While danceable, punk-rooted new wave music came to (temporarily) dominate rock at the end of the 1970s and into the dawn of the ’80s, heavy metal simultaneously experienced its own similar rebirth, reimagining, and renaissance. The two paths crossed most noticeably at the time over in the UK, where a new form of “heavy metal played with punk attitude” was dubbed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).
In that case, however, the “New Wave” descriptor was meant to suggest fresh ideas and bold leaps forward more than it might suggest any kind of direct musical connection shared by Devo, Gary Numan, and the Human League on one hand, and Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Witchfinder General on the other.
Still, new wave and metal have, in fact, directly merged by way of cover versions of art-pop hits being covered by hard-and-heavy artists who happen to unabashed fans. Here now are our picks for the Top 10 heavy metal covers of classic new wave songs.
1. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Marilyn Manson (1995)
Original Artist: Eurythmics
Despite their lush vocals and sophisticated synth-pop sounds , the Eurythmics stormed onto the scene in 1983 as bona fide shock rockers. Annie Lennox wore men’s suits, had a fashion model’s face, and sported a neon orange crew cut, while her partner Dave Stewart stood silently in the background, looking dapper and bowing away on various stringed instruments.
With one polished wingtip in high art and the other in the mainstream, the Eurythmics’ worldwide smash “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” sounded like nothing else on the radio and came with a music video that stood out from even the most nuttiest stuff that had made it into MTV’s heavy rotation.
A dozen years later, Marilyn Manson tapped into the song’s inherent unsettling elements for an industrial-goth cover that served to convert the band from a cult act for spooky kids to planet-conquering masters of outrage.
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Eurythmics (1983)
2. “The Wait” – Metallica (1987)
Original Artist: Killing Joke
Metallica emerged from 1986 high on the triumph of their masterpiece Master of Puppets but also decimated by the accidental death of bassist Cliff Burton. As a result, Metallica boiled their musical souls back down to raw elements by way of the landmark EP, Garage Days Re-Revisited.
The EP consists of Metallica covering songs by bands that had exuded a profound influence on them. The roster includes New Wave of British Heavy Metal stars Holocaust and Diamond Head, along with longtime UK metal pioneers Budgie.
As Metallica spearheaded the mid-’80s crossover that blew apart the wall separating punk from metal, it was a bold move for the group to include a two-song medley by horror-hardcore giants the Misfits. Even more surprising, at first, was the appearance on the EP of “The Wait” by industrial post-punks Killing Joke.
Fronted by mesmerizing madman Jaz Coleman and equally powered by political outrage and a full-on embrace of the occult, Killing Joke represented a musical and philosophical forefront that Metallica picked up as sharing the same essential through line as heavy metal. “The Wait” is a perfect embodiment of the group’s tribal dance around the fires of Armageddon, and Metallica translates it into thrash brilliantly.
“The Wait” – Killing Joke (1980)
3. “Mexican Radio” – Celtic Frost (1987)
Original Artist: Wall of Voodoo
Led by Tom G. Warrior, Switzerland’s extreme metal masters Celtic Frost arose from the ashes of Warrior’s previous project, the blackened-death-thrash groundbreakers Hellhammer.
In rapid succession upon forming in 1984, Celtic Frost fired off two bracing EPs, Morbid Tales and Emperor’s Return, followed by their masterwork, 1985’s To Mega Therion. The stone-faced intensity of those records is powerful to the point of being shocking. Still, nothing Celtic Frost did quite set up listeners for the jolt of how they’d open their 1987 album, Into the Pandemonium; i.e.—with a hard-and-heavy, but essentially faithful, cover of “Mexican Radio” by witty Los Angeles new-wave trickstersß Wall of Voodoo.
Fueled by a jaunty cow-punk twang and ironic good humor, the song famously starts off, “I wish I was in Tijuana/eating barbecued iguana.” To hear these words emerge from Tom G. Warrior—and for them to really work—immediately dropped jaws and then blew minds. From that moment onward, the term “avant-garde metal” needed to be coined just for Celtic Frost, and music has been richer ever since.
“Mexican Radio” – Wall of Voodoo (1982)
4. “Girl U Want” – Soundgarden (1992)
Original Artist: Devo
Devo’s pop-art pranksterism emerged in the late 1970s as a cultural force that was freakishly far out yet, at the same time, so amusingly and entertainingly presented that the public embraced the group as the lovable weirdoes of their age.
No small aspect of what made Devo work, too, was that they wrote killer songs that could be interpreted in any number of genres. Case in point: the dizzying hard pop of “Girl U Want.”
Devo’s speedy original about longing for a love just out of one’s reach hammers home the feverish madness of those feelings, while Soundgarden’s slowed-down, smoked-up spins the song into a commitment of pursuing that romantic prize over the long, hard haul.
“Girl U Want” – Devo (1980)
5. “The Metro” – System of a Down (1995)
Original Artist: Berlin
“The Metro” was the first slinky, sexy, steady-driving new wave hit for L.A.’s slinky, sexy, steady driving new wavers Berlin. Marked by the smoldering vocals of Terri Nunn, “The Metro” recounts a bygone European love affair, reminisced over during a train ride between Paris and London.
On their 1995 cover, genre-busting multi-metal marauders System of the Down turn “The Metro” into a whirlwind monstrosity that’s unmistakably theirs. Building on Berlin’s elegant base, SOAD coverts “The Metro” a rush of time-changes, heated frenzy, and serious wit. The heartfelt emotion of the song, however, never stops beating through the onslaught.
“The Metro” – Berlin (1983)
6. “Candy-O” – The Melvins (1989)
Original Artist: The Cars
Sludge lords the Melvins glop their down-and-dirty magic all over the title track of the Cars’ smash 1978 album, Candy-O. Grunge’s weirdest graduates amplify the song’s inborn oddball factors while simultaneously pushing it to a far-off edge of dark metal mania—because, of course, that’s what the Melvins do.
Matching the original’s slow-burn tempo, Melvins front-beast King Buzzo erupts forth the lyrics about the mystery woman of the title with a sound that somewhere between a growl and a drool. How could she ever possibly resist?
“Candy-O” – The Cars (1978)
7. “Message in a Bottle” – Machine Head (1999)
Original Artist: The Police
The Police’s immediately gripping reggae-punk anthem “Message in a Bottle” tells the metaphorical saga of a shipwrecked castaway who reaches out for human connection by launching the missive of the title onto the unknowable currents of the sea.
In time, the island dweller despairs that no one has picked up on his plea, but the song’s final moments reveal a world of similar lonely spirits who have reached out to connect back with him.
It’s a poignant analogy with which innumerable new wave kids could emotionally identify. So, too, could countless heavy metal fans, and that’s what Machine Head makes clear in their pounding 1999 cover: we’re all in this together, so just reach out and make some noise.
“Message in a Bottle” – The Police (1979)
8. “Shout (Shout Let It All Out)” – Disturbed (2000)
Original Artist: Tears for Fears
“Shout! Shout! Let it all out!/These are the things I can live without!” Has any opening couplet more directly embodied the hell-hath-no-fury mission of heavy metal? Well, maybe, but it’s still odd that such words became famous by way of ’80s new wave duo Tears for Fears, and not one of our longhair-and-loud-guitar heroes of the day.
Disturbed run relentlessly with the song’s fury on their 2000 nü-metal cover of “Shout,” pumping up the lyrics about how one-track minds that take you for a working boy shouldn’t then expect you to just jump for joy. That is some really metal s—t to shout, shout, and let it all out about.
“Shout (Shout Let It All Out) – Tears for Fears (1985)
9. “Cars” – Fear Factory (1998)
Original Artist: Gary Numan
Few songs more perfectly crystallize new wave’s sound and philosophical outlook than Gary Numan’s cold, robotic, yet perfectly dance-inviting 1979 hit, “Cars.”
Over a repetitive synth-pop beat, Numan sings of feeling so safe in his car that he never wants to leave. Later, he hints that perhaps he’s lost his mind, while the high-tech music suggest he may well have been driven bonkers by the modern sights and sounds other side of that windshield.
Groove metal titans Fear Factory does a pretty straightforward version of Cars, layering a buzzing metal guitar in over the keyboard drowns and mechanical drumbeats to make it clear that, twenty years after Gary Numan’s original, automotive madness has only grown more fast and furious.
“Cars” – Gary Numan (1979)
10. “Everything Counts” – In Flames (1997)
Original Artist: Depeche Mode
Synth-pop’s supreme 1980s doom-and-gloom squad Depeche Mode has been fully embraced and championed by every form of heavy metal in the twenty-first century. Modern-era Depeche Mode metal covers include “Enjoy the Silence” by Lacuna Coil, “Personal Jesus” by Marilyn Manson, “Strangelove” by Northern Kings, “Waiting for the Night” by Ghost, “I Feel You” by Samael, and “People Are People” by Atrocity.
This hard-and-heavy love for one of the ’80s most fancy-pants-looking new wave groups actually began in the ’90s by way of extreme metal acts suddenly busting out Depeche Mode covers. Chief among those were “Everything Counts” by Sweden’s melodic death-dealers In Flames.
“Everything Counts” savages corporate greed in a manner similar to “Have a Cigar” by Pink Floyd. Whereas Depeche Mode’s original turns this lament into a moment of weepy-yet-booty-shaking despair, In Flames really brawns it up and makes it bruise.
“Everything Counts” – Depeche Mode (1983)
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).
[Photo: Getty Images]