Sabbath’s best covered by the best today
Building upon the legacy of the world’s most celebrated and beloved metal pioneers, Black Sabbath, Magnetic Eye present a compilation of covers of their greatest hits akin to their previous redux editions, including Sabbaths’s 1972 record, Vol. 4. Featuring a wide array of bands, the talent and creativity that went into new project Best of Black Sabbath is exemplified through the fact that most of the artists are relatively obscure, or at least more unknown compared to previous Magnetic Eye redux projects.
The opening track “Never Say Die,” off the eponymous 1978 record, is tackled by Earthless, who keep in relatively good faith and tradition to the original sound of the song. Distinct and divisive to Black Sabbath fans, the track, and frankly the album, is blended in a more polished hard-rock sound that was referenced by their predecessors Foghat and Thin Lizzy, but well into their career.
Caustic Casanova and Black Electric follow in these footsteps by keeping the original sound fairly straightforward, with obvious exceptions. The searing electric guitar leads on Caustic Casanova’s rendition of “Wicked World” bring about a sense of technical prowess and virtuosity that was always hinted at by Sabbath, but never fully acknowledged. Black Electric add their own sound, which has been obviously influenced by Black Sabbath, on “Sweet Leaf,” which plunges the listener into a void with Iommi’s heavy descending riff.
It isn’t really until Summoner, Rwake and Ginsburg/Margera/Reeder/Rota (G/M/R/R) appear that the album really starts to showcase the variety of interpretations of these classic Sabbath tunes. The slightly stoned and sludgy sound is turned up on “The Rwrit” and “A National Acrobat” by Rwake and Summoner, respectively, albeit with a massively updated contemporary production sheen that builds upon Sabbath’s vintage 1970s tones with clarity and sharpness. The same could very well be said for “N.I.B.” by G/M/R/R, who showcase their own form of improvisation and dynamics that were found on the original from Black Sabbath (1970).
The aforementioned improvisation should not be understated by any means, as Black Sabbath often went into unmarked territory during songs, jamming in chaotically frantic solo sections as well as reserved space-rock movements, particularly during live shows. This is truly perfected and built upon by Saint Karloff on “Sleeping Village,” verging in between dynamics with mastery, as well as on the driving Geezer Butler track “Fairies Wear Boots,” done by Hippie Death Cult.
Those reserved space-rock movements are also given a fair shot through “Planet Caravan” and “Solitude” by Year of the Cobra and Brume, respectively. The psychedelic vocals on “Planet Caravan” are given tribute yet again, long past Pantera’s famous cover, and it’s comparable to “Solitude” as well, even though there are some subtle differences in the atmospheric motifs and riffs.
“Hole in the Sky,” also covered by Pantera, is this time done by Leather Lung, who do a reasonably good job at recreating the feel of the original, while Mooner tackle “The Wizard.” The original riffing and songwriting becomes almost untouchable, which manages to become the case for many of the covers. This also applies to the wah-wah heavy “Electric Funeral” done by Solace, originally featured on the Paranoid (1970) album.
The two best cover versions are easily “Lord of this World” from the masterwork Master of Reality (1971) and “Paranoid,” done by none other than Howling Giant and Elephant Tree, respectively (also the two best band names on the compilation). Howling Giant approach the song with a certain grit and heaviness that made the original so iconic in the first place, with its twisted riff that is later altered on Master of Reality with “Into The Void,” a track that unfortunately was not selected. “Paranoid” has become legendary in being covered by many, many artists, including Megadeth, Weezer, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Type-O-Negative to name a few. Elephant Tree hold no punches on this classic metal/rock staple, and they deserve their own spot up there with other “Paranoid” covers.
Overall, there is not much room for complaint, as Magnetic Eye kill it once again by handpicking a more-than-satisfactory lineup of bands who, at worst, leave something to be desired, and at best manage to rival the original.