Great Metal covers of popular songs
No Metalhead is more than 3 stiff shots away from a classic pop-song karaoke, and I believe that even the most Hardcore Hessian has a huge soft spot for A-ha’s Take on Me, Africa’s Toto or Sia’s Chandelier. Somewhere inside their brütal bläckened heärts there lurks a popular melody so catchy and universally appealing, that even headbanging can be postponed for just a minute. Don’t believe me? Wander over yon Youtubes and search “Metal Cover” and be surprised at the veritable rabbit hole of available covers both amateurish and professional that you’ll find.
On this note, today we’re looking at some legit metal covers of popular songs done by well-established bands, an effort which I feel is a nice way to bridge the gap to maybe make some of you non-metalheads more appreciative of this rich and complex genre we love so much, or maybe even make some of the die-hard headbangers be a little bit more open to the songwriting and melody-making that goes into other genres. Whatever may be the case with you, we’re sure you’re going to dig this list of Great Popular Songs Covered by Metal Bands.
Paradise Lost – Small Town Boy
British Synth-Pop band Bronski Beat released this song in 1984 and it would go on to become a landmark hit for the band, reaching #3 in the UK Charts and top 48 in the US. The song tells the story of a boy forced out of his home and after coming out as gay.
The Goth Metal outfit from England covered this song in the limited edition of their ninth album “Symbol of Life” released in 2002. This version imbues a layer of anger and emotional intensity to the song that focuses on embodying the frustrations and inner turmoil of the protagonist.
King Woman – I wanna Be adored
The legendary Manchester outfit The Stone Roses released this amazing Indie Rock mainstay in 1989. Being the very first track in their debut album, the song carries huge significance and importance for the band, so covering it was no easy feat. In 2006, Q magazine ranked it 32nd in their “100 greatest songs of all time” list.
Rather than simply replicating it, Kristina Esfandiari, the singer/songwriter and mastermind behind King Woman, made the song her own by transforming it into a haunting Doom Metal ballad.
ENSLAVED – What Else Is There?
Norwegians Covering Norwegians! don’t fret though, this one isn’t Black Metal. Electronic Music duo Röyksopp (which I used to misread as Röskypop) Released “What Else Is there?” back in 2005. This gorgeous song seems to tell us the tale of a haunting from the victim’s perspective, perhaps a woman involved in a hit and run, though of course, this song can just as easily take on any meaning you can find thanks to symbolism and the still-open nature of the lyrics.
When Enslaved came in to give the song their own twist, they did so from their Viking-inspired sound, bringing a martial and even epic mood to the table.
Northern Kings – Don’t Stop Believin’
Perhaps Journey’s most well-known and beloved song doesn’t need an introduction, but Finnish symphonic power metal band Northern Kings does, given the circumstances. The band is a “cover Supergroup” meaning that it’s composed of musicians coming from notable and well-established bands who came together specifically to record cover versions of other songs.
Rather than doing an entire list of all the songs they re-arranged and covered, I think their most notably famous should get the spotlight this time, and if you’re liking this article so far, then you’ll probably enjoy the hell out of the rest of their discography.
Lacuna Coil – Losing My Religion
Perhaps the most famous cover of this already incredibly classic pop Landmark by R.E.M.The Goth-Metallers from Italy bring a huge deal of added theatricality and amazing clear vocals into the song, if there was ever a piece of music you could try and use on someone to get them to appreciate metal a bit more, it probably doesn’t get more accessible than this arrangement by Lacuna Coil.
If you prefer something with a bit more kick and less glam to it, you can check the version that Trivium released in 2013.
Hunters Grace – Fighter
A lesser-known outfit from Newport, South Wales. The Female-fronted Band delivers a crunchy and kickass performance of this early Christina Aguilera hit single. The vocalist does a truly amazing job of translating Christina’s huge vocals into the metal with the same poise and empowering disposition.
On her vocals alone, it’s a bit of a puzzle as to why they haven’t grown in popularity.
W.A.S.P. – Paint it Black
Speaking classics, it doesn’t get any more classic than this particular cover. The Original Roling Stones Song was a genre-defying tune when it came out, and it’s become one of their most recognizable songs. On the Other Hand, W.A.S.P was and continues to be one of the most successful, influential, and frankly talented of the early 80s bands from the American scene. Though they’re often associated with Hair Metal -and their image certainly adds to it- they are Heavy Metal through and through, with their sound being a time-tested blueprint that would greatly contribute in defining the sound for many bands after it.
Again, if you’re looking for something with a meaner bite to it, I suggest giving a shot to a cover done by Swedish Black Metal band Marduk. Beware though, if you’re not at all into extreme metal with harsh guttural vocals, just stick to W.A.S.P’s slightly less brütal interpretation.
Megadeth – These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
Written by Lee Hazelwood and recorded by Nancy Sinatra, this song was released in 1965 and reached #1 on Billboard the following year, eventually becoming an anthem of huge cultural relevance. The Track was covered by a very long list of artists over the years, and every so often, a new one takes a crack at it.
Big Four’s Megadeth had a more than interesting take on this song, their arrangement completely shift the tone and spirit, making an entirely different sound that showcases the amazing musicianship that characterized the band even on their 1985 debut album.
A while after the song was released, Lee Hazelwood began bellyachin’ about the cover, calling it a “perversion of the original”. To that I say: This Cover’s made for Headbangin’.
Raintime – Beat It
The controversial King of Pop has been one of the most-covered artists of all time, and with good reason, arguably no other artist has reached the heights of influence and fame that he has since his solo career began.
If a rock or metal band wants to cover a Jackson song, Beat it is perhaps the most appropriate one to start with, as it translates very easily to the high-intensity and bold attitude of metal as a whole.
In 2007 Italian prog-powermetal band Raintime decided to have their cacophonious way with the funk-dancin’ -for-self-defense anthem, making a memorable and rich contribution to that long list of covers that MJ has received other the years.
Oh, and a little band known as Metallica also did a memorable cover of this song live at the 2003 MTV VMAs and, later at the Sonisphere Festival in Hockenheimring in 2009.
Ozzy Osbourne and Dweezil Zappa – Stayin’ Alive
When Disco was trashed to hell, it was only a matter of time for the Prince Of Darkness himself to notice and pick up the slack. Joining forces with the excellent guitarist and Son of the legendary Frank Zappa, Ozzy took it upon himself to add his own glorious Metal twist to this Saturday Night Fever classic and turn it into a veritable Disco Inferno banger..
The track was sadly “unreleased” originally due to some Record Label discrepancy B.S. but that doesn’t mean you can’t find it online nowadays.
Blind Guardian – Barbara Ann
German Power Metal icons and pioneers Blind Guardian have been releasing breathtaking music since the late 80’s. Inspired by high fantasy, sword & Sorcery and a little bit of history too, their work is often marked by theatricality and a vast and epic sound. One of their earliest albums included this cover of the Beach Boys, making it probably the first time the band’s been covered in the genre.
Candlemass – All Along The Watchtower
The Swedish Doom-metallers released this cover of Bob Dylan’s original in 2010. This song was certainly made more popular by Jimi Hendrix in his own Vietnam-evoking performance back in ’68. Candlemass has been active on and off since 1984, becoming a referential if a somewhat underrated name in the european scene.
Iron Maiden – Roll over Vic Vella
Barring Black Sabbath and Motörhead, No Band or artist from the United Kingdom is greater than the Maiden boys, not in metal nor any other genre, not even those liverpool Beat-less dudes who recorded their own version of this Chuck Berry original in 1963, back when it was called “Roll Over Beethoven”.
This song has slightly re-written lyrics, this time talking less about legendary Classic Composer and more about Maiden’s then long-running Tour Manager. “Roll Over…” has been covered by a myriad of other artists over the years, including the Rolling Stones and it remains to this day, one of early Rock & Roll’s most important songs, making this Cover by Maiden a heritage piece worth treasuring and sharing.
Exodus – Low Rider
One of the earliest known Thrash Metal bands to ever come up. Exodus was formed in 1979 and it remains active to this day with Gary Holt, Steve “Zetro” Souza and Tom Hunting being its longest-running (or most frequent) members. The band is often part of the ongoing debate about “The Big Four” thrash metal bands that defined the sub-genre and dominated the scene, often compared to bands like Testament or Sodom in the way they’ve been somewhat overlooked in the popular debate in spite of their huge quality and sweeping influence.
Inspired by the cool and laid-back Chicano Lowrider subculture, this song was written and released in 1975 by the Funk Band War, and it’s most often heard used in cinema, particularly in stoner movies.
Children Of Bodom – Oops I did it Again
It’s difficult to put into words the huge impact Britney Spears had on Music, especially with this breakout single, and unless you were around at the time to see it and hear it, you won’t really get a sense of what it was like when huge hit songs like this one came around in an era where the internet was still in its infancy, but the dominance of both radio and television (MTV in this particular case) were at their peak still.
This cover released in 2005 would go on to become one of the most notable pop covers in Metal’s history for several reasons. Many listeners and even outlets seemed to miss its and its obviously tongue-in-cheek nature, while also ignoring the curiously in-tone fidelity with which it was rearranged by the extreme metal band from Finland.
The group disbanded amicably In 2019. Two of the founding members, Alexi “Wildchild” Laiho and Daniel Freyberg went on to found the band “Bodom After Midnight”, making their live debut in October 2020. However, in a tragic turn of events, Laiho would die in December that year due to health complications later revealed to have been linked to his long-time alcohol abuse. Laiho is widely remembered today as an extremely influential and acclaimed guitarist, often hailed as one of the best in the genre.
GWAR – West End Girls
You probably know who The Petshop Boys Are, and you’re probably more than familiar with this hit single released back in ‘ 92. However, If you don’t know who GWAR is, then you are missing out. The Shock-Metal group founded in Virginia in 1984 is a rotating supergroup-like association of very skilled musicians who perform in cartoonishly gross costumes and often hilariously disgusting and offensive lyrics, coming across as a mix of Kiss, Suicidal Tendencies, and GG Allin.
The Group was led by the one constant member and founder Dave Brokie -Better known as “Oderus Urungus”- who sadly passed away in 2014. The band continues to this day, however, carrying Oderous’ legacy of intergalactic carnage with them. This cover was recorded with Michael Bishop (AKA, Blothar) on vocals, as by this time, Oderus had gone up in flames to Valhalla.
Motörhead – Louie Louie
Louie Louie is one of the oldest Rock N’ Roll songs to exist, making it a seminal work for the blueprint of Metal. American Singer, Songwriter and musician Richard Berry Jr. (curiously *not* related to THE Chuck Berry) wrote this song in ’55, later in ’63, the garage-rock band The Kingsmen would turn it into the antem we know it as today. in 1978 the song would forever be immortalized by the great John Belushi as Bluto Blutarski in National Lampoon’s Animal House. The same year, however, the then-newcomers Mötorhead would record this amazing livewire of a track.
Motörhead would go on to become one of the genre’s most emblematic and important bands of all time until the unfortunate passing of Founder and vocalist Lemmy Kilmister in 2015. Motörhead is almost a litmus test of sorts for any aspiring metalhead.