One of the things I miss the most about the nineties is the willingness major record labels had to release totally off-the-wall shit. From Reprise unleashing the Boredoms’ utterly mind-fucking Pop Tatari on the unsuspecting masses to Columbia striking a deal to market and distribute Earache’s catalog full of ear-shredding death metal and grindcore records, major labels in the nineties exhibited a bizarre fearlessness that was oftentimes downright shocking, flying in the face of the notion that they were corporate, soulless, blood-sucking musical widget factories where underground bands went to sell out, get screwed over and die.
Of all the oddities released by big league labels during that time, Die Krupps’ A Tribute to Metallica might be one of the most unusual. The German industrial pioneers had been going strong for over a decade at that point, but had just begun experimenting with more metallic sounds in 1992, as evidenced by the appropriately titled Metal Machine Music, a collaboration with members of thrash metal band Accuser, which was released some months prior. But A Tribute to Metallica mostly strips songs such as “Enter Sandman” “One” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” of anything remotely metallic in favor a pure electro-industrial approach.
Indeed, Metallica’s music gets a complete makeover here; Die Krupps extracts the aggression that fuels the original versions and replaces it with lock-step precision, giving the tracks a cold, mechanical vibe, powered by synths that a times bring to mind the soundtrack work of Goblin or John Carpenter. The best covers are the ones where the band performing the cover makes the song their own and Die Krupps are incredibly proficient at deconstructing classics from Metallica’s first five albums and rebuilding them in their own image. It’s this lack of reverence that makes A Tribute to Metallica an oddball success; the melodies and lyrics remain intact, but other than that there is nothing that even remotely resembles Bay Area thrash here, taking something familiar and transforming it into something utterly alien.
A Tribute to Metallica was originally released in 1992 as a five-song EP on Our Choice Records, but was later expanded to nine tracks when it got picked up for release by Hollywood Records, including two remixes of “Enter Sandman” and “One” by producer Dave “Rave” Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Rigor Mortis) that are damn near dance floor-worthy. The remixes might be the most fascinating aspect of A Tribute to Metallica, because as out there as the other tracks are, there is something even stranger about hearing these beloved metal songs turned into music better suited for glow stick twirling and ecstasy dropping than for headbanging and horns-raising.
Twenty-some years later, A Tribute to Metallica is still one hell of a weird listen. The fact that someone at a multi-million dollar label, a label owned by Disney no less, thought that putting this thing out was a good idea continues to boggle the mind in the best way possible, conjuring visions of coked-up record executives dancing around the boardroom to mutant German industrial versions of Metallica’s greatest hits.