10 times metal bands made masterpieces late into their career

Metal frontmen
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Ask most music fans for their very favourite album by their very favourite band, and chances are they'll pick something from said artist's early days. It's an inevitable fact of life that most bands are at their most exciting, creative and boundary-pushing during the first decade or so of their existence - a time when they're young, fired-up and fearless, unencumbered by the pressures of the music industry, the expectation of demanding fanbases or the risks that come with refusing to compromise on their sound. 

It's why, as they approach veteran status, bands can be forgiven for resting on their laurels a little and pumping out solid-to-substandard records to keep things merrily ticking along. Not all bands, mind you. Luckily, metal is filled with examples of veteran acts that have defied convention to produce world class material decades in. With that in mind, here are ten times a metal band at least twenty years into their existence released an album that goes toe to toe with anything from their 'glory days'. 

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Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death (2006)

Such is the level of quality in Iron Maiden's output since the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith to the fold in 1999 that you could pick a number of albums from 2000-onwards here, and it's difficult to look past the metal icons' spectacular comeback in Brave New World. That said, following the lesser celebrated (but vastly underrated) Dance Of Death, Maiden's renaissance arguably reached the peak of its powers with the magnificent A Matter Of Life And Death. Dark, expansive and filled with anthemic, emotionally-charged heavy metal bangers, its a 72 minute odyssey without a single duff moment - something which the band themselves clearly knew, playing the album in full on its accompanying tour. And who could blame them? The likes of For The Greater Good Of God, The Longest Day and the defiant These Colours Don't Run, a song title inspired by the band's infamous Ozzfest feud with Sharon Osbourne, are all top-tier Maiden classics. 

Megadeth - Endgame (2009)

Having finally regained a couple of albums' worth of momentum following a dodgy old few years around the turn of the Millennium, Dave Mustaine shuffled Megadeth's deck once more, bringing in Chris Broderick on guitar and setting about writing the most concise, incisive and furious Megadeth album he could muster. The result was Endgame: not just one of the single best records of Megadeth's whole career, but one of the best metal albums of the 21st century full-stop. Andy Sneap's spot-on production gave Endgame a stadium-sized sound without losing an inch of its raw power, while songs like the snarling, triumphant This Day We Fight! and full-throttle rager Head Crusher breathed new life into the band. Not just a 'modern classic': a classic worthy of any era.

Trivium - In The Court Of The Dragon (2021)

After a wobbly couple of releases that suggested Florida's finest were seriously lacking focus, Trivium rallied with a three-record run fit to rival just about any other in modern metal history. Quite frankly, The Sin And The Sentence, What The Dead Men Say and In The Court Of The Dragon are all superb, brimming with the confidence, energy and urgency of a band who know they're performing at the peak of their powers. In The Court Of The Dragon, however, is the pick of the lot, merging towering riffs, fretboard-frazzling shredding and a powerhouse performance behind the kit from Alex Bent, whose arrival to the band in 2016 has undoubtedly helped revitalise them. 

Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know (2009)

Alright, so this entry is definitely cheating: even if you count the four individual musicians' stints together as Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell couldn't really be held to the same standards of longevity as other bands in this list. That said, for Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler and Vinnie Appice to come together at this stage of their respective careers and produce an album of this calibre was a truly majestic manoeuvre. The closest thing we got to a 'proper' Black Sabbath album until 13 landed a few years later, many fans would still point to The Devil You Know as the superior record, stacked as it is with colossally heavy Iommi riffs and a wonderfully full-hearted (if sadly unintentional) swan song for Dio, who we'd tragically lose just one year later.

Avenged Sevenfold - Life Is But A Dream... (2023)

Refusing to stand still where others would happily stagnate and go on autopilot, Avenged continued their fascinating journey into prog-powered, conceptually-dense waters with the most radical left-turn by a major metal band for years. As much as the wild swerves between genres and tones are manically entertaining, none of it would work if Life Is But A Dream... didn't have great songs, and from the unsettling, droning melancholy of Nobody to the woozy prog of Easier to the Daft Punk funk of (O)rdinary, it absolutely has those. A new peak of creative ambition from a band that have long left their peers in the dust.

Korn - The Nothing (2019)

Korn have made a career from channelling their inner demons into great music, but rarely have they ploughed the depths of darkness as with The Nothing. Following a particularly turbulent few years for Jonathan Davis that included the death of his estranged wife, the singer poured his soul into what emerged as Korn's most singularly powerful album since the 90s. There were no fun, super-catchy Twisted Transistors or Get Up!s here: this was Korn at their most dark and vulnerable, and the results, though a difficult listen at times, were deeply moving.

Judas Priest - Firepower (2018)

Bringing in the bulletproof Andy Sneap on production duties helped Judas Priest craft what is comfortably their finest album of the 21st century, and a record fit to stand alongside any of their greatest works from the decades prior. From the gung ho brilliance of the title track and Lightning Strike to the stirring Rising From Ruins and fists-raised defiance of No Surrender, this was everything classic heavy metal should be in the modern era: loud, proud, fun as hell and packed with riffs that make you want to bang your head clean off.

Machine Head - Of Kingdom And Crown (2022)

After their excellent run of form came screeching to a halt with 2018's bloated and unfocused Catharsis, Robb Flynn's band of merry men rebounded in style with their best album since The Blackening. Stacked with the kind of razor-sharp riffs, swaggering groove and massive hooks that have underpinned Machine Head's very best work, Of Kingdom And Crown's status as the band's first concept album allowed Flynn to focus his writing and produce something truly special. The frontman's time spent celebrating Machine Head's early days with the Burn My Eyes-era lineup evidently cleared the decks for him to concentrate on the band's present, while the additional presence of Decapitated's Vogg and Animals As Leaders' Navene Koperweis for this album's recording helped fuel the feeling that this was a band refreshed, revitalised and ready to resume greatness. 

Carcass - Surgical Steel (2013)

After spending a few years back together playing voraciously-received live shows, Carcass still hadn't committed to producing a new album, chiefly thanks to the other commitments of its members. After Michael Amott departed the band to concentrate on his Arch Enemy duties, Bill Steer and Jeff Walker got down to business, emerging with one of the finest death metal albums of the 2010s. Surgical Steel is absurdly great, from its scything, blood-splattered riffs to its sterling, Colin Richardson-helmed production, which helped its battering sonic assault sound gleamingly fresh without sacrificing any of its grit or gruesomeness. Now, Carcass were officially back.

Motörhead - Bad Magic (2015)

Completing their best run of albums since the 80s, Motörhead's final LP is a taught, full-throttle blast of rumbling rock 'n' roll fury that has aged all the more marvellously given what we now know about Lemmy's health during its recording. While Lem may have lost just a sniff of the barrel-chested, gravelly bravado that punched through our speakers for 40 years by this point, he still sounds on damn fine form, while the songs are all top notch, from the rattling punk-n-roll of Shoot Out All Of Your Lights to stirring power ballad Till The End and impressively well-realised take on Rolling Stones classic, Sympathy For The Devil. Even if we didn't know it at the time, at bow-outs go, it doesn't get much better than this.

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.