For as long as rock and roll has existed, the men and woman making it have struggled with addiction. The primal, rebellious sounds of rock music have always drawn in those whose relationship with reality is deeply troubled, and as such rock music has often been heavily informed by drug and alcohol abuse. This has led to a concept that rock music itself needs chemical dependency to thrive — or, to put it simply, no junk, no soul.
This, metalheads have learned, is horseshit. In fact, several of the stars within the metal world who have taken the pledge have become better musicians and performers for it. With their minds clear, these artists have been able to reach levels of professionalism, brutality, and raw power that they never could have when they were still stripping their screws with booze and drugs.
Here are 8 metal stars for whom sobriety was a move in the heavier direction…
Matt Pike (High on Fire)
When High On Fire vocalist Matt Pike announced that he was giving up the sauce, plenty of fans wailed and lamented at the idea that the band might lose their unhinged sound. Instead, High on Fire released Luminiferous, their angriest album to date, followed by the Grammy-winning Electric Messiah. Sometimes, booze sharpens your edge, but other times it dulls your point.
No rock star is more famous for taking the pledge and sticking with it than Alice Cooper. The shock rocker had multiple bouts with sobriety in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but after being hospitalized for alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver in 1983 after recording the album DaDa, the Coop decided to quit for good. The result is 12 albums of theatrical heavy metal grandeur and one of the most exciting live performances any rock fan will see. Proof that a clear head is way easier to chop off every night.
When Zakk Wylde was 19, he started playing guitar in Ozzy’s solo band–which, as you can imagine, led to some serious drinking. According to an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Ozzy would even ask Wylde to sneak him beers during the Prince of Darkness’ own recovery stints. These days, Zakk is crushing it even more prolifically with his own band Black Label Society — and, by the looks of his hair in this video, he’s never been more of a wild child.
Chase Mason (Gatecreeper)
Today, Arizona’s Gatecreeper are one of death metal’s most riveting acts, due in no small part to frontman Chase Mason’s inimitable roar and incredible stage presence. But in August of 2017, Chase posted a picture to his Instagram of a skinny kid you might not recognize and announced five years of sobriety, writing, “The black tar had me jammed up for a long time but now I am free.” Listening to the band’s crushing 2019 album Deserted now, one can’t help but be grateful Chase overcame that burden before it was too late.
Randy Blythe (Lamb of God)
Every metalhead has watched the infamous scene from Lamb of God’s Killadelphia DVD in which frontman Randy Blythe, absolutely hammered, gets in a physical altercation with guitarist Mark Morton. But these days, Randy is a greater performer than ever, blasting the roofs off of arenas in no small part due to his sobriety. His inspiration? Metallica’s James Hetfield. “A HUGE FACTOR in my willingness & ability to get sober while on fucking heavy metal tour was the fact that I had James & some of his crew who were also sober to talk to,” he said on Instagram in solidarity with Hetfield’s own renewed search for clarity. “I didn’t have to do it alone.”
To see Nita Strauss in action, one can hardly fathom how one human being can be so driven. But Nita’s tireless guitar work, both in her solo work and as a member of Alice Cooper’s band, is in part due to her giving up booze for good. Today, she’s even got her own physical fitness program, the Nita Strauss Body Shred Challenge, based on her experiences on tour. “For me, I’ve been touring consistently for 17 years,” she told Kerrang! Last year. “You can’t say that calories don’t count when you’re on the road, because they do.”
The sewer-king of horror metal and shock rock, Wednesday 13 puts on a tight, engaging show full of crushing heavy metal and elaborate stage work. But that wouldn’t be possible if he was still drinking, which the shock rocker himself admits was destroying him on tour. “It’s much easier to tour now sober than it is not sober,” he told Australia’s Amplify. “I don’t know why I put myself through such agony for the sake of being at the party 24/7.”
Nate Garrett (Spirit Adrift)
To listen to Spirit Adrift’s new material from their upcoming album Enlightened in Eternity is to hear heavy metal mastery at work. But frontman Nate Garrett had to claw his way out of a pit of alcoholism before he could make such a sweeping, powerful record. “When you’re about to die, your brain chemistry sends out weird signals saying, You’re going to die,” he told Noisey back in 2016. “Your bones vibrating, that sort of thing. I was miserable, man. Towards the end I start having psychosis. I was having paranoid delusions.” With every world-smashing riff Spirit Adrift produce, one has to thank whatever demonic space gods may be that Nate overcame his addiction.
Words by Chris Krovatin