The 40 Best Nu-Metal Covers of Pop Songs
How it felt when turn-of-the-century metal's biggest names treated pop history like they did
If you’ve been paying attention to Billboard’s Hot 100 chart recently, you might see a surprising combination of artist and title ascending its way up the ranks: Disturbed and “The Sound of Silence.” Yes, that is early-’00s drudge-metal outfit Disturbed that just climbed to No. 42, and yes, that is Simon & Garfunkel’s half-century-old ballad they’re doing it with. Pretty much everything about it marks as incomprehensible an anomaly as can be found in 2016 pop music. But just a decade and a half ago, alt-metal mooks covering Top 40 standards and classic-rock staples was as regular an occurrence in the mainstream as Jay Z boasting over pitched-up soul samples or Eminem trolling TRL starlets.
In recognition of this moment in pop history’s unexpected revival, we’ve compiled a list of the 40 best nu metal-era covers of pop songs — defining pop a little broadly, essentially as any song by a popular artist that isn’t particularly metal themselves. These covers aren’t often remembered that fondly — and indeed, most who lived through them may have tried their damnedest to forget as many as possible — but they represented a much-needed lighter side to one of the dourest sets of bands to ever infect American radio, and even if a lot of them were stupid, trashy, and/or downright inexplicable, they were always fun on some level. Not something that can always be said about Disturbed, you know? — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
40. Limp Bizkit, “Bittersweet Home” (Mötley Crüe and the Verve, Greatest Hitz, 2005)
A cover medley that, in every conceivable way, makes more sense than it should. Limp Bizkit clearly intended for it to be the end of Chapter One of their career; turns out, it was the last sentence to the whole book. — A.U.
39. Powerman 5000 feat. DannyBoy, “Relax” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood cover, Zoolander OST, 2001)
In which Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson help Powerman go Powerpuff, unearthing in the process that Frankie Goes to Hollywood synths + nu-metal grime = Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.” — A.U.
38. Incubus feat. Big Punisher, “Still Not a Player” (Big Punisher cover, Loud Rocks compilation, 2000)
The Loud Rocks compilation from 2000 was a fascinating prospect: leaving rappers’ verses intact while rock bands handled the backing music and reinterpreted the hooks. Incubus know their way around funk, R&B, and drum’n’bass, so Brandon Boyd’s melodic sensibility was perfect for that “Boricua / Morena” chant, and his band successfully turned an easygoing club hit into an anxious highway pileup, even if Incubus aren’t now and won’t ever be players. — DAN WEISS
37. Kittie, “Run Like Hell” (Pink Floyd cover, Oracle, 2001)
One of nu-metal’s precious few female-fronted acts reorients the bass thump and arena-rock righteousness of The Wall’s disc-two highlight for imposing, downtuned oppression-rock. Not bad, but one of the few songs on this list that actually had the potential to be cooler than it was. — A.U.
36. Framing Hanley, “Lollipop” (Lil Wayne cover, The Moment, 2008)
A notable nu-metal viral sensation from 2008, long after the era was declared dead, the bad-porn dialogue (“Are you kidding? I love your friends. I’m glad they got to come.”) of the video’s intro really has to be seen to be believed. The remake of Lil Wayne’s goofy song itself was inevitable, with that four-note synth morse code rendering itself all too hospitable for a crunching, axe-heavy response. — D.W.
35. Static-X, “Speedway” (Elvis Presley cover, NASCAR: Crank It Up compilation, 2002)
Or you can just look over the tracklist to 2002’s NASCAR: Crank It Up collection and marvel at the time when a whole compilation of major rock artists could be birthed from the crumbs left over from over-consumption of Metallica’s “Fuel.” — A.U.
34. Godsmack, “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh cover, Live and Inspired, 2012)
Nu-metal’s grooves were usually better suited for tribal incantations than boozy bar nights, so leave it to the era’s only band whose frontman has a “Poker” subsection on his Wiki page to finally find the middle ground between ’70s and ’00s butt rock — a decade after the fact, no less. — A.U.
33. Three Days Grace, “Wicked Game” (Chris Isaak cover, One-X Deluxe Edition, 2006)
Final proof that — despite your best karaoke-night efforts — it is straight-up impossible to ruin “Wicked Game.” — A.U.
32. Linkin Park, “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele cover, iTunes Festival, 2011)
Everyone and their uncle was covering “Rolling in the Deep” back in 2011 — hell, Uncle Walter bought two copies of 21 just to have an extra one for the car — so you knew some nu-metallists were gonna get in on it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a one-hit wonder making some last gasp at cultural relevance to take the first crack, but one of the few surviving bands of the era — and more surprisingly, Chester Bennington sounds just as natural wailing “WE COULD HAVE HAD IT AAAA-ALLLLL!!!” as he did wailing about his physics homework back in the day. — A.U.
31. Chevelle, “Black Boys on Mopeds” (Sinéad O’Connor cover, Wonder What’s Next Deluxe Edition, 2003)
Mostly here for the fact that friggin’ Chevelle covered a song off of Sinéad O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, and it WASN’T “Nothing Compares 2 U.” — A.U.
30. Lostprophets, “Need You Tonight” (INXS cover, “The Fake Sound of Progress” single, 2002)
One of the friskier covers by one of the more pop-literate nu-metal acts. Would likely be higher if it was possible to listen to the genre’s truest real-life monster sing “There’s something about you, girl, that makes me sweat” without vomiting. — A.U.
29. Tantric, “The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac cover, After We Go, 2004)
As open a slam-dunk for the sludge-metal era as “Gold Dust Woman” was for the Alternative Nation a decade earlier. Tantric chose the song to cover after randomly picking the first song they heard on the radio; that their rendition was still chosen as a single shows just how reliant some of these dudes were on the lifeblood of pop history to maintain any kind of vitality. — A.U.
28. Mindless Self Indulgence, “Bring the Pain” (Method Man cover, Tight, 1999)
Mindless Self Indulgence thrived on the sidelines of nu-metal, queering it by trolling homophobes and adding a level of technology that understood hip-hop production and drum’n’bass in a way that few non-Linkin Park entities of the day can claim. So it makes sense that they’d take on Method Man’s deep-rolling 1994 classic with faithfully rhymed sincerity, honoring their hero with trademarked warped shredding. — D.W.
27. Rammstein, “Stripped” (Depeche Mode cover, For the Masses Tribute Album, 1998)
From 1998’s had-its-moments Depeche Mode tribute comp, Rammstein’s “Stripped” is most notable for gut-wrenched vocalist Till Lindemann making Depeche Mode’s anthem of emotional directness and personal honesty into muzak for demonic sex dungeons. To be fair, though, demonic sex dungeons are pretty Depeche Mode, too. — A.U.
26. KoRn, “Word Up” (Cameo cover, Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, 2004)
Funky, but not as funky as Snoop Dogg’s cameo in the “Twisted Transistor” video. — A.U.
25. Taproot, “Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)” (Billy Ocean cover, …Something More Than Nothing, 1998)
Taproot’s improbable Billy Ocean deconstruction has all the basement dust and flotsam of a Teen Suicide interstitial, trying on a different approach with each verse. First it’s easy, Ween-phased funk, then they try to work in their atonal crunch, then they try to blend the two. Welcome proof that some of these bands were having fun applying their style to nostalgic faves, rather than just taking the easiest route for a dissonant band to score a fluke hit. — D.W.
24. Flyleaf, “Something I Can Never Have” (Nine Inch Nails cover, Underworld: Evolution OST, 2006)
Flyleaf push the emphasis of Trent Reznor’s first-ever power ballad towards the “power” side, turning it into the “That’s What Friends Are For” for Werewolf Bar Mitzvahs. — A.U.
23. Saliva, “Message of Love” (The Pretenders cover, Not Another Teen Movie OST, 2001)
One of the least-predictable covers of the nu-metal era was Saliva taking on this Pretenders II gem for the new-wave-revisited Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack. The song’s litheness is a similarly pleasant surprise, and even Chrissie herself probably had to chuckle at least once at Josey Scott’s “LIKE BRIGITTE BAR-DOTTT!!” yawp. — A.U.
22. System of a Down & Wu-Tang Clan, “Shame” (Wu-Tang Clan cover, Loud Rocks, 2000)
Either a brilliant idea with terrible execution or a terrible idea with brilliant execution. Utterly (and understandably) singular, in any event. — A.U.
21. Nonpoint, “Evil Ways” (Santana cover, Development Special Edition, 2002)
Nonpoint might’ve been also-rans, but they stood out from the sludge with slightly wittier tunes than the pack (“What a Day”) and the surprisingly sexy cadence of frontman Elias Soriano. They also do the best version of “Evil Ways” you’ve ever heard in your life, recasting Santana’s cautionary love lament as bruising, candy-corned punk. — D.W.