9 heavy metal stars who made it big with their first band

Metallica, Halestorm, Soulfly and Epica performing live
(Image credit: Gary Miller/FilmMagic | Dave Simpson/WireImage | Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images | Frank Hoensch/Redferns)

Becoming a heavy metal figurehead in your first band is exceptionally rare. Given the genre is usually rooted in bluster and teenage angst, future stars often navigate a slew of personality clashes and unsuccessful projects before settling into the collective that ‘clicks’. It’s rare… however, it isn’t impossible. Below are 10 extreme music icons who defied the odds and made it big on their very first go of it.

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Lars Ulrich (Metallica)

Metallica’s displaced Dane landed in the United States with the goal of becoming a heavy metal superstar – but no history actually playing music. What he lacked in experience, though, Lars recouped in business acumen, given he’d earned himself a spot on Brian Slagel’s Metal Massacre compilation without even having a band. It was this connection that impressed future cohort James Hetfield enough to start jamming with the fledgling drummer in 1981.


Jeff Hanneman (Slayer)

Former drummer Dave Lombardo told Hammer in 2018 that Slayer were the late Jeff Hanneman’s first-ever band. Jeff and fellow guitarist Kerry King were the fulcrum of the four-piece until the blonde powerhouse’s death, co-founding them after Kerry saw his future partner in thrash playing his instrument at a reception desk. The pair, plus Dave and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, would terrorise the mainstream together through the ’80s and beyond.


Lzzy and Arejay Hale (Halestorm)

Siblings Lzzy (vocals/guitars) and Arejay Hale (drums) started their namesake band aged 13 and 10 respectively, with their dad Roger on bass. The outfit became (slightly) less of a family affair when Josh Smith replaced the senior Hale in 2004 – then, with lead guitarist Joe Hottinger completing the lineup, they landed a major record deal in 2005. Halestorm have had their hard rock jams get broadcasted all around the world ever since.


Matt Heafy (Trivium)

One year after flunking his audition to join high-school pop-punks Freshly Squeezed aged 11, Matt Heafy dazzled Trivium’s then-members with a For Whom The Bell Tolls cover and became their lead guitarist. The four-piece have almost completely changed since: Matt’s now their frontman, surrounded by an all-new lineup. Nonetheless, it’s still technically true that the metalcore maestro has toured the globe and shipped thousands of records with his very first band.


Max and Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura)

When Metal Hammer asked Max Cavalera about the first show he ever played, the Brazilian metal icon answered by mentioning a Sepultura concert in Belo Horizonte. It’s pretty open and shut, then, that the extreme metal mavens were the first band of he and his drummer brother Iggor. The siblings left the lineup in 1996 and 2006 respectively, but have since reunited in their Cavalera Conspiracy project.


Simone Simons (Epica)

Fun fact: Simone Simons attended rehearsals for a black metal band in her early years but never actually performed with them, thus making Epica, in the singer’s own words, “my true first band”. Since that 2002 inception, the Dutch six-piece have become a symphonic metal sensation, frequently cracking the top 10 of the album charts in their home country. Simone also doesn’t need to fanny about applying corpsepaint before every show, which is another plus.


Chuck Schuldiner (Death)

The godfather of death metal began his career in a group of extreme metal nasties called Mantas when he was just 16. Chuck quickly became the fixture of the project’s revolving lineup, and he changed their name to Death in 1984. Under that moniker, the band would lead the Florida metal scene and become untouchable with their increasingly progressive tunes, before their leader’s tragic death from a brain tumour in 2001.


Mille Petrozza and Jürgen “Ventor” Reil (Kreator)

Essen-based singer/guitarist Mille Petrozza and drummer Jürgen “Ventor” Reil have been the best of friends ever since the pair were in preschool. They started their first band together in 1982, which they initially christened Metal Militia. They cycled through a few more titles before finally becoming Kreator in 1984, and under that umbrella they’ve led the German thrash metal scene and released brilliantly brutal records for 40 years.


Lewis and Henry De Jong (Alien Weaponry)

Like Halestorm, Alien Weaponry lynchpins Lewis (vocals/guitars) and Henry De Jong (drums/vocals) have kept it in the family as they climbed the ladder of success. And, considering the brothers were eight and 10 respectively when the band started, it’s a pretty safe bet that this was their first musical venture. Now joined by bassist Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds, the pair have gone from upstart kids to conscientious groove metal heroes.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.