From Melvins to Metallica: The 6 best Black Sabbath covers of all time
To think of Black Sabbath as anything but foundational fathers in the constitution of heavy metal as we know it today would be ignorance at best. In truth, it would be closer to sacrilegious shame. No band has had a greater impact on the course of heavy metal history over the years than Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward.
It’s not just heavy metal that the band’s presence can be felt either. As you’ll see in our choices below, we have picked out our favourite Black Sabbath covers of all time, exhibiting the band’s ethos and refusal to conform not only inspired countless bands but gave generations of kids a place to vent their frustrations, to headbang their troubles away and live vicariously through the imagery the group so easily created.
Formed in Birmingham in 1968, Black Sabbath rose from the deluge of counter-culture rock groups as something altogether a bit different. The band had a pzazz that could not be contained and used their singer Ozzy Osbourne’s showmanship to help pierce through the veil of acid-rock that had shrouded Britain for most of the decade. They had another secret weapon too — the guitar of Tony Iommi.
There’s no doubt that without Iommi, Black Sabbath wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. But it’s only when you look back at their formation and their desire to breakthrough and find fame, that one can truly appreciate the talent of Iommi and his refusal to play by the rulebook. It offered the band their only real way of breaking out in a scene that was littered with talent.
Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were all beginning to turn up their amps when Black Sabbath appeared with their self-titled debut LP. But, by the time they heard Sabbath, few tried to compete with them. Instead, musicians just sat back and let the inspiration run over them.
We’ve got six example of those moments coming to fruition as some of the band’s most famous fans pay tribute to Black Sabbath with a sensational cover.
Best Black Sabbath covers:
‘Changes’ – The Cardigans
When ‘Changes’ was set to take a spot on Black Sabbath’s infamous cocaine-fuelled romp Vol. IV, few saw the pop behemoth it could have been. The track felt a little out of place and struggled to land effectively within the context of the LP. However, out on its own, the song quickly took up a life of its own and gathered up fans by the bundle. One such group was The Cardigans, who have often shared their love of the band.
Surprisingly, given the fact that The Cardigans were considered a pop outfit at the time, their tune ‘Love Fool’ is a dancefloor filler, but the indie rockers are from one of the Sabbath hotspots of the world — Sweden. They’ve taken on plenty of the heavy metal icons’ songs before, but this is our favourite.
We see the two conflicting styles merge in the most beautiful way here as The Cardigans provide a shimmering rendition of Sabbath’s ‘Changes’ as Nina Persson’s vocal shines brightest of all.
‘Into the Void’ – Melvins
There’s not much you could tell us about the Melvins that would surprise us. An oddball band, the group have firmly found themselves sitting on the outside of the mainstream for the entirety of their career, even with a personal recommendation from Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. However, the band never needed any extra help with their live shows.
It was within the confines of the venue that the Melvins could fully let go and their inner punk rock juggernaut personas came out to play. One magical performance that was somehow captured on videotape was their raucous cover of ‘Into The Void’. It sees the band get completely lost in their homage and deliver one of the defining covers of Sabbath we’ve ever heard.
‘War Pigs’ – Faith No More
Easily one of the most beloved songs from the Black Sabbath back catalogue, ‘War Pigs’ is usually the song that even non-Sabbath fans can fall in love with. Likewise, it’s hard to argue with Mike Patton and Faith No More’s cover of ‘War Pigs’ being the best cover of them all.
The ’90s stalwarts deliver such a faithful rendition of the song, thanks in no small part to Patton and Osbourne’s vocal likeness, that it is difficult to see beyond it as the best. There are of course flecks of Faith No More’s trademark sound, a lot more bassline groove and a dollop modernist musings, but otherwise, it is a near carbon copy of the original that we want to hear again and again.
‘Sabbra Cadabra’ – Metallica
It seems only right that the world’s most easily recognised and commercially successful heavy metal band of all time, Metallica, should pay homage to their forefathers. Back in 1998, they did just that when they took their usual live tributes to Sabbath into the studio for a serious reflection on their history. Appearing on Garage Inc, their cover of ‘Sabbra Cadabra’ from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was an unexpected one.
Not your usual cover song, the group purposefully chose a song off the beaten track not only so they could highlight the wide plethora of Sabbath inspirations but also imprint their own style on to the song. Their cover of ‘Symptoms of the Universe’ may well be one of the most dearly loved Sabbath covers, but this one evokes their ethos of never conforming far more perfectly.
‘Planet Caravan’ – Pantera
Another jewel in the crown of heavy metal, Pantera threw out their own rulebook when they took on the kaleidoscopic sounds of ‘Planet Caravan’ — a psychedelic jam that few thought Pantera capable of matching. But they did just that in 1994, a time when they included a cover of the song on their monstrously heavy record Far Beyond Driven. Pantera had been on a charge for heavy rock purity by the time their fourth record arrived bu on this one, they turn down the volume.
Instead, they let the vocals of Phil Anselmo shine for all to see. There’s no doubt that Anselmo’s vocal is subjected to a few digital face-lifts but it still lands as purely as Osbourne’s augmented rendition from 1970. To keep the tone of this song within the confines of Pantera and still sound authentic is no mean feat.
‘Changes’ – Charles Bradley
If you were looking for two artists who operate on different ends of the spectrum, then Charles Bradley and Black Sabbath would be two fairly robust contenders. However, if there was one song that you’d expect Bradley to cover it would be the changeable tune, ‘Changes’, a song that can fit just about anywhere it wants to.
Bradley recorded the song when he was 64, picking up the tune for a special 2013 Record Story Day release. It is one of the most beautiful ways we’ve ever heard Sabbath be played. Bradley imbues the song with a sense of melancholic melody that permeates every note. He’s tender and touching but without ever feeling schmaltzy.