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I Drink Your Milkshake #1: Covering Your Basis

Cover songs are a necessity for understanding how a band gels. Playing other bands’ songs is a way to both pay tribute to idols and reimagine existing works through the lens of a different artistic vision. As such, we gathered a collection of odd covers for the first in our multi-part series I Drink Your Milkshake!, designed to expose the wide influence of bands in heavy music. Head below for covers that run the gamut of film soundtracks, hardcore punk classics and classic rock.

-Fred Pessaro

Disarmonia Mundi – “Tonari no Totoro” (My Neighbor Totoro)

Hayao Miyazaki’s films aren’t particularly dark in general, but his 1989 masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro is probably his lightest fare of all, from the lush animation right down to the indefatigably major-key theme song, “Tonari no Totoro”. To say the least, that track is an unlikely candidate to inspire an extreme metal cover version, but Italy’s Disarmonia Mundi rose to the challenge anyway as a part of 2011’s Princess Ghibli: Imaginary Flying Machines comp.

Full disclosure: the band’s original output falls squarely into the “meh” category for me. It’s well-executed symphonic melodic death metal that would probably go over great at Wacken and attract 10 people at an American club. But somehow they seem uniquely suited to bring an edge to arguably the most pleasant song in the Ghibli oeuvre. It’s the standout track on a real curiosity-of-a-compilation, and it respects its source material, while bringing it to a totally different audience. Beyond sheer novelty value, that’s all we can really ask for in something like this, and Disarmonia Mundi doesn’t disappoint.

-Brad Sanders

Carpathian – “Shadowplay” (Joy Division)

Carpathian was an Australian metallic hardcore band, and like many of the best hardcore bands, their career shone bright and burned out quick. Their swansong, the Wanderlust EP, came out on Deathwish in 2010. Fittingly, it closes with a rousing cover of Joy Divison’s “Shadowplay.”

Music critics often say the best covers have a unique element lacking in the original song, but this version of “Shadowplay” flies in the face of that theory. Carpathian play it pretty straight—this is more-or-less a direct cover with a layer of distortion and screamed vocals overtop—but when the original song is as good as “Shadowplay,” why mess with things? The original song couples one of Ian Curtis’ best choruses with probably Bernard Sumner’s most energetic guitar riff. You don’t mess with success. Still, in the home stretch of the song, it soars. After the main solo, the drums settle into a straight rhythm, the vocals crack ever so slightly. Emotion bleeds in at the edges; Carpathian sound all too human. It’s a fitting sendoff for a short, but brilliant, career.

-Joseph Schafer

Leviathan – “My War” (Black Flag)

Black metal and classic hardcore strike me as natural bedfellows. It’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that a great deal of the former wouldn’t have happened without the latter. Scene enmity kept them apart for much of the nineties, but those barriers have largely broken down now.

The fruit of their union has often disappointed me, but this cover does not. Black Flag’s material is simple and nasty, making it great fodder for black metal reinterpretation. Wrest takes advantage of the maneuvering room, fleshing out this Rollins-era tune with sickly harmonies and leaden blasting. He recorded this cover for 2002’s The 10th Sub-Level of Suicide demo, nearly a decade before his recent legal entanglement. Given the song’s subject matter, it’s a creepily prescient choice.

-Doug Moore

Shining – “21st Century Schizoid Man” (King Crimson)

Instead of reinventing the track, Shining inject it with drugs and thrust it into a modern understanding of dark progressive music that King Crimson, themselves, may not have forseen but would have most likely understood. The opening riffs are fuzzier and crunchier than ever, and Shining mastermind Jorgen Munkeby’s sax parts climb steadily in pitch, towering above the listener. Guest vocalist Grutle Kjellson’s (Enslaved) guttural belches actually come across as surprisingly appropriate, given King Crimson’s lyrics about neurosurgeons and raped innocents. But it’s during the breakdown, if you could call it that, where Shining go hog wild, with countless sax lines layered over it like a swarm of brass wasps. Finally, the whole thing becomes a crazed series of accents, and just as the world spins off its axis, that intro line returns, the final verse bellowed recklessly behind it.

-Scab Casserole

Machine Head – “Message in a Bottle” (The Police)

Most covers come in one of two flavors: the faithful rendition (Metallica’s repertoire of Misfits songs), or the off-the-wall twist (Tori Amos playing “Raining Blood”). But every so often, a song falls into the twilight zone between. Case in point: Machine Head’s cover of The Police’s “Message In a Bottle.” Flynn and company, who often perform more-than-competent classic metal covers, stuffed this little gem in at the end of 1999’s The Burning Red. Fans still cite “Message” as a career nadir, and one of the reasons why The Burning Red gets blasted despite being Machine Head’s second best-selling album.

What people forget is—if you’ll forgive a brief sexist phrase—it takes brass balls to cover Sting. A gruff tough guy following in the footsteps of a hypersexual-yet-androgynous pop genius? Fuhgeddabout it. Flynn pulls it off by taking the song into his comfort zone, slowing the pace, using his always-smooth baritone, and carving off the optimistic final verse in favor of a pounding dirge. It’s still recognizable, but just different enough that Machine Head sound like themselves… Because nobody will ever be The Police.

-Joseph Schafer

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