Let's be honest: it sucks hard when a band we love calls it a day. Whether it's after only a few albums or following a decades-long career, it's never easy to readjust to a world without our favourite artists. That said, if rock music has taught us anything in recent years, it's that sometimes, bowing out when you're still at your peak isn't just admirable, but arguably necessary to preserve your legacy.
In a world where once formidable live acts are charging fans hundreds to watch them painfully try and recreate the glory years, or legendary groups are putting out increasingly sub-par material, it seems that kissing goodbye to the things we love really is better than watching them grow into something we just can't stand. With that in mind, here are ten examples of metal bands across the years that have bowed out gracefully, with their amazing legacies still well intact.
The band that created heavy metal had a wild and turbulent history to say the least, filled with drug abuse, alcoholism, fall-outs, feuds, shifting line-ups, hiatuses and numerous reunions, but when it came to their final, globe-trotting run between 2016-2017, metal's godfathers absolutely delivered when it mattered. Sure, the absence of Bill Ward behind the kit was felt keenly, but Tommy Clufetos did an admirable job in his absence, and Messrs Osbourne, Iommi and Butler put on a fine showing, wrapping up a near-50 year career with a stirring trek of UK shows in early 2017. That they even managed to put out a very respectable farewell album during their final years - 2013's 13 - only cemented the fact that Black Sabbath were able to bow out in style, rather than in infamy.
Kerry King himself might argue that they quit too early, but few could deny that it was better to experience Slayer packing the level of ferocious, neck-snapping live power that defined their career right up until the end, rather than witness them descend into plodding malaise or parody. The death of Jeff Hanneman and acrimonious departure of Dave Lombardo were difficult to swallow for some, but Exodus leader Gary Holt and longtime Slayer alumni Paul Bostaph helped ensure that the thrash titans were an essential part of metal's fabric right up until their last days together. We miss them, but we're glad we had them.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
If there's any band across the last three decades of heavy music whose discography is pretty much bulletproof, it might just be Dillinger. Fans were shocked at the news that the incendiary five-piece would be splitting up for good in 2016, but when you've built half your career on being one of the most terrifyingly intense, propulsive live bands in all of music, perhaps it's best to know to tap out when you're still at the top of your game. As far as swan-songs go, Dissociation is a hell of a goodbye note, too.
Soon after the sad death of beloved drummer AJ Perro from a heart attack in 2015, it was reported that Twisted Sister would head out on their final world tour the following year. Anyone that saw the legendary hair metallers on that run will know they had lost none of their live power, with frontman Dee Snider in particularly electric form as he belted out those timeless anthems with his comrades for the final few times. Well, almost the final few times: Twisted Sister did reunite for a quick blast of three classic tracks for their Metal Hall Of Fame induction earlier this year. In terms of their career as a full-time band, though, they undoubtedly ended it all on a high, and a fitting tribute to their bandmate.
The sheer sonic power of their shows meant that it was nigh-on impossible for a bad Motörhead gig to take place, meaning that even their final run of gigs as Lemmy was clearly battling health issues were rollocking good fun, the talismanic frontman defiantly leaving it all on the stage 'til the very end. Plus, the band's final album, 2015's Bad Magic, was amongst the most warmly received of their later output, offering another fine slab of rumbling, dirty rock 'n' roll like no other band could ever quite muster. We'd have all been shocked had Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee made any kind of attempt to continue the band without their dear friend, and thankfully, that was never on the cards. Motörhead died with Lemmy, but they finished as loved as ever.
Ville Valo may be far from done with us, as his critically acclaimed debut solo album Neon Noir was only released a few months ago, accompanied by a world tour that confirmed he was just getting started on the next chapter of his illustrious career. However, it was over five years ago that he put the final nails in the coffin of HIM, the band with which he made his name. Though HIM hadn't put out an album in almost five years by that point, their emotional farewell shows were ravenously received by their ever-loyal fanbase, proving that Ville had made the right call by bringing the band to an end while they were still so widely adored.
Lee Dorrian's doom metal icons helped spearhead the genre's evolution through the 90s and beyond, but after two decades slugging it out on the underground, they decided to call it a day once and for all in 2013, following well-received final album The Last Spire. Dorrian himself has acknowledged that it was the right time for them to hang it all up, calling a reunion "very doubtful" in an interview with Decibel in 2020. "We ended it for a reason," he added. Given the quality of their final salvo, you have to respect it.
Arrive. Define post-metal for the 2000s. Leave. Such is the succinct legacy of Boston five-piece Isis, whose enduring influence seems to only grow ever stronger in their absence, but who show no real interest in returning after their disbandment in 2010. "We've seen too many bands push past the point of a dignified death and we all promised one another early on in the life of the band that we would do our best to ensure ISIS would never fall victim to that syndrome," said the band in a statement posted on their website. Aside from one special reunion under the banner of Celestial to pay tribute to fallen Cave In member Caleb Scofield in 2018, they've admirably stuck to their guns.
Coventry's finest death metal export were rocked by the sudden death of longtime drummer Martin Kearns in 2015. After taking a a year-long time out to mourn their friend and collect their thoughts, the band released a moving statement confirming that they would not be continuing without Kearns, explaining: "when we carried his coffin to his final resting place, the Bolt Thrower drummer position was buried with him. He was, and will now forever remain THE Bolt Thrower drummer." While Bolt Thrower hadn't released a new album in a decade by the time of Kearns' passing, they remained a crushing live band until his death, meaning that their premature end came at a point they were still deeply respected in the metal scene.
German technical death metallers Necrophagist only put out two studio albums in their 18 years together, but their final offering, 2004's Epitaph, remains a celebrated landmark release in the post-2000 extreme metal scene. After beginning work on its follow-up a few years later, the band eventually ground to a halt, with drummer Romain Goulon stating that the band was "dead" in 2016. Given it's now been nearly two decades since their last album, leaving Necrophagist's legacy on a pedestal seems to be the decision that the band have understandably made. In 2021, Hannes Grossmann, who drummed for Necrophagist during the Epitaph era, suggested that it might be best kept that way, telling Metal Sucks: "If there was another record, the whole myth would be gone."