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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Final proof that — despite your best karaoke-night efforts — it is straight-up impossible to ruin “Wicked Game.” — A.U.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Funky, but not as funky as Snoop Dogg’s cameo in the “Twisted Transistor” video. — A.U.
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.
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.
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.
Either a brilliant idea with terrible execution or a terrible idea with brilliant execution. Utterly (and understandably) singular, in any event. — A.U.
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.
Turns out that U2 were more
Ddisturbed than we ever would’ve guessed — Adam Clayton’s prowling bass line, Bono’s hundred-dollar-bill-y’all ravings, the Edge’s guitar shrapnel, and Larry Mullen Jr.’s napalm-in-the-morning drums here inspired not one, but two pretty decent alt-metal covers. — A.U.
Satan knows that Coal Chamber weren’t exactly masters of subtlety, as most of their choruses circa 1999’s Chamber Music (!!) were just a song’s title growled to infinitum. Thus, Peter Gabriel gave them a mouthful of words to play with, and that legit-pretty, ethereal synth (guitar?) for the choking distortion to bang against was all the Chamber’s doing. As was the decision to bring Ozzy in, reportedly because of his similar voice to Gabriel’s — uh, sure. — D.W.
The painted-up Mudvayne have a reputation as sort-of formalists, so it at least makes sense that the Police’s Synchronicity crown jewel gets reinterpreted here with the utmost respect to the high-threadcount melodic contours of the original — check out the ‘Vayne’s tuneful bass run around the three-minute mark. And lord knows the original’s sentiment was tailor-made for anguished metal. — D.W.
Never officially released, this version of Psychedelic Furs’ shadowy new-wave classic would’ve led the too-perfectly titled Korn Kovers komp that never came to fruition. If they were all as faithful and playful as this romp, it would’ve been worth at least a cursory listen or two. — A.U.
Oh, you thought Beth Gibbons’ destroyed moan of “Nobody loves me” was going to remain in the realm of sophisticated, delicate trip-hop? Oh, you thought something was sacred in rock’n’roll? Thing is, these guys replicate Portishead, even on that bluesy bridge, without injuring a note — murdering Gibbons’ murmured lowlight from the PNYC live album in the process. — D.W.
If nu-metal had a high-school yearbook, “Gouge away / You can gouge away” would undoubtedly be the default quote. — A.U.
The only band on this list whose seriousness was legitimate enough to deserve to be pissed off at their inclusion among these ranks. Nevertheless, their air-raid funk rarely was as loose-limbed as it was on this rework from their Renegades cover album, a treasured opportunity to hear Zack de la Rocha shout, “Dance, sucka, DANCE!” without having to wonder how that might actually be a metaphor for the Nicaraguan Revolution. — A.U.
Yep, a decade before Art & Paul brought them to the precipice of the Top 40 for the first time, Disturbed were threatening the pop charts with this version of Genesis’ cold-war plea for understanding. They also had an okay go at Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” but their “Land” gets the edge because of the “UGH! UGH!” exhortations after the title phrase — the success of Disturbed’s songs might’ve been more reliant on their non-verbal grunts than any major artist since Michael Jackson. — A.U.
For their tribute performance on the Cure episode of MTV Icon, Deftones selected this Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me deep cut, its tortured wails and alluring/threatening guitar webs making it a head-smackingly inspired choice for alt-metal’s most accomplished moaners. Fans hearing it for the first time on Deftones’ B-Sides and Rarities comp would be excused for not even realizing it was a cover. — A.U.
A surprisingly raw and inspired rendition of Marvin’s What’s Going On classic, and a rare moment of nu-metal aggression being put toward a song of protest against something greater than ex-girlfriends and divorced parents. Such covers were frequent inclusions as extras on Best Of collections of their era; this was one of the few renditions that merited such a distinction. — A.U.
The two biggest salt-of-the-earth figures of backwards-cap-rock combine for a respectably righteous bout of weekend ass-kicking, with sonic forefather Dimebag Darrell joining in for extra cred and fun. Given nu-metal’s sadly not-infrequent lapses into homophobia, seeing these all-time bros team up to pay tribute to an openly gay man is also somewhat heartening. — A.U.
One of the most faithful hit covers of the period (down to Numan actually appearing as a featured vocalist on the song), Fear Factory’s “Cars” gets by on the sheer enthusiasm of its updated metallic crunch, hardly reinventing the wheel but at least equipping it with some new digital spinners. The notoriously nostalgia-averse Numan actually commissioned his own guest contributions after hearing of the band performing his signature hit live, which should give you a sense how much fun everyone was having. — A.U.
Evanescence was one of the first big bands of the nu-metal era whose musical sweet spot was more obviously rooted in ’90s grunge than ’80s new wave, and as such, their cover of Nirvana’s most darkly romantic song was as satisfying as it was inevitable. Just Amy Lee and guitar here, which is fine — it’s a lot easier to capture the pseudo-gothic loveliness of a song like “Heart-Shaped Box” than the self-excoriating brutality. — A.U.
A decade after a smirkingly ironic George Michael cover started the clock on nu-metal’s moment in the sun — yeah, don’t worry, we’re getting to it soon enough — Seether had more modest success going in the complete other direction with it. Their version of the Wham! mega-ballad that essentially marked Michael’s solo debut doubles down on the song’s already considerable drama, conjuring up a veritable typhoon of wailing guitars and guilty tears. Glorious but totally humorless — not counting that amusing (but totally inappropriate) video-game visual — it was pretty clear the genre’s dancing days were all but up. — A.U.
For degree-of-difficulty covers on this list, Perfect Circle’s “Imagine” easily ranks the highest — no small feat to take a mawkishly sentimental utopian ballad and twist it into a post-apocalyptic death march without lapsing into Offspring-ian corniness. It was a refreshingly thoughtful, Year-Zero sort of take on a seemingly uncoverable song: No Elvis, Beatles, or solo John Lennon in 2004. — A.U.
For a song originally written to require as little actual band involvement as humanly possible, Orgy certainly seemed to enjoy sinking their teeth into “Blue Monday”: The song absolutely exploded onto late-’90s rock radio and TRL, with a disco-metal assault that located the sonic middle ground between the respective finger-pointing furies of Jonathan Davis and Trent Reznor. It may have set the unfortunate precedent for a lot of SHOUT THE CHORUS SO IT SOUNDS MORE EVIL synth-pop butcher jobs (most at the hands of Marilyn Manson) but the first time, the excitement was legitimate. As middle-schoolers in the late-’90s, we all had to come to the realization that the original was still way better at our own rates. — A.U.
This song’s the reason this list exists. Many of the renditions here are surprisingly faithful, thoughtful, personalized valentines from bands reaching across the aisle to bridge an understanding from one generation’s misfits to another. That’s not this. “Faith” was Fred Durst showing the world (on his first-ever TRL hit) what an asshole he can be, before anyone else could call him one. He whines the verses, mocking either one of pop’s most automatic melodies or his own conflicted need to harness them. And then he flat-out pukes the chorus up. DJ Lethal gives the song an unholy turntable solo as all ‘80s source materials deserve. Durst all but destroyed the house of rock’n’roll by Woodstock ’99, sure. But this was the first brick through the window. — D.W.
System of a Down’s fearlessness is well-represented by their own albums holding strong on contemporary best-of lists — and in the context of, say, Taproot extracting Billy Ocean from amber, tackling a mildly obscure new-wave song by Berlin isn’t that bold in itself. But System truly make it one of their own songs, with a ska-inflected second verse and a “Hava Nagila”-worthy breakdown just like their self-penned tunes you’d mistake it for easily. The double-time chorus is far less heavy and jokey than those though; it’s almost pop-punk. People love System, and they’re deservedly praised for doing what they want. It’s to the credit of covers like this that people really believed they would reinterpret a Legend of Zelda theme. — D.W.
Alien Ant Farm weren’t quite metal, but they sure didn’t do a good job of letting the world know. Singer Dryden Mitchell’s love of bouncy pop was no secret of course, but his Papa Roach allegiance, mastery of his peers’ blocky crunch, and sideways genre ties (think a jokier, lower-stakes Faith No More) functioned as cement around his songs’ feet. Either way, they functionally exemplify the trials and tribulations of the nu-metal cover industry, breaking with a Michael Jackson cover that managed the impossible, only-Weird-Al-has-ever-done-it-otherwise feat of honoring Jackson’s legacy with an incredible video that’s also deeply goofy. Nevertheless, they got their own classic clip out of it, and a cover that many people reasonably prefer to Jackson’s original, this author included. That is, they got away with the unthinkable: an inarguable nu-metal victory that brought a seven-string Ibanez to a pop fight. — D.W.
Really, the question for this list wasn’t which cover was going to end up at No. 1, but which Deftones cover would — in addition to being the best overall band of the nu-metal era, they were easily the best song interpreters. Cocteau, Duran, Depeche, and Cure renditions all could have had a case, but it’s their version of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” that demonstrates why the band was so special at this, and why news of them touching on “Hotline Bling” at a mid-’10s concert is still met with more heart palpitations than eye rolls.
Not only does the band find unexpected kinship with the ’90s quiet-storm ballad — the dense, windswept atmospherics of Sade’s version aren’t all that far removed from White Pony’s “Teenager,” for instance — they manage to add their own sonic intensity to the proceedings with some subtle guitar buzzes and vocal cracks, without disrupting the delicacy of the original. Singer Chino Moreno’s croon is laced with narcotic danger, but not so much that he changes the meaning of Sade’s original promises — just finding new currents that were always lying underneath. It’s a long way from “I know not everybody’s got a body like me,” but it shows what the genre’s permanent pop fascination was capable of producing at its least snotty and most extraordinary. — A.U.