When our timelines were flooded with the news that Linkin Park were to release a song called Heavy, our interest was piqued. After all, they know their way around a tune and know how to peel out a crunching riff when the moment demands it. How we spluttered coffee over our devices when we discovered that Heavy was a slice of deliciously well-crafted pop. But there was hope. And then they said they were releasing a new song called Battle Symphony. Fuck. Yes. At last. Linkin Park go Power Metal. After returning from the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee, we made a mental note to listen to the song first. And we’re glad we’re did. It seems that Linkin Park are experimenting with pop and all signs suggest that their forthcoming album, One More Light will be incredibly crunch free.
It made us contemplate all the other times bands have kept their fans on their toes by switching musical genres, like…
THAT TIME MACHINE HEAD WENT NU METAL
It was 1999. Britney Spears was several years away from stress-induced DIY haircuts, Mastodon and Trivium had just formed, and Robb Flynn woke up and had an idea: hitch a ride on the nu metal bandwagon. He didn’t just stop with the riffs, mind. He spiked his hair and sported an orange nylon jacket and orange camouflage pants. You can see his vibrant look in all its glory on the From This Day video on Youtube. “This is the most 1999 thing I’ve ever seen,” reads one comment. Luckily, Machine Head saw the error of their ways and returned to delivering crushing metal riffs several years later.
AND WHAT HAPPENED WHEN DISCHARGE SWAPPED PUNK FOR HAIR METAL?
Stoke punks Discharge changed the face of the genre, no question. Grindcore, thrash and black metal all owe a debt to their scathing 1982 debut Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing. Perhaps sensing the punk scene was becoming stagnant in the mid 80s, the band – in one of the most puzzling moves ever – decided to ditch the hardcore and instead reinvented themselves as one of the worst glam metal bands ever to release an album. Their US tour in support their 1986 album Grave New World was an unmitigated disaster and found themselves being heckled night after night. Discharge later reformed and their most recent album End Of Days sits comfortably in the middle ground between Motörhead and Sick Of It All. Phew.
THE BEASTIE BOYS WERE A SO-SO PUNK BAND. THEN THEY GOT INTO RAP
This New York hip hop trio started life as a hardcore band influenced by the likes of Bad Brains. They specialised in short, sharp blasts of punk rock and released the sneering Polly Wog Stew EP in 1982. After that, though, they started getting into rap. The following year, the band released their debut single Cooky Puss, named after an ice cream cake character. That signalled the beginning of their transition into one of the world’s greatest hip hop groups ever. They never forgot their roots and dipped their toes back into hardcore with the Agile e Olio EP, which featured 11 songs in just eight minutes. But we’re thankful they switched to hip hop, because in all honesty, when was the last time you heard someone ask to hear Egg Raid On Mojo one more time? Exactly.
AND WHY DID CELTIC FROST TRY TO REINVENT THEMSELVES AS HAIR METALLERS?
Swiss extreme metal icon Tom G. Warrior shot himself in the foot with the release of his band’s fourth album Cold Lake. Featuring a new line-up, their sound was markedly less extreme and was cynically marketed to the glam metal crowd. A band who once recorded songs called Necromantical Screams and Visions of Mortality doused themselves in hairspray and tight jeans, and offered their confused fans melodic misfires such as Seduce Me Tonight, Dance Sleazy and Roses Without Thorns. Frontman Thomas Fischer (he’s dropped the Warrior) later described the album as the “absolute worst I could do in my lifetime” and it was deleted from the band’s back catalogue.
THE DAY KORN GOT ALL DUBSTEP IN OUR FACE
In 2011, Bakersfield nu metal statesmen Korn took a hell of a risk with their tenth studio album The Path Of Totality. They roped in the likes of Skrillex, Excision and NOISIΛ (look at it upside down) to add some malfunctioning R2-D2 flourishes to the 11-track gamble. Those expecting the genre mash-up to backfire were left with dubstep egg all over their face and Korn’s career was given a breath of fresh air. “We were dubstep before there was dubstep,” frontman Jonathan Davis told Billboard. “We were all about the bass.”
THAT TIME SMASHING PUMPKINS ALMOST DERAILED THEIR CAREER WITH SOME SYNTHS
Following the success of the bands’ 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness double album and subsequent world tour, things started to fall apart in the Corgan camp as he dealt with death, divorce and the departure of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Their 1998 follow-up album Adore was maudlin and heavily influenced by electronica and their fans responded by not buying the album in droves. It could, in all honesty, have something to do with the fact that Corgan chose to look like an scrawny Uncle Fester during this sombre period. Click click.
WHEN PANTERA STOPPED USING HAIRSPRAY AND BECAME METAL GODS
Before the release of their 1990 album Cowboys From Hell, Pantera were a glam metal band from Arlington, whose previous four albums failed to set the world on fire. After the release of 1988’s Power Metal – their first with new vocalist Phil Anselmo – they dropped the glam image, stopped teasing their hair to the heavens and tried a different tack. Harnessing the effortless groove of fellow Texans ZZ Top, the late, great Dimebag Darrell’s dextrous riffing and Anselmo’s vocal prowess helped shape their major label debut into one of metal’s defining moments.
MINISTRY DIDN’T ALWAYS SOUND LIKE A JACKHAMMER FUELLED BY AGONY
Before Ministry became the bonkers industrial metallers we know and love today, Al Jourgensen spent a portion of the 80s playing synthpop and released two albums; With Sympathy (1983) and Twitch (1985). Things took a distinct left turn when Al ditched the black turtlenecks and started playing guitar. He quickly enlisted the services of The Blackouts’ bassist Paul Barker and drummer Bill Rieflin for the subsequent album, The Land of Rape and Honey (1988), and created a touchstone for industrial acts everywhere.
SOME PEOPLE DETESTED CAVE IN WHEN THEY WENT A BIT PROGGY, THE FOOLS
In 1998, Massachusetts quartet Cave In released their first proper album, Until Your Heart Stops. The riffs and vocals were a relentless assault on the cochleas, but their 1999 stop-gap EP Creative Eclipses sounded like a completely different band. Some fans who can only subsist on a diet of crunchy riffs were left bewildered – and perhaps distraught – by their decision to explore rock’s expansive landscape, but it was a cunning way to whet the palette for their prog masterpiece Jupiter which followed a year later. Plus, they recorded a song called Big Riff, which is used by councils to detonate tower blocks. That’s a guess, to be honest.
MEGADETH TOOK A RISK WITH RISK AND IT BACKFIRED JUST A TEENY BIT
Once the world’s state of the art speed metal band featuring a ginger man, Megadeth found mainstream success with their 1997 release Cryptic Writings. Naturally, they wanted to repeat that acclaim with their follow-up Risk two years later. The results, however, were a mixed bag. On one hand, Risk was a watered-down version of Megadeth trying something to break free of their own template. Then there’s the sporty abomination that was Crush ‘Em – which is what they should have done with the master tapes if we’re being completely fair. They went back to playing metal after that.
SPARE A THOUGHT FOR SUICIDE SILENCE
Just as their career was really starting to take off, Californian metalcore five-piece Suicide Silence tragically lost their original vocalist Mitch Lucker following a motorbike accident in late 2012. They picked up the pieces and made an admirable return with frontman Eddie Hermida and unleashed the defiant You Can’t Stop Me. Perhaps the title should have been saved for this year’s eponymous effort, as a stylistic switch featured a new sound and clean vocals – some of their fans went apeshit and set up a petition to prevent the album ever seeing the light of day. Harsh, man.
WHEN OPETH DROPPED DEATH METAL AND BECAME PROG ICONS
Led by the wispy-‘tached genius Mikael Åkerfeldt, this Stockholm based quintet dealt in skin-flaying death metal yet peppered their 1995 debut album Orchid with gentle acoustic noodling and –whisper it – actual singing. Shocking, right? By the time their fifth album Blackwater Park rolled into view in 2001, they’d fully immersed themselves in the deep end at the prog pool and emerged absolutely soaked with ideas. Today, they’re icons of the scene and continue to blow minds with their technical brilliance. And that wispy moustache.
Now that we think about it, we’re pretty sure we’re forgetting a whole bunch here. What are the other times you think bands have surprised, titillated, and horrified? Post away! We’d love to hear from you.