The 10 worst creative decisions in heavy metal history

Photos of Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth and System Of A Down performing live
(Image credit: Metallica: Michael Stewart/WireImage | Iron Maiden: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images | Megadeth: George De Sota/Redferns | System Of A Down: Kevin Nixon/Classic Rock/Future via Getty Images)

Heavy metal is an inherently creative place, and there’s no rulebook on creativity. If there were, we wouldn’t have a genre that stretches as far from the brutal onslaught of Cannibal Corpse to the gorgeous sonic mosaics of Alcest. However, that lack of guidelines also means bands can sometimes make very, very poor creative decisions.

Hammer’s listed the 10 most disastrous and humiliatingly bad ideas in the pantheon of metal below. These can be anything from ridiculous subgenre switches to hopping on the bandwagon of the latest fad or just refusing to write music altogether. Whether it’s Metallica collaborating with Lou Reed or Morbid Angel doing whatever the hell Illud Divinum Insanus was, nobody is safe…

Metal Hammer line break

Every metal band that tried to cash in on grunge

The grunge revolution happened, in large part, as a response to the hyper-masculine dickswinging of the 1980s heavy metal scene. So, when certain metal acts tried to appropriate the genre once it got huge, it just felt wrong. On 1994’s Vince Neil-free self-titled album, Mötley Crüe sought new purpose with an alt-rock sound, apparently unaware they were one of the biggest bands grunge was rebelling against in the first place. Kiss and a recently post-Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson also tried to find fresh inspiration in the same pasture as Nirvana and Alice In Chains, and none of these attempts fared well either.

Morbid Angel make industrial metal

By 2011, Morbid Angel were arguably the most reliable death metal band around. Their 1989 debut album, Altars Of Madness, continues to be hailed as a paragon of the genre, with every release in its wake ranging from magnificent (1995’s Domination) to good (2003’s Heretic). So, the fact that Trey Azagthoth and co. decided to up sticks into the cybernetic landscape of industrial metal is still boggling minds. Illud Divinum Insanus sounding incomprehensibly bad, afflicted with monkey noises and cringey lyrics, only strengthened the blow for the band’s following of death metal diehards.

Celtic Frost go glam

In 1987, Celtic Frost released Into The Pandemonium: one of the finest and, frankly, most batshit extreme metal adventures ever committed to tape. Its aftermath should have been glorious but, instead, it was followed by co-leader Martin Eric Ain’s exit and Tom G. Warrior amassing an all-new lineup. Then, rather than doubling down on their masterpiece’s idiosyncrasies, the band blindly indulged in some then-nascent glam shenanigans on Cold Lake. It was hounded by everybody as a sellout move, and even Celtic Frost themselves hate it nowadays. Tom dubbed the album “a monumental failure” in a 2022 interview.

System Of A Down just… stop making music

System Of A Down were one of the rare timeless bands to emerge during the nu metal heyday, their progressive and sometimes baffling tunes resonating long after their genre’s early-2000s downswing. However, the Armenian-Americans went on hiatus in 2006, denying fans more of their glorious sonic lunacy. Everybody thought their 2010 reunion would eventually herald a new album, but… no. There was delay after delay, despite their regular touring schedule, which guitarist Daron Malakian blamed on singer Serj Tankian’s lack of interest. Although a double A-side single dropped in 2020, we’d all hoped there’d be more by now, frankly, but it seems System are simply content to exist as a pure nostalgia act.

In Flames abandon melodeath

It’s wild to think about nowadays but, even as recently as 2008, there was once no such thing as a bad In Flames album. The Gothenburg masters perfected their own flavour of melodeath in the 1990s, which continues to spawn countless imitators, and the addition of nu metal and metalcore to their death metal foundation in the 2000s made them international favourites. But then founder Jesper Strömblad left in 2010 and we got a series of disappointing, arena-baiting pop-metal albums that spurned their longtime fans. At least 2023 comeback Foregone marked the band’s return to form (and to extreme metal). 

Iron Maiden shed the synths

After 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Iron Maiden had it all – or so it seemed. The band’s then-newest masterpiece had returned them to the top of the UK album charts, and it did so while being their most extravagant album yet. However, bassist Steve Harris was bothered by Seventh… not sticking in the States, where thrash was dominating. So – inspired by Bruce Dickinson’s “AC/DC-ish” solo song Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter – he hurried the band into No Prayer For The Dying, which was raw yet rushed. The clamour cost Maiden longtime guitarist Adrian Smith and the adulation of many fans.

Megadeth gun for rock radio playlists… twice

In the late 1990s, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich urged Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine to take a “risk”. This is precisely what MegaDave did in 1999 with the album of the same name, eschewing his band’s thrash origins for chart-minded electro-rock. It didn’t work, but at least their 2000s material clawed their momentum back. There’s no excuse, then, for Megadeth trying the same trick with 2013’s Super Collider, which was somehow worse and even more damaging. Dave and his crew became laughing stocks to their core audience, then longtime members Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover left. Luckily, they've once again rallied since.

Whatever the hell Black Sabbath were doing through most of the 80s and 90s

Black Sabbath were the metal band of the 1970s, with Tony Iommi owning an infinite bag of butt-clenching riffs to play alongside Ozzy Osbourne’s acidic howls. When Ozzy got dismissed in ’79, the band pulled the rare feat of nabbing a worthy successor in Ronnie James Dio. Yet, after Ronnie also vacated his post, lightning couldn’t strike twice. Sabbath couldn’t find a singer to revive fans’ ever-dwindling interest, nor make an album that rivalled Paranoid or Heaven And Hell. Although 1989’s Headless Cross was underrated, it took Ozzy’s in-studio return on 2013’s 13 for Sabbath to be truly essential listening again.

Slayer, Machine Head et al coopting nu metal

Depending on who you ask, nu metal is either the best or worst thing to happen to heavy music. Those who think the genre belongs in the latter column will quickly point to how it ruined a whole bunch of established artists – and, yeah, we can’t argue with that. Slayer’s Diabolus In Musica, Machine Head’s Supercharger and even Vanilla Ice’s Hard To Swallow (yes, really) are all regarded as the nadirs of these artists’ careers. When nu metal got revived in the 2010s, it was Suicide Silence who were tugged into its orbit, releasing their godawful self-titled album.

Metallica’s very dodgy run in the early 2010s

You don’t become the most powerful force in heavy metal history by playing it safe. The 40-year history of Metallica is laden with bold ideas, many of which – from dabbling in acoustic guitars on Fade To Black to slowing down on the Black Album – were genius. However, no band this fearless bats a thousand.

Metallica’s decision to mute the bass on …And Justice For All was dumb, as was the trash can snare on St Anger that’s spawned a thousand memes. What was arguably even more calamitous for the band, though, was the nonsense they got up to in the early 2010s. They started the decade with a collaboration with Lou Reed, resulting in Lulu: an album just as maligned as St Anger, except without the benefit of returning Metallica to number one (it only reached number 36 in the US charts). Then, in 2012, the band launched their Orion Music And More festival, which haemorrhaged cash. 2013 burdened them with even more unreturned expenses, as their big gambit into blockbuster filmmaking, Through The Never, bombed and got lambasted by critics. Meanwhile, fans were impatiently tapping their feet as all these outside ventures robbed us of getting a new album on time.

Eventually, Metallica did release Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. Although it came an agonising eight years after Death Magnetic (their longest release gap to date), its release and promotion marked a return to what Metallica do best both sonically (no-punches-pulled metal) and business-wise (touring the world). Welcome back, lads – now never make another film again.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.