2003 was a weird time for everyone. But especially Metallica. The metal giants had just survived the near-breakup chronicled in the cringe-inducing documentary Some Kind of Monster and enlisted a new bassist, Robert Trujillo, in February. Their much-maligned album St. Anger would drop in June, trash-can snare and all, and be supported with the Summer Sanitarium Tour featuring a very different "Big 4" opening the shows: Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Deftones and Mudvayne.
But before that, on May 3rd in Universal City, California, Trujillo joined his new bandmates — James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and the bleached-blond and goatee'd Lars Ulrich — at the taping of the surreal MTV Icon special in their honor.
The laudatory event, which premiered on television three days later, featured celebrity appearances by Rob Zombie, Lisa Marie Presley, Jim Breuer, Sean Penn and others, and performances by a very-of-the-era lineup: Bizkit, Korn, Snoop Dogg, Sum 41, Avril Lavigne and Staind, all covering Metallica classics.
How did those six tribute performers do? It was an extremely mixed bag, to say the least. Check out our ranking below.
We're gonna blame dat sticky icky icky. Snoop's rendition of the Metallica stomper "Sad but True" is nothing short of a total mess. He forgets the lyrics and doesn't seem to give a fuck. His lackadaisical vocal approach is all wrong. His shoutouts are painful: "Snooptallica 2003!" The only silver linings are 1) the joy of watching the cutaways to Metallica, looking like deer in the headlights, unsure how to react on camera, and 2) the fact that the performance mercifully lasts just a minute. Call this the thing that should not have been.
There's nothing wrong with Staind's stripped-down, two-man rendition of Metallica's "Black Album" ballad. Strumming on their acoustic guitars, Aaron Lewis and Mike Mushok do a totally capable job with "Nothing Else Matters," but it's a little too on-the-nose a song choice for Staind, who at this point were well into their "It's Been Awhile" stage of feel-bad balladry. As a result, the performance just falls kinda flat, a bit too dour and a lot too sleepy for a tribute show to fucking Metallica.
Old-school thrashers were surely crying foul when this went down, but in hindsight, Avril Lavigne impressively stepped out of her pop-punk comfort zone when taking on Reload's grungy, hard-rockin' opener. Indeed, the "Sk8er Boi" singer's performance is much better than you probably remember, with Lavigne bringing out the grit in her voice, and her backing band clearly having a blast. Even the Metallica guys seem to have genuinely approved.
To their credit, Limp Bizkit didn't shy away from putting their own special sauce into their take on Metallica's Master of Puppets centerpiece. There's goddamn turntable scratching all over this thing — check out the crazy breakdown that has Ulrich laughing out loud at the sheer insanity of it — and Fred Durst can't help but add a swaggering rap cadence to the vocals.
Extra points to the red-capped one for his crowd work, making this the most interactive performance of the night. And extra points to any of you who recognize Snot's Mike Smith playing guitar in place of Wes Borland, who was in the middle of an extended hiatus at the time.
Sum 41 comes in at No. 2 here for delivering the thrashiest, whiplashing-est, most true-to-the-source tribute of the night, and shockingly so. Who could have expected that the snotty Canuck pop-punk crew would be able to shred like this?
Opening the show, and providing the entrance music for Metallica themselves, Deryck Whibley and Co. tore through an epic medley of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Enter Sandman" and "Master of Puppets," coming through with heaps of punk attitude and leaving all the pop back in Canada. Heshers watching at home surely had their jaws on the floor.
...And Justice for All infamously has almost no audible bass on it. In the hands of Korn, the album's trailblazing anti-war anthem "One" is covered in the clickity-clack of Fieldy's signature slapping.
The nu-metal godfather took the cake that May 2003 night, as far as we're concerned, making "One" their own, as the best covers do. Fieldy's bass gives the rendition an unmistakable Korn-iness, of course, but it's Davis' full-force, emotional performance that really lands the band's take in the top spot. His tortured wail and soul-bearing presentation proved a perfect fit for the song's harrowing tale of a soldier grievously injured by a landmine, left blind and unable to speak or move. When the heavy breakdown kicks in — Davis bodybanging like a mad man — it feels like a real moment of catharsis.
"That was the coolest fucking thing," Ulrich enthused to the camera after. He wasn't wrong.