8 Robust Metal Covers of 1980s Pop and Synth-Pop Classics

Back in the 1980s, the pop and metal worlds rarely crossed over. For many true heavy music fans, collaborating with people in that sphere was like consorting with heathens. Part of the cache of metal was its aggressive bluster and purity of spirit—it was heavy or die. There was no need to have radio-friendly hits when the whole point was to express yourself in an uncompromising manner.

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Times have certainly changed. By the late 1990s, it became more and more common for heavy music artists to cover pop hits from their youth. That trend has certainly proliferated in the 21st century, particularly thanks to the exposure YouTube provides artists from around the world.

The following lists features ‘80s songs covered by metal artists who have taken up the challenge of converting pop songcraft into a raging rock format. There are hundreds if not thousands of them out there. These six tracks are standouts.

“It’s a Sin” by Gamma Ray (1999)/Ghost (2018)

Here are two different versions of the Pet Shop Boys classic whose melodic vibe really lends itself to metal reinterpretation. While Ghost’s emerged in 2018, Gamma Ray’s arrived at the beginning of the ‘80s revival back in 1999. Depending upon what you want out of the cover you might pick one over the other. Ghost’s rendition has more organ and siphons in gothic undercurrents, whereas Gamma Ray’s unleashes a more balls-out power metal anthem with bigger guitar harmonies and Kai Hansen hitting some high notes at the end. They’re both lively takes on the song.

“Blue Monday” by Orgy (1998)

Orgy burst onto the scene in 1998 with their debut album Candyass, and because they were the first signing to Jonathan Davis’ Elementree Records label, got booked onto the first Family Values Tour headlined by Korn. Having been labeled both industrial metal and their own moniker “death pop,” Orgy had no problem wearing its new-wave influences on its sleeve, notably with this high-energy cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Their version broke them in America and helped push Candyass to Platinum status. What’s interesting to note is the video version of the song and the official album version are very different. The wall of distorted guitars gets downplayed for the video mix, but they’re full-on for the album version that rocks harder and is more effective.

“Shout” by Disturbed (2000)

Disturbed have recorded three notable covers—Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” and their biggest hit of all time, their billion-streaming take on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” “Shout” was the first to arrive on their debut album in 2000, and it was a logical extension of the original, giving it a bit more crunch. Disturbed do a good job at giving “Shout” a metal facelift. David Draiman’s powerful singing imbues it (and their other covers) with a passion that lesser vocalists could not. The short organ solo in the middle is a nice touch. By the way, listen for the ice ice baby line, a nod to Vanilla Ice.

“Temptation” by Cradle of Filth (2006)

Considering the original synth-pop version of Heaven 17’s “Temptation” has a Goth vibe, it makes sense Cradle would give it their own dark and guitar-heavy twist. Their version deconstructs the track a little bit, exploring the nooks and crannies more, while the vocals from Dirty Harry (aka Victoria Harrison) purposefully have a harsher quality than Carol Kenyon’s original soaring performance. She meshes well with Dani Filth’s guttural growls in a heavy rendition without the usual black-metal bombast his band is known for. It’s a fun, tongue-in-cheek cover that appeared on their 2006 album Nymphetamine. The inclusion of organ in the chorus is a nice touch.

“Fade to Grey” by Atrocity (2008)

For nearly four decades, German industrial metal band Atrocity have pulled off a shapeshifting career, often taking detours into unexpected places. Two strong examples of this are their Werk 80 and Werk 80 II albums released a decade apart, in which they tackle many classic European pop songs in their own inimitable way. Like fellow German rockers Gamma Ray, they were ahead of the curve on this stuff. Atrocity’s take on Visage’s Goth classic “Fade to Grey” intensifies the musical elements that are already there and pumps up the guitar gallop, but singer Alex Krull keeps his vocals under control to suit the song’s vibe. Jensara Swann provides the female vocals in French. Both of the Werk 80 albums have a lot of cool covers that make them recommended listening.

“Africa” by Leo Moracchioli (feat. Rabea Massaad & Hannah Boulton) (2017)/Tommy Johansson (2023)

Leo Moracchioli has been unleashing his metal covers on YouTube for a decade now. The Norwegian vocalist and multi-instrumentalist revels in taking classic pop and rock songs and metallicizing them to the nines. He’s taken on everything from Adele’s “Hello” to Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito”. The man’s also got a sense of humor, being fully aware that some of the songs are super heavy renditions of tunes that never required that kind of power. His melodic death metal take on Toto’s soulful ballad “Africa,” which features guitarist Rabea Massaad and singer Hannah Boulton (both now members of his Leap Frog Band), is a classic example of this. The tongue-in-check video has already racked up 58 million views on YouTube.

A fellow young singer and guitarist named Tommy Johansson loves to do majestic power metal covers of pop and rock tunes like “Africa” maxed out with heavy guitars and soaring vocals. He is the frontman of Majestica and former guitar player of eight years for popular power metallers Sabaton. His catalog of covers spans pop to hard rock, from ABBA’s “Waterloo” to Bon Jovi’s “Runaway.” Johansson’s take on “Africa” is done more in an ‘80s style with modern production and multitrack choruses. He gives it his all.

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Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images

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