In the realm of popular (that is to say, non-classical) music, the metal and country genres might, at first glance, seem about as far apart as you can get. It's hard to discern any obvious link between the acoustic-guitar backed yodeling of “singing brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers and the plugged-in, thundering attack of, say, Fit For An Autopsy.
Look beyond the technical aspects, however, and you soon come to realize that these two strands share more commonalities than differences. Both have a common ancestor – the blues – and you don't have to look further back than the ‘70s, and bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, for wonderful examples of hard rockers whose country roots were clear to see.
Then, too, both metal and country are, at heart, working-class forms of music, shunning the self-consciously high-brow in favor of lyrical topics that speak to the everyday human. Most metal songs, like most country songs, focus on the grand, universal experiences – death, sex, work, frustration and love.
The themes, feelings and attitudes present in the majority of country songs are readily transferable to a metal setting, and vice-versa. Further, there are sub-categories, such as outlaw country and folk-metal, which seem like natural partners.
It's no wonder then, that many metal bands have explored the rich country-music song-book, successfully reflecting that material through their own lens. Below, we present 10 excellent examples of the wonders that can result when metal and country collide.
Volbeat – “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry”Originally by Hank Williams (1949)
What better way to end this list than with a song by arguably the greatest country songwriter and artist of all time. Hiram “Hank” Williams (1923 – 1953) is rightfully regarded as one of the most influential figures in country music history with an astonishing 55 Top 10 hits on the country charts, 12 of those at No. 1.
Williams wrote and recorded the now-iconic “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry” way back in 1949, and this version remains an engrossing listen thanks to the assembled players' peerless musicianship and Williams trademark plaintive singing style. A huge number of artists have covered the song from country greats such as Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich to acts as diverse as Diamanda Galas, The Waterboys and Yo La Tengo, not forgetting, of course, Elvis Presley.
Danish rock/metal band Volbeat laid down their own take on their 2008 album, Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood. It's an indicator of their talent that Volbeat manage to mark their own stamp on this well-known and well-worn number.
Megadeth, “These Boots (Are Made For Walking)”Originally by Nancy Sinatra (1966)
Arguably one of the catchiest songs in popular music history, “These Boots Are Made For Walking” was a big hit for Nancy Sinatra upon its original release as part of her debut album in 1966. The song, which has remained popular thanks in no little part to Sinatra's iconic eye-popping accompanying video, was written by Lee Hazlewood, a man also remembered for his work with the great “master of twang” Duane Eddy, and who enjoyed a critically-acclaimed solo career himself.
It's a versatile song, which lends itself well to a rock setting, and there have been some notable efforts in that direction. Hellsonics and Limouzina Express are among those who have recorded covers, but neither match legendary American rockers Megadeth — who included the version shown here on their 1985 debut album, Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! — for visceral power.
Sinatra's version of this quirky country-pop number reached No. 1 in the U.K. and the U.S., and the tune has since been covered many times. Other artists to have attempted filling Sinatra's boots include Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Ray Cyrus, Geri Halliwell and Bucks Fizz.
DevilDriver, “Whiskey River”Originally by Johnny Bush (1972)
You could pick any song from Californian heavy metal band DevilDriver's 2018 album, Outlaws 'til the End, for this list. That ambitious and highly enjoyable record is entirely made up of country covers and features some heavy-hitting special guests, including Burton C. Bell (ex-Fear Factory), Brock Lindow (36 Crazyfists), Wednesday 13, Hank3 and more.
Amongst stiff competition, we've gone for “Whiskey River,” a fine tune originally penned by Johnny Bush and Paul Stroud, first made famous by the great Willie Nelson on his 1973 album, Shotgun Willie. For their cover, DevilDriver called upon the considerable talents of Randy Blythe and Mark Morton from Lamb of God.
Together, the musicians virtually deconstruct the original, recombining the constituent parts into a monumental slab of hard metal with machine-gun drums and swirling guitars. For contrast, it's also worth investigating Willie Nelson's quartet of duets of this song with Jerry Lee Lewis, Sheryl Crow, Trick Pony and Johnny Bush himself.
Ensiferum, “Rawhide” Originally by Ned Washington (1958)
Finnish folk-metal band Ensiferum will be familiar to readers of Loudwire. It's no secret that some extraordinary music has come out of that country over the last 50 years, and this four-piece are no exception, fusing heavy, driving riffs with highly melodic songs to create an immediately recognizable sonic landscape.
The band's excellent cover of “Rawhide” originally featured on the bonus disc of their 2015 album, One Man Army. The song was written in 1958 by Ned Washington, with music by Dimitri Tiomkin (who also provided scores for many classic films, including High Noon and The Guns Of Navarone).
The tune will be known to many thanks to its role as the theme song to the long-running TV Western series of the same name, which featured a very young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates. Ensiferum's inventive take retains all the rolling charm of the original but ramps things up considerably with a higher tempo and double-time drums. As ever, with this group, there's a healthy injection of bombastic energy to help things along.
Korn + Yelawolf, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”Originally by Charlie Daniels (1979)
At first glance, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” seems like the perfect candidate for a metal cover, or any cover, but in fact there have been relatively few released since the original, which was written and performed by The Charlie Daniels Band in 1979. The multi-instrumentalist Daniels reworked a tune originally composed by Vassar Clements, bringing it up an octave and adding lyrics that relate a version of the classic man-meets-devil story.
In Daniels' song, this meeting takes the form of a fiddle contest between the hero, "Johnny” and Satan himself. The story's sung-spoken narration sets the scene, with instrumental passages literally playing out the competition as each combatant takes his turn. Here lies a possible explanation for the dearth of covers – Daniels himself provided some blistering fiddle on the original, which is exceedingly hard to match.
American nu metal band, Korn, side-stepped this problem by substituting guitar for the fiddle-parts, and did a fine job of keeping up the pace, energy and drama inherent in the tune. A notable contribution comes from rapper Yelawolf, who lends his talents to the vocals.
Die Apokalyptischen Reiter - “Ghost Riders in the Sky”Originally by Stan Jones (1948)
If ever there was a country song suited to a heavy-metal re-working, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” must surely be it. Written in 1948 by actor/writer Stan Jones, the lyrics take in damned cowboy spirits, endless skies and red-mist visions of steel-hooved, rampaging cattle. According to Jones, the story was told to him as a young boy by an elderly Native American man. It echoes the classic theme of the Wild Hunt, which is found in folklore and mythology across the globe.
First recorded by Burl Ives, in 1949, the song has been covered by a host of country greats, including Gene Autry, Frankie Laine and Eddie Arnold. Away from country, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, R.E.M. and even horror supremo, Christopher Lee, have all contributed versions.
On the metal side, there could be no better candidate than German rockers Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, whose name translates into English as The Apocalyptic Riders. Keeping that classic riff in place, the band add thumping, swinging drums, deep chugging guitars and a suitably reverent spirit.
All That Remains, “The Thunder Rolls”Originally recorded by Tanya Tucker, first released by Garth Brooks (1991)
Garth Brooks might not be the likeliest person to turn to when in search of a song suitable for a good metal cover. His highly commercial brand of country music leans heavily toward the lighter, more pop-oriented side. He is a fine songwriter, however, and you don't rack up the number of sales and record-breaking live performances Brooks enjoys through lack of talent.
“The Thunder Rolls” was co-written by Brooks and Pat Alger, and originally recorded by Tanya Tucker. Tucker's version, however, did not see the light of day until 1995, by which time Brooks had released his own take on his 1991 album, No Fences, the single reaching No. 6 on the country chart.
Two decades later, American heavy metal band All That Remains laid down their own interpretation as part of their eighth studio album, 2017’s Madness. On this cut, the group successfully retained the melodic hooks and drama of the original while adding their own muscular touch to create a compelling narrative piece.
Leo Moracchioli - “Take Me Home, Country Roads”Originally by John Denver (1971)
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” surely must sit near the top when drawing up a list of most-loved and iconic country songs. Written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, the latter of whom recorded and released the original in 1971, the lyrics form a tribute to West Virginia (described as “almost heaven”). So revered is this song, in fact, that in 2014 the tune was adopted as one of four official state anthems for that territory.
Our entry here concerns the prolific Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and producer, Leo Moracchioli, who surely claims the “highest number of metal covers of popular songs” award, having recorded more than 400 so far. His cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” appeared on the artist's 2019 album, Leo Metal Covers, Volume 25. Kicking off with a deceptively restrained acoustic section, Moracchioli's innovative version soon blossoms into a full-on metal affair, though this fine cut never loses sight of its melodic core.
The popularity of Denver's own recording has endured, having been certified a platinum-seller (two million copies) in 2017. The song has been covered countless times, including efforts by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Billie Joe Spears, The Bavarian Banditos and David Hasselhoff.
Social Distortion, “Ring of Fire”Originally by Anita Carter (1963)
Since forming in 1978, California’s Social Distortion have explored many musical territories — they’ve been labeled as punk, roots, melodic hardcore and alternative rock. Whatever form they take, though, the group brings a lot of talent and dedication. Social Distortion's cover of “Ring of Fire” first appeared on their self-titled 1990 album.
Written by Merle Kilgore and June Carter, the song was originally recorded by June's sister, Anita, in 1963. That same year, with Anita's blessing, the great Johnny Cash scored big with a reworked version, occupying the No. 1 slot on the country charts for seven weeks. It remains Cash's biggest seller and his most enduring work. Cash and June Carter would later marry, in 1968.
Social Distortion's take adds a punky, playful energy that sits perfectly both lyrically and musically. You can't help but think that Cash must have heartily approved of this number. He was always something of a rebel at heart, and the Californian rockers bring that spirit to the fore.
Krokus, “House of the Rising Sun”Origin unconfirmed
A good contender for oldest song on this list, the origins of “The House of the Rising Sun” are lost to time. Musicologists agree that it is a traditional folk number that was first collected in Appalachia in the 1930s, but it’s almost certainly much older. Famed field-recordist and collector Alan Lomax suggested a link to the 17th-century tune, “Matty Groves,” but the truth, in all likelihood, will never be known.
The most famous version, and the one that no doubt first springs to mind, is by the excellent U.K. band, The Animals, which hit No. 1 on both sides of the pond in 1964. Swiss heavy metal outfit, Krokus, laid down their own take five decades later as part of their 2017 album, Big Rocks.
Krokus do this fine song full justice here, opening with a suitably eerie blast of harmonica before settling down into a thumping, hard rock style full of high emotion. Other notable artists to have covered this tune include The Platters, The Everly Brothers and Muse.