Everyone who knows me knows that my all-time favorite band is the original Black Sabbath. What I've never really discussed is the curious situation by which I discovered them. As an early teen, I was listening to everything my friends were, which mostly consisted of a lot of hard rock like Aerosmith and Guns 'n' Roses. At some point, however, someone recommended a joke rap song by Anthrax called "I'm The Man." So I picked up that cassette, on which was a cover song that completely kicked my ass and would lead me to my hallowed tune-smiths: "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath."
Now I'd heard of Ozzy Osbourne and seen "OZZY" carved into school desktops. I knew him as the guy who bit the heads of bats and doves, and was apparently satanic, and had a song that made kids kill themselves. But I had no idea that his solo career had emerged from an earlier band, a concept that greatly intrigued my novice music-listening self. And what a name his former band had! BLACK SABBATH. Why wasn't this carved onto desktops? My curiosity much aroused, I went to the local department store and picked up my first Black Sabbath cassette, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (of course). That first listen was magic. The title track opened the album and was graver, more artful, and more desperate-sounding than the cover I'd heard. Gorgeous.
Suffice it to say, I eventually picked up every Sabbath album. I realized that they were truly the godfathers and creators of heavy metal -- anyone who claims that Led Zeppelin or any other band created heavy metal is not a true metal fan and doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about. It eventually became apparent that many metal acts had done cover versions of Black Sabbath at one time or another. Sabbath was the bible of metal, a common ancestor of every thrash, doom, stoner, and death metal act around, and it's not surprising that a great many bands would pay tribute to them.
You can almost put together the entire Ozzy-era Sabbath catalog through covers alone. I haven't quite done that, but I have compiled a nearly two-hour collection of MY FAVORITE BLACK SABBATH COVERS!
There are actually quite a number of Sabbath tribute albums out there, usually produced by a record label to showcase their acts. I bought a stack of them to sift through and choose the best, but I ended up disliking a lot of what I heard on many of these albums. Some featured all black metal bands, which involved a lot of screeching and up-tempo interpretations. Others were simply bad. In the end, about half of these songs come from tribute albums and the other half from the individual albums of the various interpreting artists. Enjoy!
I've started off with what might be my favorite Sabbath cover version, Sepultura's version of "Symptom of the Universe". The vocalist, Max Cavalera, is a barker instead of a singer, and while I rarely enjoy non-sung versions of Sabbath songs, this tune's original vocal line is really only two or three notes, sung almost as a high-pitched drone, so the barking actually fits well. Plus, their instrumental version of the acoustic outro is so goddamn perfect it can't be denied.
"Paranoid" is quickly taken care of by Megadeth, who do a perfectly punk-ish and puck-ish version. The "mistake" that is kept in at the end is also really appropriate considering how this song, Sabbath's greatest hit, was actually a throwaway tune for the band, written at the last minute to fill space on the album. Megadeth comes in later with a live version of "Never Say Die," and Dave Mustaine proves on both tracks that he does surprisingly good justice to the vocals.
Overkill is a thrash band that is known to be very big Sabbath fans and covered several of their tunes both live and in the studio. Their first appearance on here is covering "Cornucopia" and appropriately alternates between sludgey and full-speed ahead. I especially like how they reprise the intro, something I always wished had been done on the original. The second Overkill contribution later on is "Changes", a very popular Sabbath piano ballad that I've never really enjoyed too much -- it's so static and unchanging. Many cover versions of this song end up changing it around drastically, but I think by handing piano melodies to the bass and adding some supporting guitar chords Overkill does a great job of maintaining the composition of the original while still sprucing it up.
Cathedral is a band I know very little about, but damn, they do great versions of Sabbath songs. Their version of "Solitude" is just as peaceful and lulling as the original, with some added vocal harmonization to round it out. A great tribute! They also show up later doing an excellent "Wheels of Confusion". (By now you're probably thinking that all the artists on this collection are pulling a double duty, but there's only one more repeat offender on this list, honest.)
Metal has for the most part sped up in tempo since Sabbath's time, and the majority of these covers are a tad faster than the originals. By contrast, stoner metal (or stoner rock) is a genre that takes its inspiration from the slowest and sludgiest Sabbath songs, then strives to be even slower and sludgier. The band Sleep, considered by many to be the godfathers of stoner metal, considered themselves so indebted to Sabbath that they actually thanked them in their album liner notes. Sleep's version of "Snowblind" may not be the most perfectly executed version of the song I could find, but it is the only cover on here that is very noticeably slower than the original. And I love them for it.
Swedish metal band Entombed turn in a pretty good but fairly standard "Under The Sun". While I really enjoy this song, it's not very well known. However, I hold this up as an example that metal bands mine the Sabbath répertoire for songs that haven't been done before, and find that the number of Sabbath songs that haven't been covered is not a long list.
Far less conventional is the version of "Iron Man" by another Swedish band, The Cardigans. Though a pop group, they have professed a very keen and longstanding love of Black Sabbath and this is not the only Sabbath cover tune they've done.
After that stylistic divergence, I'm pleased to segue into Slayer with their version of "Hand of Doom". It feels very natural for Tom Araya to scream "now you're gonna die!"
"Sweet Leaf" is one of my favorite Sabbath tunes, and I couldn't imagine this collection without it. Surprisingly, though, I had a very difficult time finding any version I really liked. Too many of them featured bad, screeching vocalists, or the tempo was too fast, or it was just plain bad. Then I remembered Ozzy's version of his live solo EP, "Just Say Ozzy." This is actually really appropriate because there's an odd tradition of Ozzy appearing on Sabbath tribute albums fronting other bands. Zakk Wylde's guitar-playing on this version is just amazing, and of course no one sings this song as well as Ozzy. Win!
"Hole in the Sky" is another favorite that I had a hard time finding a version I really liked. I settled on a version taken from one of the tribute albums by a band I know nothing about called Coffin Break. I don't know whether to love that name or hate it. Either way, they do the best version of this song I've found, and that's actually saying something considering how high the vocal line is. Even Ozzy never sang this live very well.
I think the interpretation of "Lord Of This World" by stoner rockers Corrosion Of Conformity is one of the highlights of this collection. It's slow, dirty, groovy and even a little creepy. Quoting their lead singer/guitarist: "It's so hard talking about Black Sabbath because it's such an ingrained part of C.O.C.'s existence. Everything I learned about Rock 'N' Roll revolves around Black Sabbath."
Though I'm not a big fan of Pantera, they do Sabbath covers pretty well. Their "Planet Caravan" is appropriately delicate and morose, and their version of "Electric Funeral" later on is brooding, though I do wish it was a little colder. Dimebag Darrell plays really well on these, especially the solos.
Probably the second Black Sabbath cover I heard was Faith No More's very faithful version of "War Pigs," a tune I consider to be the best heavy metal song of all time. The recording is spot-on, in no small part because the guitarist, Jim Martin, practically worshiped Sabbath. It also greatly helps that Mike Patton can actually sing -- I heard too many versions of people trying to yell this song, and the results were abysmal.
Most people would agree that Ugly Kid Joe was a very forgettable band, but damn! they do a great cover of "N.I.B." Who would have thought? It's playful and energetic but still well-paced and swinging. Tongue-in-cheek satanism!
"Who Are You?" is an odd-duck Sabbath tune, a comparatively simple synth-tune conceived by the instrumentally-challenged Osbourne. The band OLD, though, have taken this piece and warped it into a screeching and numbing sonic platter that stretches out for nearly 9 minutes. You may find it a little jarring at first, but repeated listens have convinced me that this is a real find.
There were actually many versions of "Into The Void" from which to choose, but only Silencer offered a version that was truly faithful to the original. Very driving with good vocals and a nice mix.
Black Sabbath's signature song -- "Black Sabbath" -- is almost more of an art piece that a tune, really. It's not musically complex, instead deriving all its ambiance from the Ozzy's tortured vocals, as well as the added sounds of rain and a church bell. It would be very easy for another band to make a very boring version of this song, but what Type O Negative has constructed is a chilling aural masterpiece. Adding piano, goth vocals, more sound effects and closing with a medley of Black Sabbath riffs, they've really done something amazing here.
Closing out this two-hour tribute collection is the track that started it all for me, Anthrax's version of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." It definitely maintains Anthrax's strong signature chunky sound, while Joey Belladonna does a great job hitting all of Ozzy's vocal nuances. At the very end, after the song is finished, the band has a coughing fit with transitions into a fade-out of the main riff from "Sweet Leaf" -- a second homage that I didn't understand until I picked up Sabbath's Master of Reality not much later.
I hope you've enjoyed my tribute of tributes! Of course nothing beats the actual early Sabbath recordings, but that's what tributes are for: to make us go out and fall in love with the originals all over again!