Cover songs are prevalent in many genres, but nu-metal especially. The style folds together so many iterations of popular music — hip-hop, synth-pop, industrial, goth-rock, etc. — into the heavy setting that it was never that far of a stretch for bands like Limp Bizkit, Deftones and System of a Down to put their spin on wildly out-of-genre cuts. From reinvigorated pop hits and New Wave staples to unexpected nods to alt-rock and the fucking Beatles, below are the 11 greatest cover songs in all of nu-metal history.
For many music fans born after the 1980s, Alien Ant Farm's version of "Smooth Criminal" is the definitive one. That's how popular the band's 2001 remake of the Michael Jackson hit was, and the quality of their rendition — the perfect vocal pitch, the heavy-but-not-too-heavy guitar chugs, the explosive chorus energy — is why it remains not just one of the greatest nu-metal covers, but to many listeners, one of the greatest nu-metal songs, period.
Sandwiched in the middle of Coal Chamber's 1999 sophomore album, Chamber Music, the L.A. fishnet aficionados' Ozzy-assisted rendition of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" checks all the boxes for a top-notch cover. True to the original, but also passable — to the unknowing listener — as a song of the band's own. Coal Chamber called their style "spookycore" and the spookiness comes strong here, from the creepshow synth line and suspenseful rhythmic pulse to the interplay between Dez Fafara's gravely snarl and the Prince of Darkness's iconic haunting wail.
We can argue about whether they're nu-metal or not some other time, but there's no debate that Deftones are masters of the cover song, putting their spin on cuts by everyone from Depeche Mode and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Jawbox and the Cardigans. Picking just one is almost absurd. That said, we gotta go with the 'Tones' take on Sade's "No Ordinary Love" — because what other metallic band could possibly cover Sade's sultry, ghostly R&B classic and even dream of doing it anything close to justice? Simply extraordinary.
If you really want to get archeological with it, you can trace the roots of nu-metal back through the industrial music, goth rock and synth-pop of the Eighties, an era when artists like the Eurythmics and the Human League were inspiring a whole range of mainstream acts who accentuated post-punk's taut grooves into campy club bangers. Bands like Orgy and Dope have an affinity for that sound for a reason, and the latter band's hypnotically heavy version of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" is a brilliantly saucy wink to their genetic ancestors.
Fear Factory could've gone one of two ways with their take on Gary Numan's "Cars," and we're glad they chose the correct path. Rather than dressing the unlikely New Wave hit in an unrecognizable outfit of bludgeoning, industrial death metal, they gave it a steely makeover that preserves the song's playful catchiness while simultaneously making it palatable for moshing nu-metal lovers. Fear Factory's restraint on "Cars" is genuinely impressive, allowing Burton C. Bell's deadened cyborg vocals to blink alive and sing something that's not profoundly fatalistic. Getting Numan himself to guest on the cover didn't hurt either.
Many artists have covered Nine Inch Nails over the years, but unless you're Johnny fucking Cash, chances are you didn't fare so well doing so. Trent Reznor's band is such a singular force that covers almost always end up as either watered-down reproductions or cartoonish impressions. Enter Flyleaf, who took on Pretty Hate Machine and Natural Born Killers standout "Something I Could Never Have" in 2006, bringing an almost post-metal sense of dynamics to the stormy instrumentation, and a feminine delicacy in Lacey Sturm's heartfelt vocals. So sick.
We coulda gone with "Word Up!" or "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1, 2, 3" or old school with "Wicked" featuring Chino Moreno, but for our money, Korn's best kover is their theatrical monster-metal rendition of the Nightmare Before Christmas anthem "Kidnap the Sandy Claws." The thing is just goddamn fun to listen to — probably because it was so obviously fun for the band to record. Jonathan Davis sinks his teeth into the vocals, doing all kinds of voices and accents, and when Korn crank up the breakdown, taking the song fully into their world, it's impossible not to headbang and roar along.
Gifted musicianship, clever lyrics and tactful songwriting aren't what made Limp Bizkit nu-metal mega-stars — it was their undying ambition to just fucking go for it, no matter what they were doing. So is their rendition of George Michael's hip-shaking wedding staple, "Faith," a good cover? Well, Fred Durst can barely sing the main tune, Wes Borland's guitar strums sound drunkenly off-kilter, and they ruin the song's flamboyant hook with a big, dumb, growly breakdown. So no, it's not a good cover. But it's a great nu-metal cover.
Sometimes a cover just sounds like a natural step in a song's evolution. Such is the case of Orgy's Jonathan Davis-championed nu-goth take on New Order's "Blue Monday." The crunchy, propulsive guitars. The bellowed chorus. The punchy, industrialized beats. It just works perfectly, sleekly transporting the New Wave anthem from the Eighties and tweaking it just enough for the aggro-rock late-Nineties. Indeed, it's so perfect, Rihanna sampled the damn thing: See 2007's "Shut up and Drive."
Neither of Papa Roach's biggest hits —the swaggering nu-metal classic "Last Resort" or their pop-punk power-ballad "Scars" — give the impression that Jacoby Shaddix and Co. have indie-rock credentials, but their Pixies impression is surprisingly killer. The Roach's take on the Doolittle highlight "Gouge Away" tones down their nu-metal bombast and accentuates the song's proto-grunge raggedness. If you played it for a blindfolded listener, they'd never peg it for the band who cried, "CUT MY LIFE INTO PIECES."
The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" could be described as tender, poignant and tear-jerkingly beautiful — words that few would use to evoke the music of industrial-nu-metal underdogs Spineshank. The Fear Factory proteges didn't attempt to hide who they were when they covered the "White Album" ballad, flipping it into a clattering, steamy blow-out that's reinforced with sheets abrasive guitar and wailing vocals. Somehow, the mournful integrity of the song remains intact. Bravo.
No other band will ever sound like System of a Down, and the way that the nu-metal rabble rousers manage to morph Black Sabbath's all-time metal masterpiece "Snowblind" into a spastic, wacky SOAD rager, making it completely their own, is nothing short of magical. Taking on a beloved classic like this one could easily lead a lesser band down the road of reverent replication, which is the most pointless kind of cover. This, in contrast, is the way it should be done: still recognizable but boldly reinvented.