It’s always heartbreaking when a band decides to call it a day, but ending your career with a humdinger of an album can at least turn that tragedy into something more bittersweet. No one wants to see their favourite artist wrap things up as a shell of their former selves, and the 10 swan songs listed below made sure that some of metal’s icons ended their careers on their finest form. From Black Sabbath’s 13 to Death’s Sound Of Perseverance, these are the ultimate finales from throughout heavy music history.
Black Sabbath – 13 (2013)
In 2013, metalheads hadn’t heard a new Black Sabbath album in 18 years, and hadn’t heard one that was actually worthwhile since 1989. Mercifully – despite being short one Bill Ward – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were able to bring the heavy pioneers back to their woozy, sludgy best on 13. When the Brummies called it quits in 2017, this became the perfect send-off: one last throwback to their ’70s heyday.
Motörhead – Bad Magic (2015)
Released mere months before Lemmy died of prostate cancer in December 2015, Bad Magic has retroactively become an epitaph declaring that the Motörhead leader always lived life hard, fast and rowdy. Heavy-hitters like When The Sky Comes Looking For You strike with the same gruff rock ’n’ roll that once made the band one of the most dangerous-feeling in the world. Everything louder than everyone else until the bitter end.
Death – The Sound Of Perseverance (1998)
Chuck Schuldiner was always pushing Death to new frontiers, from perfecting death metal to being a progenitor of the tech-death and melodeath styles. On The Sound Of Perseverance, Tampa’s best forayed into a spacier progressive metal landscape, emphasising hulking grooves and pensive segues as much as breakneck speed. Many deem it the band’s magnum opus, and everyone else can at least agree it was a fitting send-off for such a restless musical force.
White Zombie – Astro-Creep: 2000 (1995)
By the time White Zombie entered the studio to record Astro-Creep: 2000 in 1994, the writing was on the wall. Singer Rob Zombie and bassist Sean Yseult had broken up, and the band had just run through a whole host of drummers. Nonetheless, the horror hounds were able to hold it together long enough to release an industrial metal classic, which set the tone for Zombie’s impending and wildly successful solo career.
Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006)
Celtic Frost’s style-smashing ways made them idols across extreme music, from black metal to thrash. When Tom G. Warrior and Martin Eric Ain awoke the band from a near-decade-long slumber in 2001 then released Monotheist, they doubled down on what made them so special, reducing subgenres to a nebulous concept. Ain’s 2017 death sadly eliminated any chance of a followup, but how many bands get to bow out with their most ambitious-sounding music?
Strapping Young Lad – The New Black (2006)
Although Devin Townsend considered the work of Strapping Young Lad to be complete after 2005 magnum opus Alien, this swan song shouldn’t be overlooked. The New Black boasts one of the band’s most celebrated songs in Almost Again: a rarity in that it’s persisted into Devin’s solo setlists. With other entries spanning from SYL’s melodic gang-chanting to the industrial rampage of You Suck, you can see why so many still miss Strapping so much.
Bolt Thrower – Those Once Loyal (2005)
Those Once Loyal was never meant to be a finale. It was planned to be just another Bolt Thrower album (albeit one that saw the return of classic vocalist Karl Willetts) but then turned out so perfect that the band gave up recording because they couldn’t top it. Although the UK death metal kings lasted another 10 years, this slab of hulking, growling, bass-heavy and slyly melodic excellence is how they’ll be remembered.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (2016)
By the time Dillinger announced their sixth album and impending breakup simultaneously in 2016, they were idols from whom perfection was routinely expected. However, even with the mathcore renegades’ back-catalogue being as flawless as it was, Dissociation was still a standout, leaping from punky freakouts to moody, progressive suites. The band went separate ways early simply because they wanted to “go out on top” – and there’s no doubt that that’s what they did.
Every Time I Die – Radical (2021)
Every Time I Die’s dissolution was incredibly public and painful to watch. The band had long been at the pinnacle of the metalcore scene, and suddenly singer Keith Buckley was slinging back-and-forth accusations with his bandmates via social media. It wasn’t a glorious conclusion personally but, musically, ending with something as energised as Radical is enviable. Despite being 20 years in, the New Yorkers sounded every bit as savage as they always had.
Letlive – If I’m The Devil (2016)
Letlive’s self-categorised “punk rock soul” and uncompromised political messaging made them fast standouts in the 2000s post-hardcore landscape. Then their music only grew in brilliance as the band continued. By The Blackest Beautiful and career finale If I’m The Devil, they were regularly releasing album-of-the-decade candidates. So – when they split abruptly in 2017, citing “a divergence in views and aims [that] has developed within the camp” – many were rightfully inconsolable.