With any growth comes growing pains. It’s impossible for anything and anyone to evolve bloodlessly, because being better or moving forward requires the inevitable destruction of The Way Things Have Always Been. Sure, it’s possible for people, cultures, and even music genres to change in baby steps over time, but more often than not it’s better to just rip off the Band-Aid and live with the pain. Sometimes, the best solution to your dinosaur problem is a meteor.
This is very much the case in heavy music, which often bucks against anyone or anything that would change that which fans find so precious. Hard rock and metal history is littered with artists who swerved those genres in necessary directions, even if doing so was unpleasant at the time. And while we can hate on them all we want — and we do! — fairness forces us to acknowledge that these bands have had a lasting impact on the music we all love.
Here are 12 artists who changed everything, even if we hate to admit it…
They squatted like crabs, they ran in place, they made the black V-neck a scene staple — Attack Attack! truly were one of metal’s most hated outfits. And yet for a generation of fans, the band’s sound, look, and general vibe changed everything. After “Stick Stickly” blew up, millions of kids stopped hiding their love of swoop hair, lip piercings, and Jesus, and created a scene culture all their own. Sucks, yeah, but these guys made a big impact none the less.
It’s obvious why a lot of metalheads hate Ghost: they made Satan palatable. The Swedish occult rockers definitely took metal’s old-school love the Devil and packaged it for a broad audience. But in doing so, they also invited millions of new fans into the fold, inspired countless up-and-coming acts, and undeniably reignited an appreciation for dark theatricality in metal culture. You don’t have to love those vocals, but you gotta admit that these guys are rewriting the book as we speak.
Hair metal existed before Poison, but maybe not as we know it today. Those dudes officially took the scrappy, street-level genre and ironed out the wrinkles with amply-applied of lip gloss, broad-shouldered blazers, and riffs so smooth and thick they moved like honey. The result was the commodification of the genre and the widespread realization that a groovy hard-rock singalong did as much as a back-alley fight song. From there on out, the whole scene was a little too cozy.
Nu-metal always had its goth elements, but it took a little band from Arkansas to add a sweep and aqche that the genre hadn’t heard before. Not only did Evanescence, add synths and strings to the genre, but their riffs also had a melodramatic vibe that others had never quite hit. Those aspects, alongside Amy Lee’s soaring refrains, ushered in a new generation of heavy bands using pop-oriented female vocals to massive results. Your Disney goth friends owe everything to Tim Burton and this band.
None of us like that Burzum were so influential to black metal, for the obvious reason that Christian “Varg” Vikernes is a loudmouth Nazi asshole who killed the only dude who ever gave him a chance. But like it or not, Burzum drove forward a lot of black metal’s most vital aspects — its obsession with Viking paganism, its experimentation with ambient music, and its take-things-too-far seriousness. Black metal wouldn’t be what it is today without Varg’s influence. All that said, if the dude fell in a grain thresher, we’d buy an ice cream cake to celebrate.
During its ascent, nu-metal was a weird, smoke-spewing sedan covered in angry slogan bumper stickers; Limp Bizkit transformed it into a well-waxed minivan. The rap-rock act toned down the dysfunction and upped the bravado, transforming the unstable scene into a polished, muscular jock of a genre. Without them, nu-metal would’ve never risen to the heights it did, and millions of carefully-oiled tough-guy bands would’ve gone unheard in their complaints about their dads. Sure, they still suck, but the scoreboard proves they altered music forever.
Today, one looks back at Atreyu as one of the many metalcore bands who spearheaded the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. But for a hot second there, Atreyu were THE metalcore band every suburban girl loved. More importantly, they were the act to truly bridge that gap between metal, goth, and emo, with 2005’s The Curse paving the way for countless acts like them and solidifying that splattered-heart-with-stitches-down-the-middle aesthetic. Got a sexy vampire in streetwear on your album? You owe these guys.
The obvious way that Deafheaven changed everything is that they made black metal extremely pretty, to the point where the mainstream swooned over it. They also introduced the concept of sunrise-pink being a metal color, to the fury of black metal pvrists everywhere. But more than anything, Deafheaven sparked an indie-rock interest in soaring-yet-scathing music, turning a legion of hipsters towards underground metal as a whole. The impact they made is still being felt in Comments sections across the Internet.
The massive rise of HIM will be looked back on by future generations with knit brows. How did a chocolatey goth metal band singing about, of all things, love become the genre’s most crucial act? But the truth is that not only did Ville Vallo and Co. perfectly bridge the gap between metal and emo, but they also inspired countless bands to stop fighting for extremity and embrace catchy, gothy goodness. This might look confusing in hindsight, but the sheer number of heartagram tattoos that metalcore musicians got is a testament to just how huge this band was. Get ready — once the nu-metal comeback runs its course, these guys are next.
Sure, on the surface Static-X were one of many nu-metal crews who should’ve been fined for having too many zippers on their shit. But the band’s driving disco-metal sound, and their adoption as openers by everyone from Slayer to Disturbed, was massive for metal. Their patented mixture of nu-metal, groove metal, and industrial was one that countless bands did their best to imitate, and continue to ape today. It doesn’t sound right on paper, but follow the wires and you’ll find these guys in the breaker panel.
While Cradle of Filth gave black metal a cauldron to piss in, it was Norway’s Dimmu Borgir who truly exploded the genre’s grim, humorless side. Even while the band made satanic metal that sounded like a Hans Zimmer score, they never went gothy or approachable, but instead really drove home the nihilistic, no-smiles satanism of the genre. For millions of fans, this is where black metal started, ushering in a new wave of small-town teenagers talking about burning churches and honoring Odin. You can sneer all you want, but you can probably find an Immortal shirt at most record stores because of these dudes.
Simply put, Dave Mustaine has made it hard to appreciate Megadeth’s contributions to metal. The frontman promotes some hardcore Obama truther nonsense, talks shit about his dead bandmates, fires his biggest supporters for ridiculous reasons, and once refused to share a stage with King Diamond due to Jesus feelings. But the fact is that Mustaine is one of thrash’s most important guitarists, and Megadeth pretty much single-handedly created that toxic, nuclear thrash image that so much of the genre is based on. Hey, apparently Sinatra was a real shithead, too.
Words by Chris Krovatin