Ten Non-Metal Side-Projects From Metal Musicians

We examine ten other side projects by heavy metal musicians that have nothing whatsoever to do with heavy metal…


Maiden fans had advance warning: Reach Out, the b-side to Wasted Years, was a sentimental melodic pop-rocker written and sung by Adrian Smith. In 1989 the axeman launched ASAP (Adrian Smith And Project), roping in old mates from Urchin plus Ringo Starr’s son for an album of slick, shiny, poodle-soft AOR, with Smitty doing his best Joe Cocker over smooth MTV hooks. The album and singles bombed and the project was curtailed, asap.


Michael ‘Würzel’ Burston joined Motörhead in 1984 straight from serving as corporal in the Gloucestershire Regiment; he left in 1995 after life in the army and Motörhead had taken its toll on his health. He paraphrased the doctor’s advice in the title of his 1998 solo album Chill-Out Or Die, a surprisingly adept flow of solemn acoustics and spacey ambient. Sadly it was Würzel’s last album; despite chilling out, he died in 2011.


Zakk Wylde had been Ozzy’s guitarist for five years when the Prince Of Darkness announced his ‘retirement’ from touring (somewhat prematurely). So Zakk launched this country-tinged Southern rock outfit – his first experience as singer and frontman – which he originally named Lynyrd Skynhead. Traces of metal are discernible in Horse Called War’s swampy stomp, but banjos, mandolins and mouth organs predominate on P&G’s one-off Geffen LP.


Formed by Neurosis in 1995 as an ambient counterpoint to the earthy heaviosity of the Oakland bruisers, TON’s experimental impulses included releasing an album of insect noise (2002’s Adaptation And Survival). Debut Silver Blood Transmission coincided with Neurosis’ Through Silver In Blood, but this interdependence was best exemplified by 1999’s Grace, designed for simultaneous playback with Neurosis’ Times Of Grace for a mind-bending auditory experience.


Nowadays every extreme metal label seems to need its own fancy-dress retro-rock combo with self-consciously 1971 production values. But back in the late ‘90s, most metalheads were utterly nonplussed by the news that ex-Napalm Death and Carcass string-mangler Bill Steer was fronting his own melodic blues rock trio. They were equally nonplussed when he jacked in Firebird and went back to the grisly grind of Carcass.


In 2004, the multi-instrumentalist founder of South Carolina’s pyramid-bothering death metallers Nile realised that he’d “got sick of hearing big loud death metal every day after touring.” Solution: a meditative solo project of mellow folk and ambient mood-music played on acoustic guitars, synths and exotic Middle Eastern stringed instruments with mystical vocal chants and tribal percussion, branching out from Nile’s Egypt obsession to incorporate ideas from Indian, Arabic and Tibetan music.


This non-metal side-project proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Jason Newsted and Metallica. By the Load era, Jason was often reckoned to be Metallica’s most metal member, so when the bassist fled the Four Horsemen because they wouldn’t let him make music with Echobrain, fans were bemused that he’d quit the world’s biggest metal band to do a relaxed bargain-basement alt-rock record.


Dwid Hellion, frontman with metallic hardcore pioneers Integrity since 1988, was inspired to form his power electronics side project – an experiment in what the singer calls “weaponised sound” – after watching a CNN broadcast about the FBI’s attempt to break the 1993 Waco siege with loud, violent noise and reasoning “I could do a better job myself.” Another factor, Dwid explained, was that “I thought punk and metal was getting too soft.”


Virtuoso trumpet, flute, piano, dance beats, a guest appearance by Stewart Copeland and an amusingly provocative pun reflected in the crucified saxophone album sleeve – why it’s System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian’s quirky jazz combo. You’re spoilt for choice with non-metal Serj side projects; the same year Jazz-Iz-Christ came out he released his own full-length classical piece Orca Symphony No. 1.


Leo Smee, ex-bassist with much-missed UK doom titans Cathedral (and one-time member of reformed NWOBHM heroes Trespass), had been messing about with synths with his brother Milo for many years. But in 2000 their primitive experimentation was spun into orbit with the foundation of Chrome Hoof, a kind of psychedelic baroque disco-funk-prog chamber orchestra, clad in silver cowls.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.