When an artist dies, it’s always a tragedy, for both their loved ones and their fans. But when an artist dies young, or before they were able to fulfill an important chapter of their career, it’s especially crushing. Nothing is as terrible as ‘What might have been,’ and often when a musician dies, that’s what we’re all left with: a cloud of possibilities, questions, and unused potential that feels all the more traumatic because we’ll never see them come to fruition.
Today would’ve been the 54th birthday of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbot, guitarist of Texas metal legends Pantera. While Dimebag’s death alone is lamentable, it has also become a symbol for all of those artists in heavy metal who we’ve lost too soon. Dime’s youthful spirit, and the circumstances of his passing, now stand to remind us of every song we’ll never hear by musicians who the metal world lost before their time.
Here are 11 metal musicians we lost too soon…
Dimebag Darrell (Pantera, Damageplan)
Among the artists on this list, Darrell is certainly a senior member, having risen to fame and toured extensively with groove metallers Pantera. But Dime was assassinated two years short of his 40th birthday, and at the beginning of a new chapter in his career. More than anything, his death left fans with so many questions — could Damageplan rise to greater fame? Would Pantera ever reunite? — that would never be answered. We miss him still.
Mitch Lucker (Suicide Silence)
Not only did Mitch Lucker’s untimely death come at the height of his band’s initial wave of fame, but it also occurred as the genre he helped create began coming into its own. The Suicide Silence frontman died in a motorcycle accident a little over a year after the band’s highly-anticipated album The Black Crown hit the shelves. That Lucker’s band was on such a steady ascent makes his death terrible; that he was only 28 and a father makes it absolutely devastating.
Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Of all of the young talents lost to the world of heavy metal, none will sting quite as much as that of Cliff Burton, Metallica’s bassist who died in a bus accident in Sweden during the band’s 1986 tour. Everything about Cliff’s death sucks — he was the laid-back punk of the band, they were on tour supporting their monumental album Master of Puppets, his death threw the remaining members into a mire of PTSD that it took them years to escape. While every young musician’s death is a huge loss, Cliff’s will always be especially difficult for the metal world.
Jill Janus (Huntress)
What were especially difficult about the death of Huntress vocalist Jill Janus were the events leading up to it. In 2015, Janus posted a cryptic message to the band’s Facebook announcing what read like either her departure or Huntress’ dissolution. It was later revealed that she’d been dealing with severe mental health issues. Then, three years later, Jill committed suicide. Her death leaves behind not only a catalog of bitching heavy metal anthems, but a reminder to those dealing with their mental health that they ought to seek help, and are not alone.
Kyle Pavone (We Came As Romans)
In August of 2018, Kyle Pavone, lead singer of the metalcore act We Came As Romans, died of what was later revealed to be a fatal overdose. Kyle was 28, and his band was just in the early stages of creating a name for themselves, making his death doubly horrible. However, one silver lining came out of Kyle’s death — the Kyle Pavone Foundation, an organization started by Kyle’s family to help the music industry deal with addiction. Though they miss him, Kyle’s family, friends, and fans can at least take solace in knowing other artists are getting help in his name.
Per “Dead” Ohlin (Mayhem)
The original lead singer of Norwegian black metallers Mayhem, Per Ohlin, AKA Dead, was one of the band’s strongest creative forces. But he was also clinically depressed, and in April of 1991 he took his own life. Not only was Dead young and talented, but one can’t help but wonder if his mental health issues could’ve been overcome had he been surrounded by people who knew how to address them. As it is, he remains one of the second wave of black metal’s greatest losses, and for many his death marks a starting point for when the scene devolved into complete and utter madness.
Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne)
In a lot of ways, Randy Rhoads’ passing was the first great loss of heavy metal as an established genre. Randy died in plane crash while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne in 1982, at the age of 26. Before then, metal had been more of a loose term, but Randy’s acrobatic guitar tone in Ozzy’s solo band helped establish the genre as a vital part of the music scene. His loss still sticks with Ozzy to this day, who told Rolling Stone in 2018, “To this day, as I’m talking to you, I’m back in this field looking at this fucking plane wreck and this house on fire.”
Chuck Schuldiner (Death, Control Denied)
Chuck Schuldiner’s vision was singular — as the frontman of Death, he basically moved through line-ups without mercy, looking for musicians who would bring his ideas to life at any given time. That’s why his passing in 2001 at the age of 34 was so brutal. Death had plenty of albums out by then, but there was a sense that this dude’s mind would just keep creating beautiful new art for as long as it was active. That, plus the band’s wildly ambitious progression over the years, means his passing away cost us more riffs than we could ever imagine.
Duke Collins (The Deadlights)
Though they only had one album, The Deadlights were dark stars of the nu-metal world, their uniquely ethereal side drawing in fans who weren’t sold on rap-rock’s tough-guy routine. Frontman Duke Collins was in many ways the band’s driving force — but unfortunately, after wrestling with addiction, Duke died in March of 2015. Not only was his death crushing because it was one of the millions like it during America’s terrible heroin resurgence, but also because of how many cult fans the Deadlights’ self-titled release had slowly garnered over the years. There will be no comeback.
Paul Baloff (Exodus)
Original Exodus vocalist Paul Baloff was 41 when he passed away of heart failure after having a stroke in 2002, so he definitely had a long, storied career. But what’s truly awful is he never got a chance to see what Exodus would become to modern fans. The band are considered metal gods and massive festival draws now, but in the early 2000s thrash hadn’t yet come back, and nu-metal was still dominating the airwaves. One wishes they could go back in time, bring him to the modern day, show him all the battle jackets floating around, and say, “See? Look! It came back! They wised up!”
James Lynn Strait (Snot)
In many ways, Snot are the unsung legends of nu-metal, and James Lynn Strait was its oft-forgotten hero. The singer was a true rebel, who loved making the band’s weird mixture of thrash, funk, and groove metal without worrying about fame (when offered a record contract, Strait reportedly asked, “Can I get cheese on my Whopper?”). Unfortunately, James died in a car crash in 1998, along with Dobbs, his dog and the band’s mascot. As nu-metal’s revival continues to unfold, we must mournfully remember that its godfather isn’t here to see it.
Words by Chris Krovatin