It takes a great many talents to become the biggest metal band in the world. Of course, you need to tour relentlessly and write a shit-ton of top-notch originals but, as Metallica have demonstrated, you also need to bust out some killer covers.
The Four Horsemen have released 40 reinterpretations over their four-decade-plus career (not counting stuff they’ve only done in front of a live audience). So, here are all of those reimaginings stacked in order of brilliance, from Black Sabbath and Motörhead to the Ramones and Nick Cave.
40. The Money Will Roll Right In (Fang cover; Master Of Puppets expanded edition, 2017)
It’s probably blasphemous to put anything off Master Of Puppets at the bottom of a ranking list. However, this Fang cover is an unfinished and instrumental recording that didn’t come out until the album’s 2017 deluxe edition. For completists only.
39. We’re A Happy Family (Ramones cover; St Anger b-side, 2003)
For reasons known only to themselves, Metallica crammed the b-side of the St Anger single with Ramones covers. None of them are particularly excellent but, with its incoherent slurring from James Hetfield, We’re A Happy Family is easily the worst.
38. Cretin Hop (Ramones cover; St Anger b-side, 2003)
Cretin Hop is marginally better than We’re A Happy Family by virtue of the band actually sounding awake on this one. However, it still can’t touch the endearing spirit of the Ramones, and feels boring and monotonous even with a tiny two-minute run-time.
37. Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue (Ramones cover; St Anger b-side, 2003)
Lacking the force of other punk covers like So What! and the pure fun of the Ramones themselves, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue just sounds petulant. At least there are some slightly more interesting guitar theatrics on this St Anger b-side, though.
36. The Ecstasy Of Gold (Ennio Morricone cover; We All Love Ennio Morricone, 2007)
One of Metallica’s more daring covers saw them tackle the symphonic introduction to their own gigs. While we applaud the ambition, that atonal Kirk Hammett solo at the start and James Hetfield’s acapella “Yeah-eh!”’s aren’t as awe-inspiring as the band think.
35. Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World (Ramones cover; St Anger b-side, 2003)
There’s nothing offensive about Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World, per se (at least musically – its lyrics reference Nazis). That said, one of metal’s biggest and best bands sound like some garden-variety pub performers here, so it’s still not worth hearing.
34. Commando (Ramones cover; St Anger b-side, 2003)
The best St Anger Ramones cover (take that as you will), Commando at least sounds like it has some fire in its belly, rampaging along while James Hetfield howls about warfare. It still lacks the charisma of the original, though.
33. You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover; See My Friends, 2010)
This cover of The Kinks’ most immortal song sounds like it was made by AI. The music hasn’t been transformed at all, while James Hetfield nears self-parody with his plethora of hardy “Yeah!”’s. Not even Kinks singer Ray Davies salvages this one.
32. The Wait (Killing Joke cover; The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, 1987)
The Wait is a classic in both post-punk and industrial rock, but a balls-out heavy metal upgrade could have been doable. The fact that Metallica held back and tried to imitate Jaz Coleman’s vocal production, then, actually makes this a disappointing adaptation.
31. Helpless (Diamond Head cover; The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, 1987)
Metallica’s second Diamond Head cover wouldn’t amass the same prestige as their first, Am I Evil?, and you can hear why. This speedy and scrappy cut doesn’t carry much melody or grandeur, sounding like something the Californians outgrew post-Kill ’Em All.
30. Sabbra Cadabra (Black Sabbath cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
The biggest hallmarks of Black Sabbath are their doomy pace, Tony Iommi’s all-consuming guitar sound and Ozzy Osbourne’s distorted vocals. Metallica’s take on Sabbra Cadabra inherently strips away all three, leaving behind a fairly standard stretch of old-school heavy metal.
29. 53rd & 3rd (Ramones cover; We’re A Happy Family: A Tribute To Ramones, 2003)
This is… fine. Metallica’s addition to 2003 Ramones tribute album We’re A Happy Family has a fun hook that puts the band’s backing vocals unusually near to the forefront. But, beyond that, 53rd & 3rd is a pretty by-the-books punk stomper.
28. Mercyful Fate medley (Mercyful Fate cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
This series of Mercyful Fate covers (Satan’s Fall, Curse Of The Pharaohs, A Corpse Without Soul, Into The Coven and Evil) deftly honours the riffy majesty of King Diamond and his subjects. However – as a single, 11-minute medley – it’s just too long.
27. Blitzkrieg (Blitzkrieg cover; Creeping Death b-side, 1984)
Blitzkrieg’s self-titled single is a barrelling proto-thrasher, but it also doesn’t leave a cover with much space to innovate on top. Metallica’s go is pretty meat-and-potatoes metal as a result: although it’s a fine listen, it doesn’t demonstrate why they’re so special.
26. Killing Time (Sweet Savage cover; The Unforgiven b-side, 1991)
Contrasting with the enormous, evocative tones of The Unforgiven is this no-frills speed metal attack on the single’s b-side. The pair certainly form a bizarre tandem, but the snarling chorus and unabashed thrash riff make this an above-average aural onslaught.
25. Damage Case (Motörhead cover; Hero Of The Day b-side, 1996)
Metallica performed several Motörhead covers for Lemmy’s 50th birthday in 1995, and rehearsals of four of those songs form Hero Of The Day’s b-side. All of them rule, with Damage Case only coming last due to a clunky-sounding verse riff.
24. Crash Course In Brain Surgery (Budgie cover; The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, 1987)
Jason Newsted got a rare chance to shine with this bass-heavy Budgie song, and boy did he relish it. Crash Course… is chunky and, with those off-kilter proto-metal guitars, pretty damn distinct. Like Budgie themselves, this cover’s oft-overlooked yet solid.
23. Free Speech For The Dumb (Discharge cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
This discordant and shouting Discharge redo opened Garage Inc. by bringing Metallica back to what so many wanted them to be: a snot-nosed, obnoxious, extreme metal band. As a two-minute hardcore cover, it’s pretty one-note, but that note is satisfyingly savage.
22. The Prince (Diamond Head cover; Harvester Of Sorrow b-side, 1988)
In 1988, Metallica revved this Diamond Head classic up to a galloping thrash metal pace and it made perfect sense. The intricate chugs are testament to James Hetfield’s talents, while his screaming of “Time to die!” is undisputedly metal as hell.
21. Would? (Alice In Chains cover; 2020)
Amidst the COVID-19 lockdowns, Metallica retreated to their home studios and covered Alice In Chains. Their Would? doesn’t touch the sorrow and vulnerability of the original (who can?), but it offers a fresh and higher-pitched vocal performance from James Hetfield.
20. Stone Dead Forever (Motörhead cover; Hero Of The Day b-side, 1996)
Jason Newsted’s bass tone on this Motörhead tribute is the stuff rock ’n’ roll godhood is made of. Combine it with James Hetfield’s authoritative barks of “Stone dead… forever!” and you get a redo we’re sure Lemmy approved of.
19. Loverman (Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
Tackling Nick Cave was one of Metallica’s riskier cover choices. However, in their hands, Loverman turns from ranting post-punk to a dynamic piece that rises from country crooning to massive metal crescendos. James Hetfield also offers a powerfully diverse vocal performance.
18. Too Late Too Late (Motörhead cover; Hero Of The Day b-side, 1996)
Have Metallica ever been described as “sleek” before? If not, we’re about to set a benchmark, because that’s exactly what the crisp yet sordid-sounding riff on their Too Late Too Late cover is. The raw, rehearsal-room recording only reaffirms the hard-rockin’ verve.
17. It’s Electric (Diamond Head cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
This cover of Metallica’s biggest New Wave Of British Heavy Metal idols has a satisfying dance-rock swagger throughout. Meanwhile, James Hetfield flaunts his rockstar charisma as he howls about making millions and touring the world. It’s no Am I Evil?, but it’s overflowing with character.
16. Breadfan (Budgie cover; Harvester Of Sorrow b-side, 1988)
With its bold riff changes and slicing guitar solos, Breadfan was perfectly placed on the b-side of an …And Justice For All single. The Budgie cover’s since graced numerous Metallica setlists (including the Seattle 1989 show), making it a cult favourite.
15. The More I See (Discharge cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
Garage Inc. ends as it began: with a Discharge cover. The More I See is a jolt of adrenaline after the more evocative Tuesday’s Gone, thrusting James back to his fire-spewing “Papa Het” mode while he and Kirk bludgeon on twin rhythm guitar.
14. When A Blind Man Cries (Deep Purple cover; Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head, 2012)
Metallica’s take on When A Blind Man Cries is equally solemn and classy. James Hetfield’s voice carries the evocative weight of the Deep Purple classic excellently, then that emotion gets hammered home by Kirk Hammett’s solos. A late-in-the-game triumph for the band.
13. Stone Cold Crazy (Queen cover; Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary, 1990)
Of course thrash metal’s biggest band had to cover the first thrash metal song. Stone Cold Crazy sounds even more snot-nosed and rowdy in Metallica’s hands, and Queen must have been impressed, since they and James Hetfield played it live.
12. Tuesday’s Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
In a rare moment of collaboration, Metallica invited Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, Primus’ Les Claypool, Corrosion Of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan and more to guest on their Tuesday’s Gone cover. The result is a gigantic and lavish-sounding country rock ballad.
11. Astronomy (Blue Öyster Cult cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
Metallica turned this ’70s classic into a slower and spacier cut, but also intensified its proto-metal stomp. Those chanting “Hey! Hey, hey!”’s are even harder to ignore when James Hetfield’s barking them, and the guitar leads fit Kirk Hammett’s style seamlessly.
10. Remember Tomorrow (Iron Maiden cover; Maiden Heaven – A Tribute To Iron Maiden, 2008)
Every Metallica member shines on this Iron Maiden cover, from James Hetfield’s solemn vocals to Lars Ulrich’s tasteful drumming. Those twin-guitar harmonies and sturdy metal refrains also offered prime chances for the band to flaunt their greatest strengths. They capitalised fully.
9. Ronnie Rising medley (Rainbow cover; Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life, 2014)
Unlike Metallica’s Mercyful Fate medley, this mashup of Rainbow anthems doesn’t overstay its welcome. Maybe it’s the excitement of hearing the metal stars tackle Stargazer or the faithfulness of their performance, but this four-song Ronnie James Dio tribute remains compelling throughout.
8. The Small Hours (Holocaust cover; The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, 1987)
This stab at Scotland’s NWOBHM underdogs, Holocaust, pushed Metallica to new territory: it sounds legitimately scary. The jangling guitars and creeping pace are surprisingly disquieting, before Papa Het declares, “I am the chill that’s in the air.”
7. Last Caress/Green Hell (Misfits cover; The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited, 1987)
Last Caress earned its place as a classic cover the second it got Metallica banned from MTV. On its own merits, though, it and Green Hell still form a catchy yet riotous anthem, perfectly fitting the muscularity of James Hetfield’s vocals.
6. Overkill (Motörhead cover; Hero Of The Day b-side, 1996)
Overkill is a bona fide heavy metal classic no matter who’s playing it. Metallica didn’t reinvent the Motörhead hit with their in-the-rehearsal-room cover, but its sheer, unapologetic attitude still bursts from their amplifiers all the same. Pure, insubordinate thunder!
5. Whiskey In The Jar (traditional/Thin Lizzy cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
Metallica’s Whiskey In The Jar has far exceeded the reach of Thin Lizzy’s (just compare those streaming numbers!), and we get it. This cover’s a tight and melodic heavy metal anthem with danceable drumming and a slick-as-hell lead guitar line.
4. So What! (Anti-Nowhere League cover; Sad But True b-side, 1993)
There’s something so fitting about a voice as harsh as James Hetfield’s singing about the most evil things a person can do. Thanks to some, let’s say, “controversial” performances over the years, So What! is entrenched forever in Metallica’s legacy.
3. Die, Die My Darling (Misfits cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
Die, Die My Darling contains the best bits of both Metallica and Misfits. The original’s infectious punk bent not only remains – it gets amplified by James Hetfield’s attention-demanding snarls and Lars Ulrich’s impactful drumming. One of the band’s finest reinterpretations.
2. Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover; Creeping Death b-side, 1984)
Metallica have carried Am I Evil? with them for longer than most of their originals. Since appearing on the Creeping Death single, it’s become a live mainstay and fan favourite. The fact the royalties have basically sustained Diamond Head’s career only makes it better.
1. Turn The Page (Bob Seger cover; Garage Inc., 1998)
It’s testament to the might of Metallica that they can improve a classic song by one of America’s great songwriters. The Four Horsemen’s Turn The Page is just as dusty and emotional as Bob Seger’s, except with an added rock ’n’ roll urgency. Perfect, transformative and powerful.