10 genius Black Sabbath covers that are (almost) as good as the originals

(Image credit: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Any band worth their salt has cranked out a Sabbath cover at soundcheck or in the sweaty confines of a rehearsal room. Some bands didn’t stop there though, as these 10 brilliant covers will testify…

Suck – War Pigs 

Recorded in 1970, this is the first cover of the Sabs’ protest classic later tackled by Faith No More, Sacred Reich, Foo Fighters, Bathory, The Acacia Strain and Flaming Lips. South African proto-punk headbangers Suck only existed for eight months, but they managed to bang out one wild and raw LP of well-chosen heavy rock covers. Their vicious jam of War Pigs zeroes into the song’s dark heart, and the singer’s chanting of the outro riff later become an audience participation staple wherever the song is played.

Sepultura – Symptom Of The Universe 

The Seps were an unstoppable force in the prime of their lives when they cranked out their definitive blunt thrash take on this machine-gun-riffed classic, a deeply satisfying showcase for the tom-roll capabilities of Igor Cavalera. With their feverish take on Motorhead’s Orgasmatron and their sludgy stomp through Celtic Frost’s Procreation Of The Wicked, the young Brazilians seemed to make a habit of totally nailing well-chosen covers.

Godflesh – Zero The Hero 

Typical: you wait ages for a cover of Zero The Hero then two come along at once. In 1992 Cannibal Corpse also dug up and molested the corpse of this Gillan-era riff monster for their Hammer Smashed Face EP, but Godflesh did the most persuasive job of making it their own; unsurprising, since they hail from the same bleak industrial Birmingham milieu as the Sabs. Justin Broadrick drew out the cold, mechanical sheet-metal crawl from Iommi’s riff, burying the chorus in reverb and feedback, shrouding the song in black clouds and Stalinist concrete.

Pantera – Planet Caravan 

There’s no shortage of Pantera Sabbath tributes; they cranked out creditable covers of Hole In The Sky and Electric Funeral, both among the heaviest of Sabbath’s early metal. But it’s this winsome and hushed astral jam that takes the crown, an unexpected choice of single for the band in 1994, and a welcome breather from the aggro extremity dominating Far Beyond Driven. Planet Caravan’s quirky, mellow, blissed-out vibe was particularly effective live, especially when it wrong-footed and annoyed the psyched-up skinheads in the pit.

The Cardigans – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

There are ripping versions by metallic bruisers Anthrax, Amon Amarth and Today Is The Day, but with the cutesy breathy vocals, the subtle, crafty rearrangement and the summery burbling vibraphone, Swedish pop sensation The Cardigans . It’s a shame Nina wimps out of the “You bastard!” bit, but this is no ironic novelty choice; The Cardigans went on to do an equally triumphant rendition of Iron Man and a quirky a cappella Mr Crowley, so their devotion to Ozzy is sincere and without question.

Type O Negative – Black Sabbath (From The Satanic Perspective)

It takes a band with a special kind of audacity and imagination to reinvent the most iconic foundational cornerstone of heavy metal. Step forward New York City’s much-missed sardonic goth kings, with the dark, orgiastic highlight of 1994  tribute album Nativity In Black. By the time it appeared on The Least Worst Of Type O Negative in 2000, Steele had pushed the reinvention even further, with arch new lyrics empathising with the seductive “big black shape” of Sabbath’s original.

Cave In – NIB 

Hydra Head Records assembled several excellent bands and covers for their six-part Sabbath tribute series of split seven inches, In These Black Days (although sadly, the promised CD compilation never appeared). Among worthy choice cuts by Converge, Eyehategod, Brutal Truth, Anal Cunt and Neurosis, the highlight of the project was arguably this dreamy, dissonant lollop through a truncated NIB by the Massachusetts post-hardcore alt-prog quartet, with added guitar skronk and playful choral harmonies.

Monster Magnet – Into The Void 

Taking the title and concept literally, the New Jersey space lords cut up and reassemble this mega-riffed cosmic metal epic, shooting it into orbit even before the riffs start, as Dave Wyndorf yells “There’s dinosaurs in Vietnam!” over the strange and ominous false start. The song continues to be pulled apart at the seams, riffs dismembered and stitched back together with a length of hallucinogenic acid fuzz, Wyndorf continuing to rant and gibber eerie stream-of-consciousness nonsense over alien sounds and frequencies.

Rondellus – Junior’s Eyes 

This Estonian early music ensemble quietly slipped out an album of Black Sabbath covers in 2003, arranged from the perspective that four lads in Birmingham found these songs as medieval sheet music. Familiar melodies are stripped down and warped into weird ancient shapes, against a backdrop of hurdy-gurdy, lute, fiddle and harp. Junior’s Eyes is a particularly neat and less obvious choice, its tender melancholy benefitting from the solemn and sparse re-imagining.

Charles Bradley – Changes

With lashings of down-in-the-dumps Mellotron and tinkly lounge piano, there’s always been hint of MOR schmaltz about Changes, and it was killed forever when Ozzy got his daughter Kelly in for an egregious duet in 2003. Fudge Tunnel trapped it in a torture chamber for an Earache Sabbath tribute in 1993, but it’s this smooth, bluesy soul version - recorded by late R&B singer Bradley at the sprightly age of 64 for a 2013 Record Store Day single – that really brings out the melody’s best qualities.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.