If you’ve been following my blog you’ll have seen my post a few weeks ago marking the 30th anniversary of Metallica’s landmark self titled album, aka The Black Album – for some reason the Bay Area thrash titans have chosen to wait until September 10th to officially mark this birthday, but boy have they’ve gone all out, with not just a multi-format reissue of the album with a tonne of extras but also this, a rather unique official and endorsed tribute compilation, The Metallica Blacklist.
Never ones to do things by halves or spot a potentially bad idea in the making, particularly in recent years (see Lulu for ultimate proof), The Blacklist is about as ridiculous as they come with 53 tracks by 53 different artists (or combinations of artists) across more than four hours and four discs, each covering one of the 12 tracks on the record in their own way.
So we get one of one or two versions of some of the ‘lesser’ tracks up to 12 different takes on Nothing Else Matters, and if you chose to listen in sequential order on streaming services (or on the physical discs which drop next month) this means you get the slightly odd experience of multiple versions of the same song back to back (to back).
As you might expect there are points where this all becomes a bit overwhelming and, it’s fair to say, some of the tracks work a lot better than others but honestly there are no wholly bad things on here, which I’ll admit the sceptic in me is rather surprised about.
How to tackle this for a review? I guess I’ll focus on a few highlights in the order they appear as with this much music I can’t really go into detail of all of them.
Enter Sandman of course starts things off and we get six versions of this.
I had been looking forward to Ghost’s take on the song, being a fan of the band, but their brand of pop opera metal doesn’t quite marry up with the song here, however Weezer’s far more pop-rock take works a treat and as does a version by Colombian artist Juanes that is weirdly angular but brings his own thing to the track.
Sad But True is next and, while a live almost acoustic version from Sam Fender starts off interestingly it ultimately doesn’t quite live up to that and Royal Blood have a decent but unremarkable go, it’s a pair of rather different versions that are the highlights.
White Reaper provide a slightly fuzzy but fresh metal take on it while St Vincent gives us an almost electronic pop take, but with suitably heavy overtones.
Biffy Clyro have a decent run at Holier Than Thou but it’s Aussie garage punks The Chats who add a really nice snotty edge to the track while Slipknot’s Corey Taylor updates the metal while throwing in a coda of Whiplash that has got me wanting to hear him tackle that too.
Then we get The Unforgiven, seven versions of it in fact, and, while I’m a big fan of the original and, like the others tracks here they range in style, genre and influences greatly, none of these versions stood out at all I’m afraid to say.
The four versions of Wherever I May Roam then give us some more great variety with Chase & Status making something of a surprise (even by the standards here) appearance but the highlight of these comes more in the form of a remix than a cover as The Neptunes, aka Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, give the track a surprisingly effective dance-style remix.
While it was a personal favourite when I was first discovering Metallica, Don’t Tread On Me really is, in all honesty, one of the most underwhelming tracks on the original album and possibly the band’s whole back catalogue.
With that in mind it’s nice to hear Volbeat giving it a suitably rocking run with a nice swing in the verses and a kind of synth effect in the chorus that keeps the metal but gives it a whole new arrangement.
SebastiAn then brings the funk with a version with a bass line that would have fit on a Michael Jackson record before segueing into Nothing Else Matters!
We then get only two versions of Through The Never but one of them is maybe the most interesting track on the whole record, at least within the heavy metal style covers, as it comes from Mongolian folk metallers (who knew that was a thing) The HU and is, at least partially, translated into their own language with a genuinely unique sound.
And then comes, almost looming ahead, those 12 versions of Nothing Else Matters.
Being one of Metallica’s more accessible and ‘mainstream’ songs it’s probably no surprise that there are more takes on this and also that more of them seem to be successful, one of which was probably the most promoted from album, the nearest it came to a single, featuring Miley Cyrus, Elton John, Yo-yo Mah and Chad Smith along with Metallica’s own Robert Trujillo, that adds a surprisingly epic country pop feel to the song with Cyrus really showing a different side to her more famous sound.
Elsewhere Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan takes things in a dark and synthy direction as you might expect, but it works really well, while PG Roxette, a re-forming, in a sense, of the 80s Swedish pop rockers, take it in that direction and Darius Rucker and Chris Stapleton both add their own particularly country flavour to the song.
Goodnight, Texas then gives us the only cover of Of Wolf And Man with a haunting folk-ish version of one of the original record’s bigger thrashers.
One track on here I had particularly been looking forward to was IDLES take on The God That Failed but unfortunately the Bristolian’s indie punk aesthetic doesn’t really work in this instance, however and unlikely version by Irish rockabilly queen Imelda May really does.
All three versions of My Friend Of Misery provide something worth listening. The first two are most successful with Cherry Glazer taking it in an angular, quasi pop direction and Izïa providing a fairly straightforward rock take.
Meanwhile Kamasi Washington throws a whole load of jazz sounds in making for something unique on the record, if not entirely successful.
And then they save possibly the best to last with acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriella’s take on The Struggle Within, which is quite simply hugely impressive and I’d love to hear more of them covering these kind of songs.
While, as said, The Metallica Blacklist is a mixed bag some of the highlights really are terrific and there is nothing truly bad here.
It does highlight, somewhat, which of the songs are most digestible in a broader sense with Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters clearly the most popular but, most satisfyingly, what The Blacklist has done is introduce me to a few artists I now wish to explore further while giving me something of a new appreciation for others so, while I’m not likely to listen to all of it ever again in full, it had been a fascinating listen this once.