Side-projects are sanctuaries in heavy metal. For established artists who might feel creatively confined by their day job, a second outlet with little or no commercial pressure can offer an oasis of freedom and innovation. In some cases, what began as a lark morphed into a bona fide sonic force that caused the metal community to stand up and roar in raucous assent. Here are the 10 greatest side-projects in all of heavy music.
Corey Taylor founded Stone Sour in 1992 and was quickly joined by guitarist Jim Root, before putting the band on ice to join Slipknot. When the project was resurrected in 2000, it offered a mellower alternative to The Nine’s nu metal. Bother, Through Glass and Say You’ll Haunt Me were brilliantly tender offerings, before the House Of Gold And Bones saga adventured into art rock. Sadly though, Root left in 2014 and the whole thing was put on ice in 2020.
Listen to: House Of Gold And Bones, Part 2 (2013)
Brainchild of Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Probot weren’t just an homage to metal’s formative years, but a dynamic fusion of talents. Grohl brought together iconic voices, from Lemmy Kilmister to King Diamond, creating a thrilling metal assault that bridged generational gaps. Anything but a half-baked jam session, Probot uncorked one polished song after another, reminding us of the fist-pumping audacity of music that’s faster, louder and harder than anything else on the planet.
Listen to: Probot (2004)
A Perfect Circle
Enigmatic Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan formed A Perfect Circle to patrol more emotional and atmospheric terrains that didn’t quite suit the heaviness of his proggy day job. APC’s arresting soundscapes, combined with Maynard’s poignant lyricism, established them as more than just an offshoot. They’re a standalone behemoth, traversing topics from love to political unrest with equal, devastating finesse. The band don’t have any plans for new music right now, which is pretty criminal given how great they are.
Listen to: Thirteenth Step (2003)
Sepultura’s Max Cavalera and Fudge Tunnel’s Alex Newport brought to life Nailbomb: a jagged, industrialised assault on the senses. Though their studio output consists of merely one album, 1995’s Point Blank, it left an enduring mark. Look no further than the fact Max played it in full on a tour decades later. Nailbomb’s melding of electronic elements with classic thrash loudly reaffirmed that innovation is never a matter of quantity, but quality.
Listen to: Point Blank (1995)
Killer Be Killed
A supergroup featuring members of Soulfly, Mastodon and The Dillinger Escape Plan, Killer Be Killed are a siege of unrelenting brutality. The sound of their two albums, Killer Be Killed and Reluctant Hero, draws deeply from the raw power of thrash, hardcore and growling prog, seamlessly blending the styles together into a high-grade rocket fuel of excitement and punk menace. Basically, this project proves that side ventures can be as impactful as the main acts.
Listen to: Killer Be Killed (2014)
This funk metal hybrid, spearheaded by Suicidal Tendencies’ Mike Muir and Metallica’s Rob Trujillo, are a masterclass in how to meld genres. Their bouncy, freewheeling sound centres around rubbery basslines and swaggering tempos, entwining them with seismic metal riffs and sharp, often-playful lyrics from Muir. The project is a testament to the possibilities of fusion, yielding anthems that get heads banging and feet moving simultaneously. They’ve not released a full album since 2000, but we’re still waiting…
Listen to: Groove Family Cyco (1994)
A highly-anticipated collaboration between Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, Storm Corrosion were a detour from progressive metal straight into the eerie and atmospheric. Less about pure heaviness and more about ethereal moods, their self-titled 2012 release was a haunting journey through folk-tinged, experimental territories, showcasing that power isn’t always tied to the size of the riff. Although rumours of a second album have persisted for more than a decade, we’re not holding our breath.
Listen to: Storm Corrosion (2012)
Stormtroopers Of Death (S.O.D.)
When members from Anthrax (Scott Ian, Charlie Benante) and Nuclear Assault (Dan Lilker) joined forces, a riotous outcome was inevitable. Though originally conceived as a one-off project, S.O.D. cultivated a sound that infused a grimy punk spirit with speed metal’s supersonic tempos. Touching upon societal issues with tons of irreverent humour, S.O.D. emerged as a prime mover in the evolution of crossover thrash. We demand a reunion immediately!
Listen to: Bigger Than The Devil (1999)
Bloodbath are a testament to the enduring legacy of the 1990s Stockholm scene. Boasting members from Paradise Lost and Katatonia, this project delves deep into the roots of death metal. Their lyrical themes and guttural vocals pay homage to the early days of the genre, reminding listeners of the sheer power and dark aesthetic of one of our world’s most beloved scenes. What started as a jokey side-project has flourished into one of extreme music’s most beloved champions.
Listen to: Nightmares Made Flesh (2007)
Emerging from Sweden’s gritty underground, Disfear meld the ferocity of d-beat punk with scorching metal undertones. With At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg screaming out his usual agonised vocals and raging with vitality, their visceral anthems speak to societal decay, capturing the zeitgeist of generations disenchanted. A relentless force on stage, Disfear remain a touchstone in the annals of crossing over between crust punk and metal. Now gives us a new album, please.
Listen to: Live The Storm (2008)