10 unexpectedly brilliant metal covers of 90s pop songs

Papa Emeritus, Britney Spears, Cristina Scabbia and the Backstreet Boys
(Image credit: Papa Emeritus: press, Britney and Backstreet Boys: Getty, Cristina Scabbia: Cunene)

The 90s was a great decade for music across pretty much all genres. We could chew your ear off for hours about how awesome guitar music was in that decade, but the Golden Age of hip-hop and the rise of superstar DJs was all pretty culture-shifting, too. Even the pop music of that era, often maligned for being too reliant on a conveyor belt of cookie-cutter boybands, produced some belting songs. Some of them were so good, in fact, that even rock and metal bands couldn’t escape the charms of artists who, on paper, should have been their mortal enemies. Here are ten such examples.

Metal Hammer line break

Deftones – No Ordinary Love (Sade)

Deftones might be the band with the broadest set of influences in metal. So, we’re not totally shocked to hear them covering this gorgeous piece of new soul from legendary UK vocalist Sade Adu and her band’s 1992 album, Love Deluxe. Chino Moreno and co. play it pretty straight aside from an extra bit of crunch from guitarist Steph Carpenter, while Abe Cunningham can’t help himself from giving his drums a groovy battering. Smooth and weighty, a lovely combo.

Lacuna Coil – Enjoy The Silence (Depeche Mode)

Some songs are so good that you probably just shouldn’t touch them. The big single from Basildon synth-pop legends Depeche Mode’s 1990 album Violator is absolutely one of them. Enjoy the Silence is already perfect, so Lacuna Coil were on to a hiding to nothing when they decided to add their version to 2006’s Karmacode album. We have to give them some serious credit, then, as this is a faithfully recreated but still enjoyable cover. Cristina Scabbia’s vocals soar and there’s an industrial metal throb added which works excellently with the source material. Well played.

Bloodywood - Everybody (Backstreet's Back) (Backstreet Boys)

Indian nu metallers Bloodywood have become one of their nation's great rock breakout successes in recent years. Part of that reason is undoubtedly because they're fun as fuck - as evidenced by the raucous cover of classic Backstreet Boys banger Everybody they released in 2017. Given that Everybody has an almost-but-not-quite rock edge to it in the first place, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that this works.

Forever Never feat. Benji Webbe – Boombastic (Shaggy)

In 2010, Essex metal crew Forever Never decided to release a covers EP featuring their versions of songs by the likes of Go West and John Farnham. You do you, lads. The main talking point was the band roping in Skindred frontman Benji Webbe to front their beefed-up run through Boombastic from 90s pop-reggae scamp, Shaggy. Shockingly, it works rather well; who knew that Shaggy’s music would translate to big, riffy metal so easily? The star, though, as ever, is Benji, toasting like a true rudeboy and adding some guttural belches in typical Benji style. Truly fantastic indeed.

Bury Tomorrow - Livin' La Vida Loca (Ricky Martin)

Early in their career and before they became one of the most widely beloved metalcore bands to ever hail from the UK, south coast crew Bury Tomorrow threw together a brilliantly gauged cover of Ricky Martin's 1999 number one smash hit, Livin' La Vida Loca. Turns out all the original needed to take it to the next level was some breakdowns. Solid work, chaps! 

Ghost – Waiting For The Night (Depeche Mode)

Another crack at a song from Depeche Mode’s Violator album, this time with everyone’s favourite spooky Swedish superstars having a go on their If You Have Ghosts EP from 2013. Ghost have a history of nailing covers, and this arguably works even better than Lacuna Coil’s effort, with the band picking a song that is much more of a deep cut from the album and transforming it from a quiet, ambient-electronic duet between Martin Gore and Dave Gahan into a lumbering, doom riff-heavy exultation. Very, very good.

August Burns Red – …Baby One More Time (Britney Spears)

The Pennsylvanian metalcore wrecking crew took Britney's breakthrough hit and turned it into a crushing, riff-and-beatdown-heavy rager. ABR covered …Baby One More Time as part of the, let's be honest here, exhaustingly hit-and-miss Punk Goes Pop! series back in 2009, proving there can be a few gems in the series if you really dig around in the dirt enough. 

H-Blockx – The Power (Snap!)

Released on January 3 1990, this former UK number one single from German Eurodance collective Snap! is only just eligible for inclusion here. Which is a relief, because we’d hate to leave out the 2002 cover by long-forgotten, also German rap-metal crew H-Blockx. The band actually roped in Snap! Rapper Turbo B to reprise many of his original verses, where he proves he’s still the lyrical Jesse James, but it’s the song’s main riff, cranked all the way up by the band, that really steals the show here. Big, meaty, headbanging fun, with added points for the Wizard of Oz-style chants.

Dragonforce – My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion)

Trust Dragonforce to take something that is already, absurdly over the top and find a whole new ridiculous level to take it to. Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, the lead song from the omnipresent Titanic movie of 1997, surely couldn’t ever be made cheesier than it already is? Au contraire: the UK power metal shredders decided to close their 2019 album Extreme Power Metal will a warp speed run through the song, adding 8-bit glitches, their trademark light speed guitar widdling and some crotch thrusting bombast to the song. They’re the kings of the world!

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Blue (Eiffel 65)

Eiffel 65's hyper-cheesy 1998 dance-pop smash is so enduring that megastar DJ David Guetta lazily rehashed it only last year. As it turns out, the track was in far better hands with the duo's fellow Italians, Fleshgod Apocalypse, who somehow managed to turn it into an earnest and epic symphonic death metal anthem. You can never accuse the band of doing things by half, eh?

Honourable mention: Robbie Williams – Back for Good (punk version)

Yes, really! Robbie Williams acrimoniously split from Take That in the early 90s, and then became a massive pop star in his own right. To get his own back on Gary Barlow and the lads, he decided to start playing their 1995 hit Back for Good in an eerily similar style to what Limp Bizkit did with George Michael’s Faith around the same time. He included a recording of the song as the B-side to his biggest ever hit, Angels, in 1998. Robbie shouts both “Anarchy” and “Mosh” during his punk run through the song, and just generally sounds a wee bit deranged throughout. Look, we’re not gonna suddenly start telling you to listen to Rudebox any time soon, but we appreciate a heavy musical troll, so credit where it’s due to Mr. Williams. 

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.

With contributions from