Tribute albums are so overdone that it takes an extremely special one to command my attention, let alone buy. Especially a tribute to Black Sabbath. The Nativity in Black tribute albums in the 1990s really kicked the metal tribute album fad into high gear, and anyone attempting to pull off a similar tribute album now will have the odds stacked against them considering the influence of those past records.
As it turns out, at least four Sabbath tribute albums came out. Zakk Wylde’s Zakk Sabbath put out Vertigo, while Magnetic Eye Records released two tribute albums featuring a bevy of underground metal artists. The one Sabbath tribute that blew me away, though, came from Sacred Bones, one of my favourite record labels right now.
Instead of having a bunch of metal dudes hammer out faithful renditions of classic Sabbath tracks, Sacred Bones utilized the crazy eccentricity of their roster to create What is This That Stands Before Me?, a truly incredible collection of covers that fly in directions you do not expect. The Soft Moon tackles the seminal “Black Sabbath” and transforms it into a frightening industrial track reminiscent of Skinny Puppy. Noise/doom band Thou take “Supernaut”, the heaviest of all Sabbath tracks, and somehow make it even heavier, burying that massive riff in a morass of thick sludge. Marissa Nadler and Zola Jesus offer gorgeous, understated interpretations of “Solitude” and “Changes” respectively, while Hilary Woods transforms the classic “N.I.B” from a stomping metal beast of a song to a trippy, ethereal ballad. “Moon Duo” turns “Planet Caravan” into a nine-minute trip-hop epic. Dean Hurley serves up a rough and raucous jam of “Warning”, while Uniform makes the already thunderous “Symptom of the Universe” a full-on assault of overdriven guitars and martial drum machine. The best of the lot, though, is Molchat Doma’s darkwave cover of “Heaven and Hell”, and hearing Ronnie James Dio’s immortal classic metamorphose into Soviet synthpop stopped me dead in my tracks.
What is This That Stands Before Me? is an album that does not cater to the average metal head. In fact, it might confuse and probably annoy the hell out of them with so many left-field interpretations, but that is exactly why this album is so great. It’s important for metal listeners to hear interpretations of their music by people who exist outside the insular metal scene, and by being forced out of their comfort zone, they might discover something they might not have thought of checking out before. For the rest of us who thoroughly enjoy daring music, this is one compilation that I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s easily one of the best albums of 2020.