The idea of overnight success makes average humps like us feel better because it allows us to think that we work our asses off and rock stars don’t. If a band goes from third-string opening act to arena headliners in a surprisingly short period of time, then they must have something special that managed to land just right with today’s stupid teenagers. These guys probably won’t understand an honest day’s labor until their trend dies and they’re flipping burgers and filing time sheets.
But the truth is that many bands’s careers are like icebergs — the mountain of attention above the surface is a small portion of the massive amount of work that no one else sees. So many of the bands we consider new or current have six studio albums over fifteen years under their belts, with the fans they enamored during their early years only now becoming the promoters, journalists, and label reps who can give them their due. So in honor of these calloused artists whose long legacies sometimes get overlooked, we decided to list 10 famous bands who took a decade or more to make their nut.
Here are 10 bands who had to put in at least 10 years of work to get where they are today…
Metal and hardcore fans rejoiced to learn that the original line-up of New Jersey horror punk legends The Misfits would perform at Riot Fest 2016. But that festival took place 34 years after the release of the band’s studio debut Walk Among Us, and nearly 20 years after their record Static Age finally saw the light of day. The truth is that though the Misfits had a cult following, they weren’t considered one of punk’s most important bands until decades after their formation. Sometimes, it takes a slow twist of the switchblade to get things right.
The question of exactly when Amon Amarth “blew up” depends on when you began seeing them at big European festivals. But it’s without question that 2008’s Twilight of the Thunder God was a game-changer for the band, vaulting them from underground staple to massive metal mainstay. That this record dropped 16 years after the band first formed speaks to the appeal of both their massive sound and their stalwart nature. Stick it out until you die in battle and can go to Valhalla.
The decade that fans will forever associate Judas Priest with is undoubtedly the 1980s. But what we sometimes forget is that Priest formed in 1969, with Halford initially taking the stage in bell-bottoms and flowy pagan shirts (good God, look at him up there). The band didn’t truly break through to the world at large until 1980’s British Steel and its tremendous lead single “Breakin’ the Law.” A great metal band feels old and storied, but a truly perfect one feels like it’s been around since prehistory.
Ice Nine Kills
Last year saw metalcore act Ice Nine Kills drop Welcome to Horrorwood: The Silver Scream 2, which was their biggest and most-hyped record to date. But their current position atop the body pile actually took two decades to lock in. Spencer Charnas actually formed the earliest incarnation of the band in 2000, while he was still in high school. So whatever you do, don’t abandon your sophomore-year dreams — after all, Michael Myers had to sit in a room for 15 years to live out his purpose, and look at him now!
High On Fire
How long has High On Fire been around? Mastodon formed at one of their shows. But even though the band got together in ‘99 and made some big waves with 2005’s awesome Death Is This Communion, it wasn’t until 2010’s Snakes for the Divine that they became the underground’s most respected metal act. 2019’s Grammy win for Electric Messiah just proves that with time, practice, and a whole lotta weed, genius will find its way into the light of the three suns. All hail Matt Pike.
There are so many different eras of Opeth that it’s hard to tell exactly when the band became what they are now. One could argue that it wasn’t until 2011’s progged-out Heritage that Mikael Akerfedlt truly came into his own. But given that the band formed in 1989, ten years before the release of ‘99’s Still Life and 12 years before the release of 2001’s massive Blackwater Park, it’s safe to say that these Swedes have paid their dues and then some. It just goes to show that if you keep reinventing your sound, you’ll always be new in the eyes of some fans.
This one will obviously start some arguments. See, Code Orange were formed as Code Orange Kids in 2008, with their first album, 2012’s Love Is Love/Return to Dust, dropping under that moniker. So because it took them a name change and a decade to actually take over the world of heavy metal, one could technically claim that these were two different bands. But then you’d be splitting hairs and not acknowledging the many years it took for these guys to cement their place in the genre. And then you’d be a schmuck.
When The Satanist came out in 2014, mainstream outlets hailed Behemoth as the new, refined face of extreme metal. But metal fans had watched the Polish band slug it out for decades before then, from the icy black metal of their earliest recordings to the stark death metal of albums like 2002’s Zos Kia Cultus. If Nergal and Co. had given up at any point along the way, they’d be nowhere now; as it is, holding fast to what they stood for gave them the attention they finally deserved.
One can sort of understand why Nevermore needed to survive the ‘90s to reach their status as metal icons. A progressive power metal act with death metal chops – not exactly the kind of band you were supposed to book in ‘96. But the band stuck to their guns, and after wowing entrenched audiences with 2000’s Dead Heart In A Dead World, they took the world by storm with 2003’s Enemies of Reality. If your sound isn’t popular, just do it well enough for long enough that it becomes popular.
It’s no coincidence that Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling seems menacingly immortal (we’re pretty sure that’s him on the original Rider-Waite Tarot card for ‘The Fool’). Pentagram started in 1971 as a contemporary to Black Sabbath, long before ‘doom metal’ was a thing. But the band’s first studio album didn’t land until the mid-’80s, and it wasn’t until doom officially popped off in the ‘90s and 2000s that they were recognized for their legendary influence. And if you’ve seen the Last Days Here documentary, it’s amazing they made it this far.
Words by Chris Krovatin