band’s take on rap is extra muscular, with versions of EPMD’s “I’m Housin’” and Cypress Hill stacking up against the heaviest moments in the band’s catalog.
Meanwhile, the group finds an unexpected sense of melancholy in Devo’s “Beautiful World”, and a militant funk in Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm.” Which is to say, all of it (well, maybe not the Devo song) sounds like Rage Against the Machine: punchy, pissed-off and powerful.
Boris the Sprinkler – End of the Century
Wisconsin oddball punk rockers Boris the Sprinkler have done a couple of covers albums during their career, including their 2000 re-recording of Circle Jerks’ Group Sex. Just a few years before that, however, Boris sprinted their way through Ramones’ fifth album End of the Century in sneeringly faithful fashion.
Their takes on vintage Ramones aren’t necessarily radical reinventions, outside of bringing the production forward about 15 years, but it’s the small details—inserting some inside jokes about Mr. T Experience, the brief snippet of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” in their cover of “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio”—that sees them proudly bridging two generations of punk rebellion.
Fantomas – The Director’s Cut
Mike Patton has released an album of Italian pop songs, a collaboration with French composer Jean-Claude Vannier and an album of solo vocal experiments, so an album’s worth of art-metal covers of horror film themes isn’t all that out of the ordinary—for him, anyway. That it’s one of the best albums of his career is only a testament to his and his bandmates’ ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas.
The Director’s Cut is every bit as unsettling as the idea of an experimental metal band taking on the horror canon seems, but considerably more satisfying—after a proper mangling of The Godfather theme, Patton and company make nightmare fuel of “Rosemary’s Baby,” draw unbearable tension from “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” and even add some gritty crunch to “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”
Sepultura – Revolusongs
Given that Sepultura played a huge role in influencing nu-metal as well as having once incorporated musical elements of indigenous Brazilian tribes into their 1996 album Roots, it stands to reason that their choice of covers would end up being somewhat outside the expected hardcore and metal milieu. Their 2002 EP Revolusongs includes some of the usual suspects—Hellhammer, Exodus, a solid minute of Metallica—but by and large the source material leans more toward the non-metal.
Massive Attack’s “Angel” mostly retains its eerie trip-hop atmosphere, while Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” gets a fiery rap-metal workout with some verses in Portuguese, though their version isn’t as radical a reinterpretation of the text as Tricky’s. The highlight here is U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky,” which uses the tension of the original as a platform for an even more explosive release.
Toy Dolls – Covered in Toy Dolls
Gleefully rowdy Brits Toy Dolls made their cover of the theme for children’s television show “Nellie the Elephant” into a signature song of sorts, so it only makes sense that they’d pull off similarly demented pop-punk cannonballs through tracks like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes,” which sounds like it completely falls apart after every chorus, Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go,” performed with gang chants, or Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, which gets the hyper-speed pummeling it deserves. Covered in Toy Dolls spans 20 years of the band’s career, which shows just how frequently the band tackled other artists’ songs. But when you can make almost any song sound this fun, there’s no reason not to keep going.
Deftones – Covers
Deftones set themselves apart early on in their career by being the kind of metal band who’d cover Cocteau Twins and Depeche Mode and somehow make it feel like a perfectly natural fit. In 2011, for Record Store Day, the band compiled 11 such covers into a compilation that reveals the breadth of their tastes, from Drive Like Jehu’s blistering “Caress” to Santo & Johnny’s melancholy surf-guitar ballad “Sleep Walk.”
Given that the Sacramento band have always evaded easy characterization, covering a song like Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” isn’t that much of a stretch, even though it might come across as utterly baffling from any of their peers (even if Korn did once cover Cameo’s “Word Up”). Though the band is often at their best when in post-punk/new wave mode, as Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” and The Cure’s “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” are the compilation’s two greatest moments.
Shonen Knife – Osaka Ramones—Tribute to the Ramones
Since the release of their first cassette, 1982’s Minna Tanoshiku, Osaka trio Shonen Knife openly wore their Ramones influence on their sleeves—even though Shonen Knife started up only a few years after Ramones did. For their 30th anniversary, the group opted to pay homage to the punk legends with a set of highlights from their career, including “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” “We Want the Airwaves Back,” and of course, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” It’s exactly as much fun as it sounds on paper, an echo of the “Gabba Gabba Hey” heard ‘round the world.
Melvins – Everybody Loves Sausages
Melvins have covered so many songs in their nearly four-decade career that the band’s website actually keeps track of all them, just in case anyone forgot. In fact, Everybody Loves Sausages isn’t even the first of its kind—not exactly. In 2000, Melvins released The Crybaby, a collection half comprising originals and the other half covers featuring guest vocalists like Leif Garrett and Hank Williams III. Everybody Loves Sausages is all covers, however, though it too offers up the mic to a number of guests, including Neurosis’ Scott Kelly on Venom’s “Warhead” and Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra on a particularly unsettling cover of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”
As with any Melvins album, Sausages showcases an equal amount of shred to absurdity, but they’re at their best on tracks like their cover of David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” wherein the group’s collaboration with industrial icon Foetus amounts to the kind of sludgy art-rock monolith that’s made them legends.
The Soft Pink Truth – Why Do the Heathen Rage?
Drew Daniel’s musical objectives often include putting familiar sounds into an entirely unfamiliar context, whether that means sampling the sounds of medical equipment with Matmos or reconfiguring punk and new wave songs with his solo project The Soft Pink Truth. On 2014’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?, Daniel’s source material is classic black metal from the likes of Mayhem and Darkthrone transformed into dancefloor-ready house and techno tracks with BPMs calibrated to make sweaty bodies move rather than torch medieval churches.
Most of the songs here are rendered entirely unrecognizable from their source material; Sarcófago’s “Ready to Fuck” is dosed with extra disco-diva hedonism, while Mayhem’s “Buried by Time and Dust” has a bass bounce fit to be twerked to. There’s a tongue-in-cheek sensibility to the album, these versions in some way intended to find the joy and even sexuality in such dark music, but there’s no denying that Daniel’s take on Venom’s “Black Metal” is kvlt as fvck.
U.K. Subs – Subversions
Prolific British brutes U.K. Subs—whose albums, EPs and other catalog items were released in alphabetical order—made it all the way to Z (2016’s Ziezo) before opting to pay tribute to the bands that shaped their sound some 40 years earlier. On Subversions (the first of two covers albums from the Subs) the band offers characteristically rowdy takes on proto-punk (MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” The Stooges’ “1969”), rock ‘n’ roll (Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver”) and even a band or two that they, themselves, might have influenced, including Queens of the Stone Age’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.” While their versions are roaring at best, faithful at worst, the energy level here never drops below a sweaty, reckless sprint.
Thou – Blessings of the Highest Order
Thou’s admiration of Nirvana is the stuff of legend at this point—the Louisiana metal band has said that Nirvana is one of two bands that all six members can agree on (the other being Fiona Apple), and their previously released covers of “Something in the Way” and “Milk It” show how deep their grunge goes. Just a few weeks ago, however, Thou dropped Blessings of the Highest Order on Bandcamp, an entire full-length album’s worth of Nirvana covers, complete with sound clips of Nirvana interviews from the ‘90s. By Thou’s standards, “Territorial Pissings” and “In Bloom” are perhaps a bit straightforward, while “Aneurysm” and “Scentless Apprentice” are made vastly murkier, heavier and more guttural. Sure, Bleach was pretty sludgy by grunge standards, but this is a whole new level of filth.