Lists of Domination
Smalley's favorite covers on Ozzy-era Black Sabbath
08/06/12 || Smalley
By this point, I don’t think I need to remind anyone on GlobalD that I never could get into most Ozzy-era Black Sabbath; they do have some scattered successes for me, and for a time, I tried to fool myself into thinking I liked ‘em (since, regardless of personal feelings, they’re still one of the most important bands in metal), but alas, reality had to kick in at some point, and I had to accept the corresponding loss of some of my metalhead cred (but I’m more than used to that). Fortunately for me, Sabbath’s importance means that many younger bands have paid tribute to them over the years by covering their music, filtering out the occasional dullness and “singing” of the originals for more energy/heaviness and better vocals, improving on their true potential; yay!!! So, if I can’t enjoy the original versions, at least I’ll still always have the new ‘n improved covers, so without further adodoo, here are my top 10 fave covers of Ozzy-era Sabbath!
I’m not much for stoner metal, so I’ve never heard a second of any Kyuss song before now, but my research fortunately lead me to this gem off of their 1996 “Into the void/fatso forgetso” (fucken potheads…) single, which makes perfect sense, since the original is off “Master of reality”, which some actually consider to be the first stoner metal record. Cool beans. Anyway, Kyuss does this one justice with a slightly quicker pace, a low, thicker guitar sound, pleasingly casual vocals, an extended outro, and a newly extended, jazz-ified breakdown, complete with improvisational jam-session soloing, and fucken bongo drums! Sounds kinda silly, but it’s ultimately all super-cool in the end. Now, go light up a big ol’ fatty.
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Exhorder’s cover, off 1992’s “The law”, which I was originally going to list first instead (madness!), until I heard Kyuss’s. And, like Kyuss, I’ve never actually listened to any Exhorder before (don’t kill me, IG!), and while this cover from 1992’s “The law” succeeds more due to the leftover imprint of Sabbath, instead of due to the band offering something new, at least they didn’t fuck anything up at all here (though a few aspects remind me a lot of Panter-ohh, think I hit a sore spot there). Also, one of Iommi’s very coolest riffs still remains, so that’s cool. Now, I need to go listen to the tunes they actually wrote themselves.
Rob Zombie can be a bit of an off-putting dude, artistically speaking; he started off by making industrial/shock metal, laden with trashy, B-horror movie samples, then kind of forgot about that for a while in favor of making his own B-horror movies (traitor!!!), then his metal started sucking, and plus, he has that big, crazy delivery to his singing, with plenty of shouted “Yeaah!“s and the like. Bit of an acquired taste. Fortunately, if you can tolerate the camp factor, ol’ Rob Ztark did used to make some catchy, kick-ass metal, including this cover he recorded in White Zombie for the 1994 Nativity in black tribute.
You see, while Iommi’s guitar sound often had a uniquely lovely texture, it still could’ve still done with some thicker production, which White Zombie fixes here with a prime cut of nice, thick, juicy-sounding riffage, as well as more prominent bass work, a killer solo, and odd industrial effects to add more personality, including evil laughter and “news clips” about the Manson family murders (who, judging by the head scar here, is a bit of an… idol for Zombie?). Oh Rob; don’t you ever change. Plus, despite some predictably mush-mouthed delivery to his vocals, Zombie still adds a lot on that front with that raucous, booming, party-animal delivery of his, adding plenty of energy & passion. Hell, WZ even wrote a new riff that they play for a few moments, one that just screams their unique style, so this one’s a great example of a band retaining the core of the original song, while still injecting their own, tasty flavor to it. Granted, I do miss that cool, primal, highly unique pound of Bill Ward’s drums from the original, but whatevs; “YEAAH!”
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Neurosis’s, but not because their version (appearing on their 1999 “In these black days” split) is any good, but because they sludge it all up and lose the original energy of it. So, interesting because it’s different, but in a negative way.
I also don’t think I need to remind anyone here that I’m not really into Anthrax either, due to that damned ever-present casualness of their’s, but it’s that very thing that helps make this cover work, off their 1987 “I’m the man” EP; they take the crawling tempo of the original and fix it up with a punk-ier, more energetic, almost upbeat pace (resulting in it lasting a minute-and-a-half less than the original), not to mention Joey Primadonna’s endearingly dorky vocals. Plus, the oh-so-unique personality of Iommi’s riffing still shines through despite the happier way it’s being packaged here, so that’s definitely a bonus as well.
Sure, I kind of miss those cool, easy-listening acoustic interludes, Geezer’s fat wall of bass, the longer solo, that slow, grinding bridge section, and the chaotic outro of the original, but you gotta break some eggs to make an omelette, right? The basic core of this cover is still superior anyway, and we gain more than we lose, so for making Sabbath’s material almost fun to listen to, Anthrax earns this spot on this list. Not bad for something that was placed second banana on an EP alongside a Beastie Boys novelty parody, which had a riff stolen from a fucken Jewish folk song, eh? METAL.
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Iron Maiden’s own Bruce Bruce covered it for the “Nativity in black” tribute, and while I like hearing his operatic spin on the vocals, some of the back-up instrumentation/vocals by the short-lived Godspeed still leave something to be desired.
Iommi-penned riffs, paired with classic Swedeath, chainsaw production?? Can you say, sign me the fuck up?! I can, and just did, actually. For their 2002 covers compilation “Sons of Satan praise the lord” (K?), the Tombed ones took the the paper-thin guitar sound of the original, and filters it through that classic, oh-so recognizable Sunlight Studios tone, kicking it up like, a million notches. Or something. The speed-up section later on is also sped-up as well, which only helps, and even in the sections that are still played at the same basic tempo, the thick wall of guitar just makes such a huge difference here, and makes it sound just that much more intense. And, I hate to harp on the guy, but the lack of Ozzy’s weak voice, as it was noticeably more lacking than usual on the original, really does help out even more. Extra kudos to Entombed for also choosing to cover such a relatively obscure Sabb tune (I’d actually never heard of this one before I started digging around for Sabb covers), instead of a classic that we’ve all still heard to death on classic rock radio over the years. Yay, metal edumacation!
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Obscure tune, so the only other cover I found out about is one by fucken Soulfly… and no copy of their’s is on YouTube. Poor us, huh?
I was originally just going to include this version as the HM here, off Pantera’s 2003 greatest hits compilation (deep breath) “The best of Pantera: far beyond the great southern cowboys vulgar hits”, since a certain other Pantera Sabb cover also placed on my list (and very high up as well), but then I considered the other version I had in mind, and just couldn’t do it; that sweet, thick, Southern-fried guitar tone, Rex’s groovy bass lines, Phil’s strongly effective vocals, Dimebag’s (obligatory R.I.P.) classic soloing… I just can’t give a fuck that it doesn’t change much from the original. Dammit, Pantera’s the reason I got into metal in the first fucken place!!! So fuck it, or something, cuz I dig this one.
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Brutality’s version off 1994’s “When the sky turns black” doesn’t do anything unexpected, just harshens up the vocals & production, and makes the “speed-up” section in the middle somewhat faster, but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless. Still, no way is this one going in place of Pantera’s, whether they show up twice here or otherwise.
“Wait… what’s that say in parenthesis? From a satanic perspective?? Does that mean what I think it doe-” -oh yes, my lost, confused reader; Type O actually rewrote the lyrics of “Black sabbath” for their 2000 “Least worst of” compilation, to be from the perspective of Lucifer himself. Check it out: “Who is she that kneels so respectfully before me/A virgin of snow white purity/Do not fear my fortunate one/Let us consummate our igneous union”. Fucken METAL. Sure, Sabbath actually wasn’t into that sort of thing (everyone just assumed they were), but hey, the genre they birthed is (if mostly just for the sake of keeping up appearances), and they did talk about Satan in their lyrics, so it still makes perfect sense.
Anyway, while TON’s cover does lack the original’s classic rain, thunder, ‘n bells intro, and crawls along at the same basic tempo (a prob for me with Sabb’s version), Type O still makes this one more interesting with their awesomely fuzzed-out guitar tone, wonderfully creepy, atmospheric effects, great use of Pete Steele’s iconic baritone as the voice of Lucifer, refreshing appearances from a back-up chorus and a big keyboard solo, and good execution of the fast outro, showing off their versatility, that all cements this entry as the most sheerly creative of the entire list. Good fucken work.
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Funny thing, I had originally put in a full write-up for Vader’s version here, off their 1996 “Future of the past” covers comp, and was going to put Type O in as the runner-up, but then I went and actually listened to the latter, and the rest is history. Vader’s version is still fun, and while doesn’t have nearly as much atmosphere to it, it does still have some crushing, Poldeath riffing & production. They do kinda fuck this up by cramming in a half-cover of the much lighter “Behind the wall of sleep” at the end, which kills the mood (and why the hell cover only half of a song anyway?), but just stop before that and you’ll be fine.
I never gave much of a fuck about Orange Goblin before now, but judging from this B-side off their 1997 “Nuclear guru” single, I may just have to check out their older material someday; while this one isn’t that much different from the original, with a similar sort of tempo, production, and even a singer that sounds kind of close to the Ozzman himself, it still excels though its stronger, more noticeable drum production, a more energetic “speed-up” section, slightly less truncated sounding riffing in one part, some solo-playing that sounds different, and… well, that’s basically it as far as major deviations go. Still worth seeking out though, as it does capture the appeal of the original very well, with its authentically retro production, and especially in the the way it retains that wonderfully eerie intro with the iconic bass line. If it ain’t broke (much), why fix it (much), right? Now go listen.
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Isis did one for their 2000 “Sawblade EP”, with some absolutely killer, booming percussion, but that weird, wavering guitar sound and those Marilyn Manson-wannabe vocals hold it back. Feel free to ignore Slayer’s version.
I have to admire Sabbath for trying out a hippie-ish ballad like this amongst all the heavy shit, and I actually do kind of enjoy the original version this time. However, I still have to go with Ulver’s cover, off of 07’s “Shadows of the sun”, as being the better version; the guitarwork is a bit clearer, there’s some more atmospheric effects, and the flute(!) flourishes are more invigorating, but the real reason why this cover wins the 3 spot here is Garm’s voice… that seductive fucken voice. So smooth, so rich, so deep… srsly, if this dude leaned over to me at a bar and whispered in my ear (doesn’t have to say something sexy, just anything at all), I’m not sure I wouldn’t instantly drop trou and start playing for the other team right then and there. His singing is THAT fucken good. So yeah, I guess I just learned something new about myself here…
Other notable version (‘sides the original): Cathedral and Candlemass both covered this, but I ain’t linking either of ‘em cuz neither are very memorable; METAL BLASPHEMY!
Another Sabbath ballad?? What the hell’s going on here! I dunno, but it seems certain bands did really good jobs with the First Metal Band ever’s softer songs; oh irony of ironies? But anyway, unlike “Solitude”, I actually don’t really like the original version of “Planet caravan”; sure, I like those bongos , and again, I respect Sabbath for doing a soft song, but the underwater effect they gave Ozzy’s voice really distracts me. Fortunately, not only does Pantera’s version have much clearer, beautiful clean guitar, as well as retaining those cool bongos, but it has Phil singing free of any distortions at all, allowing the natural beauty of the track to simply, finally shine through on its own. And sure, while ‘tera did get defensive over its inclusion in the liner notes on “Far beyond driven”, considering it was the only ballad on their heaviest record, such a preemptive reaction is understandable. Fuck all the hatahs then, I say it works perfectly as a cool-down at the end of a pretty extreme record. Now, onto #1…
Other notable version (‘sides the original): None such here; onto #1 I said, dammit!
It’s a double whammy that gets this cover up on the #1 spot; not only do I absolutely love the newer version (off 97’s rarities comp “Blood-rooted”), but I also really don’t like the original; I do like the strong energy of it and Bill’s drumming a lot, but I don’t like the guitar production, and I absolutely hate Ozzy’s caterwailing. Just one of the absolute worst performances I’ve heard from him in Sabb, and it gives me a fucken migraine. Be quiet already, for fuck’s sake man!
Fortunately, while Max Cavalera isn’t really an impressive singer, he’s still more preferable to the Ozzman, and besides that, the guitar sound here is sweet, there’s more energy, and most important, Igor’s drumming is simply off-the-motherfucken-charts here. Goes to 11, is one of my fave drum performances on a single song, and all that jazz. Speaking of which, the soft, groovy, jazzy outro here is simply wonderful, and you actually get to fully enjoy it, free of any vocals getting in the way (unlike the original). While this one is another version that succeeds a bit more due to the imprint of the original, rather than what the newer band added (though Sep does add a good deal here), in the end, when it comes to sheer entertainment value, there isn’t any other Ozzy-Sabb cover I have more fun with. Very well-earned #1, chaps.
Other notable version (‘sides the original): While I never got into the band’s original works, Helmet still did an okay version of their own once; the vocals are rather inadequate, but it’s still interesting to hear how crazy this one gets near the end, and the drumming’s still cool, and unique from either Sabb or Sep’s version, so again, this one’s fine.