the blueprint for (heavy metal) success (and subsequent abject failure)


if you aren’t fascinated by metal, this post will bore you to death.

there is an interesting career arc in heavy metal that a lot of the biggest metal bands share. i think every metal head is already intuitively aware of this but it occurred to me while listening to sepultura’s arise album that they too followed the same arc, and i hadn’t noticed that before so it got me thinking about it a bit more.

the arc is this:

  • first album is raw and juvenile but still manages to garner respect
  • second album is still a little rough in areas but shows excellent overall improvement
  • third album is like, “whoah, these guys are serious. what a killer record.”
  • fourth album is possibly even better than the last, and boasts better production values.
  • fifth album shifts slightly away from metal and incorporates some mainstream rock influences. some old school fans decry this as the end of the band while the majority of listeners think this is their best shit yet.
  • everything after that sucks ass.

now, let’s apply this arc to some of the biggest metal bands to see how it fits. the most obvious example that fits into this story is metallica.

  • kill ’em all – check
  • ride the lightning – check
  • master of puppets – check
  • and justice for all – check
  • black album – check
  • garbage ever after – check

how about that! now, let’s see how the second biggest metal band — megadeth — compares.

  • killing is my business…and business is good! – check
  • peace sells…but who’s buying? – check
  • so far, so good…so what! – nope. i love this album but it’s far from a fan favourite.
  • rust in peace – check
  • countdown to extinction – check
  • nothing else worth bothering with – check

besides the misstep on their third album, megadeth follows the trajectory pretty well. what about slayer?

  • show no mercy – check
  • hell awaits – check
  • reign in blood – check
  • south of heaven – sort of? this one is tough because some people love it but i think most see it as inferior to its predecessor. either view is justifiable in my opinion.
  • seasons in the abyss – check
  • a bunch of albums that don’t stand out in any way – check. i actually think divine intervention is a solid album, and much better than seasons in the abyss, but i’ve only met one person who agrees with me.

so another close fit. how about sepultura?

  • morbid visions – check
  • schizophrenia – check
  • beneath the remains – check
  • arise – check
  • chaos AD – check
  • nu metal and super lame korn impressions abound – check

this is incredible. ok i don’t like anthrax much but let’s look at their albums.

  • fistful of metal – check
  • spreading the disease – check
  • among the living – check
  • state of euphoria – no way. this record stinks like shit. but if we disregard it and pretend it doesn’t exist, then…
  • persistence of time – check
  • sound of white noise – check
  • a bunch of albums no one remembers – check

one more. let’s try testament.

  • the legacy – check
  • the new order – check
  • practice what you preach – ehhhh…not quite, but almost. it’s respectable (as far as testament’s catalogue goes, i mean) but i don’t think anyone would say this was a big step up from the new order. half check.
  • souls of black – check
  • the ritual – check
  • now, i love the following album, low, but i know most people don’t care about it at all, so i’ll give this one a check too.

(edit: ben just pointed out to me that children of bodom also fit perfectly into this career arc, and he’s right. so that’s another one.)

i think this is uncanny. it basically tells me that every metal band should quit after their fifth album. go out on top, you know? leave an incredible legacy, don’t spoil it by experimenting with EDM and dub step. start another project if you want to do that stuff. i mean, it’s absurd for metallica to play country songs since metallica is a metal band. using the name metallica purely as a brand or label so your garbage experiments actually find an audience is bullshit. if your experiments are actually any good, they’ll do well on their own without a recognized brand name on it.

just quit while you’re ahead, for god’s sake. have some dignity.


don’t let it come to this.


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