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Twelve songs, 53 cover versions – we rank all the tracks on Metallica’s epic Blacklist covers album in order of greatness
In August 1991, Metallica’s self-titled fifth album made an instant splash in the world of popular music. After two Grammy wins, MTV airplay for One, and a Black Album listening party at Madison Square Garden, its success was guaranteed. But no one in their wildest dreams could have envisioned the full extent of its impact. It’s shaped the lives of every single hard rock and metal band before, and since – whether they’ve chased The Black Album (opens in new tab)’s anthemic highs, or rejected them to go further underground.
Metallica aren’t just the biggest band within metal, they’re metal’s biggest crossover act, too. In the US, The Black Album is the highest-selling album of the last 30 years, full stop. Thirty years later, The Metallica Blacklist (opens in new tab) is the ultimate proof of their cultural reach. With 53 covers of the original album’s 12 songs, it features artists from every continent, across genres from pop to jazz, Latin trap to classical piano.
At over four hours’ length, The Blacklist is a monument to rock star excess, as well as Metallica’s lifelong love of the cover song. But it also opens the gateway to so many other artists, the same way The Black Album (opens in new tab) has introduced several generations to heavy metal.
Here, we’ve ranked all 53 covers, with no particular criteria except how emotionally compelling they are. There’s simply no one way to record a great cover song: some fit like a glove, others are radical reinventions. And this may be Metal Hammer, but in the spirit of The Metallica Blacklist, we haven’t favoured any one genre.
No two people will agree on every Blacklist cover, but that’s part of the beauty of such a colossal project. You may ask, does anyone really need six more versions of Enter Sandman (opens in new tab), or 13 of Nothing Else Matters (opens in new tab)? After you listen, the real question is – how can you not find at least one to love?Pharrell and Chad Hugo know what it’s like to be rock stars, but they’ve delivered the biggest disappointment of the entire set. Keeping the original vocals, all they do is swap out the instruments for a minimal breakbeat and some scattered synths. It’s unforgivably lazy coming from two of the most iconic pop and hip-hop producers of the 2000s. A near-instant skip.
These Kentuckians, beloved by the indie rock blogs of the 2000s, give Nothing Else Matters (opens in new tab) a jaunty, modern-day Beach Boys vibe. Sure, it’s a unique take, but it completely throws out any sense of the lyrics’ meaning. So why cover Metallica at all? Just write an original song!
An underground rap group hailing from NYC, Flatbush Zombies should have been a solid choice for the Blacklist – yet this has absolutely no business being a Metallica cover. They deliver three mesmerising old-school rap verses, but every time the song samples Hetfield’s slowed-down chorus, reducing it to a cliché, you just want to hit fast-forward.
An Irish singer-songwriter, Kennedy has a strong voice and treats the song with respect – but this is the least distinctive cover on the entire Blacklist. At three minutes, at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
A Mexican pop-rock singer, Madero has a beautifully evocative voice, but his interpretation is almost as thuddingly obvious as an epic movie trailer cover.
The Irish rockabilly singer Imelda May comes up with a cool, groovy blues-rock arrangement, but rushes through the song, stumbling over the most crucial part – the terse rage of Hetfield’s lyrics.
On their 2017 album, White Reaper called themselves The World’s Best American Band – but there’s none of that ambition or humour on this note-for-note cover. Tony Esposito’s snotty tenor vocals bring some of their garage-punk attitude, but nothing else stands out.
This indie rock, Spaghetti Western fusion isn’t a bad idea, but it lacks expression. Both the arrangements and the soft vocals attempt to create atmosphere, but the results feel like six minutes of Starbucks music.
It’s a shame that we only get one The Struggle Within cover, but fair enough – it’s a great album closer, but it’s always been the least popular individual track. Rodrigo y Gabriela (opens in new tab) made their names in 2006 covering Metallica’s Orion (opens in new tab) with dual acoustic guitars, flamenco-style, and they come full circle here. Instead of matching the original’s intensity, they play it straight. Despite the guitar wizardry, the overall mood is mellow, and they send off four-plus hours of Blacklist covers on a soothing note.
Step one: turn Don’t Tread on Me into an 80s funk remix, complete with James Hetfield’s vocals. Step two: transition it, slowly and awkwardly, into an orchestral dubstep remix of Nothing Else Matters. Is SebastiAn, the ever-present French house producer, pranking us? Maybe! Metalheads will consider this sacrilege. Honestly, by EDM standards, both halves aren’t bad – there’s just no reason that they should be a mashup.
With their two-piece bass and drums sound, Royal Blood (opens in new tab) conjure the arena-rock grandeur of The Black Album… but there’s just something missing. Though it’s technically competent, and adds a few fresh touches – some eerie backing vocals, and Tom Morello-like tremolo on the bass solo – it’s just too clean and digital, with none of the emotional or production nuances that Bob Rock and Metallica brought. It never overcomes the feeling that you’d rather be listening to the original.
PUP’s emo-pop vocal stylings are guaranteed to annoy metal purists who still can’t stand the likes of My Chemical Romance. Though they don’t miss a note, they don’t rise above the pack either.
Une chanteuse Française, Izïa turns Misery into a comfortable uptempo rocker. She does a solid job, yet you get the sense that this is the wrong song for her – that she’d rather cut loose and wail than brood in the middle of her vocal range. For no apparent reason, the original guitar solo gets played on synth brass, as if it’s Van Halen’s Jump (opens in new tab). Why? Might as well!
Sometimes, Portugal. The Man are psychedelic rockers. Other times, they’re the pop hitmakers behind Feel It Still. So why not do it all at once? This feels like three covers in one, with its janky tempo shifts and multiple shouty vocalists. There’s not much logic to it, but hey, it’s anything but boring.
Juanes, one of the world’s most famous Latin rock stars, actually began his career fronting the Colombian thrash metal band Ekhymosis. Instead of channelling his metal roots, he brings a lightness to Enter Sandman (opens in new tab), shaping its riff into a bouncy, stop-start thing. No surprises here, but it’s fun, and goes down easy.
Equal parts Misery Business and My Friend Of Misery, this feels like a candy-coated cover, enveloping the original’s bitterness with cutesy pop hooks. It’s modern indie pop at its most Gen-Z, yet it still works as a Metallica adaptation.
Corey Taylor (opens in new tab) covering Metallica is a no-brainer – he’s the closest thing to a James Hetfield on this entire compilation. Here, he gives metalheads exactly what they want… just not with their first choice of song. But – he cheats! The band ends with a furious snippet of Whiplash, which gets your heart pumping twice as fast for a painfully brief 15 seconds.The oddly named duo Ha*Ash are huge names in the Latin pop world, yet their Unforgiven has a down-to-earth bluegrass feel that sounds more like The Chicks. That is, until they switch to a chorus in Spanish – which feels like a perfect choice. It makes you wish that they’d committed to doing the whole song en Español.
The Mexican Institute of Sound remix Sad But True into a series of ridiculously groovy reggaeton beats, combining the original guitar and vocals with trumpets and bone-rattling bass. Weaving in and out of Hetfield’s voice, La Perla and Gera MX rap nimbly in Spanish. It’s an experiment that’s not fully realised, but as far as hip hop versions of Sad But True go, it’s a hell of a lot better than Kid Rock’s American Bad Ass, or Snoop Dogg’ (opens in new tab)s infamous attempt.
This is almost the Roxette, the Swedish 80s pop group of The Look and Listen To Your Heart fame. PG Roxette are a one-off, revamped version put together just for this recording, which pays tribute to their late lead singer Marie Fredriksson (opens in new tab). Combining storybook piano and lush synths, it’s not a blow-away cover version, but it is a perfectly gentle, candle-in-the-wind remembrance of a genuinely iconic singer.
The Canadian face of slacker-rock, Mac DeMarco opens his version with a ‘Huhhhh!’ – like he’s doing an impression of James Hetfield (opens in new tab) doing Elvis. And you know what? It rocks! The Blacklist could use some of his goofball irreverence. But he knows what he’s doing, too – his band brings a ZZ Top (opens in new tab) groove to Enter Sandman (opens in new tab). It could have been even weirder, though – the song ends with a ridiculous, noodly Captain Beefheart (opens in new tab) jam. You’ll either hate it, or secretly wish the whole recording had the same chaotic energy.
More remix than cover, J Balvin’s smooth Spanish vocals are pure charisma, while Kirk’s sitar riff lends itself perfectly to a modern Latin trap beat. Balvin is considered the Prince of Reggaeton for a reason: he’s utterly effortless. In fact, a little too effortless, when the track veers into the chorus of the original song, before fizzling out with a thud. Honestly, this one’s hard to rank. It’s not much of a Metallica reinterpretation, but a solid Latin trap banger – if that’s something you’re open to.
One of the leading voices of traditional country in the 21st century, Stapleton brings his best Chris Cornell impression to this blues-ified take, which sounds every bit as swampy as the Breaking Bad theme. It’s a natural fit, and it feels like he and his band nailed it in one take. But at eight lazily paced minutes, it’s a touch one-dimensional, and probably too long to revisit often.
These Aussie garage-punk brats don’t seem to respect much of anything – so they’re a perfect match for Holier Than Thou. This is a fun, snotty two-and-ahalf-minute burst of energy, but there’s no way it can be any more than the second-best hardcore punk version of this song on the Blacklist.
Jason Isbell is practically modern alt-country royalty, and he and his band The 400 Unit steer Sad But True into full Lynyrd Skynyrd, (opens in new tab) Southern rock territory. They’re firmly within their comfort zone, but switch up the feel just enough to make this version fun.
Over piano and strings, the much-hyped British singer-songwriter turns Sad But True into an impassioned plea for grace. Where Hetfield (opens in new tab) delivered the song like a mirror laughing back at you, Fender sounds both regretful and weirdly uplifting, like he’s covering Coldplay (opens in new tab). To be honest, that emotional interpretation of the lyrics makes no sense… but Fender’s so committed that you might just believe him anyway.
Pardi simply delivers a rock-solid country version of Roam, stacked with fiddles and call-and-response backing vocals. It’s not especially imaginative, but it doesn’t need to be. If you heard him play this in a live set between his good-ol’-boy Nashville originals, you’d be blown away that he has this in his repertoire.
Goodnight, Texas are part of the broader Metallica family – member Avi Vinocur doubles as a Metallica roadie, and has performed onstage with them several times, including at S&M2 (opens in new tab). While the original Of Wolf And Man was about violent werewolf transformation, this Appalachian folk version evokes man’s harmony with nature. Their revamped vocal melodies aren’t quite as compelling, but the banjos and mandolins are so atmospheric that they more than make up for it. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity that there’s only one version of Wolf.
The Hootie & The Blowfish (opens in new tab) frontman turned solo country star brings a weathered, experienced gravitas to Nothing Else Matters. This is a faithful cover done right: not quite note-for-note, but sung and played with love and attention to detail. Instead of putting himself above the song, Rucker simply lets the original composition shine. In any other setting, this would be a fantastic cover – but The Blacklist is so stacked that there are seven better versions of the song.
It’s refreshing to hear a straight-up rock cover that doesn’t ape Metallica’s arrangement at all. Diet Cig take The Unforgiven (opens in new tab) and pull off a seamless translation into a moody, melodic, yet still-heavy indie-emo style. Alex Luciano’s high female voice couldn’t sound less like Hetfield’s – so why try?
Bringing together a mini-supergroup of Indian artists, this version opens with the baritone Vishal Dadlani aping Chris Isaak – who inspired Hetfield’s original Unforgiven vocal performance. Shor Police’s production is spacious and cinematic, but Divine’s rap verse in Hindi is just dazzling, and one of The Blacklist’s best hip hop moments.
The Blacklist kicks off with a very un-metal name: the pop-r’n’b singer Alessia Cara, who’s paired with the Mexican hard rock trio of sisters The Warning. The slinky opening is the best part of the song, as the band subtly rearranges every riff and drum beat around Cara’s soft voice. Neither she nor The Warning have the vocals to match the heavy, anthemic choruses they’re going for. But when they finally hit the main riff at the end, they absolutely nail it – sounding like Rage Against The Machine in full flight.
Depeche Mode (opens in new tab)’s lead singer takes a solo turn here, crooning over ambient piano, synths, and the slightest glimpse of sampled drums. It’s so soft that the song could disappear like a puff of smoke, but Gahan’s a masterful vocal storyteller, capturing your attention throughout. But honestly, it’s just nice to hear it sung with a British accent.Weezer (opens in new tab) have sleepwalked through many a cover version – so how does this manage to be so good? Well, they’ve always loved pop-metal – and Rivers Cuomo’s smooth, melodic vocals pair beautifully with his sweet, crunchy guitar tone. They change very little on paper, except the guitar solo. Instead of imitating Kirk, they harmonise on Sandman’s vocal melody instead – in the style of Smells Like Teen Spirit (opens in new tab). It’s a flash of brilliance: one of the biggest continuing rock bands of the 90s, paying tribute to the two most iconic rock albums of 1991 at once.
Chile’s most successful contemporary musician, Laferte delivers this hauntingly beautiful cover in her native Spanish. As strong as her vocals are, the arrangement is even more grand – like the cinematic soundtrack to a desert trek beneath the stars. From this cover alone, you can tell that Laferte must be a tremendous artist in her own right.
This isn’t the first time the London dance duo have sampled Roam – they pulled off a similar trick on Rihanna’s Red Lipstick. Where that 2011 track was heavy dubstep, this 2021 take is moodier UK garage. The grime MC BackRoad Gee has a star turn, rapping Hetfield’s lyrics – and a few of his own – with precision-bombed ferociousness. Though the track could go a little further, it’s a brilliant cross-cultural, cross-genre reimagining. Whether it’s heavy metal, hip hop or dance music, a sick riff is universal.
Mongolian folk-metallers (opens in new tab) The HU (opens in new tab) went viral in 2020 for their cover of Sad But True (opens in new tab), and while this one isn’t quite as thunderous, it still kicks copious amounts of ass. They’re no less metal than the original, but their musical heritage sets them apart: the fiddle-like morin khuur instruments, the throat-sung backing vocals, and especially their fearsome Mongolian-language grunts and growls.Over a modern arena-rock arrangement with a hint of country, Mickey Guyton brings both soulfulness and a soaring belt. It almost sounds like what you would have expected from the Miley cover. There are other versions that do more with the song, but Guyton is destined to become a mainstream star, and this thoroughly proves it.
The first half of this is dreamy and melodic, just like you’d expect from Biffy Clyro (opens in new tab). The second half introduces a doom metal riff so staggeringly heavy that it almost feels like it’s invaded the wrong song. Cover songs really aren’t supposed to do this, but bless Biffy Clyro for taking us into such alien territory.
Sad But True shouldn’t be this good at such a fast tempo, but YB (opens in new tab) – one of South Korea’s biggest rock bands since 1996 – more than pull it off. They change the main riff into something sleazier and groovier, almost Queens Of The Stone Age (opens in new tab), with one hell of a charismatic lead vocal to boot. Don’t overlook this one!
A Congolese Afro-pop artist, TRESOR delivers Nothing Else Matters with a reverent, spiritual tone, as if he’s singing a lullaby to a child. With its minimal, spacious trip hop arrangement, it’s as quiet as it is magical.
The Nigerian singer Tomi Owó delivers by far the most radical Blacklist transformation. It’s mind-boggling; how did she turn Metallica’s thrash attack into sensuous r’n’b? Her vocals are gentle, stunning, and somehow still perfectly convey Through The Never’s lyrical journey through time and space. It’s unfortunate that the song ends with a burst of violent, distorted guitar and drums, which break the mood, and don’t suit her voice at all. Cut off the last minute, though, and it’s utter perfection.
Though OFF! only formed in 2009, they’re fronted by original Black Flag singer Keith Morris – one of Metallica’s few elders on the Blacklist. They turn Holier Than Thou into a furious old-school punk blitzkrieg, quadrupling the number of drum fills – and building to a climax of dissonant, honking saxophones. Who needs melody when you’re hardcore punk royalty? Hell, by removing all subtlety, it might even be better than the original.
A modern pop iconoclast, the Japanese-British Rina Sawayama raises Enter Sandman half an octave, belting over Eurobeat drums and Mad Max guitars as if she’s fronting Rammstein. This might be the heaviest and poppiest cover here. It’s absolutely thrilling… yet it it makes you wish that she’d done more to radically reinvent the core of the song, like she has with her original pop-nu metal fusions. But if this proud St. Anger defender ever records a full-length metal album, watch out.
The most hyped British punk rock band since Gallows, IDLES (opens in new tab) more than live up to it here. Both Hetfield and IDLES frontman Joe Talbot have sung about their grief over the death of their mothers, which makes this a tragically perfect pick. IDLES transmute the original’s tightly-wound anger into a looser, more frenetic, but equally anti-authoritarian beast. It’s a cover that’s worthy of not just Metallica, but the Manic Street Preachers (opens in new tab) too.
Phoebe Bridgers (opens in new tab) is a modern indie rock hero – and a huge Metallica fan to boot. Every change here is small, but has a drastic effect on the song. The balletic piano changes the emphasis of the chords, while Bridgers, a poetic lyricist herself, sings with a deep connection to the words. She conjures an air of unresolved, ambiguous tragedy, with ominous drums that never reach a climax. At just 27, Bridgers is the same age as most of Metallica when Nothing Else Matters was recorded. Like the original, her take is graceful, mysterious, and wise beyond its years.
Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent (opens in new tab), has been one of art-rock’s most consistent guitar heroes over the last 15 years. She tunes all the way down to B, as her guitar slithers around her voice. Her version isn’t heavy in the traditional metal sense, but it’s heated and nasty, like a sexual tension that sucks all the air out of the room. There’s some Prince (opens in new tab) and Nine Inch Nails (opens in new tab) DNA in the industrial funk of the drums, but really, this is one of the few Blacklist covers that’s a complete original. No one else on the planet could reinvent Sad But True this way.
Every metalhead expected Lars’s Danish countrymen Volbeat (opens in new tab) to pop up on The Blacklist, and boy, did they deliver. Every change is wildly energising, from the faster tempo to the half-time riffs, to Michael Poulson’s gung-ho vocals, which re=harmonise the choruhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJMZ6OB3ofMs… for the better? Don’t Tread On Me has always been the weirdest, most polarising song on The Black Album, so bravo to Volbeat for not just tackling it, but arguably improving on the original. This is pure heavy metal, done to perfection.
Ghost (opens in new tab)’s highly-anticipated Enter Sandman opens with the calm before the storm; Papa Emeritus IV croons over piano, like he’s invoking a ritual. Adapting their live Polar Music Prize cover from 2018, this studio version just gets better and better as it goes on. The addition of piano makes the choruses soar, and the spoken bridge even more grim and eerie. As for the guitar solos, they’re absolutely blistering – one of two times on the entire Blacklist where a guitarist tries to outshred Kirk. It’s not a total overhaul, but it doesn’t need to be; Ghost just have that old-school, indefinable, Mercyful Fate (opens in new tab) gravitas that elevates this to greatness. Whether or not you think they beat Metallica at their own game – for all of us who’ve heard the original a thousand times, Ghost could easily replace it in our rotation. And that’s a mighty achievement indeed.
Though jazz is very much alive and well in the 21st century, the LA-based tenor saxophonist and bandleader Kamasi Washington (opens in new tab) is one of its few transcendent stars. His vocalist, Patrice Quinn, brings an alluring, half-spoken darkness to Hetfield’s words. There’s no metal in the band surrounding her, but they are overflowing with virtuosic fury. As the song builds over almost seven minutes, they use Misery as a canvas for a series of wild, wailing post-bop solos: piano, drums, sax all trying to outdo each other. Washington and co. go as far as possible into the avant-garde without ever losing the thread. This is no mere recitation: it’s a fearless exploration of all the feelings that the word “misery” conjures. If only it were three times as long.
Of all the concert pianists in the world, Metallica chose the perfect one to reinterpret Nothing Else Matters (opens in new tab). The original song is, at its heart, a classical guitar piece, and the Russian-born, German-based Levit connects it to those centuries-old roots. He plays with subtle, lyrical brushstrokes, weaving the original guitar and vocal melodies into something familiar, yet never predictable. The entire performance is breathtaking, but when he veers into a series of key changes in the bridge, it’s as if you’re soaring above the clouds. You’ll never want it to end.
On The Unforgiven, James Hetfield looked at his own life, and wondered if he had the power to break his cycles of social conditioning and abuse. Moses Sumney instead brings Metallica’s opus into a limbo space, somewhere between life and death. He’s a truly unclassifiable artist, but the Ghanaian-American singer-songwriter is perhaps best described as soulful, timeless, futurist art-pop.
He opens his version with a gentle, fluid bass solo – a humble tribute to Cliff Burton (opens in new tab), and Rob Trujillo (opens in new tab)’s beloved Jaco Pastorius. But it’s his voice that’s heart-stopping, fluttering with ghostly vibrato like the late Jeff Buckley. Over softly plucked guitar, bass, and harmonics, he gently breathes new life into every word. Sumney sings and plays masterfully, but with an utterly primal, instinctive approach, letting the song guide the way, moment by moment, to its eerie falsetto climax.
This is one of the most indulgent covers ever recorded of any song, by anyone. Every player on this is a star in their own right, and they each take their turn in the spotlight: Chad Smith brings a distinctly un-Lars finesse to his fills. Rob gets to be higher in the mix than Jason ever was. Elton and Yo-Yo Ma trade piano and cello solos. WATT shreds the guitar solo like he’s trying to steal the show, while his sparkling, loud-as-fuck production actually tries to outdo Bob Rock himself. And Miley Cyrus (opens in new tab), one of our great modern pop and rock stars, has never, ever sounded better; never sung with more sensitivity or weight. She’s known for covering songs left and right, but she never sounds like anyone but herself.
A truly transcendent cover is more than the sum of its parts: it’s alchemy. Together, they honour Nothing Else Matters like a sacred rock hymn; the Stairway To Heaven (opens in new tab) of the 90s, carved in stone, turned up to 11. It’s utterly excessive. It’s Metallica. And it’s everything that The Black Album is supposed to be.
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