10 terrible heavy metal albums that sold shockingly well

Artworks for Metallica, Guns N Roses, Megadeth and Trivium albums
(Image credit: Press)

More often than not, critical and commercial success are bedfellows. Nobody wants to buy a duff album, so if a musician takes a serious creative downward turn, the sales figures frequently reflect it. This isn’t true all the time, though. Sometimes, an artist will have enough momentum or an impressive enough legacy on their side to still top some charts, even with horrible music. Here are 10 times that naff metal albums, shockingly, sold well.

Metal Hammer line break

Metallica – St Anger (2003)

St Anger’s legacy was foretold on its title track: “He never gets respect.” But how else were people expected to react when Metallica – we repeat, Metallica – decided they’d grown tired of guitar solos? Despite topping charts worldwide in 2003, debuting at number one in 18 countries and even earning a Grammy, Metallica’s snare-centric gamble did not pay off in the fans’ eyes. When an album is still met with boos years afterwards, there’s no denying it’s a stinker.

Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (2008)

When music is stuck in purgatory for eight years, perhaps that’s where it should stay. Infamous for being the most expensive rock album ever produced, Guns N’ Rosesloooooooong-awaited comeback was a struggle, to say the least. Although it hit number one on 11 different charts and went platinum in eight countries, it’s a far cry from classic GNR. Instead, it’s a digitally distorted, trip-hopping rock opera. But, hey, we’d probably act equally as deranged if we had to front a $13 million studio bill too.  

Slipknot – All Hope Is Gone (2008)

Serving as Slipknot’s first album to debut at number one on the US Billboard 200, shipping out 239,000 units in its first week alone, 2008’s All Hope Is Gone is as far from commercial failure as the band have ever been. Yet, it’s still the black sheep of their back-catalogue. Despite boasting fan favourites from the evocative Snuff to the Grammy-nominated Psychosocial, so much of this is the sound of The Nine spinning their wheels. Half their members don’t like it that much, either.

Avenged Sevenfold – Hail To The King (2013)

Avenged Sevenfold’s avant-garde approach to heavy metal is one of a kind. With releases like their self-titled album and The Stage under their belt, the Californians have repeatedly proven themselves as ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, Hail To The King whimpers in the shadow of Avenged’s greatest moments. Though the album hit the number one spot on 10 charts worldwide before going platinum in the US and Canada, it’s also offers up some of A7X’s most monotonous and jarringly uninspired tunes to date.

Mötley Crüe – Generation Swine (1997)

Mötley Crüe clearly panicked after the flop that was their 1994 self-titled album. While follow-up Generation Swine certainly got people’s attention, debuting at number four on the US Billboard chart and even going gold in the States and Japan, it’s a Frankensteinian monster of 1997’s “hippest” genres. The confusion hits a crescendo on closer Brandon: the soppy ballad is an unforgivable chef’s kiss of cringe, delivering the album’s stand-out lyric, “Your mother gave birth to you with love.” Yikes.

Slayer – Divine Intervention (1994)

1994’s Divine Intervention earned Slayer their highest-ranking album yet, hitting number eight on the US Billboard 200 and selling 93,000 copies in its first week alone. However, it also saw a major dip in production quality. As the track Sex. Murder. Art. suggests, Divine… is an endless stampede of uneven, murderous ramblings. While the crummy audio quality at times lends Slayer a grittier thrash sound reminiscent of their earliest days, this certainly is not their finest work.

Megadeth – Super Collider (2013)

When it was released in 2013, Super Collider reached number six in the Billboard 200 charts, making it Megadeth’s best-selling album since Youthanasia 19 years prior. How it got there is anyone’s guess. With the exception of the dramatics of Dance In The Rain and twanging menace of Blackest Crow, these tunes together are just a total snooze. We will admit that the listening experience is vastly improved if you imagine Burn! is about contracting a UTI, however.

Korn – Untitled (2007)

When it came to naming Korn’s 2007 album, Jonathan Davis came up with the suggestion to “let our fans call it whatever they wanna call it”. While the decision feels pretty cool on the surface, it’s just another example of how unfinished it all seems. The softer, melodic flow clashes heads with a conflicting industrial sound, leaving Untitled sounding unpolished. At least it saw the nu metal pioneers land at number two on the US Billboard 200: their highest placement since 2002’s Untouchables.

Trivium – The Crusade (2006)

Following up the sleeper hit that was Ascendancy barely 18 months after its release, it’s no surprise that The Crusade drastically eclipsed its predecessor in first-week chart standings. It pulled Trivium up from 151 in the Billboard rankings to 25! However, this successor’s intentional rejection of everything that had made the band great – trading modern metalcore for throwback thrash and unrefined prog – alienated fans in the US. The Crusade has its staunch defenders, but not even Trivium like it that much.

Morbid Angel – Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)

Illud Divinum Insanus allowed Morbid Angel their first (and only) moment on the US Billboard 200 – despite being a tacky, frantic spew of a thing. While it aims to be “hardcore and radical”, it ends up being a caricature of heaviness, an ironic cesspool of noise, loaded with abrasive programmed drumming and a laughable injection of digital sound effects. Not many albums manage to feel like an insult to both death and industrial metal, but Morbid Angel nail it here. Impressive, really. 

Emily Swingle

Full-time freelancer, part-time music festival gremlin, Emily first cut her journalistic teeth when she co-founded Bittersweet Press in 2019. After asserting herself as a home-grown, emo-loving, nu-metal apologist, Clash Magazine would eventually invite Emily to join their Editorial team in 2022. In the following year, she would pen her first piece for Metal Hammer - unfortunately for the team, Emily has since become a regular fixture. When she’s not blasting metal for Hammer, she also scribbles for Rock Sound, Why Now and Guitar and more.