Being in a heavy metal band is an inherently collaborative business. But, at the same time, lineup changes have always been frequent occurrences. Although teamwork and songwriting tandems have done great things in this genre (see Metallica’s Hetfield and Ulrich or Slayer’s King and Hanneman), sometimes pioneering bands have a lone chief architect to see them through. Here are 10 heavy metal acts that have become iconic with just one original member left:
Iron Maiden (Steve Harris)
Bassist Steve Harris founded Iron Maiden after his former band, Smiler, deemed his ideas too complicated. Their loss, since The Beast’s flamboyant and technical approach to music quickly made them key players in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and beyond. Steve has maintained his post on the low end since 1975, with the band’s second-longest-serving member, guitarist Dave Murray, joining the following year.
Slipknot (Shawn “Clown” Crahan)
Considering they had nine members and a reputation for anarchic shows, Slipknot were surprisingly stable during their ascent. The band’s “classic” lineup lasted for four albums, before bassist Paul Gray passed away in 2010 and drummer Joey Jordison got dismissed in 2013. These tragic and seismic changes meant that custom percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan became the only co-founder to still be in the band.
Megadeth (Dave Mustaine)
Megadeth have always been Dave Mustaine’s band. It was his hatred for ex-colleagues Metallica that fuelled their savage thrash and his riffs that made them legendary. However, for most of his career, MegaDave had a lieutenant in bassist David Ellefson. This meant that both of Ellefson’s exits (one in 2002 and another in 2021) left Mustaine as the sole “classic” Megadeth member to remain.
Anthrax (Scott Ian)
Even by the time Anthrax released second album Spreading The Disease in 1985, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian was their sole original member still in place. The New York thrash metal rebels were originally a tandem between Scott and bassist Dan Lilker, with a revolving door of musicians around them. So, Dan’s 1984 dismissal left Scott to carry on with a new, and now much more stable, lineup.
Evanescence (Amy Lee)
Evanescence were initially a duo, casting the angelic crooning of singer Amy Lee against the hard-as-nails nu metal riffing of Ben Moody. Despite the two being longtime friends, Ben left the band during their Fallen tour, citing creative differences. This left Amy to go it alone with an array of touring musicians, but Ben has since released a statement apologising and hoping to make amends.
Machine Head (Robb Flynn)
Singer/guitarist Robb Flynn founded Machine Head after a fallout with his former thrash band Vio-lence, and the mastermind’s decision to make heavier, groovier music would ultimately rocket them to stardom. Robb’s always been the figurehead for the four-piece, but they actually retained two original members (he and bassist Adam Duce) for more than 20 years. Sadly, Adam’s exit instigated a whirlwind of personal and legal issues.
Fear Factory (Dino Cazares)
The story of Fear Factory has always been the story of guitarist Dino Cazares and singer Burton C. Bell’s fruitful yet fractious relationship. The two made gold together (especially 1995’s Demanufacture), but have also each tried to continue the band without the other. Currently, Dino’s in the driver’s seat following years of legal issues with his now-ex-bandmate over who owns the Fear Factory name.
The bad boys of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Venom shot to infamy thanks to their grimy punk production values and unabashedly satanic imagery. The proto-black metal legends were a stable trio during their heyday – bassist/singer Cronos, guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon – but that was 40 years ago. Now, Cronos continues with two new cohorts to preach the unholy gospel.
Ministry (Al Jourgensen)
What would Ministry be without the acidic snarling and political iconoclasm of main man Al Jourgensen? Non-existent, probably. The frontman founded the band as a synthpop project in 1981, then it was his songwriting that pushed them into game-changing industrial metal on The Land Of Rape And Honey and The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste. Decades later, Al’s still firmly in charge.
Morbid Angel (Trey Azagthoth)
Morbid Angel didn’t invent death metal, but many would argue they perfected it with their precise yet intense debut album, Altars Of Madness. Since then, the Floridians have rampaged their way through numerous musicians, while the frontman role’s swapped back-and-forth between David Vincent and Steve Tucker. All of this has left guitarist Trey Azagthoth as the only original member to still be part of the band.
Exodus (Tom Hunting)
Gary Holt is nowadays considered the fixture of Exodus, given it’s his songwriting that drives the thrashers and his absence to tour with Slayer that delayed their latest album. However, the guitarist joined the band two years after their formation, and it’s actually drummer Tom Hunting who’s the originator still carrying on in their ranks. Granted, he’s left the lineup twice, but he still counts!