A few days ago I have published a cover of Metallica’s song “Blackened”. The song appeared first on their 1988 album ” … and justice for all” and is one of my personal favorites of the band. In my opinion Metallica reached a peak here. All songs are very complex and long, full of different parts, different time-signatures and tempo-changes. Looking back the album can be seen as a first awakening of Progressive Metal and a precursor of something, which became popular later. Metallica recognized themselves, that they were a bit too much ahead of their time at the end of the eighties, because though the reception of the critics were great, the reaction of the fans on the following tour was mixed. So they changed their direction later on the “Black album” towards more compact and mass-compatible compositions. When they played ” … and justice for all” live the reactions of the audience seemed lame and the fans did not like the new material as much as the band. After the tour they hardly played the “Justice”-songs live anymore except the hit “One”.
Though I did not want to change the genre of the song (for an example transform it to a Country-song) I thought about how to leave my own footprint in this cover-version. In my opinion cover-songs are only interesting, if they shine a new light on the original. I thought it could be interesting for you to give a little insight in this process and to show some excerpts of the arrangement. I created the arrangement in Sibelius, a well-known notation-software. So how could I change “Blackened” in a way, that it
- fits to my own style?
- sounds more like 2017?
- still does justice to the original?
After some weeks practicing the song on the guitar the first decisions were made. I realised, that it would feel not comfortable to play the first part at its original speed (around 180 BPM). On the other hand I felt, that the middle-part was too slow and speeded it up. So I ended with an even tempo of 154 BPM and decided to erase the Tempo-change during the middle-section. All in all the song would become straighter and more concentrated. Though I love the song I always felt it could be shortened and could benefit from a tighter song-structure. Because of the same reason I have replaced the original intro. In todays world of short attention-spans nobody would give my cover a shot, if he had to stand a long section of backwards-guitars. If you take a kind look on my Example 1 below, you will recognise, that I have derived my new intro from the last part of the 7/4-Riff. I took the last motif and stacked fourths to achieve a modern sound. Next I kicked out the whole instrumental and solo-section of the original. First I think that this kind of guitar-solo doesn’t sound like 2017. Second the long introduction of the solo with Metallica’s trademark guitar-orchestrations would not fit to my own style and is too lame and not exiting enough for my own taste.
The production of ” … and justice for all” was often bashed because of its lack of bass. Countless comments on Youtube and other platforms have manhandled the album on the throne of “The album with the missing bass”. But looking closer on this issue I want to point out, that the bass was never a prominent instrument in the Metallica-Oevre or do you hear more bass on “Ride the lightning”? Remembering this ongoing moaning about the lack of bass I got the idea to develop an own bass-line for the song, which should be independent from the guitars and – of course – audible. Example 2 shows how I have composed a bass-line as a counterpart to the guitars. As an additional sacrilege the bass is played by an analogue synthesizer in my version.
Following the path of modernization I have extended some chords in “Blackened”. I did it not all the time, but on prominent places like at the end of the chorus, when the singer shouts “Color our world blackened”. Here the chord-extensions are quite dissonant, while I used stacked fourths in the intro and sometimes in the middle-section. You can see a chord-extension in Example 2 in the first bar on the third quarter; The combination of two different fifths for the guitars creates a chord of F#C#FC. It just works (somehow), because the second fifth is shifted to another octave. Otherwise it would sound too harsh.
While in the original the two guitars play mostly parallel I modified the guitars sometimes to play independent lines like in Example 3, bar 22. In bar 21 you see, that I imply alternative chords during the verse by using other Root-notes for the bass.
In the Chorus-section I change the tempo to half-time and take the chance to insert one of my own trademarks: Multi-tracked choirs. The repeating “To begin whipping dance of the dead” let me think on an answering Choir. And “Dance of the dead” is pointing to a group of dead people, another reason to create a choir here. Third the chorus is repetitive and can benefit from more variety. Another side-effect of the choirs is, that the chords are more audible than before, because suddenly there are thirds between all the plain fifths of the power-chords. So I hope all in all the chorus gets another character after this treatment (Example 4)
Example 5 shows, how I use the same principles for the middle-part of the song: An independent bass-line, some extended chords. Additionally you can study how I have treated the drums. The drum-track for my cover was created from scratch. I tend to use the drums also as an independent voice. As you see the drums are not just supporting the rhythm of the guitars, but setting accents on free places as a counterpart of the guitars.
At last the overall sound makes a band distinctive and unmistakable. Following the concept of my project “heartscore” I use electronic Drumbox samples for the drum-track and a real analogue synthesizer for the bass-part, a Makenoise 0-coast. The guitars are recorded through my Kemper Profiling Amp. I have hired the Lead-singer from Studiopros and sang the choir-voices myself.
If you are curious now and feel adventurous you can listen to the result on bandcamp (Free Download)