*Editor’s note* – this article has (unfortunately) been updated since its original publish date in order to pay tribute to additional members of our community who have tragically also passed away in recent times.
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 many of the 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.
Riley Gayle (Power Trip)
Riley’s incredibly tragic passing came at a time when Power Trip was right on the brink of exploding in popularity. Their full length ‘Nightmare Logic’ was an indisputable instant classic that was able to reach across the generational aisle of aggressive music fans. Young hardcore kids loved them just as much as jaded metal fans in their 50’s.
If you’re looking for visual proof of this band’s power in a live setting, check out their 2016 appearance at This Is Hardcore. “Soul Sacrifice” hadn’t even been released yet, yet an entire room lost their minds to it.
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.
Joey Jordison (Slipknot)
As one of the founding members of the band, Joey Jordison helped form Slipknot into the remarkable force that it is today. Jordison worked on the band’s first four studio albums, and would end up exiting the band in 2013. Along with his work in Slipknot, he also took part in a variety of other bands, including: Murderdolls, Scar the Martyr, Vimic, and more. Jordison sadly passed away on July 26, 2021. At the time of this writing, no official/confirmed statement has been shared regarding a cause of death tied to Jordison’s passing.
Trevor Strnad (The Black Dahlia Murder)
As one of the founding members of the band, Trevor Strnad helped guide The Black Dahlia Murder into becoming one of the biggest death metal bands in all of heavy metal history. Not only was he an incredible death metal vocalist, but he was also a talented writer who crafted chilling lyrics. During his time in The Black Dahlia Murder, Trevor and the band created nine studio albums. News of Trevor Strnad’s passing arrived on May 11th, 2022. At the time of this writing, there has been no official cause of death tied to Trevor’s passing; however, a statement from the band did share the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Sean Kennedy (I Killed The Prom Queen)
I Killed The Promo Queen was formed in 2000, with Sean Kennedy lending his talents to the band’s debut studio album, When Goodbye Means Forever…. Kennedy worked on the band’s second studio album, Music for the Recently Deceased. He sadly passed away on February 2nd, 2021. He was only 35 years old. Check out our full obituary here.
L-G Petrov (Entombed)
Entombed are one of the most legendary acts in all of death metal history. L-G Petrov was one hell of a vocalist; his vocal style and artistry has gone on to inspire waves of younger death metal bands over the course of decades. His work on the debut Entombed album, Left Hand Path, holds up to this day as a satisfying and brutal death metal performance. Sadly, L-G Petrov passed away on March 7th, 2021 due to cancer.
Corey Steger (Underoath)
Corey Steger was one of the founding members of Underoath. He lent his talents to the band’s albums Act of Depression and Cries of the Past. He was killed in a car accident on March 17th, 2021. He was believed to have been 42 years old at the time. Read our complete obit here.
Paul Gray (Slipknot)
Like his fellow Slipknot brethren, Paul Gray was also a founding member of the nu metal band. Like Jordison, Gray lent his creative talents to the band’s first four studio albums; the last record he would take part in is that of All Hope Is Gone. Paul Gray passed away on May 24th, 2010; Gray died due to an accidental overdose.
Alexi Laiho (Children Of Bodom)
Alexi Laiho was a master of the guitar; his ability to play crushing riffs and soaring melodies is a huge reason as to why many looked to Children Of Bodom as one of the most riveting melodic death metal bands in the scene. During his time in the band, he helped to create 11 Children Of Bodom albums. Laiho passed away on December 29th, 2020; he passed away due to complications from “alcohol-induced” liver degeneration.
Peter Steele (Type O Negative)
An incredible musician all around, Peter Steele is best known as the frontman and bassist for gothic metal act Type O Negative. In large part thanks to Steele’s artistry, the band proved themselves to be a remarkable force of mood, their music exuding tremendous atmosphere. Peter Steele passed away on April 14th, 2010; he died due to an aortic aneurysm.
Jeff Hanneman (Slayer)
Jeff is an absolute legend whose impact on this genre can never be properly articulated. Hanneman sadly passed away at 49, a few years after contracting a rare skin tissue disease called necrotizing fasciitis. That said, it’s not clear if this awful flesh-eating disease actually caused his death. Officially, he passed away from liver failure. His memory will live on in metal infamy.
Words by Chris Krovatin