Listmania: Top 10 Covers Of Black Sabbath Songs From The Ozzy Osbourne Days
I do not count very well. Counting is hard when you have webbed fingers. If that was in my long list of skills, I would probably give you solid numbers to back my claim that Black Sabbath is the most covered band in all of metal music. Not for no reason, obviously. They are widely considered to be the originators, the primordial seed from which all of the things we love and discuss on this blog (including Charli XCX) germinated. Of course, most of the covers are forgettable. Some, downright horrible. A few, thankfully, are nothing short of stellar – either by managing to perfectly encapsulate the original’s affection, by offering a new take on a classic song or even by doing both. These are my favorites.
Disclaimer: This list was compiled with covers that (1) had to be from Ozzy-era songs. Don’t be whiny. We’ll get there eventually. (2) had to be awesome. (3) couldn’t be of the same song. Both “Into The Void” and “Snowblind” have several great covers but I don’t want this to get as repetitive as my writing style.
“Solitude”, as performed by Ulver
One of the sweetest tracks in Sabbath’s catalogue got much sweeter after receiving the Ulver treatment. This rendition of “Solitude” is hauntingly beautiful. I always wanted the original to play at my funeral. I want the cover to play, too.
“Snowblind”, as performed by Converge
This is a live recording and, to some, the quality may sound a bit poor. I do not care. Jacob Bannon’s vitriolic delivery injects into one of the best cuts from Volume 4 a big dose of urgency. One of my favorite aspects of this version is how the bass flourishes above all instruments every now and then, in true Geezer Butler fashion. If you do not feel the urge to headbang by the 2:56 mark you are probably dead.
“Symptom Of The Universe”, as performed by Sepultura
To my ears and knowledge, Symptom Of The Universe main riff is a seminal moment for thrash metal. It is very fitting that such a good cover was handled by a band that always straddled a thin line between thrash and death metal, never completely locked in one of those musical corners. Igor Cavalera’s drumming sets the pace for a thrilling performance by the whole band. It also shines bright [like a diamond – Hi, Rihanna] in the outro of the song, where Sepultura completely scrapped the Carlos Santana/Rolling Stones‘ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” inspired ending for a segment that features a bouncy, pulsating bass and some sweet acoustic riffage. Groovy and filled with swing. I like it.
“War Pigs”, as performed by Faith No More
Even though there are little to none structural variations between the original song and this cover, this is still a great recording. What makes it so good is the fact that Faith No More performs “War Pigs” with an energy that most bands are not able to display even when playing their own material. The cover even became a fixture in their live shows, as a quick YouTube search will prove. The biggest highlight here is undoubtedly Mike Patton’s distinctive voice. Few vocalists, regardless of genre, are as iconic as Ozzy Osbourne. Patton is definitely one of them. I can’t think of a single metal frontman better suited to cover one of Ozzy’s best performances of all time.
“Children Of The Grave”, as performed by Neurosis
Originators in their own right, Neurosis took their love for Black Flag and Black Sabbath to new heights in order to create what is now known as post-metal. It all comes full circle in this rendition of “Children Of The Grave”, in which they rely on drumming to reproduce the galloping riff of the original. The guitars are slowed down to a crawl, and the vocals are shouted from afar. The combination of these elements transform what was once a boisterous song (one of the most uptempo cuts from Master Of Reality) into a patiently entrancing experience.
This is part of the 6th and last 7” split of a highly recommended series named In These Black Days, released by Hydra Head Records. The other side features Soilent Green‘s medley of three songs, each from a different phase of The Sabbath. You can listen to that killer track by stabbing
deez nuts this link.
“Lord Of This World”, as performed by Thou
If you claim to like sludge metal and you don’t know who Thou is, you are doing it all wrong. Please, take some time to reevaluate your life. I’ll wait. Done? Now allow me to correct your erroneous ways. Hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, these guys have proven throughout their decade-long career that they have mastered the art of naming things, the art of choosing artwork and the art of being fucking brilliant.
Among the 33 releases they have been featured in, besides the amazing collaboration with The Body (brilliantly reviewed by Dr. Dubya here), lies an EP containing nothing but covers of Sabbathian classics. It sounds a lot like Sabbath, if they were possessed by an ancient demon. The groove is still there, accompanied by over the top distortion and feedback. The vocals are as vile as it gets. The drums plus bass combo is a bloody petard every time it hits. The cleaner guitar tone used in the solo shines as a beacon of light amidst the darkness. “Lord Of This World” is my favorite cut from Through The Empires Of Eternal Void. I’m guessing the “naming things” part just made sense, amirite?
“Black Sabbeth”, as performed by Gonga
A fairly recent cover, but one my favorites nonetheless. Gonga is a stoner rock band based in Bristol, UK. They are heavy. So much so that wikipedia describes them as a “heavy stoner rock band based in Bristol, UK”. What could have turned out as a cookie cutter just-another-stoner-band-doing-Sabbath kind of cover became something much greater than that.
First, the musicianship displayed by this band is top notch. Much like the aforementioned Faith No More, no changes in song structure were made. They just weren’t necessary. Gonga sets themselves apart from the original by fuzzing the fuck out of the guitar tone – coupled with the perfect production, the thing sounds colossal. Second, and most importantly, the vocal duties were handled by none other than Beth Gibbons of Portishead fame. I am unable to describe how much this lady brought to the table, so it’s best to let her performance do the talking. Accompanying visuals are dope, too.
“N.I.B.”, as performed by Cave In
To be completely honest, among the bands in this list, Cave In is probably the one I am least familiar with. That wasn’t enough to prevent me from getting my mind blown by this cover. Things start out weird, in this version. Really weird. Although the bass plays in the usual groove (with a delicious tone, I should add), it is the only thread of familiarity connecting this piece to my memory. The rest of the elements all sound new, for the guitar work is ethereal and spacy, and the vocal delivery very subdued, like a misty haze that slowly ascends away from the atmosphere. Strange noises come into the mix, adding more layers to the concoction.
The otherness does not last for too long, as the 1:40 mark sees the singer raise his voice as if he was channeling the Ozzy of yore. Chilling backing vocals add true beauty to this moment. Finally, the distorted guitars kick in, unleashing the song’s climax. I am a complete sucker for dramatic guitar leads and solos, and the guitar tone employed here just soars.
“Paranoid”, as performed by Type O Negative
Type O Negative’s rendition of Paranoid is one of those rare instances in which a cover becomes a complete reimagination of the original song. “Paranoid” is one of the liveliest and shortest songs in Black Sabbath’s catalogue. Peter Steele et alia transformed it into a gloom & doom ballad to call their own, complete with a new verse and all that jazz. They even managed to fit the instantly recognizable riff from “Iron Man” in the middle of this 7 minute sprawl. Despite the morose atmosphere surrounding this bit of music, it features Type O’s signature dynamics. A band that definitely knows when to resort to minimalism and when to swell up, with such efficiency I am positive this is the most anthemic performance featured in this list. This is the type of ish that got me holding a lighter up like it is 1993 all over again.
“Into The Void”, as performed by Kyuss
Stoner metal is a perpetual unfolding of Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality. “Into The Void” is the most elaborate song on that album, therefore it is also the go-to song when bands look for a Sabbath cover. None of them come close to Kyuss’ version. This is that sun soaked, tripped out, know what I’m talking bout? This is what happens when you plug your guitar through a bass amplifier. This is what happens when you get lost and wake up in a generator party. This recording represents one of the most perfectly appropriate bittersweet goodbyes in the history of rock.
It pains me to leave some of my favorite bands out of this post. I could run an interminable list of honorable mentions. Instead, I’ll leave it up to you to tell me
why I suck what songs are missing from my list.
Keep it Sabbath, kids.