They may have arrived on the scene in the 80s as one of the four horsemen of thrash metal—kin to such cuddly acts as Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer—but believe or not, Metallica had some serious crossover appeal from the start. Granted, that appeal was limited to a small subset of punks and skaters who came to appreciate metal thanks to Metallica’s covers of horror-punks The Misfits on their 1987 Garage Days Revisited EP. Nonetheless, it showed that the band always had a sense of humor and an appreciation for other—albeit very closely-related—genres.
Since then, Metallica has grown up, sometimes awkwardly. We watched them do it with the help of a therapist in the 2003 documentary Some Kind of Monster. We listened to their grown-up angst on that bummer of an album, St. Anger. That year, they also took on a fourth member, bassist Robert Trujillo, whose extra-genre affinities are broad and deep—from his love for Motown, funk, and the athletic fusion of Jaco Pastorius to his dabbling in flamenco. The band may have returned to their thrash roots with 2008’s Death Magnetic and this year’s Hardwired... to Self-Destruct, but they’ll likely take a few more weird excursions (like their puzzling 2011 collaboration with Lou Reed) in coming years.
And yes, they gained a reputation as being stingy with their catalog during that whole Napster dust-up. But as you can hear James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett discuss in a recent Nerdist podcast (stream it at the bottom of this post), their “creative restlessness” has made them very appreciative of what other artists have done with their music, stretching it into alien genres and unexpected instrumentation and arrangements.
In his self-deprecating way, Hetfield confesses, “there’s a lot of better versions of ‘Nothing Else Matters’ than ours.” Hammett agrees, and here you’ll find most of those they mention—from Scott D. Davis on solo piano at the top of the post, to a choir at Santiago de Compostela with their Gregorian Chant version below it, and, just above, Finnish cello ensemble Apocalyptica.
It may not be many people’s favorite Metallica song, but I think the vast range of worthy interpretations speaks to the strengths of its composition. “Nothing Else Matters” has even translated to bluegrass, thanks to Finnish pickers Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, who specialize in such tongue-in-cheek country metal covers. And Hetfield and Hammett both mention with awe Macy Gray’s smoky lounge-jazz cover, below. “That’s an honor,” says Hetfield, “that is a huge compliment, when someone takes your song and legitimately does it their style.... It’s really cool to think that the song is that good it can work in any different genre.”
Indeed. Have a listen to SHEL’s haunting cover of another Metallica dirge, “Enter Sandman” or Stary Olsa’s riff on the mostly dirge-like “One.” And it doesn’t only work with the slow tunes either. Just check out this killer banjo version of “Master of Puppets.”
Hear Metallica talk cover versions (around 50:00), the joys and woes of still touring after all these years, and more at the Nerdist podcast just above.