VARIOUS ARTISTS - "A TRIBUTE TO THE FOUR HORSEMEN" (NUCLEAR BLAST)
Several record labels seem to exist merely to produce tribute albums. Bucks easily made for a target audience that is easily tempted. Dwell Records are by far the most notoriously bad of them, but thankfully there are a few companies who actually make commendable albums. Magna Carta did some good stuff, and Triage of course, but Nuclear Blast should not be forgotten. No bands who are included by dint of the sub-depth of their underground status, no musicians who wouldn't recognise a properly tuned guitar string if it garotted them. No silly names like Half-Erect German Guy or Stupefyingly Inane Nomad, no bog-standard death metal grunted versions of hallowed classics. Nuclear Blast bothers to collect fairly well known bands and have them do their interpretations of various decent bands. They did Abba, they did Iron Maiden, and they may well have done more. I hear things about a Judas Priest tribute, too. But today it's time to have a look at their Metallica tribute, aptly titled "A Tribute to the Four Horsemen". As per usual, I will use the time-honoured track-by-track method so suited for reviewing tribute albums halfway decently.
"Seek and Destroy" by Primal Fear. This is, basically, a better-produced version of the original, with typical Ralf Scheepers over-the-top vocals (and therefore not quite my cup of tea).
"Fight Fire with Fire" by Therion. This initiallity starts totally classical, but then transfers into what is actually too much of a death metal version of the original. Pretty cool, though.
"Whiplash" by Destruction. Gets the rough Destruction treatment, not a lot of change to the original, yet somehow sharper sounding - probably primarily because of Schmier's vocal delivery.
"Phantom Lord" by Anthrax. So ironic that Anthrax is paying homage to Metallica when they were both once at the cutting edge of Bay Area Thrash. Somewhere along the line Metallica got much bigger, and Anthrax didn't. I wouldn't have recognised this track as Anthrax at all, probably because I don't have any releases with John Bush singing. The cover is nicely executed, though.
"Fade to Black" by Sonata Arctica. This is an instrumentally OK version of the original, but it's gone very wimpy in the vocal department. Several of the song's sections are shortened or even totally missing, which detracts needlessly from the quality of this interpretation.
"Master of Puppets" by Burden of Grief. Oh, to think of a very good producer at the helm when Metallica originally cut this track...well...it could have sounded like this version, which is very heavy, very cool, including the interlude section that Metallica never play live anymore.
"My Friend of Misery" by Dark Tranquillity. The excellent bass work on this track is compensated by the death metal vocals which pull this track down to a Dwell Records kind of cover. Somehow the death metal approach just doesn't fit as well with Metallica as with Dark Tranquillity's own music. As a whole, the track isn't quite a bad as my Dwell Records remark may have indicated. Not the highlight of the album, though, that's clear.
"One" by Crematory. The way is starts off - very cool two-guitar acoustic intro with a hint of synthesizer - you would think this is going to be the highlight of the album. This would have been fitting, what with the original being such a classic and all. That is until the vocals set in. A clean vocal style just isn't within the singer's range: His accent comes out thick and horrible. The grunts sound good, but then again grunts don't really fit "One". The musical aspect of this track is good, but it can't make up for the vocal part.
"Eye of the Beholder" by In Flames. Much as In Flames sound excellent when they do their thing, when their vocalist attempt clean vocals it comes out almost as bad as those of Crematory doing "One". Horrible accent, terrible pronunciation. Perhaps they should have gone for an all-out death metal grunting approach, I don't know. Some of the song sections have been shortened, and the guitar solo woefully omitted.
"The Thing That Should Not Be" by Primus. A song with a very untypical drum sound and a nice loud bass in the mix (quite unlike we ever got to hear while Jason was in Metallica :-). A cool version, quite unusual.
"Harvester of Sorrow" by Apocalyptica. The most unique track on this album, from Apocalyptica's debut album, "Plays Metallica on Four Chellos". Compared with what Apocalyptica have done in recent times it sounds positively boring, but it's cool to have it here.
"Battery" by Die Krupps. Another oldie, from Die Krupps' "Tribute to Metallica" (1992) EP. A much more techno/industrial approach makes this another really unusual track. Very well done, though. Back when I heard that EP for the first time this was one of my favourite tracks on there.
"Wherever I May Roam" by Sinner. A nice version, but the vocals aren't too good - like with Primal Fear, mostly a matter of taste. Not quite as bad as some other tracks on this tribute, at any rate.
"Motorbreath (live)" by Rage. When I hear a Rage track it's easy to spot their distinct vocal style. This lacks in their version of this Metallica classic. In fact, except for the differences in the guitar solos it sounds very much like Metallica could have recorded it. Not enough of a difference.
So what do we have, after 14 Metallica cover, here? "A Tribute to the Four Horsemen" is not as good as their earlier Iron Maiden tribute. Maybe Nuclear Blast's standards have slackened a bit, or maybe there just weren't sufficiently good covers available. Still, it's a hell of a lot better than some of the tribute tripe out there.
Written February 2003
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