The Nine Circles ov… Cover Songs (Part I)

In an act of ultimate blasphemy, I’m gonna quote the Bible here on Nine Circles real quick: “there is nothing new under the sun.” In a way, it’s a shitty admission. As appreciators, and especially as artists, we want to believe there’s always something new out there waiting to be discovered. We want to find it, capture it, channel it into something that’s ours. If you believe there’s nothing new under the sun, that every original artistic impulse has already been conceived and acted out, then you cede that impulse to your creative forebears. But can that idea not be freeing? If everything worth imagining has already been imagined, then the burden comes off of you to blaze any new trails. You’re free to reinterpret, to reimagine, to outright fucking steal the shit that came before you. And what’s interesting about this notion (or depressing, or really awesome, depending on your viewpoint) is that it sells. We can be sly about this. We can write books that we call “bold retellings” of works written centuries ago. We can be overt about it. We, as Hollywood producers, can say, “What if we just did Die Hard, but in the White House? Or London?” We can say, “this made a lot of money as a comic. Let’s make it a movie.” And that’s the prevailing atmosphere in popular commercial art now.

Everything is a reboot. Everything is a copy of a copy. Some people don’t like it, some people love it, some people don’t seem to notice at all. You can choose to see it as theft or you can choose to see it as homage. And that’s part of why I like cover songs… it’s a little bit of both. On the Olympus Has Fallen movie posters, they couldn’t write in parentheses next to the title, “Originally Die Hard.” When a new Spider-Man movie eventually comes out, it won’t say, “Reboot of an Aborted Reboot Franchise of a Successful Trilogy.” But with covers, we can do that. In fact, it’s part of the drill. Not only can bands show their influences and take pride in their roots by covering the artists that shaped them, they’re also allowed to put their own creative signature on the music that inspired them to create in the first place. And through this process, we, as listeners, can discover something new about both bands… get a little bit of insight. And that’s more than I can say about Amazing Spider-Man 2.

I’m not gonna tell you the well’s run dry; you’re free to make that choice on your own. While you mull it over, here are some of my favorite heavy reinterpretations to spin in the background.

“Wolverine Blues” – Converge (covering Entombed)

The title track from Entombed’s Wolverine Blues is probably my favorite song off of it. Maybe my all-time favorite Entombed song… maybe. So when I found out Converge’s 2012 split 7-inch with Napalm Death would feature the band covering it, I was stoked… and, dammit, you should be, too. In addition to the savagery of Converge’s execution and “We Are The World”-style group jam featuring members of At The Gates, Trap Them (two of my favorites) and more, Converge guitarist and God City Studios producer Kurt Ballou finally got to truly emulate the band he’s been making other bands sound like for his entire engineering career. That last sentence, by the way, is highest praise. Napalm Death’s side of this single is sweet, too. Track this down.

“Dream Weaver” – Crowbar (covering Gary Wright)

The odds of this working are so low it’s ridiculous. Granted, the original song came about before my time, but it’s hard to not hear that thing on a classic rock station at least once a day. And, as a kid, it was everywhere. It’s a weird, spacey, sappy song that kinda sounds like what I’d expect to hear coming out of the speakers if the creepy guy who taught my eighth-grade Career Orientation class brought a woman back to his “pad” to “knock boots.” But leave it to Crowbar. These dudes took the backbone of the original and turned it into a deep, mucky sludge riff that pops so hard in concert with Kirk Windstein’s unbelievable vocals. This can’t be an easy song to sing; those notes are high, son. But Kirk nails it, and the whole thing pans out beautifully. This is the last track from Equilibrium (not counting that fucking unlistenable a cappella cover of “Inna Gadda Da Vida”), the album I think is probably Crowbar’s most overlooked.

“In The Meantime” – Pig Destroyer (covering Helmet)

All the clunk of the original, all the sloppy mania of Pig Destroyer. The band is pretty respectful of the Helmet format, opting not to tweak much. But, like Helmet, Pig Destroyer’s sound is so immediately identifiable that there’s no mistaking who’s playing here. The biggest difference is in the vocals. Where Paige Hamilton’s more of a straight-on delivery kinda guy, Pig Destroyer’s JR Hayes is just fuckin’ unruly. Most of the song, like the majority of Hayes’s other work, sounds like he’s alternating holding the mic at different distances from his face while he screams through the side of his mouth. It’s unsettling, and that’s part of what makes it awesome. Get this one on Pig Destroyer’s compilation album, Painter of Dead Girls.

“Search and Destroy” – Cursed (covering Iggy and The Stooges)

Cursed left us too soon. The band’s three albums and one EP encapsulate an incomparable legacy in metal and hardcore, setting high water marks for intensity, songwriting caliber, lyrical content, ethos and sound production. This cover appeared on the b-side of the band’s “Hell Comes Home” single. It totally captures the recklessness of Iggy and the Stooges while maintaining the brash execution for which Cursed became so well known and well loved. Interestingly enough, the combination of Cursed and The Stooges is a great way to describe aspects of Cursed singer Chris Colohan’s current band, Burning Love.

“Procreation (Of The Wicked) – Sepultura (covering Celtic Frost)

I grew up in the sticks and didn’t have any cool people to tell me about Tom G. Warrior. But I did have people to tell me about Sepultura, and that’s how I was first introduced to Celtic Frost. Sepultura’s cover of “Procreation (Of The Wicked)” is amazing because it’s so faithful to the original, but so seamlessly incorporated into the band’s style around the Chaos A.D. and Roots albums. I got this in 1997 on the Roadrunner cash-grab compilation, Blood-Rooted. It wasn’t until years later after I got to college, sometime in 2002, that I first picked up a copy of Morbid Tales and had a whole new door opened to me. A shitload of bands cover Celtic Frost, and I think part of that is because their sound during this era is such a vital precursor to what extreme metal would become, while at the same time lending itself very naturally to interpretation.

“Terrible Lie” – Thou and The Body (covering Nine Inch Nails)

I don’t like Pretty Hate Machine. I was into Nine Inch Nails in high school, and after being introduced to them with The Downward Spiral and falling in love with them with The Fragile, I worked my way back through the older material only to find myself only being able to go as far back as Broken. But I do dig this version of “Terrible Lie,” produced by the collaboration of sludge proliferators Thou and The Body, titled You, Whom I Have Always Hated. While the original doesn’t appeal to me, the live version from 2002’s And All That Could Have Been was ruthless. This cover features the same frenzy of Nine Inch Nails in a live setting with a full band, and it’s also flavored with the tortured delivery of some of today’s most sadistic black/doom/sludge.

“Night of The Vampire” – Entombed (covering Roky Erickson)

I had no exposure whatsoever to this song prior to hearing Entombed’s version of it, and to this day, I’ve still never tracked down the Roky Erickson original. Honestly, I don’t feel like I need to. Part of their post-Left Hand Path/Clandestine metamorphosis involved the injection of their formula with this swagger (it’s okay to use that word again, right?) that gave the songs a kind of “who gives a shit,” shoot-from-the-hip spontaneity. That spirit, most evident for me on To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak The Truth!, is alive and well in “Night of The Vampire.” Keep this one around for next Halloween. You can probably most easily track it down on Entombed’s self-titled compilation CD.

“Fancy” – He Is Legend (covering Reba McEntire, covering Bobbie Gentry)

He Is Legend could probably cover an Oceano song and make it listenable. Don’t think about it, don’t ask questions. Just track this down and enjoy. “Fancy” appears on He Is Legend’s split with Classic Case, Black Unicorn.

“No Ordinary Love” – Deftones (covering Sade)

Deftones could probably cover an Oceano song and make it listenable. I picked up the import single of “Change” back when small-towns not only had music stores, but when music stores had import sections. Deftones’ ability to write intense music that’s undeniably sexy and uncompromisingly unconventional translates beautifully into pretty much every cover they attempt, from Cocteau Twins to Lynyrd fuckin’ Skynyrd. I knew I wanted to include them on this list, and after much debate, it came down to either this song or Duran Duran’s “The Chauffer.” I think I made the right choice. This time. In addition to the import single, “No Ordinary Love” can also be found on B-Sides and Rarities.

We’re probably gonna have to make a series of this. There are so many killer versions of bands giving their personal treatment to the members’ most influential songs. Having said that, it’s worth noting that for every “Dream Weaver,” there’s a fucking god-awful hate crime performed on a classic song nobody should’ve ever fucked with (a metalcore cover of NIN’s “Hurt” comes to mind). Maybe we’ll have to take some time to catch up with the shitty ones, too, eventually. For now, enjoy these fine cuts. Wash them down with some of mama’s pecan pie, and give thanks this week for music that moves.

-Schuler Benson

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