Radical Reinventions and Faithful Facsimiles of Black Sabbath Classics

by delarue

Why on earth would anyone want to hear an album of Black Sabbath covers? If you play heavy music, sure. The new Best of Black Sabbath [Redux] vinyl compilation – streaming at Bandcamp – underscores how imaginatively a good band can reinvent songs that half the world knows by heart more than it serves as a cautionary tale about musical hubris.

A handful of the covers here faithfully replicate the bludgeoning riffs, macabre chromatics and Middle Eastern allusions of the alltime foundational heavy metal band. Take Hippie Death Cult‘s Fairies Wear Boots. It’s perfect. Maybe a little extra drum roll, a little extra digital sustain on the guitars, but otherwise it could really be Sabbath. As anyone who spent their formative years learning this material will tell you, it’s deliriously fun to play. And beyond the fun this band are obviously having with it, what’s the point?

Likewise, Caustic Casanova‘s version of Wicked World is musically spot-on: they absolutely nail the long jam that quickly goes doublespeed, then quadruplespeed. The B-52s vocals are, um, original.

Other versions on the record are subtly altered. Leather Lung give Hole in the Sky a haphazard, wide-angle swing beat, screaming punk rock vocals and a hint of goofy tremolo on the big riffs. Summoner‘s lithely jagged take of A National Acrobat suggests that Tony Iommi might have been listening to P-Funk or Rare Earth before he came up with this one.

Sweet Leaf is what it is – Black Electric’s version sounds even more dense and stoned, and just as funny as the original. A great pickup group consisting of CKY’s Chad Ginsburg, Fireball Ministry guitarist James Rota and bassist Scott Reeder, and drummer Jess Margera do a no-BS take of N.I.B. with another funny moment: they put a talkbox on the bass as they fade it up.

But music that was game-changing at the time tends to reward those who dare change the game even more. Case in point: the version of The Wizard here is a revelation. Mooner completely remake it as heavy latin psychedelia with deliciously trebly bass, sultry vocals and a flute in place of Ozzy’s hyperventilating harmonica.

Similarly, Solace’s Electric Funeral has a bone-chilling, whispery, Doors/Frank Flight Band vibe fueled by tremolo organ and jangly guitar, although they can’t resist bringing in the heavy artillery here and there. Howling Giant‘s Lord of This World also has a little organ, smartly shifting textures and clever references to another Sabbath classic (which isn’t included on the album, maybe because it was covered, awfully, by Blondie).

Slowly developing their cover of Solitude out of minimalist cello-driven art-rock works hauntingly for Brume. Elephant Tree‘s decision to remake Paranoid as bizarrely atmospheric sludgecore also pays off heavily. Building their version of Sleeping Village around a hypnotically cantering, opiated groove turns out to be a big score for Saint Karloff.

Rwit is an unexpected and solid choice of cover tune; Rwake‘s practically ten-minute version has a bizarre contrast between expertly layered, understatedly menacing guitars and screamo vocals.

There are a couple of duds here. The idea to make Kristin Hersh-style dreampop out of Planet Caravan was brave, but it never rises above the level of generic. And Never Say Die is an awful song that sounds like Thin Lizzy and shouldn’t have made the cut.