There’s been a big ole fuss about The Black Album turning 30 recently. A deluxe boxset that costs more than my first car is out there. Full of tracks that aren’t as good as the ones I got on a cassette for 4 quid all those years ago. It’s not they they’re not good. They’re just no AS good. The Black Album (or to give it it’s proper name Metallica by Metallica) was a mighty important album. You don’t need me to tell you that. I can’t help but think they missed a really metal opportunity to record a song called Metallica on the album to join the triple club with Maiden, Sabbath and Motörhead (song, album, band name all the same). = One of the special features of the ultra expensive expansion of the original release is an extensive covers album. Every single track on the album covered by a newer act.
More than 50 bands take a run at the dozen songs on the original album. And deliver inferior takes. Let’s be honest. They were always going to. Metallica are to be commended for the support they’re offering names like White Reaper, Jason Isbell, TB, Sam Fender, St Vincent, The Mexican Institute Of Sound and Royal Blood. And that’s just the covers of Sad But True. They’re good fun to listen to (I can’t imagine doing it in one sitting though) but they can’t possibly dislodge the granite hard blunt force of the original Bob Rock produced monolith of a dozen Metal to Rock alchemy tricks.
Covering the whole of Metallica by Metallica is not a new trick. Kerrang! Magazine did it a decade ago to celebrate the album turning 20. They had some of the metal bands of the day do a single track each and gave it away free. My copy lived in my car for the longest time. I do regret not ripping it before I lost the disc. The temptation to do a week of Metallica Covers is strong. Rise To Remain and Motionless In White both turned in blinders.
Metallica changed the face of heavy metal for a second time with Metallica (OK this is confusing phrasing it like that. I now understand the The Black Album thing). Sad But True was the song that confirmed it to the amassed disciples after the preview single Enter Sandman had already started going to work on us. Fiddly thrash was dead. Punks could play metal now. You just needed a riff again. Like back in the early days. This was the square root of War Pigs via Soundgarden and delivered by the man who brought you Dr. Feelgood (not that one).
Honestly if he could get a great album out of Motley Crue Bob Rock was pushing on an open door with Metallica. The 90’s was all about stripping away the excess and getting real. Sad But True delivered that promise before the end of song number two.
Royal Blood deliver it like two fans hammering out their best version in rehearsal. You can hear them grinning as they play the intro. They grew up listening to this album. As did every guitar player and drummer since 1991. There’s a suitably moody animated video that seems to be about an army of faceless machetes who have been wearing their socks too tight and now have to march a maze bare foot looking for a faulty light bulb. Which at the end of the day is what the song is really about for most of us isn’t it? Hmmm?
I don’t mean to sound dismissive of these covers. I’ve enjoyed Royal Blood’s take a great deal. Miley Cyrus does a beautiful rendition of Nothing Else Matters. I really like a little band called Diet Cig I saw live a couple of years back and I was delighted to see them pop up doing The Unforgiven. Volbeat smash it at Don’t Tread On Me. The other names on there are way more varied than just the usual SFTD types Idles, The Hu, Imelda May, Rodrigo Y Gabriella, Biffy Clyro and Weezer. There’s Jazz, Breakbeat, world music and mainstream pop in there. It’s an impressive undertaking. And It’s all in the name of charity.
So fair play to the latter day metal behemoth. With this, the All Within My Hands charity shows and the work they did to try an protect artists rights when taking on the early streaming tech giants I’d say it’s clear Metallica are patrons of the arts. Benefactors to the art form of heavy metal. Literally the kings of Rock. They earned their crown and they will reside upon the throne until this whole genre is done and dusted. Which shouldn’t be too long now. Sad, but true.