Since the dawn of time, “sell-out!” has been the clarion call of disgruntled metal fans getting irate about their favourite band mellowing out or softening up. But change isn‘t necessarily a bad thing, as these 10 game-changing reinventions prove.
Avenged Sevenfold’s debut album, Sounding The Seventh Trumpet, was the work of callow metalcore teens. Follow up Waking The Fallen began to edge away from that sound, but the real shift came with 2005’s City Of Evil, which swapped out screams and breakdowns for Maiden-esque guitar runs and hard rock sleaze. It worked, giving them their breakthrough album and spawning classics Bat Country and Beast And The Harlot.
Gojira’s From Mars To Sirius and The Way Of All Flesh put a new spin on death metal, blending flashy musicianship with primal grooves and occasionally mind-bending concepts. Returning from a four-year absence, 2016’s Magma found the Frenchmen in far less maximalist mood, knitting moody post-metal into their sound and dialling back on the complex riffs. Cue plaudits from longtime followers and mainstream metal fans alike.
British misery merchants Paradise Lost’s first two albums, Lost Paradise and Gothic, established them as death-doom pioneers. But they began to soften their sound on 1992’s Shades Of God, which saw them upping the sullen melodies and found frontman Nick Holmes trading growls for Hetfieldian barks. Come 1997’s One Second, they’d turned into a full-blown goth-metal Depeche Mode, bringing in synths and big choruses. The experiment went awry a couple of albums later, but it remains a bold move.
Baroness were once a Mastodon-indebted sludge-metal four-piece from Savannah, Georgia with a neat line in colour-coded album covers. But with 2012’s sprawling double album Yellow & Green, the followers became leaders as main-man John Baizley pulled back from the sludge in favour of a full-spectrum sound that drew on everything from prog to indie rock. Equally adventurous follow ups Purple and Gold & Grey proved it was no fluke.
On their very first demo, 2000’s Tristesse Hivernale, Alcest were just another bunch of face-painted teenage malcontents with connections to France’s politically dubious black metal underground. But mainman Neige radically overhauled them, replacing raw noise with angelic singing and shoegaze-inspired melodies. Today, they're rightly recognised as the pioneers of the blackgaze movement.
Katatonia’s first album, Dance Of December Souls, hitched death/doom noise to shrill black metal screams, but a combination of creative boredom and frontman Jonas Renske blowing out his voice prompted them to shift lanes. Cue the mellower goth-metal of 1998’s Discouraged Ones, and a gradual shift prog-wards. Still, what the Swedes lost in extremity, they made up for in accolades and sales.
Nobody does ‘windblown, epic post-metal’ like Sólstafir, but it wasn’t always like that. The Icelanders’ savage 2002 debut album Í Blóði Og Anda was rooted in black metal and hardcore, but they were soon writing 20-minute tracks, dropping sprawling double albums and adding banjos into the mix. 2019’s Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love featured a callback to their extreme metal past in the shape of Dionysius’ blast of noise, but even that sat between twisting prog-metal numbers and delicate lounge-jazz workouts.
Amorphis started life as flagbearers for the Finnish wing of the 90s death metal scene, though their sound softened slightly on 1994’s second album Tales From The Thousand Lakes, which added melo-death and folk. By 2003’s Far From The Sun, they were essentially a prog metal band. After a change of singers, they began to reintroduce more extreme elements back into the mix – today Amorphis lie somewhere between death metal, power metal and folk metal.
One of the original ‘Peaceville Three’ alongside Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, Anathema’s first tour was opening for Cannibal Corpse. By the mid-90s, the Scousers were leaning into the Pink Floyd and Beatles records they’d grown up listening to, expanding their sound and repositioning themselves as prog-adjacent visionaries. By 2018’s stellar swansong album, The Optimist, they were unrecognisable from the surly death-doom troglodytes they once had been – and all the better for it.